Paper, paper everywhere…

In this excerpt from A Journey For Our Times © 1983,  Harrison E. Salisbury describes visiting the Russian front after the battle to free the Crimea:

We went to the Crimea, the Germans finally driven out, corpses bobbing on the rock shores of the slim peninsula where the last stand was made, and over the stony land the Limburger stench of putrescent bodies; heavy, it got into your clothes, it clogged your throat, it hung in the air like plague. Here I inhaled the essence of war. I saw the pig-bellied bodies, eyes staring out of rotting heads, flaxen hair like wigs on a Kewpie doll, and the smell of piss-clotted uniforms, pants cruddy with excrement, with the pale worms of intestines, dirt, slime, paper, paper everywhere, brown-stained toilet paper, brown-stained newspapers with their Gothic print, broken bottles, jagged edges sparkling in the sun, rusty cans, the sleek white wood of ammo boxes, coppered coils of machine gun bullets, unmailed postcards, photos of girls stained with blood, here a splintered bone, the flesh torn like cotton rags, orders, commands, penalties, sentences (a sergeant sentenced to be shot; he had been apprehended trying to copulate with the captain’s mare on the village street), surrender leaflets, bits of green grass and dandelions, stinking fish floating in the gentle waves beside corpses gas-filled, buttons burst from faded green uniforms.

The Crimea did it. I had seen the winter corpses at Katyn, at Leningrad, in the Ukraine. Death in winter is clean. The bodies freeze in rigid forms. There is little stench. Except for the horses. The horses were the worst, winter or summer. They blew up like titanic counterfeits, the eyes still alive with terror. Snow quickly covered the winter dead. Now in the Crimea the dead were omnipresent.

German prisoners with dead eyes stumbled among the corpses, carting them off to endless trenches under the tommy guns of sullen Red Army men. I could not tell whether either Russians or Germans knew what they were doing. The Germans moved like sleepwalkers. The hardest thing, they told us, was the moment of surrender. Unless you were in a big group, a hundred or a thousand, you didn’t have a chance. The Soviet tommy gunners just mowed you down. The Nazis had been waiting for the boats to take them off, the boats that never came.

This was war and now I understood it. War was the garbage heap of humanity. It was shit and piss and gas from the rump; terror and bowels that ran without control. Here Hitler’s Aryan man died, a worse death than any he devised in the ovens of Auschwitz, anus open, spewing out his gut until a Red tommy gunner ended it with a lazy sweep of his chattering weapon.

There’s a reason governments censor the press.

There are things they don’t want us to know, stories they don’t want us to hear, sights they don’t want us to see.

1 Comment

  1. And yet, some people just say “support the troops” with their eyes shut

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