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The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture

26 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521712316
ISBN-10: 0521712319
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Editorial Reviews


"Ronald Smelser and Edward Davies vividly show how the pernicious idea of an honorable German war on the Eastern Front permeated the American consciousness with devastating consequences not only for the broad understanding of German atrocities in the East, but ultimately for the Cold War itself. From its lucid discussion of the former Hitler generals who whitewashed their military records after World War II to its disturbing look at the self-proclaimed gurus of army minutia who still pose as authorities on the Wehrmacht, The Myth of the Eastern Front is a masterful and incisive combination of military and cultural history."
-Norman J.W. Goda, Ohio University

"The swiftness with which Cold War America embraced vanquished Nazi officers, along with their sanitization of Wehrmacht criminality on the Eastern Front, is a chilling reminder of how historical memory often follows the flag. Ronald Smelser and Edward Davies have performed a signal service in bringing to light the internet's perpetuation of self-serving myths about World War Two. Whether Waffen-SS reenactors and Nazibilia collectors represent harmless playacting or something more sinister only time will tell. But anything that traffics in half-truths, and worse, especially concerning matters of grave moral concern, can't be taken lightly."
-Lawrence N. Powell, Tulane University

"A superb and insightful study of the premeditated manipulation of history and memory in the fabrication of the myth of a "clean Wehrmacht." Expertly exposes the intersection and influence of popular imagination, politics, and popular culture in the rewriting of the German army's experience in World War Two."
Edward B. Westermann, author of Hitler's Police Battalions: Enforcing Racial War in the East

"Recommended." -Choice

"Smelser and Davies need to be commended for their fascinating and detailed study." -Journal of American History, Gerd Horten

Book Description

From the 1950s onward, Cold War-era Americans were receptive to a view of World War II similar to the view held by many Germans and military personnel on how the war was fought on the Eastern front in Russia. A broad subculture of German military enthusiasts continues to romanticize the German army to this day.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 342 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (November 5, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521712319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521712316
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #394,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

88 of 107 people found the following review helpful By M. Kirschenbaum on December 25, 2007
Format: Paperback
The book argues that a sanitized and romanticized narrative of the German conduct of the war on the eastern front has been popularized in the West, as a result of a variety of factors including Cold War politics, the writings of key German commanders, and the diffusion of this narrative through a broader subculture which includes military historians and hobbyists, internet enthusiasts, wargamers, and reenactors. The book expends a lot of space on the visual imagery associated with these groups, for example book jackets and wargame box art which glorifies/romanticizes the German cause. This is generally a kind of argument I am sympathetic toward, since a book or game cover is an expression of marketing and self-identity.

At the same time, as sympathetic as I am to the basis thesis and premise of the book, I find the execution clumsy and less compelling than it might be. What the authors don't mention, for example, is that the bias toward Nazi/SS imagery is already well known in the wargaming community, is often critiqued, and is sometimes aggressively countered, for example Adam Starkweather's cover choices for his various east front games (available through Multiman Publishing, the same company which markets various other games that come under fire in the book). Nor do the authors delve into game design and mechanics to examine whether or not actual systems are biased toward a German viewpoint. There's no doubt that there are lots of people who think Tiger tanks and Panzerfausts are cool; then again, most of us also found Darth Vader much cooler than Luke Skywalker.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Magnitude on April 3, 2014
Format: Paperback
Please don't construe this rating or review to be a defense of a pro-German mindset in WWII literature or certain subcultures of society. Rather, this important topic is weakly argued in this book and undercut by several methodological issues and matters of interpretation.

In brief, the authors argue that German generals and soldiers were allowed to shape the narrative about their war on the Eastern Front starting in 1946. Americans, the authors claim, had a favorable view of the USSR as our ally during WWII, but this all changed when the USSR became the USA's Cold War enemy. The image of the German Wehrmacht as a heroic, noble fighting force disassociated from Hitler and the crimes of his regime became a myth that (the authors claim) has continued to survive and thrive in the minds of the American public today.

The authors clearly establish that there are books that have a pro-German slant, and books that focus on German military matters to such an extent that those books ignore the larger and more troubling political context and complicity in war crimes. The authors also establish that there are games that feature German propaganda artwork from WWII, internet forums that focus on German military prowess to the exclusion of all else, and even contemporary Americans who dress up as SS soldiers on the weekends. None of this is in dispute.

However, the authors' argument fails in several respects:

1. They do not prove the popularity of the views, books, or activities that they analyze with data such as polling responses, sales figures, or some other measure.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Nick on August 29, 2009
Format: Paperback
There's lots of scope to write a great book how the west came to view the Eastern Front through German perspectives and overlook the German Army's war crimes, but this isn't it. A key flaw is that the authors never really set out how they think that the war should be seen and how the common Western accounts differ from this. Instead, they use a mish-mash of bits of information which don't seem to have been very rigorously selected or given a consistent weight to argue their case. This leads to the book's central argument being under-developed and, unfortunately given the importance of the topic, unconvincing. Moreover, the book feels dated - despite being published in 2007, the section on the internet talks about how many websites looked in 1999(!) and doesn't discuss whether they've since changed and there's not much on the recent serious scholarship and popular works which have been written on the Eastern Front.

Another flaw is that the book is fairly one-sided and focused on the more extreme fringe of authors. When discussing how German perspectives came to dominate how the Eastern Front is viewed in the west the authors don't discuss the quality and availability of Soviet histories and sources - both were highly problematic and acted as a barrier to western historians being able to tell the Soviet side of the story until the end of the Cold War. The focus on fringe publications about the war is also problematic - these appear to be aimed at a fairly selective audience and aren't easily available, so their influence is likely to be minor compared to the popular histories of the war, which go largely unexamined.

In short, this book doesn't deliver what it promised, and was highly disappointing.
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