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Promising book ruined by modern gender ideology
on 20 January 2011
For me, this book has all the promise of a classic military campaign book with a human touch. I don't have a problem with the way this book is several books intertwined in one, and can accept the confusion of army divisions, generals and place names. Where this book fails is, as noted by others, in it's overwhelming emphasis on rape as being practically the be-all and end-all of human suffering, as well as a general anti-male bias that is strongly reminiscent of 80s feminist 'victim' ideology - all men are stupid, lazy, evil bastards who rape when given half a chance and poor, innocent, long-suffering women just have to put up with them. While this was clearly a strategy to attract woman readers to a military book, this exaggerated emphasis casts a long shadow over the work, and makes much of it seems like a military manual which has been 'politically corrected' to match prevailing gender ideologies.
A few quotes will illustrate the problem:
Beevor mentions the 'Trümmerfrauen', the female construction workers. This was shocking for many Western Europeans, not used to seeing women have to lower themselves to doing a dirty, dangerous, male, death profession. But what follows is both false and unfair: 'Many of the German men left in the city were either in hiding or had collapsed with psychosomatic illnesses as soon as the fighting was over.' Where is the proof of these psychosomatic illnesses? If in peacetime, women dominate with psychosomatic illnesses, why should this change in wartime? More men are weak, women are strong ideology.
'Women discovered that while they had to come to terms with what had happened to them, the men in their lives often made things far worse...Hanna Gerlitz: 'Afterwards...I had to console my husband and help restore his courage. He cried like a baby.' Really? What would Beevor have said had these German men acted with indifference? Then, no doubt, he would switch from 'men are weak' mode to 'men are bastards' mode - men have no sympathy with female suffering and think rape is nothing. In other words, the no-win situation of men in modern gender politics.
'It was a wise decision to entrust the evidence to a woman that night'. A man entrusted with Hitler's remains could not be trusted because he's Russian and male and might get drunk? This is gender-stereotyping taken to ridiculous extremes.
'Women queued for a handout of butter and dry sausage, while men emerged only to line up for an issue of schnapps.' As above.
I don't have the exact quote, but Beevor went a step too far when he implied that the reason that US soldiers didn't rape was because they were given a generous cigarette ration, and could pay for their prostitutes, something the Soviet soldiers could not do. The implication is that any soldier rapes when the opportunity is permitted, not just those who've had years of traumatizing, alcoholized exposure to brutal war (remember Russian soldiers didn't get any leave - and when German women helped Hitler receive a 90% yes vote in the 1934 referendum, these poor young Russian boys were far, far away, with no intentions of raping anyone...)
Beevor's biggest mistake was to include the opinions of proto-feminist Anonymous in his work. It is plain from her work that she had an anti-male bias to start with which was exacerbated by the war... 'I've been noticing that not only my feelings, but those of almost all woman towards men have changed. We are sorry for them, they seem so pathetic and lacking in strength. The weakly sex. A kind of collective disappointment among women seems to be growing under the surface. The male-dominant Nazi world glorifying the strong man is tottering, and with it the myth 'man''. A quote which belongs in some misandrist feminist publication for sure, but what is Anonymous really saying? That while the Nazis were victorious, she respected men and masculinity, but now that all the toughest, most masculine men are dead or in prison camps, and she's only surrounded by the sick, weak, old men and other pacifists who avoided fighting, she has no respect for them? Yet she seems glad to use male inventions and medical technology. Seems to take for granted that man's creativity had doubled the world's population in a few hundred years, partly as a result of taking midwifery out of the hands of women, and that even the terrible losses of both world wars are a tiny fraction of the literally billions of lives saved by men's advances in medical and food technology, etc. And focuses purely on the destructive side of man. In other words, the modern gender approach all men are well aware of.
Now there is no denying that for biological reasons men have dominated world history in terms of both creation and destruction. (According to Darwin, in only 5% of species do females take the initiative in courtship - and in these species the females are bigger and more aggressive i.e. more creative/destructive than the males) Women have had little opportunity for creation and destruction, yet as we can see from the women prison guards at Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, etc, soviet women soldiers in action (the woman fighting battalions were infamously brutal with prisoners and wounded - Beevor doesn't mention them) or in support roles (they laughed at rapes and egged their men on), when offered the chance to be brutal many took it gratefully with both hands. Much like with men. But nothing like the mythical angelic women found in Beevor's work. If we are to call WW2 'their' (men's) war, then when we write books on science and invention, we must refer to these as 'men's' inventions, or to the technological genius of men, NOT man. We have to make a decision one way or the other. But Beevor, with the typical masochistic chivalry of the ex-military man, and with the close support of his wife (writer Artemis Cooper), seems oblivious to such notions.
It's hard for me to recommend this book for the above reasons, although generally I found it a gripping read. If you're completely insensitive to fairness in gender issues then what I've outlined above may not trouble you. Otherwise, I'd recommend you look further for a gender-neutral book on the Berlin downfall.