Andrew Donson

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[Cross-posted from New Books in History] I was a little kid during the Vietnam War. It was on the news all the time, and besides my uncle was fighting there. I followed it closely, or as closely as a little kid can. I never thought for a moment that "we" could lose. "We" were a great country run by good people; "they" were a little country run by bad people. I spent my time building models of American tanks, planes, and ships. I read a lot of "Sergeant Rock" and watched re-runs of "Combat." My friends and I played "war" everyday after school. Given all this, you'll understand that I was bewildered when "we" pulled out of Vietnam. How could "we" lose the war when "we" were bigger, better, and righter? It made no sense. All this came to mind as I read Andrew Donson terrific book Youth in the Fatherless Land: War Pedagogy, Nationalism, and Authority in Germany, 1914-1918 (Harvard UP, 2010). As Andrew points out, German children were taught that their nation was great, their cause was just, and their victory inevitable. Their heads were full of heroic tales of soldiers sacrificing themselves for the good of Germany, and they longed to fight for the Vaterland themselves. So when things began to come apart in 1917, Germany's young people were deeply disappointed. They would not "get their chance." Rather, they would suffer hunger, humiliation, and defeat. They had hard questions for their mothers, fathers, and the authorities. How could it happen? Who is at fault? And, most importantly, what should we do? As we know, they answered this final question in different and, as it turned out, radical ways.

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