World War II – Week One
It’s rare when two things you like come together to make something even more awesome, like peanut butter and chocolate, tea and milk, cats and boxes…
Or Twitter and history?
Last week, I had the good fortune of seeing a tweet like this one, extolling the @RealTimeWWII Twitter feed:
Curious, I went to take a look.
I’m kind of obsessed now.
What is the @RealTimeWWII feed about? Six years ago Alwyn Collinson decided to live tweet World War II. The entire war. He finished up a few weeks ago and decided restart the project on September 1st. I greatly recommend the feed to anyone who enjoys learning more about history. I’ve been following it partly because it’s interesting and partly because I tend to write stories with shades of dystopia (whether I want to or not). As such, I’d like a better understanding of how wars start, how they progress, and more importantly, how do people react when things start to go sideways.
What are my thoughts on the first week of World War II?
1) Propaganda is a powerful tool.
We all know this, but I didn’t realize that World War II began with propaganda and a false flag operation.
German soldiers attacked a German radio station, then blamed Polish citizens. Germany even took people from their concentration camps (already in operation), killed them as invading Poles, and used their corpses as — for want of a better word — props. Hitler called the “attack” a “border violation” and referred to his attacking army of 1.5 million soldiers as a “defensive force.” A defensive force, I might add, that seemed ready and well-provisioned immediately after this “random” attack. As an extra little !#@$ you, Hitler also claimed the Poles had “mistreated minorities.”
2) Things moved QUICKLY.
The same day that the Germans attacked their own radio station, they flew over a Polish town and began bombing civilians in retaliation. They also used a battleship to destroy a second Polish town, one the ship “just happened” to be near. The next day, they began destroying an additional three towns. In less than a week, the Germans had bombed over twenty Polish cities.
I was trying to sort out what that would be like, if the same thing had happened in the United States. That’s like Austin, San Antonio, Brownsville, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Waco, El Paso, pretty much every large Texas city getting bombed and invaded in a few days. It just seems crazy, especially since this took place in 1939. I think we have this sense that everything happened at a much slower pace back then.
Obviously World War II didn’t get the memo.
Also on that first day, Britain began evacuating children from large cities since they had a defense treaty with Poland. Within four days, Britain and France (among others) had declared war on Germany. That seems so fast. It just boggles my mind.
3) Logistical problems are a serious concern.
In Poland, reservist had trouble getting to the front lines (or had trouble retreating from them) due to fleeing civilians. They also had a huge press of men wanting to enlist, but they had no equipment for them to use. Their outnumbered and out-of-date air force couldn’t compete against the Germany forces, either.
One army was prepared. One wasn’t.
4) Fear makes people do terrible things.
Shortly after Chamberlain addressed the British citizenry, an air raid siren went off in London. People panicked and fled to the bomb shelters, thinking it was a real attack. In Poland, pro-Nazi snipers (not German military) in a Polish town started shooting at retreating Polish soldiers. The Polish soldiers murdered hundreds of “ethnic German civilians” in retribution. On the other side, Germans rounded up thousands of Polish citizens after they’d taken their town, then shot any men who had any sort of weapon. When Polish citizens tried to flee, soldiers turned their machine guns on the crowd, killing hundreds.
Maybe it’s naive, but the number of people who died in the first few days surprised me. Thousands. The number of towns destroyed by the Germans surprised me, too.
5) War is Profit.
This tweet speaks for itself and turns my stomach.
I plan to keep reading through these World War II tweets and posting my thoughts about them in the coming months.