“Yes, yes,” Helmut said with excitement, “The Geneva Convention, you know, recognizes escape. At least three articles in the convention establish the right of every prisoner of war to escape if he gets the chance!”
Rudolf smiled as he imagined slipping from under the barbed wire, heading for the Mexican border where beautiful women waited, but his day dream was short lived when the lights dimmed and the film, Young Mr. Lincoln, flashed across the screen. Several men sitting near Rudolf hooted, yelling out for a rousing Western with a climatic shootout.
“Who picks these anyway?” Werner grumbled loudly. “Why are we suffering an American history lesson?”
Rudolf agreed. He had studied the American Civil War in Gymnasium, recalling the war as an absurd struggle where Americans killed one another to free men not of their own race. To Rudolf’s thinking, it was further proof of American stupidity.
Some POWs left in disgust, including Werner, but Rudolf watched the film carefully, trying to discern the propaganda. Abe Lincoln was depicted as an affable fellow, slow to anger, heroically stopping a crowd of men intent on lynching two brothers charged with murder. As the film ended, Rudolf realized the message was a celebration of individuality as opposed to State control. He shook his head in disgust, and said to Helmut, “The Americans are always trying to foist their individualism shit on us.”
“Yes,” Helmut agreed. “Well, it won’t work. We Germans believe in sacrifice for our beloved Germany!”
Rudolf nodded his assent. He wondered why freedom of the individual was so important to Americans. Was not the State more important? His Gymnasium classes emphasized that, and so did the Hitler Youth, and those stalwart German institutions could not be wrong. To Rudolf, individualism—doing what one wanted for oneself—was a sign of a weak society, and America was indeed a prime example with its discordant democracy; a cacophony of voices rather than the single brilliant voice of Der Führer.
As Rudolf and Helmut walked toward their barrack after the movie, he again reassured himself that Germany’s strength was its State, the national community. With that confirming thought, Rudolf’s tenseness eased as he intentionally tucked away the troubling vision of Germany’s borders encircled by its enemies.
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