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The Myth of the Eastern Front


  • Page extent: 342 pages
  • Size: 234 x 156 mm
  • Weight: 0.53 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521712316)


From the 1950s onward, Americans were quite receptive to a view of World War Two propagated by many Germans on how the war was fought on the Eastern Front in Russia. Through a network of former high-ranking Wehrmacht and current Bundeswehr officers who had served in Russia, Germans were able to convince Americans that the German army had fought a “clean” war in the East and that atrocities there were committed solely by Nazi organizations. This view fit well with the prevailing anti-Communism of the Cold War and continues to this day in a broad subculture of general readers, German military enthusiasts, wargame aficionados, military paraphernalia collectors, and reenactors who tend to romanticize the German military.

Professor Ronald Smelser is the author of The Sudeten Problem, 1933–1938: Volkstumspolitik and the Formulation of Nazi Foreign Policy and Robert Ley: Hitler’s Labor Front Leader. Both books have been translated into German. In addition, he has published seven edited or co-edited books and numerous articles on modern German history. He is also editor-in-chief of the four-volume Learning about the Holocaust: A Student Guide and has worked closely with the Holocaust Education Foundation. Smelser is former president of the German Studies Association and the Conference Group for Central European History as well as a former member of the American Advisory Board of the German Historical Institute in Washington.

Professor Edward J. Davies Ⅱ is the author of the Anthracite Aristocracy and The United States in World History and has also served on the advisory board for National Geographic’s Concise History of the World. He has published articles in professional journals such as the Journal of Social History and Journal of Urban History and reviewed manuscripts for the Journal of Military History and university presses.

The Myth of the Eastern Front

The Nazi-Soviet War in American
Popular Culture

University of Utah

University of Utah

Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo, Delhi

Cambridge University Press
32 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10013–2473, USA
Information on this title:

© Ronald Smelser and Edward J. Davies II 2008

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2008

Printed in the United States of America

A catalog record for this publication is available from the British Library.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Smelser, Ronald M., 1942–
The Myth of the Eastern Front : the Nazi-Soviet war in American popular culture / Ronald Smelser,
Edward J. Davies, Ⅱ.
   p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-521-83365-3 (hardback)
1. World War, 1939–1945 – Campaigns – Eastern Front. 2. World War, 1939–1945 – Public
opinion. 3. Propaganda, German – United States. 4. Germany – Foreign public opinion,
American. 5. Public opinion – United States. 6. Myth. I. Davies, Edward J., Ⅱ, 1947– Ⅱ. Title.
D764.S569  2007
940.54′217 – dc22      2007017716

ISBN 978-0-521-83365-3 hardback
ISBN 978-0-521-71231-6 paperback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for
the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or
third-party Internet Web sites referred to in this publication
and does not guarantee that any content on such
Web sites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

Dedicated to
Edward J. Davies, 1925–2003
Ruth Smelser


Illustrations page ix
Preface xi
  Introduction 1
1   Americans Experience the War in Russia, 1941–1945 7
2   The Cold War and the Emergence of a Lost Cause Mythology 39
3   The German Generals Talk, Write, and Network 64
4   Memoirs, Novels, and Popular Histories 90
5   Winning Hearts and Minds: The Germans Interpret the War for the United States Public 127
6   The Gurus 157
7   Wargames, the Internet, and the Popular Culture of the Romancers 187
8   Romancing the War: Reenactors, and “What If History” 223
  Conclusion 247
Notes 261
Bibliography 303
Index 319


1. Russian and American Troops Meet at the Elbe, May 1945 page 8
2. Eric Johnston, Visitor of Joseph Stalin 20
3. Jubal Early, Promoter of the “Lost Cause” 85
4. Heroes of the Lost Cause 88
5. Heinz Guderian, the Ultimate Professional Officer 91
6. Erich von Manstein and Hitler in a Friendly Exchange 93
7. Cover of Adventures in My Youth: A German Soldier on the Eastern Front 1941–45 128
8. Koschorrek’s Blood Red Snow : The Memoirs of a German Soldier on the Eastern Front 129
9. German Soldiers in the Heat of Combat 139
10. Cover Art from Infantry Aces and Panzer Aces 175
11. A Cover of the Magazine Axis Europa 182
12. A Symbol Used by Axis Europa 183
13. Cover Art from Panzergruppe Guderian: The Battle of Smolensk, July 1941 192
14. Cover Art from The Last Victory: Von Manstein’s Backhand Blow, February and March 1943 193
15. The Fatalistic German Soldier 194
16. Planning an Advance 195
17. Facing the Enemy 196
18. Germans Trapped 197
19. Cover Art from Enemy at the Gates: The Stalingrad Pocket to Manstein’s Counterattack Army Group South – 19 Nov 42 to 14 March 43 198
20. Cover Art from Hube’s Pocket 199
21. Cover Art from Forgotten Legions: Obscure Combat Formations of the Waffen-SS 210
22. Cover Art from Stolfi’s Hitler’s Panzers East: World War II Reinterpreted 238


We would like to express our gratitude to those who have helped us along the way in researching and writing this book. We are grateful to the staff members in the archives where we have worked and to colleagues who have helped us with materials and advice. The Bundesarchiv/Militärarchiv in Freiburg, the Institute für Zeitgeschichte in Munich, and the Staatsarchiv in Nuremberg provided us with invaluable documentation. Similarly, library and staff members in archives and libraries in this country have been helpful: the National Archives of the United States at College Park as well as, at long distance, the staffs of the Cornell Law Library (William Donovan Papers), the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library (Truman Smith Papers), the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University (Allen Dulles Papers), and the University of Notre Dame Archives (George Shuster Papers). We have profited enormously from discussions with colleagues, including Peter Black, Jürgen Förster, Joseph Bendersky, Robert Gellately, Johannes Hürter, MacGregor Knox, Geoff Megargee, Dieter Pohl, Bruce Siemon, and Charles Sydnor.

   We would like to thank Antonio Munoz for his generous permission to use photographs from his many publications. In the spirit of true scholarship, he also sent us additional materials that we incorporated into the book.

   Our indexers, Robin Hill and Tressa Friend, completed an essential task with skill and grace; we are grateful for their help.

   We are also grateful to our home institution, the University of Utah, for its support. The University Research Committee provided us with vital computer equipment; the College of Humanities was generous with release time, and the Tanner Humanities Center hastened the appearance of this book by making one of the authors, Ronald Smelser, a Center Fellow.

   The writing of this book was in many ways a personal journey. Many decades ago, I came across a title, Hitler Moves East, by Paul Carell, in a local bookstore in my hometown. Having little knowledge of the war in Russia, I purchased the book and quickly became enthralled with the scope of the war and its centrality in defeating the Germans. Carell’s dramatic prose and his gift for storytelling soon created immense sympathy on my part for the Germans and their plight in the vast landscapes of Russia. My interest aroused, I continued to buy as many books as possible on the Eastern Front and by the late 1990s owned several hundred. My desire to learn as much as possible about the titanic struggle in the East also led me into the world of war games, and over the years I also came to own dozens of games. Well versed on the war, or so I believed, I began to discover the Russian side of that vast conflict and realized that my understanding was at best incomplete and at worst terribly exaggerated. Soon I turned to my colleague, Professor Ronald Smelser, an expert on Nazi Germany, for more effective explanations of the war and thus started our collaboration that led to the present book.

   My one regret as I now finish the last stages of the book is the absence of my father, Edward J. Davies, whose death in 2003 took him from me. He and my mother, Mary V. Davies, have been constant sources of support and inspiration over the long years of my career and I now dedicate this book to his memory. I also want to extend my thanks to my wife, Liliana, who has stood by me throughout the completion of this book, and to my daughters, Erin and Mary Anne, who have been with me in good and bad times. Dad, I finally did finish the book!

— Edward J. Davies II

   The book began with reminiscences of growing up in Pennsylvania in the 1950s, when the first documentaries began to appear on television. We remembered how boys came to school every morning after these showings full of enthusiasm about German dive-bombers and armored formations. These memories led us to find and investigate the phenomenon of “romancing” the German military in American popular culture from that day to this.

   I would like to dedicate this book to my wife Ruth, who has been a source of support, encouragement and love.

—Ronald Smelser

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