by Kevin Stoda, Historian & Human Rights Activist
I am listening to news right now about the military trial of Bradley Manning, which is taking place in my homeland, the USA. Bradley Manning is on trial for "aiding the enemy"--an incredibly broad statute that can be abused--and has been misused historically by horrible regimes to put people--including soldiers--in prison.
At times the charge of aiding an enemy has led to execution of the person who has been charged with "aiding the enemy". Theoretically, Bradley Manning can receive the death penalty from the military court he is now in. In many situations, like in the Bradley Manning case, the charge of "aiding the enemy" has actually been used by authorities to simply to make others shut-up, to make soldiers and citizens stop complaining, and stop being critical of the government.
Let me give you a real example of the way the Nazi regime and military brass abused the charge of "aiding the enemy". This true tale was shared to me by an aging farmer whom I met in northern Germany on his own farm about three decades ago.
Vignette of Nazi Era Military Courtroom
The name of the farmer's last name whom I visited in Germany some decades ago was Thoelking. His daughter, Monica Thoelking, had gone to my alma mater, BethelCollege to study English a few years earlier. A few years later, I myself studied in Germany starting. In late 1986, I visited the Thoelking family farm.
One afternoon, just after Christmas, I went out for a walk around the edges of the family farm with one aging German veteran from WWII, the father of Monika Thoelking. As Herr Thoelking and I walked around his farmstead, we chatted about his travels over the decades in prior times to both America and England. Under way, Herr Thoelking also took time to share about war, prison, and military trials in WWII.
I should preface the vignette here by noting that during the Nazi-regime, many German farmers did not necessarily have to serve in many of the most dangerous military roles during the Nazis because farmers had been an important factor in the Nazis rise to power. Farmers were considered Hitler's political base, and the ideal of the German family farm was part of the nation's Nazi mythology.
Herr Thoelking, this particular German farmer's son, lived near Cloppenburg in the plains of northern Germany. Thoelking was one of the lucky farmer-soldiers who was able to remain on or near his father's farm during WWII, i.e. while simply doing training and war preparation with local militias. (This would be like many of our USA-farmers today now doing training with a local ROTC. Just as in the USA today, the ROTC-like troops near Cloppenburg could have been sent overseas, but many usually stayed in the home front for much of WWII.)
That particular winter afternoon in Northern Germany, Herr Thoelking mentioned to me that he had learned to know many British soldiers at the end of WWII, especially as he himself was initially imprisoned for many months at the end of the war in the British-occupied sector of North Saxony. (At that time he had first learned to speak some English.) Herr Thoelking added that he had been released from British prison camps in early autumn 1945 to help with the potato harvest.
Interestingly, Herr Thoelking soon revealed, he had also been in prison as a soldier under the Nazi regime--just two years earlier. In short, Herr Thoelking noted that he had also been in prison under Hitler.
Herr Thoelking explained that in 1943, news of Italy's Surrender to the Allied forces arrived quietly in Germany. In response to the news, soldier Thoelking had made the mistake of openly speaking his feelings. He was young, upset, and brash. Herr Thoelking had muttered loudly for all his comrades to hear, "Das wird wohl das Ende sein!" In English this means simply, "That's it. That's the end. It's over!" In short, he was revealing publicly before his comrades what many hungering Germans already knew, namely that total war would not lead to victory. The retaking of the continent by the Allies had begun.
Immediately, a by-the-book German officer had had Herr Thoelking arrested, and court-martial proceedings were begun against him for Herr Thoelking's ostensibly having uttered treasonous statements about the future of the Fatherland. His words had aided the enemy.
Luckily, as Thoelking was the elder son of a local farmer, he was imprisoned near his home in Cloppenburg. Soon, with the help of friends in the military nearby and with help of a local judge who-already-knew-his-family intervention in his case was successful. The charges against her Thoelking were soon dropped by the actions of a local judge who knew the Thoelking family. Upon his release, however, Thoelking was forced to continue serving on local military patrols till the Allied forces arrived in Northern Germany and capture his unit more than a full-year later.
In short, two years of Nazi-led Total War (1943-1945) under Goebbels and Hitler brought only further starvation and destruction to his homeland--even after Thoelking had been thrown in the brig and he had been threatened with charges of aiding and abetting the cause of the enemy . Why should not a soldier speak the truth about war to his comrades and the powerful military brass in such an instance? Likewise, why should soldiers be prohibited from sharing or leaking facts about crimes and reckless actions to the press in the time of war in a country, like the USA--which claims to be better than the Nazi regime in so many ways?