Sunday, April 14, 2019

Americans Who Died Fighting Communism

A little more than a century earlier, Napoleon had learned the hard way about the dangers of the Russian winter. Adolf Hitler would discover them anew in the 1940s. The American effort of 1918–19 lacked the ambition of those invasions, but it encountered the same hazards in an environment of permanent polar vortex. Temperatures dropped below 0 degrees Fahrenheit and continued to plunge. Americans could perform outdoor guard duty for only a few minutes at a time. They took care not to touch their bare skin to metal weapons for fear of freezing it and tearing it off. Supplies were limited as well. In a memoir, A Michigan Polar Bear Confronts the Bolsheviks, Private Godfrey Anderson describes wrapping the corpses of soldiers in blankets, laying them in coffins, and closing the lids. Later, a sergeant berates him: “Dead men don’t need no blankets.” Daylight was in short supply, too. In December at these high latitudes, the darkness lasted 20 hours. 
It was enough to sap the morale even of patriotic troops. On November 14, Colonel George E. Stewart, commander of the forces, requested an immediate withdrawal. “We have performed most excellent service under the most trying conditions of cold and snow and wet and miry marshes,” he cabled. “Original object of expedition no longer exists.” His pleas changed nothing and the Polar Bears became confused about why they were still fighting and dying when the war supposedly had ended. As the weeks wore on, reports of mutinies made their way into the press. Historians have differed on the seriousness of the insubordination — some claim that reporters sensationalized ordinary disgruntlement — but there can be no doubt that the men badly wanted to return home (Read more.)

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