Summer of My German Soldier Analysis
by Bette Greene

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Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

German prisoners of war in a re-education class taught by an anti-Nazi prisoner of war. Published by Gale Cengage

World War II at Home: POWs and Rationing
World War II had a great impact on daily life in America. Like the Bergens, Americans were subjected to rationing of supplies such as milk, butter, and gasoline. The shortage of able-bodied male workers forced industry to hire previously marginalized workers, which opened up career opportunities for women. The heroic American working woman was idealized as "Rosie the Riveter." At the same time, many jobs lost to the war effort on agriculture and industry were filled by POWs like Reiker. The government contracted out POW labor to private citizens, with over half of the contracts going to farm work. In the South, POWs picked cotton, cut sugarcane, and harvested tobacco.

Nearly 372,000 Germans were held in U S. prison camps during World War II. Conditions in the POW camps were relatively pleasant, allowing the prisoners to cook for themselves and spend limited amounts of money at their own discretion. Some POWs made friends with Americans from the surrounding communities. However, there was great tension surrounding such relationships, and frequent panics about escapes. There were 2,803 escapes during the war, and fifty-six prisoners were shot while attempting to escape. Thirty-four of them died.

Anti-Semitism at Home and Abroad
The German government seized property and businesses from Jewish citizens in the 1930s; in addition, laws were passed to take away their civil liberties and rights. After the invasion of Poland in 1939, this systematic destruction of rights turned into an attempt to exterminate Judaism in Europe. As the Nazi forces invaded Belgium, Denmark France Norway, the Netherlands, and the Soviet Union, Jewish people were gathered into ghettoes, and then imprisoned in labor camps, concentration camps, and death camps. Six million European Jews had been killed by the end of the war in 1945.

During the 1930s, many famous industry leaders and public figures supported the Nazi Party in the United States. Henry Ford was one of these men sympathetic to anti-Semitic views. On September 16, 1941, aviation hero Charles Lindbergh blamed Jews for trying to get the United States into a war with Germany. His views were similar to those of many Americans who are cynical about the war, angry at the loss of American life, and sick of rationing. A 1945 poll revealed that fifty-eight percent of Americans believe that Jews hold too much power in the United States—a two-hundred percent increase in the results of the same poll taken in 1938. In Patty Bergen's Arkansas, Jews make up a very small fraction of the population.

War in the Early Seventies: Vietnam
After achieving independence from French control in 1954, Vietnam was split north and south of the 17th parallel. The most organized resistance group, the Viet Minh, went to North Vietnam, where they formed a communist state. South Vietnam remained a non-communist state. Under the Geneva Accords, free elections were due to be held on the issue of unity. The Viet Minh fully expected to win, but the leader of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, refused to hold the election, which was in violation of international law but with the support of the United States. The North Vietnamese decided to unify Vietnam by force. The United States supported the increasingly unpopular regime in South Vietnam with military and financial aid.

As the numbers of South Vietnamese insurgents increased, President Kennedy committed more and more American troops to the region, and by the end of 1962 there were 11,000 U S military advisers in the country. In 1964, after North Vietnamese forces fired upon a U.S. destroyer, Congress ratified the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and America began full-scale intervention. The conflict escalated: American troop strength was 389,000 by 1969. In the United States, resistance to war mounted steadily. Troop withdrawal began in 1969, but the conflict widened Under President Nixon, U.S. Forces invaded Cambodia, sparking an...

(The entire section is 2,132 words.)