Make 'Em Talk:
Principles Of Military Interrogation
by Patrick Mcdonald
(In Paperback from Amazon)
"The Ritchie Boys"|
An event like a war generates many stories, each with its own drama and qualities of relevance and eloquence. This story, brought to us in documentary format by Christian Bauer ("Missing Allen"), demonstrates that for all the cinematic attention already paid to World War II -- which came to an end more than 60 years ago -- the story possibilities, the unique interstices of experience, the personal dramas, have not been exhausted. More will undoubtedly follow as they're discovered. In the meanwhile, this little-known niche of wartime experience is well worth our attention and appreciation. It demonstrates some important values.
We know how the U.S. dealt with Japanese-American citizens during WWII, but not as much has been reported and publicized about how the military handled European-American academics. The big difference perhaps stemmed from a closer identification with European emigres (especially German Jews) than Asians. Perhaps it was a continental or language distinction. But whatever accounted for the different treatment, it allowed them to join the U.S. Army.
Which is not to say that suspicion and distrust weren't prevalent for men who fled Germany and German occupied territories. They came, after all, from the land of our enemy. It's just that the Pentagon and the government were smarter about recognizing the resource these men represented.
European enlistees were given basic training and then funnelled to an elite intelligence unit at Camp Ritchie, Maryland, where languages were of the optimal value and where a cadre of creative translators were being trained in the art and methods of interrogating captured prisoners in their own tongues. These immigrants from universities and industrial sectors in their land of birth, who saw and escaped the threat of Hitler's rising power, were to prove their worth to their adopted country.
The essential task given them was to devise ways to break the morale of the Nazi regime's Schutzstaffel (German for "Protective Squadron") or SS. In accomplishing this mission, the "boys" of Camp Richie are often credited with bringing an earlier end to the war than might have been possible without their services.
They extracted information from prisoners, defectors and civilians which was of tactical and strategic importance, like troop size and movements. They probed the psychological disposition of the enemy, their morale, the planning and mind-set of the Nazi uber-fuehrers. They produced leaflets and newspapers to be dropped behind enemy lines, radio broadcasts and, borrowing a technique from Tokyo Rose, got close to the front lines with loudspeakers to explain to the Germans they were facing how to surrender safely. One hilarious ploy designed to appeal to German love of authority was a form they fabricated (signed ostensibly by Dwight D. Eisenhower) granting the Nazi bearer safe passage upon surrender or capture. The effectiveness of it was evidenced by how many such forms were found within the personal effects of dead German troops.
In the process, a bond of comradeship was created among these psychological tacticians which is indicated in their articulation of individual and group experience. Common to each is a sense of dedication and thankfulness. There is no sign of memory loss among them, intellectual warriors now in their eighties, as they detail their role in military history.
Believing that a documentary is only as good as the talking heads behind the stock footage, I found this collection sparkling with remembrances that are more emotional than objective, always clear, always expressive. The talkers present a fascinating cross section of personalities whose stories are funny, filled with pride and irony, some anger, and the sincere, genuine patriotism common to every one.
It's quality time to learn about one more part of the war from splendid, unsung and unheralded heroes.