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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5876/film-page-stalingrad/

Film Page: Stalingrad

November 10, 2006 by

As hard as it has been to find films about entrepreurship, it has been easy to find films about war. The film page is well stocked with anti-war films since war seems to be of perennial interest whether in the triumphalist films that followed World War II or in the darker modern war films like Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and A Midnight Clear.

I’ve been loathe to add any more war films to the film page. As important an issue as this is, it seems to me fairly well covered by now. But I decided one more had to be on this list. An outstanding film that portrays the state at its most out of control and destructive. A devastating, bleak film that I couldn’t stop watching.

Stalingrad (1993)

There was a time when war was limited by the king’s purse. Soldiers were payed out of his private money and if he stopped paying they stopped fighting. As imperfect a barrier as it was, this served to keep war making somewhat constrained. With modern taxation and conscription though, the state was able to make war on a new and terrifying scale as demonstrated by the massive French revolutionary army under Napoleon. This development seemed to culminate in the trenches of World War I which saw casualties previously unimaginable. But there was worse to come.

World War II showed that there were still constraints to be left behind. The targeting of civilians through bombing and concentration camps, the subservience of all economy activity to the state and the ideological commitment to “unconditional surrender” led to the emergence of a new, in the modern era at least, kind of war: Total war. With the possible exception of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the combat operation that represents the horrifying pinnacle of total war is the battle of Stalingrad.

With each side spending human life like water, an estimated 1.7 to 2 million Axis and Soviet casualties were lost in this battle that lasted 199 days and destroyed an entire city. Though the battle is widely considered a turning point in the war, this film is entirely uninterested in this battle as a matter of military strategy. Instead the story is about the human cost.

Stalingrad wisely narrows its focus to 3 German soldiers heading to Stalingrad, two veteran grunts, Fritz and Rollo, and an officer, Hans, new to combat and full of patriotism. Upon arriving they realize that something is different in Stalingrad when they see a soldier beating a prisoner of war to death and the officers refusing to discipline the soldier. Things go downhill from there as they face the brutal street fighting that most characterized the battle and eventually the encirclement of an entire German army in the merciless Russian winter. The most dramatic transformation is that of Lieutenant Hans who changes not only due to the general hopelessness of the situation but in particular because of the shooting of civilians. De-humanization is a constant theme throughout the film.

In a rare scene of humanity a German unit calls for a truce with the Soviet unit in the building next to them so each side can retrieve wounded. While doing their grim work, a German soldier spies a Russian pocketing some bacon. He pulls out a piece of bread and holds it out to the Russian. They look at each other nervously and quickly make the exchange. A moment of human cooperation in the midst of destruction.

How bad can the state get? This film answers that question.

In German with English subtitles. Rated R for gruesome war violence. See this review.

{ 8 comments }

Angelo November 10, 2006 at 3:46 pm

Wonderful! I’m glad this film was added. I was just thinking about it in terms of how the state magnifies war during the last few days, as it’s one of my favorite war movies.

Logipundit November 10, 2006 at 4:17 pm

“A devastating bleak film that I could not stop watching” LOL. Having trouble imagining a film named “Stalingrad” that’s not devastating and bleak.

Haven’t seen it, so I’ll be sure and add it to the Netflix queue.

P.M.Lawrence November 10, 2006 at 9:33 pm

That remark about the need to pay soldiers once making a constraint is misleading. It suggests a linear sequence, but actually there were many times and places when war didn’t have those constraints. Certainly, that applies to much of the 17th and 18th century in western Europe, but on the other hand feudal levies, insurrection (in its technical sense) and the availability of loot often made things different. The Turks even charged soldiers a toll to accompany the Janissaries on campaign.

Jim November 11, 2006 at 9:37 pm

Some may argue that the American War of Independence was financed by financial fraud; i.e. a paper currency that went to zero (the Continental).

How can a liberterian society defend itself on the Hobbesian world stage is an issue that I have been struggling for some time. Part of the reason behind the success of the French revolutionary army was because it was a totalitarian regime wherever it went. Whereas the Prussian and Austrian commanders worry about how to compensate the farmers of central Europe for the provisions, the French army had no qualms about commandeering whatever it wanted for the “revolutionary cause.” That’s what led to the odd phenomenom of Prussians and Austrians unable to supply their armies in their rich home territory whereas the French found supply in the same place by looting. The French totalitarian army was not stopped until it met an equally totalitarian regime, the Russians, who burned their own capital to deny it to the French.

I’m certainly not advocating vainglorious militarism. Individual French and Russians probably suffered far worse than the average Prussian or Austrian in that time period. The thing is, what realistic solution is there to prevent the machiavillian empire builders from despoiling a more liberterian-leaning society by military conquest?

P.M.Lawrence November 12, 2006 at 2:05 am

Jim, there are some misunderstandings there:-

- The French used different methods according to citcumstances. What you describe is only applicacable to what their armies took. During civil occupation – e.g. in the Low countries and in Italy – they had enough scruples to call what they did “evacuating”, and also they used the printing money trick to compensate people. This worked well (for them) since the people compensated were happy enough to pass the fiat money along and buy lands and such that the French ordered forfeited, e.g. Church lands.

- Even for the armies, it wasn’t whether the different armies had qualms but whether they were pissing on their own door step, as it were. The Prussians couldn’t afford to ruin their own infrastructure and alienate their own peasantry.

- The French trick failed earlier than the Russian campaign, in Spain and Portugal. It only ever worked when a war of movement allowed them to move on to fresh pastures, as it were – but in front of the Lines of Torres Vedras the nominally besieging French were the ones that ran short of supplies. The British could be resupplied by sea, but the French needed to bring supplies in over land in the face of a hostile insurgent population. By 1810 all the coalition powers had worked out how not to play to French strengths and avoided those situations; the Russian scorched earth policy was just one example of that, and not the first either.

Statpundit November 12, 2006 at 1:31 pm

Haven’t seen it, so I’ll be sure and add it to the Bittorrent queue.

Jim November 12, 2006 at 6:06 pm

P.M.,
Thank you for clarifying some of the details. It may seem odd how quickly we jumped two “world wars” backwards in time when the original post was out totalitarian regimes during WWII. French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars were indeed World War Zero :-) That’s when modern totalitarian regimes, with presumed power of total mobilization of civilian population into the (slave) service of the state began. It seems to me that both of us realized that, in order to defeat the French national-state totalitarian expasionist regime, the rest of Europe more or less copied the French totalitarian methods, whether it was before the torching of Moscow or after. That is the very discouraging reality that I was talking about. How can a more libertarian society where the government is less interventionist find the wherewitheral to withstand the onslaught of a determined totalitarian regime that is bent on total mobilization? So long as we libertarians can’t give a satisfactory answer to that delimma, it’s hard to prevent the tide of totalitarian regimes when one nation succumbs to totalitarian rulers . . . somewhat of a perverse domino effect.

P.M.Lawrence November 13, 2006 at 4:22 am

No, Jim, Napoleon’s enemies didn’t defeat him by adopting those techniques but by avoiding conflict on his terms and also reviving even earlier methods of irregular fighting. They took on board French techniques of civil government, though, and a generation later – typically in 1848 – the effects of the revolutions before had eroded the legitimacy of their ancien regime approach. They then either adopted the same worldview or went under – except in the UK. There’s also a strong case that the Seven Years War was the first “world” war.

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