AUGUST 16, 1944
HYDE PARK, Tuesday—A young Norwegian flier who was with us the other day voiced a fear which some of our own soldiers have voiced in print.
He said the tendency of Americans whose land had not been devastated, and whose families have not been killed before their eyes, may be to treat the enemy more gently than the populations in the countries we are now freeing would want us to do. He hopes, therefore, that as soon as possible, the handling of local, civic and military affairs will be in the hands of the freed people themselves. Otherwise, there might be bitterness against the liberators, and a feeling that too much kindness was being shown to an enemy who had meted out such dire cruelty and suffering while in power.
This has been echoed in letters I have received from men overseas when they hear that civilians at home are worrying about the "brutalizing" effect of war on our men, and whether or not we will treat the Germans and Japanese kindly in their forthcoming defeat.
From all I hear and know of our men, even the war cannot brutalize those who were not brutalized beforehand. It is true that in our army there are criminal types, just as there are in any army. They were criminals before and will be criminals in civilian life in the future. The average soldier is the product of his life here in a free country. His instincts are to be kind even to his prisoners; and when it comes to seeing a child hungry, he will go without his own most cherished food and give it to the child, regardless of that child's nationality.
This country has had higher standards of living than probably any other country in the world. To our men, therefore, conditions of poverty and disease and filth, even as they existed in some foreign countries before the war, would have been quite appalling. With war has come even greater hardships to the poor people of Europe. No matter how poor the background of some of our soldiers may be, it will not equal the sights that they will see as they progress into conquered territory. There will be an appeal to all their kindly instincts, and it will be the rare exception for one of our men to be cruel or even hard-hearted.
As a nation it is easy for us to think first about what we would like as the ideal procedure between nations throughout the world. War, however, is never a civilized proceeding. The thing I hope we will do is to try to prevent future wars by establishing some form of machinery which will bring just treatment to all nations, but quick dealing with any aggressors in the future. We, as a people, have been spared most of the horrors of war in our own nation, but we cannot expect the other people who have suffered those horrors to feel as we do.