Going to Perdition with Our Eyes Open

[Some context: The letter excerpt below was written during the Battle of Holland, also known as the “Bridge too Far.” The introduction in Italics is from Sergeant Nibley PhD: Memories of an Unlikely Screaming Eagle. This letter does not appear in that book. Much of HN’s job at this time was interrogating German prisoners.]

From Sergeant Nibley PhD:

Several attempts were made to get to Arnhem and rescue the Red Devils of the British 1st Airborne Division. The British tried to get there, but the German Panzers that weren’t supposed to be there stopped them. The Poles were finally landed days late on the other side of the river. They tried a river crossing to reach the British, but they were only supplied with small rubber boats and the mission failed, with heavy Polish casualties. Finally everybody admitted that Arnhem Bridge was not going to fall to the Allies and the bridgehead over the Rhine, the purpose for the whole operation, was not going to happen.

As it became clear that Market-Garden was not going to work out according to plan, the 1st Airborne Army shifted to a battle more reminiscent of World War I than the high-speed hit-and-run tactics it had been trained for. They had taken a lot of ground and now, even though it’s purpose as a causeway to a bridgehead over the Rhine was no longer valid, they had to defend the ground or give it back to the Germans. Like dog-faces of the Great War, the troops dug in while big guns dueled back and forth and heavy rain and heavy artillery fell on the soggy paratroopers. On October 4 the 101st was moved to an area known to the allies as “the Island,” which was actually a narrow piece of land almost completely surrounded by the Waal and Rhine rivers.

[Letter, October 23, 1944]

And now, what shall I write? If I so much as hinted about what you can read on the front page of the daily paper I would become a Benedict Arnold; if I suggested some of the things possibly legible between the lines my crime would be beyond redemption in this world or the next. The interesting thing about our age is that not many people are really fooled – we are going into perdition with our eyes open; the separation of the tares and the wheat is to be strictly a free-will affair. A few questions rightly put can wangle an admission from the most completely hypnotized subject to the effect that he knows he is being fooled and is only playing anyway. That is exactly the way the Germans react to the same treatment. Like men in a trance even the firmest of them will suddenly break out with the abrupt admission (which always comes as a surprise) that they knew all along it was only make-believe and never actually believed all that stuff. Wherever you go in our own society you find great numbers of people behaving as if they were frightened to death of being disillusioned – getting touchier every minute, just like the South did before the Civil War.


About Hugh Nibley

Hugh Nibley, 1910-2005, was simultaneously the LDS Church's greatest intellectual defender from attack from the outside and Mormon culture's strongest critic from the inside. This blog is composed mainly from Nibley's unpublished writings, letters, interviews and conversations, with occasional posts from associates who had personal interactions with him.
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