Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Werewolves and war

The topic of war, real war, usually sends me into a complete twist brought on by rage at humanity’s faults and a lack of someone to punch over the excess death and misery caused by our own actions.

So, to bring something a little different to the day, I thought I'd write about where fiction and reality meet, and not just in your standard war movie or war book. I mean really fantastical fiction meets reality.

What better than werewolves and war? 

Have you ever noticed that werewolves are often connected with war in fiction? Wonder why? At first, if approached from the most recent stories, it seems a little far-fetched. You see and read of werewolves and zombies and Nazis battling away, sometimes a combination of these in one being, or you see and read of Nazi werewolf experiments as another of their scientific trials in bringing about a greater weapon with which to defeat their enemies. The theme has become almost a genre in itself, sustained by its own memes and not particularly connect to history in any way.

A Nazi werewolf zombie

It all gets quite detached from reality except in reference to war, Nazi symbology and Nazi gold and also werewolves. That last bit probably comes as a shock but yes, there was such a thing as the Nazi werewolves, or Werwolf. As you may have guessed, “Werwolf” is German for "werewolf". But how could there possibly be Nazi werewolves? By them not actually being werewolves, of course. They were purely human. Just a crack unit of soldiers formed in 1944 and named Werwolf. The Nazi’s weren’t experimenting to create super human soldiers. They already had the like through use of amphetamines and cocaine.

No, they were named Werwolf to strike fear, reference a purpose and promote the idea that this unit was an incredibly effective fighting force. Propaganda, in other words. It was all propaganda and hype even though there was a unit and they likely did achieve what tasks were given them, to some degree or another. Werwolf was promoted as a commando force that would operate behind enemy lines, dismantling the Allied war machine by guerrilla warfare and sabotage. Not much has been confirmed as having been actually done by these soldiers so it is likely they were more figureheads of terror than active soldiers.

I mentioned that the name Werwolf references a purpose. That purpose comes from a book. “The name was chosen after the title of Hermann Löns' novel, Der Wehrwolf (1910). Set in the Celle region, Lower Saxony, during the Thirty Years' War (1618–48), the novel concerns a peasant, Harm Wulf, who after his family is killed by marauding soldiers, organises his neighbours into a militia who pursue the soldiers mercilessly and execute any they capture, referring to themselves as Wehrwölfe. While not himself a Nazi (he died in 1914) Löns' work was also popular with the German far right, and the Nazis celebrated his work.”  - So this unit was designed and promoted to be merciless in their slaughter of the enemy.

Nazi werewolf doll

And that was the real Nazi Werwolfs. The popularity of Nazi werewolves, fictional Nazi werewolves that is, is due to several things that are either related to war and the Nazis or related to the history of werewolves in popular culture. Our love of a Nazi werewolf story though, comes more from out love of seeing monsters defeated after a fair amount of blood has been spilled. It is also one of those rare genres where the monster is two-fold or a hybrid, whichever you’d like to refer it as, and because of that it intrigues us because we can’t tell just what makes this creature more monstrous. Is it the Nazi aspect of the human side or the werewolf’s features and blood lust? 

A Nazi werewolf woman: wild but not so wolfish for obvious reasons.

Aside from the history of the Nazi Werewolf unit I believe there are two other things to influence the Nazi werewolf genre:
  • The saying " Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war" that Shakespeare wrote (although the history of the saying goes at least as far back as 1385 with "Item, qe nul soit si hardy de crier havok sur peine davoir la test coupe" from The Black Book of the Admiralty, 1385 is a collection of laws in French and Latin that relate to the organisation of the English Navy). “The military order ‘Havoc!’ was a signal given to the English military forces in the Middle Ages to direct the soldiery (in Shakespeare's parlance 'the dogs of war') to pillage and chaos” - Phrase Finder
  • The fear of the well trained and often lethal German shepherd war dog, used by any party who could get their hands on them. The reason why German shepherds still have a stigma of fear about them is because of their exceptional abilities during war. But to me the German shepherd is only fearful for its sometimes inability to distinguish poop from food (yuck!) and its size, given that I’m small enough to be bowled over and then subsequently licked by the dog that can’t always distinguish poop from food (double yuck!). That aside, German shepherds are awesome dogs and with the right love, care and training they are capable of some pretty amazing things, as soldiers, policemen and German shepherd owners alike will attest.

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