According to Rick Atkinson in The Guns at Last Light, American soldiers in WWII grew progressively more brutal as the war went on. The violence of war wore them down, and after the D-Day invasion they didn’t always take prisoners. When stories of German atrocities spread, as happened in the Battle of the Bulge when SS troops slaughtered over a hundred GIs after they had surrendered, American reprisals increased.
By the time the Allies reached Germany, they showed no mercy. They had seen so much death and suffering and it turned into hatred. These, after all, were the perpetrators. Villages that didn’t surrender immediately were turned into slag heaps. German soldiers flying white flags were gunned down. And when the Allies liberated concentration camps, their sense of outrage and hatred grew even more murderous. Until then, GIs had been notably skeptical about the point of the war. When they saw concentration camp horrors, they had no more doubts. “Still having trouble hating them?” Eisenhower asked a nervous young GI after touring Buchenwald. At Dachau, American liberators stood aside while inmates literally tore apart their guards, limb from limb. GIs gunned down many more after they surrendered. No one was prosecuted for this.
Today, thoughts of this came to me sitting in a meditative Good Friday service. It takes a good deal of determination to murder someone. Those who plotted Jesus’ death, those who bayed for it before Pilate, even the Roman soldiers who beat Jesus and then nailed him up–they did it with feeling. What had he done to deserve death by torture–or, any death at all? He threatened their sense of order, he endangered them through his heedless rhetoric, he was a living blasphemy. They hated him enough to kill, and niceties like judicial procedure be damned.
And what about God? Looking at this world that scorned and abused his own son, and hung him up to die a slow, dangling death, how he must have hated them, enough to kill them all. Except he didn’t.