After I wrote the story about the sinking of the Bismarck, my nephew, Steve Spethman told me about a documentary he had about the man who located the Bismarck, and the search for it. Of course, I jumped at the chance to watch it, but when I was done watching it, I felt…different. It’s easy to be excited about a victory in a battle in wartime, or in a war that your dad fought in. It’s easy to set aside the thoughts of lives lost in historic battles, when you know that the battle had to be fought, and the victory would determine the course of the world stage. The problem with that thinking though, is that all too often…especially in countries governed by an evil dictator, such as Adolf Hitler, the people involved in the war, have no choice as to whether or not to fight. I know that a draft is sometimes necessary, but I would much rather have a military machine composed of volunteers than one from a draft. I think volunteers know what they are walking into. It is a cause they agree with, not one they were forced to accept.
The movie about the Bismarck’s location, while mostly about the location of a sunken ship, was very different from the documentaries I had seen about other ships, like the Titanic. While both ships were located by the same man, Robert Ballard, the feelings taken away from the Bismarck, both for Ballard and for the audience were quite different. The addition of commentary from some of the actual survivors of the Bismarck, as well as men on the ships who went in for the final sinking and the rescue of survivors, was very sobering. I was very moved by the German men who remembered the name of the man, Joe Brooks, who risked his own life to try to pull them from the water. They said, in fact, that his name was revered among German soldiers everywhere. This was a man who, in a war situation, chose to do good to his enemies…an almost unheard of act in wartime, but that act from the middle of a war, is still remembered 74 years later.
So seldom, when talking about a war, do you hear about both sides of the war. While you may hear about their goals and reasons for going to war, you don’t hear about the human factor of each side. I think that was the thing that made me feel so different…almost somber after the movie. One man said that in a sea battle, you usually never see the enemy. He saw men…just briefly as they were running across the deck of the Bismarck. That was it…until they were in the water beside his ship. Then they weren’t soldiers, but real people in dire straits, who were about to lose their lives. In the end, Robert Ballard stood alone at the back of the ship he was on when he found the Bismarck, and I could tell that he felt the same way as I did. The war and the battle had both been a necessary action on the part of the allies, because evil cannot be allowed to prevail, but that simply does not change the fact that these were real lives and real tragic situations.