A twofold mission

Awareness is an interesting concept in terms of the speed setting attached to it. We can suddenly become aware that there is no toilet paper, or wine, and then circumstances become really interesting (Cana).

Other things like ideologies and perspectives take longer to develop. The raison d’être of The Log Book Project definitely falls under the latter time-frame. I realize now that the first “W” of WWII is the key to understanding my fascination with the subject. It’s scale and magnitude continue to amaze me.

As I type this, we are about 14 months into a pandemic that has tangibly disrupted life globally. Covid-fatigue might be a thing but it would be folly to attempt any comparison of 2020/21 to life between 1939 and 1945 – or the immediate preceding/post years depending on where you lived.

The journey of The Log Book Project has thus developed into a twofold mission; R&E

Remembrance & Education

The first is REMEMBRANCE and all the attributes that accrue under that heading like, honor, awareness, recognition, sacrifice, courage, (staggering) loss, bravery, selflessness, tenacity, perseverance, fidelity, horror, holocaust, war crimes, defiance, victory. The list is not exhaustive.

The second is EDUCATION and all things related. This equally important aspect is why the project aims to be as global as possible with signatories and stories beyond Allied Service women and men.

(An important qualification here is that TLBP team does not claim expertise in either area. We strive to be as accurate as possible, on the margins of regular day jobs, ideally serving as a catalysts unlocking the reader’s individual curiosity.)

The story that triggered TLBP therefore could have come from anywhere – as indeed it did – in the profile of Japanese ace pilot Kename Harada. Had I been preoccupied with the Western perspective only, TLBP might never have existed.

In addition to Allied service women and men therefore, there are witnesses, holocaust survivors, hibakusha (atom bomb survivors), second generation individuals, authors – all of whom embody aspects pertaining to both R&E.

A deeper understanding

There are also some 14 German signatures and 7 from Japan. I feel strongly that their presence is necessary to gain greater understanding of what occurred during WWII. For some, the question of “why” the German signatures exist in TLBP remains an extremely delicate matter that will undoubtedly require explanation into the foreseeable future. Not everyone will agree and that is ok too.

As has been stated elsewhere in our writing, there is no attempt to romanticize or honor the tyranny of Nazi or Japanese war crimes and atrocities, or indeed that of any other individual, group or nation involved in WWII.

TLBP therefore seeks to gain perspective by examining the experience of the individual within the machinery and madness of war. In the same way as one would visit a museum – to gain deeper understanding. Nazism, racism, hate crimes and genocide of any sort are all abhorrent and absolutely condemned by TLBP.

A picture triggers 480 words.

Tank Museum flags on display
Union Flag flown during the siege of Tobruk and a German swastika flag captured during the relief operation – both exhibited at The Tank Museum.

The rambling 480-word post above was inspired by and concisely captured in the below single photograph on a post by The Tank Museum Facebook page.

The saga that played out in North Africa involving British forces opposite German troops headed by renowned German General, Erwin Rommel, is perhaps one of the more documented chapters of WWII. On closer study however, I was amazed to coincidentally realize that one of the German signatories in The Log Book is Mr. Günter Neugebauer, who served in the Panzer Aufklarungs Abteilung 33, 15 Panzer Division. His division was transported to Libya in April 1941, joining Rommel’s Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK) as one of two German tank divisions in North Africa. The story, including how the names of the British officers of B Squadron 8th Royal Tank Regiment ended up embroidered on a Nazi flag (of all things!) captured during the battle is intriguing.

Captured Nazi flag.
Nazi flag captured by 8th Royal Tank Regiment advancing to break the siege of Tobruk.

In my humble opinion, the ability to look at the profile of a person – someone who was a son, perhaps a brother, father etc, who fought under the Nazi flag – in this case Mr. Neugebauer – certainly fleshes out the Educational aspect of the story.

Symbols vs individuals

It is easy and fitting to point to a symbol like the swastika and condemn it. Some will object to even an educational presentation as evidenced by some comments on the Tank Museum’s Facebook post. Perhaps this post will generate similar feelings.

It becomes more nuanced to look into the eyes of the individual standing beneath the symbol and perhaps dare to wonder how she/he ended up there.

The presence of the German signatories has indeed spurred some veterans to refuse to sign. And this is absolutely within their right. They know what they saw, what they experienced, what they lost. There are similar sensitivities on the Japanese side as well. 80 years may have passed. Make no mistake, the wounds still run deep.

In our online world, we gravitate to clickable box solutions that neatly and broadly define things according to our bias. If we are honest, sometimes not everything is as straightforward as we would like, which brings me back to awareness and how we stymie or develop it.

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