Peter Karsten is a professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, with joint appointments in the sociology department and the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. He is the author of the prizewinning The Naval Aristocracy: The Golden Age of Annapolis and the Emergence of Modern American Navalism (1972); Law, Soldiers, and Combat (1978); Heart versus Head: Judge-Made Law in Nineteenth-Century America (1997); the prizewinning Between Law and Custom: "High" and "Low" Legal Cultures in the Lands of the British Diaspora, 1600–1900 (2003); and The Magic Mirror: Law in American History (2nd edition, 2009), among other books. He is also editor-in-chief of the prizewinning Encyclopedia of War and American Society (3 volumes, 2005). He has held visiting chairs at University College Dublin, Augsburg Universitat, and The Citadel.
Most scholarship on the American role in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) during World War II has addressed the “large” issues of strategy, campaign outcomes, command leadership, and logistical support. Other, generally more recent research efforts have provided insights into the experiences of the individual combatants. This talk offers a better grasp of these latter efforts, utilizing evidence that has been underutilized. How did American infantrymen (“dogfaces”) experience and comprehend their world in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) during World War II? What did they think of their plight, of enemy’s weapons and their own, of tankers, army air force bombers, medics, officers, rear echelon personnel, replacement depots, “combat fatigue” and the many civilian refugees the war generated? These issues were addressed by combat infantry veterans in their diaries and in letters written from the front; in their recollections later published or recorded in oral interviews. They were also addressed in the reports of journalists covering the warfronts; in the output of combat photographers, artists and cartoonists capturing scenes there; and some of them were addressed in the massive surveys conducted by the Army’s Research Branch (RB) of combatants in the ETO to generate and provide data for the use of division and corps commanders. This talk explores additional sources of information concerning the infantrymen’s views, compares them to the recollections of the combatants and to the responses to the Research Branch’s questionnaires. While these on-the-scene combatants and observers confirm and reflect a number of the Research Branch survey findings, there are several dimensions of the dogfaces’ mindset that the RB surveys failed to detect, that are only to be found in this “on-the-scene” historical evidence.