Soldiers’ Motivations to Fight in World War II: The United States Army and the German Wehrmacht in the European Theatre
The European theatre of the Second World War has often been perceived as an ideological conflict driven by nationalism and patriotism. Ideology, patriotism, and nationalism may have been the motivations of leaders and citizens on the home front in Germany and the United States, but what about the men in the American and German armies fighting on the front lines? They may have been similarly motivated prior to their deployment, but what motivated soldiers in the U.S. Army and the Wehrmacht to continue fighting as the war dragged on and as they endured the horrors of combat? Were the motivational factors of American soldiers similar to or distinct from those of German soldiers? They may have been on opposing sides of a war that meant something very different for their governments, but American and Wehrmacht soldiers fighting in the European theatre were motivated by many identical factors while facing similar obstacles that decreased morale. Despite counter arguments from various historians, neither patriotism nor ideology were common motivating factors for these soldiers. Rather, the American and German soldier fighting for their life on the frontline were primarily focused on their immediate circumstances and concerned with their survival. A number of secondary motivational factors including a soldier’s trust and respect for their officers, trust in their own training and preparedness, thoughts of home, and letters from home were crucial in boosting morale. Although many secondary motivational factors for American and German soldiers were nearly identical, the American and German armies functioned and emphasized these factors differently. Therefore, the impact that they had on combat motivation differed according to the emphasis that each army placed on them.