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The Stuff of SoldiersA History of the Red Army in World War II through Objects$
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Brandon M. Schechter

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781501739798

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501739798.001.0001

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The Thing-Bag

The Thing-Bag

A Public-Private Place

(p.183) Chapter 6 The Thing-Bag
The Stuff of Soldiers

Brandon M. Schechter

Cornell University Press

This chapter studies the soldier's knapsack, exploring the few personal items that soldiers carried, from knickknacks to print propaganda to personal letters. Given the nomadic nature of soldiers' existence and the lack of free space in their packs, these items had to be either useful or precious. The thing-bag was the closest thing soldiers had to a private place. However, like everything else in the army, the soldier's pack was subject to random inspections. Superiors could look into thing-bags if they so desired, and they were encouraged to do so. The only nonmilitary items that soldiers were encouraged to carry in their packs were ephemera. Books, magazines, and newspapers were published to raise soldiers' morale, allowing them to expand their knowledge and distract themselves from the miseries of life at the front. In an army learning on the job, they also provided useful information about how to fight and transmitted the latest tactical innovations. Finally, this was the medium where soldiers could find explanations of the meaning of the war and their place in it. Of even greater importance were letters, which reified connections with home and allowed soldiers to participate in the lives of distant relatives.

Keywords:   Red Army soldiers, print propaganda, personal letters, thing-bag, nonmilitary items, knapsack

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