Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Patton, Montgomery, Rommel: Masters of War

I remember an old Commodore 64 video game that would have the word "Rommel" uttered when you were in trouble.
Since then, I've wanted to know more about this German commander. This book presents his story together with that of his American and British counterparts. Montgomery is portrayed as a very British commander who was concerned with status and enjoyed schmoozing with his men. He would regularly "bend" the facts to his version of the truth. Patton was a realistic Jerk. He'd resort to coarse language to relate to his troops and denigrate the enemy. Montgomery and Patton were allies during World War II, but they did not get along. They did both admire Rommel. He is the brilliant commander who could always seem to outmaneuver the allies. His biggest fault was his allegiance to Germany and Hitler. He would often do thing that Hitler ordered that were against what he knew was the best military solution.
I found myself most annoyed with Patton. He just seemed like a know-it-all jerk who was just itching to start a fight. I wanted to see him canned during the war. However, during the post-war reconstruction, his ideas were prescient. He was against de-Nazification, and wanted the best civil servants on the job, regardless of what they did during the war. He also saw the Soviets as the true enemy, and wanted a strong Germany to help defend against them. Were he to prevail, we may have been able to reduce much of the pain of the cold war. Alas, he died shortly after the end of hostilities in a freak motor vehicle accident. (That should make him a poster child for seatbelts.)
Rommel met his end shortly before the end of hostilities. He was significantly injured due to enemy fire. However, he was able to survive that. He was not able to survive the forced "suicide" at the hands of his own side. He was suspected to be a member of the plot to overflow Hitler with the briefcase bomb. (Had the briefcase not been moved and Hitler killed, things may have been very different.) It is not known whether he had knowledge of the incident. When people thought they could have their punishment reduced by fingering conspirators, he was accused. Immediately after the war when Germany was looking for post-war national heroes, he was seen as having no knowledge. Later, when Nazis were seen as evil and the west was looking for a good model, he was portrayed as the "good general" who wanted to fight a just war and was willing to overthrow an evil dictator. We are not sure of his involvement. We do know that he was tiring of Hitler and wanted Germany to cut its loses to help preserve some of the gains.
The book starts with brief biographies of each of the generals and then intertwines their stories as they battle for North Africa and Europe. Montgomery and Patton seemed to be involved with skirmishes with each other as often as with Rommel. The British and American public needed to see Britain pulling its weight and achieving victories under Montgomery. However, it seemed that the American troops were often set up more capably to win. (The Germans would even use this conflict in their propaganda, amplifying the conflict.) The book ends with a brief postwar status. Montgomery was the only one of the three to live for some time after the war's end. He published his memoirs in which he tried to raise himself up further and smear others. Rommel and Patton had the courtesy of dying around the war's end, leaving biographers to tell their stories and raise them up as was seen fit at the time.

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