13 May, 2013

World War II’s Strangest Battle: When Americans and Germans Fought Together

Days after Hitler’s suicide a group of American soldiers, French prisoners, and, yes, German soldiers defended an Austrian castle against an SS division—the only time Germans and Allies fought together in World War II. Andrew Roberts on a story so wild that it has to be made into a movie.

The most extraordinary things about this truly incredible tale of World War II are that it hasn’t been told before in English, and that it hasn’t already been made into a blockbuster Hollywood movie. Here are the basic facts: on 5 May 1945—five days after Hitler’s suicide—three Sherman tanks from the 23rd Tank Battalion of the U.S. 12th Armored Division under the command of Capt. John C. ‘Jack’ Lee Jr., liberated an Austrian castle called Schloss Itter in the Tyrol, a special prison that housed various French VIPs, including the ex-prime ministers Paul Reynaud and Eduard Daladier and former commanders-in-chief Generals Maxime Weygand and Paul Gamelin, amongst several others. Yet when the units of the veteran 17th Waffen-SS Panzer Grenadier Division arrived to recapture the castle and execute the prisoners, Lee’s beleaguered and outnumbered men were joined by anti-Nazi German soldiers of the Wehrmacht, as well as some of the extremely feisty wives and girlfriends of the (needless-to-say hitherto bickering) French VIPs, and together they fought off some of the best crack troops of the Third Reich. Steven Spielberg, how did you miss this story?

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‘The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe’ By Stephen Harding. 256 pages. Da Capo. $25.99.

The battle for the fairytale, 13th century Castle Itter was the only time in WWII that American and German troops joined forces in combat, and it was also the only time in American history that U.S. troops defended a medieval castle against sustained attack by enemy forces. To make it even more film worthy, two of the women imprisoned at Schloss Itter—Augusta Bruchlen, who was the mistress of the labour leader Leon Jouhaux, and Madame Weygand, the wife General Maxime Weygand—were there because they chose to stand by their men. They, along with Paul Reynaud’s mistress Christiane Mabire, were incredibly strong, capable, and determined women made for portrayal on the silver screen.

There are two primary heroes of this—as I must reiterate, entirely factual—story, both of them straight out of central casting. Jack Lee was the quintessential warrior: smart, aggressive, innovative—and, of course, a cigar-chewing, hard-drinking man who watched out for his troops and was willing to think way, way outside the box when the tactical situation demanded it, as it certainly did once the Waffen-SS started to assault the castle. The other was the much-decorated Wehrmacht officer Major Josef ‘Sepp’ Gangl, who died helping the Americans protect the VIPs. This is the first time that Gangl’s story has been told in English, though he is rightly honored in present-day Austria and Germany as a hero of the anti-Nazi resistance.

The book’s author, Stephen Harding, is a respected military affairs expert who has written seven books and long specialized in World War II, and his writing style carries immediacy as well as authority. “Just after 4am Jack Lee was jolted awake by the sudden banging of M1 Garands,” he writes of the SS’s initial assault on the castle, “the sharper crack of Kar-98s, and the mechanical chatter of a .30-caliber spitting out rounds in short, controlled bursts. Knowing instinctively that the rising crescendo of outgoing fire was coming from the gatehouse, Lee rolled off the bed, grabbed his helmet and M3, and ran from the room. As he reached the arched schlosshof gate leading from the terrace to the first courtyard, an MG-42 machine gun opened up from somewhere along the parallel ridgeway east of the castle, the weapon’s characteristic ripping sound clearly audible above the outgoing fire and its tracers looking like an unbroken red stream as they arced across the ravine and ricocheted off the castle’s lower walls.” Everything that Harding reports in this exciting but also historically accurate narrative is backed up with meticulous scholarship. This book proves that history can be new and nail-bitingly exciting all at once.
[T]he French VIPs finally put aside their political differences and picked up weapons to join in the fight against the attacking SS troops.

Despite their personal enmities and long-held political grudges, when it came to a fight the French VIPs finally put aside their political differences and picked up weapons to join in the fight against the attacking SS troops. We get to know Reynaud, Daladier, and the rest as real people, not merely the political legends that they’ve morphed into over the intervening decades. Furthermore, Jean Borotra (a former tennis pro) and Francois de La Rocque, who were both members of Marshal Philippe Petain’s Vichy government and long regarded by many historians as simply pro-fascist German puppets, are presented in the book as they really were: complex men who supported the Allied cause in their own ways. In de La Rocque’s case, by running an effective pro-Allied resistance movement at the same time that he worked for Vichy. If they were merely pro-Fascist puppets, after all, they would not have wound up as Ehrenhäflinge—honor prisoners—of the Führer.

Read the rest here. ...and why isn't this a movie already?!?!

22 February, 2013

Nostalgia Critic Reviews "Pearl Harbor"!

09 February, 2013

Authors: Obama ‘Trying to Emulate’ Roosevelt

Me: You sure about that?

“Obama’s trying to emulate Roosevelt,” Burton Folsom Jr., a history professor at Hillsdale College in Michigan, tells Newsmax. “Obama likes Roosevelt. He often talks about these programs that he’s instituting being the greatest number of programs, sometimes he’ll say, in 70 years. In other words, he’s making a reference to Roosevelt.”
Doesn't give you the maximum of objective news...
I try my very best not to comment too often on US politics and opinions, but sometimes I just can't hold back. The above quoted article is so full of generalizations and just plain wrong conclusions I had to say something. Yes, it's Newsmax, I know. Even as a foreigner I realize criticizing a Newsmax article is like beating a one-legged blind man in the 100 meter race, but come on!
“He thinks highly of Roosevelt and the New Deal,” Burton Folsom tells Newsmax of President Obama. “He likes the idea of increased intervention. And he very much thinks that the president ought to have more power.
“Part of why we wrote “FDR Goes to War,” we thought there were lessons and parallels to Roosevelt,” he adds. “We were speaking to Americans today about a pattern of executives grabbing for power, how to stop it — and the negative consequences of when it happens.”
Every executive ever has always grabbed for more power in one way or form. Even as someone who finds Obama way overrated and unfit for his job this isn't a really a valid criticism of only his or democrat-led administrations in general.
“Roosevelt was mainly concerned with being re-elected — and if he could suspend civil liberties, if it would help him win re-election during wartime, he seemed to have regrettably chosen that path.”
Didn't Lincoln also suspend civil liberties during wartime? Somehow I don't see Roosevelt being that much concerned with being re-elected. Considering he won the electoral vote in a landslide and had a nice margin in the popular vote I don't see how the imprisonment of a single newspaper owner would have made much of a difference.
“What we did in the United States that got us out of that Depression was that we freed-up our economy,” Folsom adds. “The high tax rate, the 94 percent income tax rate on top incomes during the war, we sliced that.
“We cut the corporate income tax from 90 percent to 38 percent. We freed-up the economy — and because of that, we had developments in television, Xerox machines, and later McDonald’s and Holiday Inns, and ballpoint pens.

“There were all sorts of investments, in addition to the iron and steel — cars and the usual housing recovery — that got us out of the Great Depression. We only had 3.9 percent unemployment in 1946 and 1947.

“We freed-up the economy,” Folsom says. “We cut the tax rates. We cut federal spending by more than half — and that ended the Great Depression.”
I... uh... no. Just no. Granted, you won't find me favoring 94% income tax rates or 90% corporate income taxes. But this here is basic bullshit logic. Cutting taxes and cutting federal spending didn't get you out of the Great Depression. Becoming the warehouse and manufacturing center for the rest of the war-ravaged world, however, did. For almost a decade you were the sole go-to address for everybody who wanted to buy, well, anything. And quite frankly, your great technological developments (and I'm not bad-mouthing American ingenuity, folks)? Maybe they had something to do with, say, the thousands of pre-war immigrated European scientists? The thousands of high-class scientists and engineers whisked away by Operation Paperclip and others like it? The 340,000 (!!!) German patents you appropriated? You know, either that or Tea Party Thomas Jefferson Boyaa! What sounds more reasonable?

11 January, 2013

Er ist wieder da! - He's Back!

Not me, though I'll try and do my best to get some posts up and running with regularity again. No, the Führer is back in Timur Vermes best-selling book Er ist wieder da (He's back), soon to be available in English.
In The Sun (yeah, it's a tabloid, I know...) Gerrard Williams correctly claims that the comic novel [...] has shot to the top of the German book charts.

In it, Hitler awakes from a coma in 2011 but people assume he is an impersonator.

He’s Back — soon to be published in English — is proof the Germans FINALLY feel able to poke fun at the former Fuhrer.

But having just read it, I can confirm that author Timur Vermes, 45, won’t be writing for UK comedy shows any time soon.

The real novelty of the novel is that it was written by a German for Germans. It has smashed a long-standing taboo among those from the country Austrian-born Hitler dominated and destroyed.

He created a generation burdened by the guilt of the death factories of Auschwitz and Dachau.

Now a new generation are able to have a laugh at his expense.

But to Brits raised on Basil Fawlty’s “Don’t mention the war!” gags, Mel Brooks’ Springtime For Hitler song and TV’s Gestapo-French Resistance farce ’Allo ’Allo!, He’s Back has all the allure of a windswept Scottish coastal caravan site in winter.

The “plot” is pure farce. The once-mighty Fuhrer does not die in his bunker in the flaming ruins of Berlin in April 1945.

Instead he goes into hibernation, waking in 2011 and expecting to find the city swarming with Russian troops. He wanders around until a newsagent takes pity and lets him sleep in his kiosk.

While people recognise him as Hitler, they assume he is a lookalike. His monologues spark amusement — unintentionally — and he is given a slot on a Turkish-born comedy star’s TV show and proves a hit. There follows stardom on YouTube and, after winning the backing of a tabloid newspaper, he goes into politics, whipping up hatred against speeding drivers and the fouling of pavements by dogs.

The “humour”, such as it is, is sub-schoolboy. Take this extract from when Hitler recalls an old First World War comrades meeting:

“Two war veterans meet.

“‘Where were you wounded?’ one asks the other.

“‘In the Dardanelles,’ says the second veteran.

“To which the first replies: ‘Oh, they say it’s terribly painful down there!’" 
The stereotype that Germans have no sense of humour seems to be born out by this book.

But it’s been highly lucrative for Vermes, the son of a German mother and Hungarian dad.

It is best to regard the book as an experiment.

For years after the Second World War, Germans tried variously ignoring Hitler, diminishing Hitler or praising Hitler — in fact, there are plenty of far-right fanatics who still choose the latter.

Now they are laughing at Hitler and while we may not get the punchline, it’s about time they did.
I've yet to read the book - it'll be some time, I've got quite the backlog - but I'll tell you if it's any good then.

30 December, 2012

Praying Hitler Statue in Warsaw Less Than Welcome

A statue by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan shows Adolf Hitler praying on his knees in Warsaw, Poland, on Friday Dec. 28, 2012.
I'm not exactly sure who ever got the brilliant idea of thinking that a statue of Hitler - even on his knees, praying - would be a great addition to the ghetto of Warsaw. But whatever drugs were used on the occasion must have been quite potent.
One Jewish advocacy group, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, this week called the statue's placement "a senseless provocation which insults the memory of the Nazis' Jewish victims."

"As far as the Jews were concerned, Hitler's only 'prayer' was that they be wiped off the face of the earth," the group's Israel director, Efraim Zuroff, said in a statement.

However, many others are praising the artwork, saying it has a strong emotional impact. And organizers defend putting it on display in the former ghetto.

Fabio Cavallucci, director of the Centre for Contemporary Art, which oversaw the installation, said, "There is no intention from the side of the artist or the centre to insult Jewish memory."

"It's an artwork that tries to speak about the situation of hidden evil everywhere," he said.
It's Hitler. In the ghetto. I suppose there's a time and place for everything. This is not it!
"Every criminal was once a tender, innocent and defenseless child," the center said in a commentary on the work.
So what?! Is that a reason to put up statues of Idi Amin next?