First, let me say that I come here to mostly praise Bill O’Reilly’s Killing series, not to bury it. This is not another history snob sniffing that there is “nothing new” in the books. While I can’t say that I have learned any Major New Truths of history from reading the books—and it is a fair statement to say that the heavy lifting of original research has been done by others—I am still very happy these books exist, and the history snobs should be, too.
Why? Because these books all contain Big Truths that those of us who love history all sit around and say, “What your high school history teacher should have told you is…”
Nor am I going to snipe that the books are filled with little details—like the pattern of the tablecloth at Potsdam—that scream “look at all my cool research”? If you really are a history buff that makes them kind of fun.
I actually picked up Killing Patton, because this is the one time that O’Reilly and his coauthor Martin Dugard (whose books on David Livingstone and Captain Cook are among my all-time favorites) propose to make a Big Revelation in their new book: That General George S. Patton was killed by the NKVD at Stalin’s orders.
Early in the book, O’Reilly and Dugard bring up the forced suicide of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, Patton’s famed nemesis. The German commander of the defense of Normandy was a sympathizer of the German Resistance that nearly killed Hitler.
But while the authors inform us of the color of Rommel’s mucous after he ingests cyanide, this dismissive sentence of an actual Big Truth drove me nuts.
The book states that the attempted assassination of July 20, 1944 was, “engineered by members of the German military who no longer believed Hitler was fit to rule Germany.”
While this might be true of Rommel, to blow off the rest of the heroic circle of conspirators — which included labor leaders and clergy — in this way would be like saying the Founding Fathers “thought British taxes on tea were cutting too far into their profits.”
Good grief, Bill, even Tom Cruise got this one right.
Next: Why FDR Wanted Hitler Alive
The dismissing of the German Resistance might have been forgivable had Killing Patton been written in the 1950s or even the early 1960s. In his famous book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer paints a sinister picture of cynical generals who had loved Hitler when they were winning, but once they were losing wanted him out of the way to continue the war in a militarily sane manner.
And this was the story the New Dealers of the Roosevelt Administration wanted out. And after the war, and the horrific loss of life at D-Day, The Bulge and beyond, even those who knew better were content with the story, not wanting to have questions raised about whether those losses could have been avoided.
In fact, the story of the German Resistance was actively censored until the 1959 German publication of a memoir of one of the few survivors of the plot to kill Hitler, Fabian von Schalbrendorff’s The Secret War Against Hitler, which was published in the U.S. in 1965.
As Thomas Fleming details in his book The New Dealers’ War, Roosevelt harbored a deep hatred for Germany — not just the Nazis — going back to WWI. This combined with the agendas of extreme leftists at the top of his administration: particularly the openly pro-Soviet Harry Hopkins, and Secretary of the Treasure Henry Morgenthau Jr. whose post-war plan was to dismantle German industry and turn the country into an agricultural region, to frustrate any efforts by the German Resistance to seek Allied cooperation.
Allen Dulles, who would later become the first Director of the CIA, advocated aiding the plotters. But Fleming contends the public instance of “unconditional surrender” was deliberately designed to stiffen German resolve and hinder the Resistance, who were not going to risk everything to kill Hitler, only to turn their country over to Stalin.
Eisenhower and Churchill both opposed the policy, and Churchill openly courted the Resistance.Next: How a Catholic Colonel and a Lutheran Pastor Almost Saved Europe from both Nazism and Communism
Despite the fact that most historians accepted the von Schlabrendorff account of the Resistance—and many added their own research (it was easy, since the Gestapo accounts of the investigation were very detailed) most history texts either ignored the incident or stuck with the established narrative.
The very good 2009 Tom Cruise movie Valkyrie was the first popular treatment of the German Resistance to give these brave and heroic—but also flawed—men their due. But it was 55 years late in coming.
Liberal critics did their best to trash Valkyrie, mostly by taking irrelevant and ignorant shots at Cruise’s performance as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the man who planted the bomb next to Hitler, as not conflicted enough. This was ironic, since the dashing Von Stauffenberg was even better looking and more charismatic than the actor. But it’s easy to take shots at Tom Cruise.
Germans were initially wary of famously Scientologist Cruise starring as one of their few WWII heroes and martyrs. But as it turns out, Cruise not only paid homage to the man’s heroism, but was honest about his Christianity as well.
Not covered in the movie is the fact that the spiritual oomph for the Resistance came from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a rebel Lutheran pastor who had opposed Hitler’s rise to power and had briefly fled to the U.S . to escape persecution. Bonhoeffer returned to Germany to be one of the few open voices against Nazism, and was ultimately martyred.
The Resistance plan, von Schlabrendorff reveals in his memoir, was after killing Hitler to sue for peace with the West, return all territory and make reparations, but to continue the fight against Communism. There was even a new Constitution drawn up, inspired by the American document.
Both the film and numerous historical accounts tell of a near miss by the Resistance when General Henning Von Tresckow planted a bomb on Hitler’s plane in March of 1943; unaware that the captured British fuse he employed would not work at altitude. The war may not have been at its zenith for the Germans in the Spring of ’43, but all was not lost, either, as could be argued by July 20, 1944.
But the plan of the Lutheran pastor and the Catholic Colonel would certainly have saved countless American lives and kept Eastern Europe from 40 years of oppression.
Von Schlabrendorff also reveals that the Resistance was in contact with Churchill in the late 30s, while Chamberlain was still Prime Minister. These were not men who decided in the middle of the war that Hitler was “no longer fit.”
Next: Killing Hitler, A Suggestion for O’Reilly and Dugard’s Next Book
Partners in Killing Hitler?
Back to Killing Patton. Am I convinced that the NKVD assassinated the famously anti-communist General who wanted to rearm the Germans and send them after the Russians? Almost. It’s a plausible and honestly argued premise. It’s book-worthy and intriguing.
But here’s a way for the authors to make up for their dismissive attitude toward the heroes of Operation Valkyrie, and propose another Big Conspiracy Theory besides.
I propose that Admiral Canaris, the head of the Abwher, German Military Intelligence, worked as a direct agent of Sir Stewart Menzies, the famous “C” and head of MI-6 to destroy Nazism.
Just a few of the incidences recounted from Anthony Cave Brown’s seminal work on the secret operation of WWII in Europe, Bodyguard of Lies form the basis for my theory.
Proof 1: The leaking of the German battle plan to the Dutch by Canaris’s right hand man in 1939.
Now known as the Oster Affair, the entire German battle plan on the Western front—and the fact that it would happen—was leaked to Dutch intelligence before the Blitzkrieg. Colonel Oster is referred to in the film Valkyrie, as the man that Stauffenberg is replacing in the conspiracy, having been recently arrested. Oster was Canaris’s right hand throughout the war and the Abwher’s direct contact in the Resistance.
Proof 2: EVERY German spy that infiltrated England during WWII was intercepted.
While I concede Sir Menzies’s brilliance as a spymaster, this is a bit much. It would also require a hitherto undiscovered stupidity on the part of Canaris and his whole organization. The mere cracking of German codes does not account for the fact that we now know that EVERY German Abwher agent was either turned for the purpose of misinformation, or executed.
Proof 3: Close personal contact between the two spymasters.
When it became obvious that Roosevelt’s insistence would mean no direct Allied cooperation with the German Resistance, Menzies sent a personal note to Canaris expressing his regrets. This denotes an extraordinary level of courtesy and regard for a supposed enemy.
So, keep up the good work, Bill. While I’m a critic of how celebrity is ruining the book business– and Fox News personalities (aside from the legitimately brilliant Greg Gutfeld) are contributing to this awful trend—and no, I’m not just bitter that thousands of Kindles self-sold hasn’t led me to a big book contract like it might have in the old days—you have found a cool niche and are using your celebrity for educational good.
I just had this one quibble.