Friday, July 30, 2004

Heroization of a German - Comments

Dear Professor Kaiser:

Thanks much for your comments. They are excellent and, accordingly, I am having them posted on the website.

I myself wondered what the Germans think about America’s glorification of Alvin York. I also wondered about the responsibility of bomber crews of all nations, and about the responsibility of ordinary Americans -- who could vote, after all -- for the millions dead in Viet Nam. The moral problems of responsibility might well be thought intractable. Yet I admit that the possible intractability does not stop me from having a visceral reaction to the glorifying of a guy who killed hundreds of our men on D-Day.

Be this as it may, let me thank you again for your excellent email.

----- Original Message -----

Sent: Friday, July 30, 2004 3:12 PM
Subject: RE: "Heroization of a German Who Shot Hundreds of Americans on Omaha Beach
To begin with, I do not know how I got on the address list for this email, and would be curious to know, but the article/controversy is interesting.

I am rather surprised by the commentary on Severloh, who is clearly not a war criminal any more than the average B-17 or British bomber pilot who unloaded his bombs over a German city, and possibly, some would argue, less of one. The guy was a combat soldier who because of where he was managed to kill a good many of the enemy. Don't we recognize that as what a soldier is supposed to do? Granted that the cause he fought for was evil, he was simply fighting in a war, like Alvin York or Nathan Bedford Forrest. The Allies never tried to claim that the whole German army were by definition war criminals. I don't see any evidence that Severloh was violating the laws of war.

On the other hand, the article points out that the German government has belatedly gotten around to honoring officially the resistance to Hitler, which is a point in their favor. It's true that there is also a movement to make the Germans seem like victims, which is obviously quite a bit less inspiring.

Very few nations have a consistent record about dealing with the less praiseworthy episodes in their past. The U.S., or parts of the U.S., is still tied up in knots over both the civil war and Vietnam, for instance.

David Kaiser
Professor, Naval War College

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