Just Following Orders

I am a Jew by choice. I was not born Jewish, I chose them as my people. I am an American, ready to give up everything I have to protect our freedom. I come from a long military history, and even though I was outed and sent home before I could actually serve, I am still a part of my family’s military story. I still embrace my Irish, Scottish, and German roots – but I am proud to be an adopted Jew.

You can imagine my shock and disgust, then, upon seeing this image in my Facebook timeline. It was proudly posted by one of the many military groups I belong to.

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If you know anything about history, Erwin Rommel was arguably the best military commander – Field Marshal – of Nazi Germany’s military. He fought in WWI, and when Hitler rose to power he was so enamored of Rommel that he made him the War Ministry’s liaison to Hitler Youth. Rommel, at one point, pushed for more military training for Hitler youth. He was good friends with Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels and commanded Hitler’s personal escort during the invasion of Poland, later leading security for Hitler on multiple occasions. During the invasion of France and Belgium, he was supposed to be in the rear, but he ended up in the front (likely by his own design), leading the attack. He led German forces in the North African theater, aiding the Italians against the British. Hitler so loved the man that other Nazi military commanders hated him.

According to the history that I know, Rommel refused orders to kill civilians. If that is true, fantastic – but considering how close he was to Hitler, you cannot convince me that he didn’t know what the Fuhrer was all about. It has been claimed that he was involved in Operation Valkyrie, the plot to assassinate Hitler; what I have read, however, says that Rommel knew about the plot and offered to stay silent but was never involved because he believed that an assassination would make the situation worse. In the end Rommel was given the choice to either take a cyanide pill and end his life or fight charges of treason, see his wife and son suffer and be publicly executed. I honestly don’t think Hitler would have publicly executed him. He knew that Rommel’s outing as a traitor would have damaged the public’s perception of their Fuhrer and possibly emboldened any future endeavors to end the Reich. That is merely my opinion, but it is an educated one.

In the more than two thousand comments posted on the image above, one thing was repeated constantly, by soldiers in our military: Rommel was a brilliant tactician and therefore should be respected.

Yes, he was a genius as a tactician. So much so that he was the one military leader later saluted by Winston Churchill. I can accept, even agree with, teaching his knowledge and actions in military academies (particularly West Point). I can see showing respect for one’s enemy as a true soldier. I cannot, however, accept posting a quote like this one as something to live by – even for 11B or the Marine Corps.

Regardless of what one may think of Rommel as a soldier, he was still a Nazi. He may have later come to dislike Hitler’s methods but there is little I can find to like about a man who was that close to the author of genocide. I cannot believe that he didn’t know what Hitler and Goebbels believed and what they wanted to do to the Jews and all other “undesirables”. As close as he was to that circle, I cannot believe he wasn’t antisemitic, regardless of whether he agreed with the methods being used to implement the “Final Solution”.

He may not have been Hitler himself, but being a respected soldier and leader does not mean a killer should be given a voice. One must ask how many of Rommel’s troops did murder undesirables under orders. To say that a man is “just following orders” when he commits such an act is a massive cop-out, a weak argument used by cowards and killers alike to excuse barbarity. It is just as wrong today, for the soldiers sent to Leavenworth for carrying out an illegal order to kill all Iraqi men of military age, as it was for the Nazis who rounded up and exterminated my people – and the ones who approved by remaining silent.

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