On each occasion when senior officers plotted to resist or overthrow Hitler, it was not because they objected to his basic goals, but because they feared his tactics and pacing. They rebelled, or talked about rebelling, on prudential grounds, not principled ones. New York Review of Books June 10, 2010
I knew someone in college– and someone else much later– who was rather passionate about the “conservative resistance to Hitler”. It was clear that she felt it was very important that nobody believed that communists, socialists, or other progressives get credit for standing up to Nazism.
So she wrote a paper on the “conservative resistance to Hitler”. She argued that these stellar individuals were the real backbone of the resistance to totalitarianism and the pillars of democracy and freedom, in the abstract, if not the reality. These individuals had honor and dignity and should in no way be held responsible for the atrocities which, she asserted, were primarily committed by party members, not the Wehrmacht.
Besides, she liked to say, the Communists were worse than the Nazis anyway.
And there’s the red herring: oh, so Stalin killed millions as well. By golly, in that case, let’s cut Von Manstein and Steiner, and Franz Halder, and Model and Rundstedt some slack.
I didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it today. I was more inclined to see conservatives as slightly distant members of the fraternity, not involved, perhaps, in initiating the monstrous atrocities of the Third Reich, but indispensable to it. They were, in the most literal sense, Hitler’s enablers.
Furthermore, I don’t believe the evils of Nazism can be confined to their treatment of the Jews and the Gypsies and the “mental defectives”. The idea of war itself, of an imperial Germany, of living space– ideals shared by many of these same generals– was all a part of the same culture. Was Stalingrad any better, morally, than Dachau?
“I knew hardly anyone who so overtly rejected the regime, without any caution, without any fear,” recalled one of his friends after his death. But for all his private opposition, he was sufficiently in agreement with Hitler’s goals to fight for them—as was also true of the July 20 plotters. [On General Kurt Von Hammerstein.]
Even Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, the lavishly titled leader of the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944, didn’t take any action until it was apparent that Hitler had taken management of the war away from the generals and would drive Germany into the grave with his insane stratagems. Von Stauffenberg supported (and participated in) the invasion of Poland and the enslavement of Polish workers, which he believed was crucial to Germany’s prosperity.
If Von Stauffenberg had been successful, would the plotters have succeeded in negotiating a “dignified” surrender to the allies? They would have almost certainly asked for certain conditions, and they would have certainly have attempted to guarantee their own positions in the new Germany, along with a large portion of the same infrastructure that carried out the deportations and murder of the Jews. [In fact, upon further research, I found out that, if the assassination attempt had been successful, Von Stauffenberg had intended to demand that Germany be permitted to hang on to some of the territories in the East that they had captured earlier in the war, and their weapons, and their military infrastructure, and he would have insisted that only Germany could put Germans on trial for war crimes, if they felt like it!] They probably would have outlawed the Nazi party and convicted a few leading Nazi party members of atrocities.
Remember: the centrality of stopping the extermination of Jews to the perception of the war against Germany is a post war phenomenon.
So, enough about honorable Germans. Every soldier is an enabler for some dictator or corporation or ethnic group and not one of those entities ever announces to the world that they are evil and selfish and psychotic: they are always patriots.
It was the wide area of agreement on objectives between Hitler and the generals that brought them together. Having become a pillar of the Third Reich, they were disinclined to bring the edifice crashing down about their own ears.
On Von Manstein
Did they know?