Better Than the Movie

Spurred by endless repeats of the trailer for “Valkyrie,” I’ve started reading up on the German resistance to Hitler, and on Stauffenberg in particular.  (This gives me a familiar twinge of grief, because my father, may he rest in peace, majored in German history in college, and we could probably have had some really good discussions about this. I usually get these twinges about much more prosaic things, like federal tax inquiries, since he was a CPA.) Anyway, I’m distressed and surprised by the lack of good reading material—and no historical novels at all–as well as by the fact that a lot of what the Chicago Public Library claims to have on the subject isn’t actually on the shelf.  I noted a while back that this was also true of most of the supposedly available stuff about Mussolini and Italian fascism.  Is this a plot?  Are the fascist paranoids out to cover their tracks?  Who knows?

Anyway, contrary to what most of the more erudite movie critics have to say, Tom Cruise wasn’t necessarily miscast as Stauffenberg, who in real life was exceedingly handsome and charismatic.  And the lack of material about him results at least partly from the fact that the Nazis, or somebody, disappeared all of his personal papers almost immediately after his execution (unless they turn up in some Iron Curtain archive, which is not impossible, but should have happened already if it was going to.)  So the people who do write about him can cast him as a religious fanatic, a superconservative aristocrat, or a socialist sympathizer, since what little evidence there is could support all of those hypotheses.  His politics kind of remind me of the author of the Blog Which Shall Not Be Named, actually, but please nobody tell him I said so.

But what really fascinates me is not Stauffenberg individually, but the movement he was part of, which seems to have thought of itself more as an opposition party in the European parliamentary style than a resistance movement.  Since opposition parties were illegal, of course that was really a distinction without a difference.  But the upside of that was that, unlike most resistance movements and coup plots, the participants had a long and broad view of what would happen after they succeeded, if they did. Most successful coups are followed by several years of chaos, while the participants figure out what to do next.  This one might not have been. The downside was that, because action was so difficult, they overthought everything, and because they could speculate about everything, they could and did argue about everything.  Foreign policy, including visions of a united Europe that look familiar now.  Economic policy.  Constitutional structures—are political parties to be allowed, and if so, how many and what kind?  Education of the next generation.  Why aren’t the alternative history buffs reading this stuff?

I suppose I’ll see the movie when it comes out on cable. The history is undoubtedly a lot more interesting.

Jane Grey

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