Getting to Know Stauffenberg? Not Really.


Sophie von Bechtolsheim: Mein Großvater war kein Attentäter ⭐️⭐️ ISBN 978-3-451-07217-8 Killing a tyrant is a complicated issue. Not from a practical point of view. It can be done. It has been done actually. Cesar, Louis XVI, Tsar Alexander II, Nicolae Ceausescu… But is it legitimate? And if so, under which circumstances? What if the killer has no noble motive, but just happens to be psychopath? What if he acts for personal gain? What if he wants to become a tyrant himself?

I came to reconsider this question when I started to read this book about Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, one of the men and women that plotted (and failed) to kill Adolf Hitler in July 1944. Hitler was evil, of course, but killing a man is an immoral thing, isn’t it? The last time I had thought about it was in 1989, when I took an undergraduate course in political theory and tried to deal with the ancient Greek philosophers’ ideas on the subject. The Greeks came to the conclusions that killing a tyrant is a complicated thing.

Had Stauffenberg’s plot succeeded, World War II might have ended earlier than it did. But would it have been right for Stauffenberg to blow up the Führer with a bomb when Stauffenberg mostly wanted to save Germany from a humiliating military defeat, that would strip it of its earlier military gains? His motive wasn’t to propagate a liberal democracy in Germany, far from it. Democracy was totally unpopular in Germany after the failure of the Weimar Republic and would have been unfeasible in 1944 after an eventual cease-fire. The Allied powers had to force it upon the Germans after the total defeat in 1945.

The plotters around Stauffenberg were concerned about the suffering of Germans, dying at the Eastern front or at home in the bombed cities. Those very Germans who had elected the Nazis in 1933 with a substantial majority. The plotters wanted a powerful, autocratic Germany minus Hitler and his Nazi clique. They were aware of the horrible crimes committed against the Jews and civilians in the occupied territories, but to stop this wasn’t their primary or even secondary motive. They acted out of a feeling to save Germany’s honour, the honour of some other Germany, not perverted by Hitler’s fantasies.

Sophie von Bechtolsheim is a German historian born in 1968. She is also the grand-daughter of Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, the subject of her book. Stauffenberg was a plotter, but he was much more than that as the title suggests. He was a husband, a father, a German national-conservative, a soldier, a faithful Catholic. Von Bechtolsheim’s intend was to sketch a personal portrait of the man. I had high expectations that unfortunately have not been fulfilled by the book. Von Bechtolsheim gives us some background about the Stauffenberg family, and that’s it.

Stauffenberg was executed by the Nazis a day after the failed attack on Hitler and, as a careful conspirator, he had left no written traces about his plans, his motives, his reflections, his political ideas. He knew right from the beginning that he was playing with fire. For that reason von Bechtolsheim draws from the memories of relatives, mainly Stauffenberg’s wife, of friends and surviving co-conspirators. It adds a little to the picture of Stauffenberg, but not much. To historians the book is utterly irrelevant and certainly no alternative to a well-researched biography. To political scientists her comparison of modern-day terrorism and the bomb attack of 1944 is at least bizarre.

Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg was a gifted and enthusiastic cello player. I valued this piece of information in von Bechtoldsheim’s book more than anything else she wrote. Given his education, he certainly was familiar with the Romanticists’ beautiful chamber music. So here we go with the appropriated music, Franz Schubert’s String Quartet No. 13 in A Minor:

Beautiful World, Where Are You?

It’s 5 to 12 – About War, Peace and Betrayal

arris Munchen

Robert Harris: München (English title: Munich) ISBN 978-3-453-27143-2 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ It seems paradoxical, but the world has never been closer to a devastating war in Asia than today. True, the Singapore summit of US president Donald Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Kong Un has been a brilliant photo opportunity for both politicians. Unfortunately it has raised utterly unrealistic hopes, since there is no consensus on the core issues that lie at the heart of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction program. The pledges made are vague and thus irrelevant.

Without these weapons, the regime in Pyongyang while falter, and that’s why it will not give them up. It has spent years and billions developing them while North Koreans starved, and that’s why it will not give them up. As charming as Trump appeared, the North Korean regime trusts nobody. And that’s why it will not give those weapons up. It may make concessions to ease the present sanctions – and it will try to cheat as it has done on similar occasions in the past. Just like Saddam Hussein in Irak, just like Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Dictators cheat, and at some point Trump will find out. And he will throw a tantrum. An angry tweet screaming betrayal – the emotional reaction of the president is predictable. It will be the start of the war. Male mammals’ reaction to betrayal is an uncontrollable eruption of violence.

The world has seen a similar constellation before. 1938. The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler meet in Munich. Chamberlain entertains the hope that by asking for a guarantee that Nazi Germany will resolve territorial and political disputes peacefully war over the future of Czechoslovakia can be averted. “Appeasement” – the name of this approach was coined later, but Chamberlain tried to appease Hitler by accepting that certain regions of Czechoslovakia become part of Germany while the rest remains independent. He betrayed the Czechs, but he gained a year that helped the British Empire to rearm. It did not save what was left of Czechoslovakia – Germany annexed it in 1939 – and it did not save peace: From 1939 on, Hitler would declare war to Poland, France, Great Britain, Russia and finally the United States.

In his brilliant novel “Munich” Robert Harris describes the climate in Munich while Chamberlain and Hitler discuss the issues at hand. The novel paints Chamberlain’s initiative in a benign light – and I will have to read up in a history book what his real legacy was – and at the same time it puts two other characters on the center stage. A German diplomat with links to a resistance group, Paul von Hartmann, and one of Chamberlain’s Private Secretaries, Hugh Legat. Both have met before, as students in Oxford, they were friends until k they lost sight of eachother again. In 1938 von Hartmann tries to convince Legat and ultimately Chamberlain of the true nature of the Nazi regime: born out of violence, bound to use violence. Violence against other countries, violence against its Jewish citizen, violence anyone deemed an enemy. Classified information changes hands, the SS is breathing down the neck of von Hartmann. The endeavour fails. Chamberlain is being betrayed by Hitler and his political opponent Winston Churchill will fight the war Chamberlain wanted to avoid.

The German translation by Wolfgang Müller is 426 pages long, it took me less than two evenings to read it. A real page-turner. I loved it. I also love a piece of music that has been written during that time, marked by political tension and the fear of betrayal, Bohuslav Martinu’s Double Concerto:

“Looking for hope that did not come”