THE GERMAN ARMY 1933-1945 by Matthew Cooper


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Two interrelated themes are basic to Matthew Cooper's reassessment of the failure of Hitler's armies in World War II: first, that the German army, overextended and ill-prepared, was never the polished fighting machine feared by its enemies, and, second, that the moral guilt borne by the German generals was solely that of commanders who, inexcusably, had surrendered their military responsibility to the dilettante Hitler. Cooper, formerly at the Imperial War Museum and presently an officer of the British House of Commons, is admirably equipped to deal with the first theme, and much of this large work is a detailed explosion of the mythical ""Blitzkrieg,"" a word, in fact, first coined by Time magazine. However, the author's second thesis is not only harder to defend, but rather difficult to understand. It is based upon a purportedly universal distinction between political duty and ""soldierly ethic."" While, for Cooper, political involvement by the generals was both inappropriate and futile, the commanders of the army stand condemned after 1938 first of allowing Hitler to dictate a war to an army that could not wage it, and then of not insisting upon their right to determine strategy and tactics once the political objectives had been established. Cooper makes it clear that he is arguing against historians like Wheeler-Bennett and Gordon Craig, who have implied that the General Staff could and should have moved against Hitler in 1938 when he effectively deposed the High Command, but the distinction he draws does not answer the moral questions raised by these writers, and is ultimately unconvincing if not altogether spurious; and in seeking to limit military responsibility to purely military matters Cooper comes perilously close to the Nazi practice of isolating institutions and individuals within the state. Since he is not the first to attribute Hitler's early victories to the weakness of his enemies, his ostensible breakthrough has no serious claim to attention.

Pub Date: June 29th, 1978
Publisher: Stein & Day