Sunday, December 21, 2008

Can we take Tom Cruise seriously again?

Tom Cruise as Colonel Count Claus von Stauffenberg

It’s been a long time since I was excited about the release of a Tom Cruise film. For the past few years, I’m sorry to say, my opinion of Mister Mopather (yeah, his given name is Thomas Cruise Mopather IV) is that he’s a bit of a fruity blowhard kook. However, once I saw my first trailer for his new film “Valkyrie”, I decided that couch-jumping religious wingnut kook or not, my happy ass was gonna be in a theater seat this weekend to see it.

As a bit of a history buff, especially military history of the World War Two era, I was already familiar with Operation Valkyrie and the involvement of Claus von Stauffenberg in the plot to kill Adolf Hitler in 1944. This really happened, kids. This isn’t some made-up Hollywood “what-if” thingie.

Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg was born November 15, 1907 in the Stauffenberg castle of Jettingen between Ulm and Augsburg, in the eastern part of Swabia. That’s pretty close to where I was stationed during my own Army years. The von Stauffenberg family is one of the oldest and most distinguished aristocratic Roman Catholic families of southern Germany.

Tom Cruise indeed looks the part, actually

Following the outbreak of war in 1939, Stauffenberg and his regiment took part in the attack on Poland. Afterwards, Stauffenberg's unit was reorganized into the 6th Panzer Division, and he served as officer of its general staff in the Battle of France before being transferred to the organizational department of the German army high command, which directed the operations on the Eastern Front with Russia. In 1943, Stauffenberg was promoted to lieutenant-colonel of the general staff, and was sent to Africa to join the 10th Panzer Division. There, while he was scouting out a new command area, his vehicle was strafed on 7 April 1943 by British fighter-bombers and he was severely wounded, losing his left eye, his right hand, and the fourth and fifth fingers of his left hand.

During his time on the Eastern Front, he began to become seriously disillusioned with Hitler’s conduct of the war, and more and more disgusted with the Nazi Party’s treatment of the people they fought against and conquered. He became involved with a group of conspirators planning to assasinate Hitler, and without giving away what happens in the movie, the rest is history.

Obviously the plot failed, and due to Hitler’s lunatic tendencies, heads indeed rolled over the plot to kill him. Over the following weeks Heinrich Himmler’s Gestapo, driven by a furious Hitler, rounded up nearly everyone who had the remotest connection with the plot. The discovery of letters and diaries in the homes and offices of those arrested revealed earlier plots, and this led to further rounds of arrests. Under Himmler’s new Sippenhaft (blood guilt) laws, all the relatives of the principal plotters were also arrested. (Insert witty, pithy comment about guilt by association and the sins of the father here.)

Eventually some 5,000 people were arrested and about 200 were executed, but not all of them connected with the latest plot, since the Gestapo used the occasion to settle scores with many other people suspected of opposition sympathies.

Very few of the plotters tried to escape or to deny their guilt when arrested. Those who survived interrogation were given perfunctory trials before the People’s Court (Volksgerichtshof), with the first trials were held on 7 August 1944. Hitler had ordered that those found guilty be "hung like cattle", referring to the executions of those connected to what was called the Red Orchestra spy ring, that of slow strangulation using suspension from a rope attached to a slaughterhouse meathook. For the assasination plotters piano wire was used instead. How lovely.

Many people took their own lives prior to either their trial or their execution, sadly including one of the best & brightest generals that Germany had, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who was accused of having knowledge of the plot beforehand and not revealing it to Hitler. He was given the option of suicide via cyanide or a public trial by the People's Court. If he committed suicide, his family wouldn't be subjected to a reprisal. However, with the verdict a foregone conclusion, the People's Court was basically a kangaroo court. If Rommel stood trial, there would have been no chance of successfully defending himself, and his family and staff would have been executed along with him. Rommel committed suicide 14 October 1944.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox

But what happenned to von Stauffenberg? Go see Valkyrie and find out. It looks like Cruise has a hell of a movie on his hands and my faith in him may be restored.

A smiling Claus von Stauffenberg with fellow conspirator Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim in 1942.

1 comment:

Randy said...

Good review. I didn't realise that Rommel was caught up in all of that. Somehow, the battles in Africa never made it into my databank. I knew his name and knew that he was the desert fox, but that's about all.

I too had lost faith in Cruise, but I may go see this one...