Washington DC, March 3rd, 1981
Ten years ago I tried to write an objective book about Hitler as leader.
In it I said that although Hitler was a rabid antisemite and created the climate that fostered the holocaust -- one of the very greatest crimes and tragedies to have been inflicted on mankind -- there is no document that proves he actually knew of the extermination program directed against the western European Jews; indeed there is plenty of evidence that he wished to use them for slave labor and that their extermination was an act of covert disobedience on the part of Himmler, the gauleiters and local police commanders in the east.
My book, Hitler's War, was praised by many historians, including only a few days ago Professor John Grenville, head of Birmingham University history department, who lost his own family in Auschwitz; but it has been systematically attacked by others for over-reliance on documentary proof -- surely an odd charge to level against a biographer! -- and wilful neglect of the "obvious."
By the obvious they mean that since Hitler was the archfiend of the century, nothing will do but that his guilt be absolute and extend to every crime imputed to him. I offered a large reward to anyone who could prove, by some wartime document that Hitler knew of the Holocaust, of Auschwitz; many historians eagerly joined battle, but none stayed the course.
Everything I have written since Hitler's War, on whatever subject, has occasioned the renewed wrath of those who claim I wished to exonerate Hitler. It happens once again in John Lukács's review (TBR, March 8th ) of my new book The War Between the Generals. This is not about Hitler, it is about the infighting between the Allied generals who invaded and conquered Europe, 1943&endash;1945.
Hitler is mentioned only a handful of times in this 445-page book, never significantly, never controversially. But Lukács wishes to argue that my intent is to "rehabilitate Hitler." His rationale is ingenious. He says I do this "in a sly way," by denigrating Hitler's opponents.
He then proceeds to list (never to challenge, mind you) critical remarks about the men who fought Hitler -- de Gaulle was "shabby," Churchill was "crabby" and "befuddled," Patton was "foul-mouthed" and he "womanized." He also lists the book's references to the misbehavior of American troops. "All this sounds like a Nazi propaganda pamphlet," Lukács outrageously states, hypocritically adding, "which it isn't."
Would a reader of his review ever perceive that however candid I was about their minor faults, I painted Churchill and Patton very favorably, with great admiration? Did Lukács find it convenient to mention the instances I gave of de Gaulle's shabbiness -- that he tortured his political opponents and caused them to be betrayed to the Gestapo, and that he systematically sabotaged the Allied invasion effort for his own personal advancement in power?
Or that it wasn't just I, but Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Marshall, Stimson and other notables who leveled this charge against de Gaulle? Were they, too, then attempting to "rehabilitate" Hitler? Could one tell from the review that the charges about American violence against the French populace were made in an official U.S. army investigation report, and were reported week by week by the Judge Advocate General Betts to Eisenhower himself, who had to endure the grief of seeing 454 of his men sentenced to death in the period following D-day (of whom 79 were actually executed )?
Surely Lukács would not have me suppress this aspect of the burden on the Supreme Commander? Who'd guess, reading Lukács' review, that it was John Eisenhower, General LeRoy Lutes, and several other visiting officers who independently of one another remarked about the preference professed by many of the French for their former German occupiers?
Is it correct of him to imply, as imply he does, that these were merely my own eccentric suggestions? Why must these things and others -- like the not infrequent shooting of Nazi prisoners by American troops, sometimes at the direction of their commanders -- be hushed up?
Lukács says I relish "strategy less than gossip." Not true, The book is almost entirely strategy, with exhaustive attention to the running military debates between Eisenhower and Montgomery (both of whom are given detailed credit) and the continuing clash over the use of air power. "Gossip," for Lukács, seems to refer principally to the extensive diaries kept by Lieutenant General Everett S. Hughes, Eisenhower's "eyes and ears," who saw and heard a very great deal and wrote it down with a sharp pen.
No other historian troubled to find and decipher this valuable journal -- which does so much to make the hallowed commanders into credible human beings. None has bothered to fight for the declassification of the pages censored from the diaries of Eisenhower's aide, Commander Harry C. Butcher, or to exploit the hour-by-hour military log that Kay Summersby kept (and scarcely used in her own personal memoir.) These records are not mere "documents," nor "gossip." They are history. Why does Lukács suppress all mention of them?
Perhaps Lukács should have talked to Dr. Martin Blumenson, the official biographer of Patton, who told me that the Hughes diary was a "coup," that I made excellent use of the Patton Papers, and that, although he has his criticisms of it, my book does a fine job of humanising the Allied chiefs. Or he should talk to General Mark Clark, who was privy to much of what went on, and says: "This is how it was."
Further notes: John Lukacs had published a vicious and splenetic review of David Irving's book The War between the Generals. The reason for this would-be Hitler -biographer's pique was jealousy, as is evident from a letter he had written to John Toland years before. The New York Times published the letter only months after it was written, by which time their above-mentioned review had done the damage. The revenge that Lukacs took by penning the review sank the book without trace in the ratings: that same day ABC' TV's "Good Morning America" cancelled its already-filmed interview of author Irving, and publisher Congdon & Weed, who had featured the book as their most important production for 1981, eventually went bankrupt in consequence.
The Hitler of History John Lukacs UK List Price: £14.00 US List Price: $14.00 Our Price: £7.79 You Save: £6.21 [reviews]