As the arguments about the prosecution of British Armed Forces’ veterans for alleged war crimes in Northern Ireland and the Middle East continue, a new work examining the disposition of the military mind becomes of crucial importance.
But Erin Solaro’s book about Germany’s World War 11 hero Field Marshal Erwin Rommel is neither another biography nor a forensic discussion of his extraordinary personality.
It is rather, a strange, occasionally lyrical novella in which he is made to reflect on the worst excesses of waging war and meeting death in words reminiscent of – even quoting from – celebrated war verse.
Solaro’s Rommel ponders thus five days after the Battle of Bir Hakeim and two weeks before the surrender of Tobruk:
“I have never forgotten, simply locked it away. Even in the moment I knew I need not have shot him, because what is more useless than a lieutenant colonel running around the hinterlands of France without his troops?
“I shot him down simply because he had begun to rant and, amped as I was on adrenaline and amphetamines, after three demands to surrender, the first more than courteous, I had enough.
“Because I knew suicidal defiance when I saw it, so why not deliver?
“It was one of those ugly, regrettable incidents inevitable in any war.
“It was the first time, the only time in my life I had indulged in the intoxication of wanton destruction for its own sake rather than in the bloodlust of close combat. So I let stand the lie that I had ordered someone else to do it.
“In a way I had. For the first and only time in my life, I stood down the part of me that even drunk with rage, knew right from wrong – and kept that faith….
“Armies need private soldiers and young officers who snort and stamp and curvet like warhorses at the scent of blood and generals who, because they understand them, can restrain them.
“I had failed in that. I resolved never to fail again”.
Such words, others may agree, are as fine a defence witness statement at a war crimes’ trial that anyone may offer.
But further passages prove Solaro’s tale to be yet more complex:
There is the painfully wrought description of Rommel’s distraught widow, Lucia Maria Mollin, whose thickly veiled face and dignified bearing surely march us straight to that of Jackie Kennedy at her husband’s state funeral 19 years later. We get the hint. The parallels are clear.
Both women survived their respective spouses by many years – and despite huge differences in status and wealth – each found herself somehow entombed in her late partner’s legacy.
Next comes Solaro’s reproduction of a photograph from Rommel: The Trail of the Fox by infamous Holocaust denier, David Irving that she uses to illustrate an affectionate – almost domestic - idyll with a vixen.
But to tell more now would be to pen a spoiler. Instead I will own to a warm personal friendship and regard with and for the US-born author who, although not Jewish, has spent about a decade living and working in Israel. She settled here with her late husband, historian and journalist. Philip Gold who died two days after his 70th birthday in October last year.
Erin Solaro’s earlier work has been rewarded with unstinting praise from top US military personnel and individuals including Phyllis Chesler, the feminist psychologist and Israel advocate, who like her, spent time in Afghanistan – but for wildly different reasons!
Now You Know: The Last Day of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel is presently available for free Kindle Unlimited download on Amazon.
© Natalie Wood (29 November 2019)