Review of "The Rommel Papers"


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    Review of "The Rommel Papers"

    (I know that I posted this as a blog, but I realized soon afterward that blogs aren't the best place for critique; hopefully sharing it here as well is understandable!)

    ---

    Review of "The Rommel Papers"

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    The Rommel Papers are the incomplete memoirs of senior military commander Erwin Rommel that avoided burning by the author himself while under investigation from the gestapo, and remained hidden with the cooperation of friends and family after Hitler forced him to commit suicide on the grounds of suspected treason.

    Kept safe from the hands of the Nazis and Soviets, and recovered from their secret locations or American possession following the culmination of the Second World War, Captain Liddell-Hart along with Paul Findlay have done a great justice helping bring Rommel's remarkable story to publication. From his exploits in France, to his daring feats in Africa that earned him stardom and prestige - infamy that would just as quickly be stripped from him by his fellow colleagues and jealous peers amidst the hunt for a scapegoat - and ending at the tragic final days recalled by his son Manfred.

    Paul Findlay's translation succeeds not just in accuracy, but in ensuring the life and voice of the author are preserved. Rich in detail, Rommel takes the reader along for a lucid and gripping journey, allowing active access to the military mastermind and the personal letters of a loving husband and father. One can feel the weight of every decision and the impact on the loyal soldiers under his command. It can't be helped to bond with him during the heart-racing close-calls that led to his nickname: The Desert Fox. And readers are not the only ones enamored by these exotic African escapades.

    "Moreover, Rommel became much more than a bogey to the British. Awe for his dynamic generalship developed into an almost affectionate admiration for him as a man... fostered by the way that he maintained in African warfare the decencies of the soldierly code, and by his own chivalrous behavior towards the many prisoners of war he met in person. He became the hero of the Eighth Army who were fighting against him -- to such an extent that... when wanting to say that someone had done a good job of any kind on their own side, to describe it as "doing a Rommel". (Liddell-Hart, page '3' of Introduction)

    Editor B.H. Liddell-Hart has outdone himself providing footnotes where necessary for clarification, or cross-analyses with other accounts like Montgomery's that serve both to legitimize as well as correct Rommel's story. Such mistakes made by Rommel are not due to "intentions to falsify the balance-sheet" (Liddell-Hart, page '1' of Introduction) as in the cases of Napoleon and Caesar, but instead are the result of working with limited information and using that to make conjectures and educated estimates that he did not have the opportunity to revisit.

    In spite of those mistakes, a shocking amount of Rommel's guesswork and Zoltar-esque theorizing ultimately comes true. Over the course of the war we watch his hopes crumble and his fears become reality as he struggles against fate itself, most of it unfolding before his demise, the rest in hind-sight. Given how many of his predictions came true, I wonder how differently the war may have turned out had he been listened to and granted more control. Maybe blunders such as Stalingrad, the fall of Africa, and the Italian debacle could've been avoided had he received the trust he deserved.

    Maybe now in that alternate universe I'd be writing auf Deutsch about "The Churchill Chronicles".

    His conflict with both Hitler and Mussolini are best distilled in Sun Tzu's "Art of War", where it states that interference from the sovereign in the execution of a battle spells inevitable defeat for the functionally hindered general. We observe this play out like a broken record in Rommel's memoirs, where supply quotas fall short over and over, while more and more is increasingly expected of him and his men who must figure out how to obey suicidal orders from the Fuhrer. Orders that would be the beginning of the end for Rommel's loyalty to Hitler.

    From the outset, Liddell-Hart establishes himself as a reliable source, demonstrating prior to the beginning of Rommel's story that he is well-read on the subject of military history. His informed approach bolsters the overall objectivity of the work with an additional wealth of information and perspective, solidifying the integrity of The Rommel Papers on the whole. It's partly thanks to this -- and also thanks to trustworthy contributions made by Rommel's close subordinate Fritz Bayerlein, and son Manfred Rommel -- that I strongly recommend history buffs, World War II geeks, and those who are researching military philosophy should pick up these memoirs. The impartial execution on behalf of Findlay and Liddell-Hart is worthy of high praise, and of course Rommel's shared tactical and strategical genius, and wisdom regarding what qualities constitute great men -- in addition to his personal faults and mistakes laid bare -- offers a lot to be learned.

    As with most of history, there is debate as to the true motivations and intentions that were the driving forces behind the actions of the Desert Fox. What exactly was his involvement in the 20 July Plot, an assassination attempt on Hitler? It's clear that Rommel had some sort of contact and sympathies with many of those involved, although the specifics and extent of this is uncertain. On the contrary, he was also openly critical of the insurrectionists, but could that have been to cover for himself? Liddell-Hart does not avoid these murky territories that would most certainly have a huge impact on Rommel's image, but he makes sure to specify what little is known compared to the great amount of conjecture.

    If nothing else, Rommel wielded the pen like he did the sword, as can be seen from the passage "On the way we saw the bodies of several British soldiers lying beside some destroyed anti-tank guns. Arabs had plundered the bodies and robbed them of their clothing. There was nothing to be seen of these ghouls, which was fortunate for them, for they would otherwise have had something to remember us by." (Rommel, 406). He blitzkriegs his t's, fausts his i's, and unlike myself still manages the rare stroke of humor. Thanks to first-rate translation and editing, Rommel's compelling tale will pull you into the backseat of his command vehicle and have you cheering on and sympathizing with a human being fighting on the wrong side for what so far appear to be the right reasons, winning the hearts of friend and foe alike; preserving in ink the honor of his fellow men who died serving their country first and an ideology second, and their view of the events that shaped our world today.

    ---

    Rommel, Erwin, Fritz Bayerlein, and Manfred Rommel. The Rommel Papers. Ed. Basil Henry Liddell-Hart. Trans. Paul Findlay. 15th ed. New York: Da Capo, 2003. Print.
    Last edited by Smith; September 2nd, 2017 at 05:32 PM.
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  2. #2
    I really enjoyed this Smith. This was an excellent piece and I think your language was fluid and knowledgeable. Good work on this! Top notch!

    I'm actually going to pick up this one and read it too. I didn't know that they had Rommel's writings per se. Your review also assured me that I will receive a quality book.

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    Quote Originally Posted by danielstj View Post
    I really enjoyed this Smith. This was an excellent piece and I think your language was fluid and knowledgeable. Good work on this! Top notch!

    I'm actually going to pick up this one and read it too. I didn't know that they had Rommel's writings per se. Your review also assured me that I will receive a quality book.
    Awesome! Glad you liked it. And I got my paperback copy through Amazon and was thoroughly happy with it.

    Yup, it's Erwin Rommel's own translated writing, which is really cool. There are a couple gaps in the memoirs that are filled by either Liddell-Hart, General Bayerlein, or Manfred Rommel--otherwise it's all the Desert Fox himself.

    Cheers,

    -Kyle
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    These papers will be fascinating reading, as, on the one hand, I deplore Rommel like all other Nazi's, but also admire (or close to) the man as a military commander, even if he is somewhat overrated

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    Quote Originally Posted by Aleph01 View Post
    These papers will be fascinating reading, as, on the one hand, I deplore Rommel like all other Nazi's, but also admire (or close to) the man as a military commander, even if he is somewhat overrated
    Always best to judge a man on his actions. Just as an example, a lot of men were forced into joining / becoming 'SS' late in the war because of the morale effect it had. Not because they were looking to commit genocide in the name of an ideology. Speaking of which, Rommel made his son stick with the Luftwaffe rather than the SS.

    It's hard to say whether or not you or I would have been a Nazi if we were put in their shoes, and to what extent.

    Maybe the book will change your opinion. I assume by "overrated" you're referring to the Rommel Myth. But all myths start from somewhere, and there's plenty of truth to it by my estimation. Certainly though the Desert Fox was not perfect.

    Cheers Aleph, and welcome to the forums! ^_^

    -Kyle
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    Quote Originally Posted by Smith View Post
    Always best to judge a man on his actions. Just as an example, a lot of men were forced into joining / becoming 'SS' late in the war because of the morale effect it had. Not because they were looking to commit genocide in the name of an ideology.

    -Kyle
    While this is true for many, Rommel was an early supporter for the Third Reich and their seizure of power from the Weimar Republic (granted, this is my PoV with decades of historical context to fall upon, but still... fascism is fascism, no matter how well intentioned and belligerent). While I concede it is very possible that Rommel was unaware of many of the back-door policies Hitler and Goebbels were cooking up for most of the pre-War era, I find it daunting that a man as smart and as well connected as Rommel was remained that way once the war got underway. Certainly, the sudden lack of Jewish personnel in the ranks would have been a hint, not to mention the resources diverted from funding the war to building ever expanding internment camps.

    For me, the question isn't "if" Rommel knew, it's "when" he knew - and for that, we'll never know the answer.

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    Yeah, exactly, it's hard to say. Conjecture is always an interesting discussion with its own merit, but it's probably more important to focus on what's certain.

    Cheers,

    -Kyle
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  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Smith View Post
    (I know that I posted this as a blog, but I realized soon afterward that blogs aren't the best place for critique; hopefully sharing it here as well is understandable!)

    ---

    Review of "The Rommel Papers"

    Click image for larger version. 

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    The Rommel Papers are the incomplete memoirs of senior military commander Erwin Rommel that avoided burning by the author himself while under investigation from the gestapo, and remained hidden with the cooperation of friends and family after Hitler forced him to commit suicide on the grounds of suspected treason.

    Kept safe from the hands of the Nazis and Soviets, and recovered from their secret locations or American possession following the culmination of the Second World War, Captain Liddell-Hart along with Paul Findlay have done a great justice helping bring Rommel's remarkable story to publication. From his exploits in France, to his daring feats in Africa that earned him stardom and prestige - infamy that would just as quickly be stripped from him by his fellow colleagues and jealous peers amidst the hunt for a scapegoat - and ending at the tragic final days recalled by his son Manfred.

    Paul Findlay's translation succeeds not just in accuracy, but in ensuring the life and voice of the author are preserved. Rich in detail, Rommel takes the reader along for a lucid and gripping journey, allowing active access to the military mastermind and the personal letters of a loving husband and father. One can feel the weight of every decision and the impact on the loyal soldiers under his command. It can't be helped to bond with him during the heart-racing close-calls that led to his nickname: The Desert Fox. And readers are not the only ones enamored by these exotic African escapades.

    "Moreover, Rommel became much more than a bogey to the British. Awe for his dynamic generalship developed into an almost affectionate admiration for him as a man... fostered by the way that he maintained in African warfare the decencies of the soldierly code, and by his own chivalrous behavior towards the many prisoners of war he met in person. He became the hero of the Eighth Army who were fighting against him -- to such an extent that... when wanting to say that someone had done a good job of any kind on their own side, to describe it as "doing a Rommel". (Liddell-Hart, page '3' of Introduction)

    Editor B.H. Liddell-Hart has outdone himself providing footnotes where necessary for clarification, or cross-analyses with other accounts like Montgomery's that serve both to legitimize as well as correct Rommel's story. Such mistakes made by Rommel are not due to "intentions to falsify the balance-sheet" (Liddell-Hart, page '1' of Introduction) as in the cases of Napoleon and Caesar, but instead are the result of working with limited information and using that to make conjectures and educated estimates that he did not have the opportunity to revisit.

    Even so, a shocking amount of Rommel's guesswork and Zoltar-esque theorizing ultimately comes true. Over the course of the war we watch his hopes crumble and his fears become reality as he struggles against fate itself, most of it unfolding before his demise, the rest in hind-sight. With this knowledge in mind, I can't help but wonder how differently the war may have turned out had he been listened to and granted more control. Maybe blunders such as Stalingrad, the fall of Africa, and the Italian debacle could've been avoided had he been given the trust he deserved.

    Maybe now in that alternate universe I'd be writing auf Deutsch about "The Churchill Chronicles".

    His conflict with both Hitler and Mussolini are best distilled in Sun Tzu's "Art of War", where it states that interference from the sovereign in the execution of a battle spells inevitable defeat for the functionally hindered general. We observe this play out like a broken record in Rommel's memoirs, where supply quotas fall short over and over, while more and more is increasingly expected of him and his men who must figure out how to obey suicidal orders from the Fuhrer. Orders that would be the beginning of the end for Rommel's loyalty to Hitler.

    From the outset, Liddell-Hart establishes himself as a reliable source, demonstrating prior to the beginning of Rommel's story that he is well-read on the subject of military history. This continued approach bolsters the overall objectivity of the work with an additional wealth of information and perspective, solidifying the integrity of The Rommel Papers on the whole. It's partly thanks to this -- and also thanks to trustworthy contributions made by Rommel's close subordinate Fritz Bayerlein, and son Manfred Rommel -- that I strongly recommend history buffs, World War II geeks, and those who are researching military philosophy should pick up this gem. Its impartial execution on behalf of Findlay and Liddell-Hart is worthy of high praise, and of course Rommel's shared tactical and strategical genius, and wisdom regarding what qualities constitute great men -- in addition to his faults and mistakes laid bare -- offers a lot to be learned.

    As with most of history, there is debate as to the true motivations and intentions that were the driving forces behind the Desert Fox. What exactly was his involvement in the 20 July Plot, an assassination attempt on Hitler? It's clear that Rommel had some sort of contact and sympathies with many of those involved, although the specifics and extent of this is uncertain. On the contrary, he was also openly critical of the whole ordeal, but could that have been to cover for himself? Liddell-Hart does not avoid these murky territories that would most certainly have a huge impact on Rommel's image, but he makes sure to specify what little is known compared to the great amount of conjecture.

    If nothing else, Rommel wielded the pen like he did the sword, as can be seen from the passage "On the way we saw the bodies of several British soldiers lying beside some destroyed anti-tank guns. Arabs had plundered the bodies and robbed them of their clothing. There was nothing to be seen of these ghouls, which was fortunate for them, for they would otherwise have had something to remember us by." (Rommel, 406). He blitzkriegs his t's, fausts his i's, and unlike myself still manages the rare stroke of humor. Thanks to first-rate translation and editing, Rommel's compelling tale will pull you into the backseat of his command vehicle and have you cheering on and sympathizing with a human being fighting on the wrong side for what so far appear to be the right reasons, winning the hearts of friend and foe alike; preserving in ink the honor of his fellow men who died serving their country first and an ideology second, and their view of the events that shaped our world today.

    ---

    Rommel, Erwin, Fritz Bayerlein, and Manfred Rommel. The Rommel Papers. Ed. Basil Henry Liddell-Hart. Trans. Paul Findlay. 15th ed. New York: Da Capo, 2003. Print.
    This is good; makes me want to read up on Rommel, of whom I know shamefully little. I enjoyed reading this and thought for the most part it flowed and was quite coherent. Nice job.

    There are some spots I felt could be smoothed over, some paragraphs that tended to hyperbole or maybe heavily suppose we already know what happened at Stalingrad, for instance. I think it worthwhile to add in some parenthetical explanations at times, if for nothing more than filling the reader in so they have something of a picture of the events at hand (a condensed picture, really, since the full picture can presumably only be gleaned through the referenced Rommel Papers).

    Well written overall. I do not know what your aim with the piece is ultimately, but if you want to edit and submit or further develop, maybe something here will be of use (if not, please disregard - I offer these comments purely as an attempt to help): -

    Even so, a shocking amount of Rommel's guesswork and Zoltar-esque theorizing ultimately comes true.
    - With these types of passages, you risk losing me since I must figure out what 'even so' is referencing, and the preceding few sentences were fairly heavy in and of themselves. To aid comprehension, and therefore flow, I would suggest looking at how this passage can stand on its own and not have the link to previous information. This is a recurring issue in the piece for me.

    With this knowledge in mind, I can't help but wonder how differently the war may have turned out
    - Same thing.

    Orders that would be the beginning of the end for Rommel's loyalty to Hitler.
    - I saw this as needing to be parenthetical information (so maybe place it in parenthesis).

    This continued approach bolsters the overall objectivity of the work with an additional wealth
    - I found the verbiage to be slightly heavy-handed, maybe say this out loud a few times and think about how it can be transmitted more directly. And again, this passage starts with "This continued approach" and I think that is causing some entanglement as mentioned before.

    pick up this gem.
    - Puts a tiny bit too much personality on the reviewer, versus keeping the recommendation clinical and based upon how interesting Rommel's life really was - I think calling this entire body of work "a gem" might do some slight disservice to the rest of the review.

    intentions that were the driving forces behind the Desert Fox.
    - Behind the Desert Fox's what, exactly? His actions? Maybe deserved of a few additional words. The Desert Fox's increasingly desperate attempts to find his way out of the oppressive Nazi regime (or something more well-informed; just trying to make a point).

    he was also openly critical of the whole ordeal,
    - "The whole ordeal" again seems to be somewhat glib. This might be a place to use a descriptor other than 'whole' to describe the ordeal, perhaps? That can color the piece too, but in a useful way.

    Liddell-Hart does not avoid these murky territories that would most certainly have a huge impact on Rommel's image, but he makes sure to specify what little is known compared to the great amount of conjecture.
    - There's that thing again. "these murky territories" - I think I'm honing in on why I take issue with these types of passages - it's like words for the sake of words, which reference an aforementioned entity, and I think could be strengthened by placing six or seven words in there that help us to understand what exactly those murky territories were - just looking for a crutch maybe due to less-than-average comprehension, but there will be more like me along shortly.

    When Liddell-Hart 'makes sure to specify what little is known compared to the great amount of conjecture' we are to suppose his specifying what little is known is actually him telling the real story of Rommel, or filling in the blanks between Rommel's written diaries. Earlier in the piece you mentioned they were legitimizing and correcting Rommel's story - I think this verbiage is so much more direct than saying 'specify what little is known compared to the great amount of conjecture' - mentioning this conjecture so late in the piece just sends me down a rabbit trail wondering what the conjecture actually looks like, and what these suppositions might mean for our understanding of the events surrounding the Fuhrer's reign and its impact on history. For that, I suppose, I should read The Rommel Papers, but I think a good solid book review should allude to a certain amount of understanding content - which this does, to a large extent, just looking to clip some of the shoots.

    A nice read, and smartly penned. I am encouraged to read from you, time and again.
    It all starts with a name and flows from there. A ridiculous moniker springs to mind and it launches like a multi-lubed slippery-sloop down chutes made of buttery-floops. Down, down, down. We watch, spellbound. Rapturous. Glockenspiel. We do our due diligence with penitence and penicillin. Do what’s due, then dew drops on your moon-pops.


  9. #9
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    Thanks Plur, your critique is appreciated. I was stuck on how I could improve it, and I knew there was some things still bugging me about it, so revealing what those were (transitions and ambiguity) to me was a pleasant surprise. Glad you liked it, and that it also made you want to read about Rommel; means I succeeded in the goal of the review.

    As far as what I intended to do with the piece, I'm not employed. I don't know where I could "submit" it to. But when I read a book I want to glean some knowledge from it, write about it, internalize it, and share some of that knowledge with others if I can. If somebody came along and said "hey man, I'd love to have this as a guest article in our magazine" or something I'd obviously be ecstatic.

    The reason why I don't submit it, is partly because the article itself seems pretty niche in my opinion. Unless I submitted it to sites like Stormfront (currently defunct) or something lol, I don't know.

    Alos, breaking into the world of career writers is a mystery to me. People say "submit something" and I just shake my head in confusion because I don't really know what that means, where, or who.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pluralized View Post
    Well written overall. I do not know what your aim with the piece is ultimately, but if you want to edit and submit or further develop, maybe something here will be of use (if not, please disregard - I offer these comments purely as an attempt to help): -

    Even so, a shocking amount of Rommel's guesswork and Zoltar-esque theorizing ultimately comes true.
    - With these types of passages, you risk losing me since I must figure out what 'even so' is referencing, and the preceding few sentences were fairly heavy in and of themselves. To aid comprehension, and therefore flow, I would suggest looking at how this passage can stand on its own and not have the link to previous information. This is a recurring issue in the piece for me.
    I've replaced "Even so" with "In spite of those mistakes", which in my mind should now clearly tie together with the previous paragraph about Rommel's miscalculations. Let me know if you feel the same way or not!

    With this knowledge in mind, I can't help but wonder how differently the war may have turned out - Same thing.
    I've replaced "With this knowledge in mind" with "Given how many of his predictions came true, I wonder..." which should be okay when you look at it in the context of what the paragraph is about, but tell me if you disagree.

    This continued approach bolsters the overall objectivity of the work with an additional wealth - I found the verbiage to be slightly heavy-handed, maybe say this out loud a few times and think about how it can be transmitted more directly. And again, this passage starts with "This continued approach" and I think that is causing some entanglement as mentioned before.
    I think what happened here is it was supposed to be "This approach is continued throughout the whole work, and bolsters..." but somehow ended up as "This continued approach". I've changed it to "His informed approach" which easily refers to the prior sentence.

    pick up this gem. - Puts a tiny bit too much personality on the reviewer, versus keeping the recommendation clinical and based upon how interesting Rommel's life really was - I think calling this entire body of work "a gem" might do some slight disservice to the rest of the review.
    Maybe "pick up these memoirs" would work better. I actually don't like "this gem" either, as it seems like a pretty commonplace and lazy phrase. Like a cheap saying on a card.

    intentions that were the driving forces behind the Desert Fox. - Behind the Desert Fox's what, exactly? His actions? Maybe deserved of a few additional words. The Desert Fox's increasingly desperate attempts to find his way out of the oppressive Nazi regime (or something more well-informed; just trying to make a point).
    I agree with you; specifying what the forces were "driving" would make this sentence clearer and stronger. I took your example: "the driving forces behind the actions of the Desert Fox."

    he was also openly critical of the whole ordeal, - "The whole ordeal" again seems to be somewhat glib. This might be a place to use a descriptor other than 'whole' to describe the ordeal, perhaps? That can color the piece too, but in a useful way.
    Agreed. Maybe "critical of the insurrectionists" would be better. Changed.

    Liddell-Hart does not avoid these murky territories that would most certainly have a huge impact on Rommel's image, but he makes sure to specify what little is known compared to the great amount of conjecture. - There's that thing again. "these murky territories" - I think I'm honing in on why I take issue with these types of passages - it's like words for the sake of words, which reference an aforementioned entity, and I think could be strengthened by placing six or seven words in there that help us to understand what exactly those murky territories were - just looking for a crutch maybe due to less-than-average comprehension, but there will be more like me along shortly.

    When Liddell-Hart 'makes sure to specify what little is known compared to the great amount of conjecture' we are to suppose his specifying what little is known is actually him telling the real story of Rommel, or filling in the blanks between Rommel's written diaries. Earlier in the piece you mentioned they were legitimizing and correcting Rommel's story - I think this verbiage is so much more direct than saying 'specify what little is known compared to the great amount of conjecture' - mentioning this conjecture so late in the piece just sends me down a rabbit trail wondering what the conjecture actually looks like, and what these suppositions might mean for our understanding of the events surrounding the Fuhrer's reign and its impact on history. For that, I suppose, I should read The Rommel Papers, but I think a good solid book review should allude to a certain amount of understanding content - which this does, to a large extent, just looking to clip some of the shoots.
    Well "these murky territories" should refer to the questions posed in the same paragraph. As for "makes sure to specify what little is known compared to the great amount of conjecture", perhaps I could clarify by adding "known about x".
    Last edited by Smith; September 2nd, 2017 at 05:43 PM.
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  10. #10
    I'm not sure if you're familiar with this anecdote:
    During the Gulf War (1991), US forces took tons of Iraqis prisoner. Some of the Iraqi officers were highly educated and reasonably articulate.
    One such Iraqi officer was being loaded onto an USMC AmTrac, and noticed Irwin Rommel's photo on the inside of the vehicle.
    "Why," he asked, "do you have the picture of your WW2 enemy hung in your vehicle?"
    The Marine officer smirked, and let a junior enlisted Marine answer.
    "Because we LEARNED from him! That's why YOU are a prisoner in OUR APC!"

    Just a note on Rommel's genius: There is nothing he, or Guderian, or any of the other talented Wehrmacht generals could have done to change the outcome of the war.
    Strategically, after Nazi Germany invaded Poland in '39, the die was cast. Every military and industrial leader knew that Germany needed much more time to prepare (they all agreed on a 1944 to 1946 timeframe for hostilities). The best leaders cannot overcome a massive strategic imbalance (in conventional warfare). Lucky for us.

    "Wubba Lubba Dub Dub!"



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