Sunday 31 May 2015

Books to Read

SS Colonel Jochen Peiper’s life and career in the Nazi era, his trial for war crimes and violent death in a French village in the 1970s; FDR’s role in America’s transition from Isolationism to a war footing and the Geoffrey Morton-Avraham Stern battle of wills in the Holy Land all present an appetising brew of reading as summer approaches.

When has the corpus of what is known as history which grows incrementally from what for a period of time is considered the present and contemporary ever known of an era of political and social pacification?

War and terror continue to be used as instruments pursuant to the creation of new state borders and the engineering of social transformation.

As the subject matter of these books show, the creation of the League of Nations in the early 1920s failed in the ambitious aim of ‘abolishing war’ for all times. And as recent events in the Ukraine and the Middle East demonstrate, the Fukuyamian idea of the ‘End of History’ continues to elude human civilization.

In the Ukraine, Bandera worshipping groups of the far Right facilitated the overthrow of a democratically elected president, and in the subsequent civil strife between the Western and Eastern parts of the nation, militias modelled on the regiments that composed the Waffen-SS actively recruit Western Europeans to fight a ‘racial war’ in the East.

In the Middle East, Wahabbi extremists of the Sunni denomination under the banner of the Islamic State seek to create a puritan Muslim state at the expense of the secular modelled states of Syria and Iraq.

It is unlikely in the former case that the typically indoctrinated volunteer of the Ukrainian Azov Brigade would be unfamiliar with the life stories of Waffen-SS officers such as the Belgian Leon Degrelle and, of course, Joachim ‘Jochen’ Peiper who continues to be revered as a poster-boy for the brave and fanatically disposed SS-man.

Peiper has not only been the subject of biographers of the Second World War, his craft as a practitioner of tank warfare and abilities as a leader of men has been the subject for researchers in military colleges.

Some years ago, I discovered a paper written by a Dutch military officer studying at the US Army Command and General Staff College. Entitled The Beginning of the End: The Leadership of SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Jochen Peiper, the thesis sought to appraise the capabilities of Peiper as a military leader notwithstanding the notoriety garnered by the Waffen-SS during the Second World War and the designation of the SS as a whole as a criminal organisation.

Peiper is perhaps best known as one of the main defendants at a military commission which tried him for responsibility of the massacre of captured and unarmed US troops at Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge. Peiper claimed that he gave no orders to shoot the Americans and was unaware of any general orders not to take prisoners alive.

However, as the leader of the panzer group from which the killers were attached, he accepted ultimate responsibility and was condemned to death; a verdict which was later commuted to life imprisonment.

He was later released but would continue to be threatened by those who wished to deprive him of earning a livelihood and those who wished for him to be tried for war crimes.

His past caught up with him in a small French village when his identity was discovered and he was murdered by suspected French communists when his home was firebombed in the early hours.

With over 400 pages representing years of research, Danny S. Parker’s Hitler’s Warrior: The Life and Wars of SS Colonel Jochen Peiper promises new insights into Peiper’s time as Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler’s adjutant, his battles in ferocious encounters on the Eastern and Western fronts, his trial and his post-war life.

The subject of Patrick Bishop’s The Reckoning has as its backdrop, the dream of political Zionists to carve out a Jewish homeland in the United Nations mandate territory of Palestine which was governed by Britain.

Among the most virulent of opponents of British rule was Avraham Stern, a Jewish émigré from Poland who was a poet, philosopher and exponent of political terrorism.  Stern was a militant disciple of Ze’ev Jabotinsky whose extremism made him break ranks with the Zionist leadership who suspended their collective agitation against British rule in order to support the pressing matter of defeating Hitler’s Germany.

While members of the Palmach, the Haganah and even the Irgun joined the war effort, Stern stubbornly held out for an alliance first with Mussolini’s Italy and then the German Reich in the quest for the creation of a Jewish state.

His efforts were rebuffed.

The book centres on the contest of wills between Stern and British policeman Geoffrey Morton who finally cornered Stern in an apartment in Tel Aviv. Stern’s subsequent shooting by the Englishman was and continues to be shrouded in controversy. Was it an act of self-defence? Or was it a cold blooded murder?

Today the killings continue in the Middle East with the focus being on the attempts to create an Islamic State by fanatics who are sustained by huge reserves of resources and an effectively managed propaganda arm which emphasises mercilessness toward captured enemies via means that have included high production value videos featuring staged beheadings.

For those who refute any analogy between the barbarity of the Islamic State and the tactics employed by the Zionist terror groups such as the Irgun and the Stern Gang, one only has to wonder what distinctions can be made between the beheading of captured Syrian soldiers defending their land from an invasion of largely foreign sponsored mercenaries and the hanging of British policemen by wire in booby-trapped orange groves?

For while there is approval –secret or publically expressed- of IS murders of Shias, Christians and recalcitrant Sunnis by some Muslim residents in the Western nations, the sentiments of some Zionists in the West at the time of violent anti-British agitation in Palestine such as that expressed by Hollywood playwright Ben Hecht,  bears reminding.

“Every time a British soldier dies”, Hecht proclaimed, “the Jews of America make a little holiday in their hearts.”

Terrorism as the historian Niall Ferguson has argued is the original sin of the Middle East.

And while Stern was condemned for criminal acts of robbery and gruesome murders, Bishop’s book appears to promote the view that his killing created a martyr who proved more influential in death than he did as a marginalised figure in life in achieving the creation of a Jewish state.

Nicholas Wapshott’s book, The Sphinx chronicles and analyses President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s policy of persuading America to break with its isolationist position into one of intervening in a violent European conflict.

The subtitle of his effort, ‘Franklin Roosevelt, the Isolationists and the Road to World War II’ gives an indication of Roosevelt’s reputation as a wily political operator who was schemer par excellence.

A perusal of the jacket cover and the preface provides examples of some of the influential personalities he was up against.

Father Coughlin, the firebrand Roman Catholic priest who initially supported Roosevelt’s New Deal policies but who later turned against FDR was one who was famously neutralised by the machinations of the president who obtained the help of the Vatican to silence a priest who boasted of a large radio audience in the 1930s.

Another figure was Joseph P. Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy family, who as ambassador to the Court of St. James earned the reputation as a supporter of the ‘appeasement’ of Nazi Germany. Those familiar with some of the numerous biographies of his sons as well as personal biographies such as Ronald Kessler’s The Sins of the Father, will know of how FDR manipulated a manipulator into diffusing the threat Kennedy posed to his leadership of the Democratic Party with appointments in Wall Street and his role as an ambassador.

The other prominent figure from the isolationist camp covered by Wapshott is the famous aviator, Charles A. Lindburgh.

All three it should be noted garnered a reputation for anti-Semitism for publically, declaring that intervening in a European war served “Jewish interests” and not that of America.

They all shape up to be fascinating reads.

Adeyinka Makinde (2015)

Hitler’s Warrior: The Life and Wars of SS Colonel Jochen Peiper by Danny S. Parker is published by Da Capo Press.

The Reckoning: How the Killing of One Man Changed the Fate of the Promised Land by Patrick Bishop is published by William Collins.

The Sphinx: Franklin Roosevelt, the Isolationists, and the Road to World War II by Nicholas Wapshott is published by Norton Books.

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