The Plots to Kill Hitler–When a Nation Stands at the Crossroads

Tom Cruise in Valkyrie

Tom Cruise trying to look like a man

This last year saw the release of two movies about assassinating Hitler. Both were in their own ways more fantasy than reality. The first was Valkyrie, and the second was Inglourious Basterds. I have not seen Valkyrie, and in fact, I refuse to do so. It is simply too much of a hurdle for me to believe that Tom Cruise could in any way successfully portray a German war hero such as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. The publicity photo of Tom Cruise with an eye patch looked patently ridiculous, and the release of photos of Cruise and the Count, highly retouched in an attempt to prove that they looked alike, was pathetic. Cruise just simply lacks the gravitas to successfully elicit anything more than a snicker in his vain attempts to play a German officer. If for no other reason, the film was pure fantasy.

Stauffenberg and Cruise

No, they don’t look at all alike.

At least Inglourious Basterds, which my two eldest drafted me into watching, never pretended to resemble anything close to reality. Where Cruise and Count Stauffenberg failed, Tarantino delivered—the assassination of Hitler, in living color. However, this was almost an aside to the glourious inanity of a movie whose title has both words misspelled, and which has Brad Pitt trying to pass himself off as an Italian while speaking with a cinematically over-the-top southern accent. Both films involved fantasy—in the first, that Cruise could act; in the second, that Hitler and the German High Command were killed in a French movie theater before the War’s end. However, the most fantastic conceit of all—a conceit both films shared—was that the death of Hitler would bring about the end of the war.

When one examines the plots to kill Hitler, there were two common strands—many of the participants were Nazis, and one of the goals of all of the plots was to avoid the destruction of Germany while at the same time avoiding unconditional surrender. A look at Rommel, for example, who was a co-conspirator in the last assassination attempt, illustrates the problem with the idea of assassinating Hitler as a way to end the war. Rommel was in charge of training the Hitler Youth, and then became the leader of Hitler’s personal guard. It was through this and his friendship with Joseph Goebbels that he was made a commander of a Panzer Division. It was just happenstance that he turned out to be a gifted tank commander. With his victories on the battlefield, he became a personal favorite of Hitler’s.

Rommel and Hitler

Rommel and friend

It is difficult to believe that Rommel turned against Hitler because of his distaste for Hitler or Hitler’s policies. Rather, he turned against Hitler because he was dissatisfied with the prosecution of the war. With this in mind, what would make anyone believe that Rommel would have been willing to end the war on the Allies’ terms? Rather, he and his co-conspirators thought that if Hitler were gone the Allies would be willing to sue for peace and allow them to keep their government and much of what they had already gained during the War. This was the main reason why, when the conspirators tried to reach out through different channels to Churchill, he refused to deal with them. Churchill’s reasoning was that they could assassinate Hitler anytime they wanted, but they would still have to unconditionally surrender. He was absolutely unwilling to let them negotiate a peace that stopped the war and left the status quo unchanged. Indeed, Hitler himself would have been willing to negotiate a peace with Britain and America, if he could have kept everything he had gained. The problem, in the end, was not Hitler, but Germany and its aims. The poison of Nazism simply had to be drawn out of Europe and then destroyed for there ever to be any real peace. Churchill and the Allies grasped this, but the conspirators didn’t.

To put it simply, men such as Hitler gain their demonic power as a judgment of their nation and the world they live in. While assassination may seem like an attractive alternative to some people, in a real sense it is an attempt to short-circuit the process and cheat the impending doom. When one reads of the various conspiracies regarding Hitler, one sees that in every case they were thwarted, seemingly by some spiritual force. But this is true of other attempts to get rid of other despots and fiends.

It would be convenient to blame Satan, and say that he was keeping the conspiracies from succeeding. Indeed, it is convenient to blame Satan and say that he brought Hitler to power in the first place.

However, there is another way of looking at it. In truth, can anything happen unless God allows it to happen? God tested the German people—and the world—by allowing Hitler to rise to prominence in Germany. Everyone failed this test, either by actively working to put Hitler in charge, or by simply standing by and allowing it to happen. In the same way, God was not about to allow a small group of men to decide the fate of their nation, working in secret, in dark rooms, in the dead of the night, plotting to kill Hitler. What was required was for the nation to rise up and say “No!” to Hitler, for the nation to reject him, for the nation to repudiate the man and everything he stood for. However, in God’s search for righteous people in Germany, he came up nearly empty. Certainly, for all of his bravery and integrity, Count von Stauffenberg did not fit the bill. He was a man wanting to murder one dictator, and then make another man dictator in his place. How could God bless this? How could this ever be counted as righteousness?

So the nation of Germany stood at a crossroads—it could repent of its evil and allow the poison to be drawn out, or it could reject this course, continuing to call evil good, and be destroyed. No one man could cheat Germany from this fate. The German people had to be made to decide. Sadly, they decided wrongly. In doing so, the guaranteed that the only way the War could be ended was through their utter destruction.

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