Does Rommel Deserve a Statue?

During my travels through northwest Europe last year I came across some very interesting sites that sparked renewed thinking about how we as Americans have decided to deal with the commemoration and memorialization of the American Civil War. One cause for thought was the presence of German military cemeteries in France and elsewhere — for both world wars. Not far from where George S. Patton, Jr., is buried in Luxembourg, for example, one finds a German military cemetery containing dead from the Ardennes Offensive, while one can view the Aisne-Marne American military cemetery from a small nearby German cemetery when exploring Belleau Wood. At La Cambe Military Cemetery, some seven miles from Omaha Beach, some 21,000 German soldiers are buried.

In short, German dead are buried in enemy territory, and those areas are cause for contemplation and reflection. We talk a great deal about honoring military dead regardless of what they believed (even if we often debate exactly what it was that they believed). After all, they fought for what they believed, and for some people, that’s enough.

Statues, we are told, honor service and sacrifice. They are not political statements about the cause for which these men fought. I might disagree with that argument (most war memorials offer at least implicit explanation and affirmation about the cause of the conflict and related political statements), but let’s set that aside. What, then, should stand in the way of erecting a statue to Erwin Rommel as well as the German fighting man near Normandy? Anything? After all, if certain people are willing to remember the Confederate fighting man, complete with the erection of memorials and the raising of historically appropriate flags as symbols of the military effort of the Confederacy, should not the German fighting man and the generals who commanded them be afforded the same courtesy? If so, why? If not, why not, and what’s the difference (if any) between a discussion about honoring the service and sacrifice of World War I and II dead with one about Civil War dead?

You tell me.

54 thoughts on “Does Rommel Deserve a Statue?

  1. Mike Sheriff March 27, 2016 / 2:22 pm

    George S. Patton is buried in Winchester, Va.
    George S. Patton, Jr. is buried in Luxembourg.

  2. tmheaney March 27, 2016 / 4:58 pm

    Well, the big difference between Europe and the US is of course the nation-states. The Confederacy was defeated (not to belabor the point) and the former Confederates became confirmed as citizens of the US; all of the battlefields are in “our one common country.” If the Germans wish to build a memorial in Normandy, it would be in France, a separate country. So, there might be bit of a barrier there.

    So, the US Civil War being, well, a civil war, creates a substantially different situation than wars between separate nation-states. But I’m probably just pointing out the obvious.

    • Brooks D. Simpson March 27, 2016 / 5:36 pm

      I simply point out the presence of cemeteries containing German dead in France and elsewhere. So there’s already that kind of memorial.

      • Mike Sheriff March 27, 2016 / 5:52 pm

        As you stated in the blog “Statues, we are told, honor service and sacrifice.” So I see nothing wrong with erecting a statue in the individual’s home country to a soldier to memorialize him. These soldier were doing what was asked of them by their country. So with that thought in mind, YES Confederate memorial should be allowed in the South. By removing these we are removing part of our history that should be remembered, no matter if the cause for which the fought for by today’s culture was incorrect.

        • Ned B March 27, 2016 / 10:50 pm

          Mike Sheriff wrote “soldier were doing what was asked of them by their country”. A debatable proposition when it comes to Confederate soldiers. We have to decide what was “their country” as I think they clearly were not doing what was asked of them by the USA, thus statues erected within the USA would seem to be at odds with his sentiment. Even if we allow that the CSA was their country, the CSA doesnt exist any longer, so no statute can be erected in the CSA.

          He also wrote “By removing these we are removing part of our history that should be remembered.” This is a pat answer that never seems fully explained. Why should something be remembered? And what should be remembered about it? Does that statue help remember or, by presenting a certain spin and obscuring other issues, does it help forget?

        • Joshism March 29, 2016 / 4:58 pm

          “By removing these we are removing part of our history that should be remembered, no matter if the cause for which the fought for by today’s culture was incorrect.”

          Books, documentaries, museums, historical markers, and cemeteries REMEMBER history.

          Monuments and memorials HONOR history.

          See the difference?

        • Dai Jones August 16, 2017 / 12:45 am

          Thistopicisparticularly relevant now considering the situation in Charlottesvile.
          I agree with you entirely and believe that ‘sanitizing’ history is possibly the most dangerous form of censorship a society can engage in. An unfortunate immutable fact about history is that the winners get to write it!

          • John Foskett August 17, 2017 / 8:06 am

            The descendants of Lee and of Stonewall Jackson seem to have a different take on all of this.

        • Renate West Australia November 12, 2017 / 3:33 pm

          Absolutely. In most cases they are not political. Removal of Erwin Rommel or Robert E. Lee is politically correctness gone too far. These people fought for their country regardless of personal beliefs. Regardlrss of who are the victors. Some countries unlike US dont bring their dead home. If we cant bury our enemies dead we stop being Christiam or human.

      • tmheaney March 27, 2016 / 7:50 pm

        Yes, because the dead are there. While cemeteries and monuments share similarities, a place for the dead is not the same as a statue of commemoration or veneration. The plaque at La Cambe Military Cemetery states: “With its melancholy rigour, it is a graveyard for soldiers not all of whom had chosen either the cause or the fight. They too have found rest in our soil of France.” (Wikipedia)

        I can’t recall any CSA plaques or monuments that say such a thing and leave it at that.

        Here’s a question: Why were the CSA dead at Gettysburg removed to cemeteries in Virginia and re-interned while the mass graves at Shiloh remain at the battlefield? (Seriously, does anyone know the particulars?)

        • bob carey March 28, 2016 / 3:10 am

          I don’t think that the mothers and /or spouses of these Confederate soldiers wanted them to be buried on Yankee soil, which is why most of the Confederate dead were removed from Gettysburg in the 1870’s.

          • tmheaney March 28, 2016 / 8:31 am

            Interesting. Makes sense, although the idea that Germans are OK with their dead being buried in France, but Southern whites are not OK with their relatives being buried on the other side of the Mason-Dixon Line is, well, curious.

          • Michael Bradley April 5, 2016 / 12:54 pm

            The Confederate dead were removed from Gettysburg at the expense of various “Ladies Memorial Associations” and with the assistance of Dr. Rufus Weaver, a Gettysburg native whose father had helped with the burial of soldiers on both sides immediately following the battle.

            The Confederates who died as U.S. POW’s are still buried in the North, with few exceptions. In some instances their graves have been bull-dozed into mounds to make way for other burials.

  3. Robert C. Conner March 27, 2016 / 5:12 pm

    Rommel’s fall 1942 campaign in Egypt was a bit like John B. Hood’s invasion of Tennessee in 1864, George H. Thomas and Bernard Montgomery bided their time (ignoring pressure from impatient superiors), and then counterattacked to win major victories. Unlike Hood, Rommel eventually turned against his political masters and was put to death by them. That makes a statue more acceptable.

    • Brad March 27, 2016 / 6:21 pm

      I don’t want to make too much of this in the context of the question posed by Brooks but Rommel was a dyed in the wool Nazi who only turned against the War in an effort to save the German Army officer class in an eventual peace.

      • John Foskett March 28, 2016 / 10:35 am

        I don’t think there’s any scholarship which portrays him as a “dyed in the wool Nazi.” In fact. there’s plenty of evidence which shows him sporadically at odds with the SS, (who were “dyed in the wool Nazis”) and his commands generally refrained from the kinds of barbarous racial acts in which other commands indulged. That is a far cry from painting him as some sort of anti-Hitler herp, however. Like so many in the Wehrmacht, he cooperated fully in Hitler’s war until it became clear that Germany was headed to an ignominious defeat. He acted to save Germany’s neck from just retribution, if not his own.

      • rcocean March 28, 2016 / 3:56 pm

        Rommel wasn’t in any way a “dyed in the wool’ Nazi. Good lord!

        • Jacksonian November 23, 2017 / 12:19 pm

          He commanded Hitler’ personal bodyguard and served as senior military advisor to the Hitler Youth. Membership in the Party notwithstanding, he certainly furthered his career by getting close to Hitler (commanding his bodyguard) and was then elevated to positions of command where he could display his military talent. When it came to Hitler and the Nazi regime Rommel (unlike any number of German officers who were dismissed or imprisoned in the 1930s) checked his conscience and morality at the door, swore an oath of loyalty to Hitler, and went on about advancing his career – at the expense of the Polish and French peoples, of course.

          He eagerly led German forces engaged in aggressive warfare against Poland, obviously; when it came to the large scale, broad policies of the Hitler government he was comfortable in not knowing what he didn’t know, and denying what he did know.

          Unlike Stauffenberg and his circle, he continued to try and straddle the fence even as late as 1944, when it was obvious to all professional officers and statesmen the Allies were going to win.

          So yes, he was as much a Nazi as the majority of Germans were, and should no more be commemorated – in France or anywhere else – than Lee should be.

          My 2 cents.

          • Kristoffer November 25, 2017 / 10:14 pm

            “He eagerly led German forces engaged in aggressive warfare against Poland, obviously”
            You’d better change that to “France” as Rommel was in charge of Hitler’s bodyguard during the invasion of Poland.

          • Michael William Stone April 17, 2018 / 2:51 am

            Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott engaged in aggressive warfare against Mexico. Andrew Jackson invaded Spanish Florida at a time when America and Spain weren’t even at war. Are they not entitled to statues?

  4. Sandi Saunders March 27, 2016 / 5:16 pm

    Believe me, this is a question I have pondered at length. Having Confederate ancestors, hearing the small part of their stories that I do know, I want desperately to honor their fight “for what they believed in” but that is not sturdy ground unless I join those who discount so much of documented history and fact. Since a big part of my Southern identity hinges on my integrity I just cannot do that so here I am agreeing with those who think that much of the “commemoration and memorialization of the American Civil War” was about continuing the racial control efforts after the war was lost and deliberately revising history to “tell a different story” because the real story of the Confederacy is reprehensible. That is just the truth.

    I think that Civil War remembrance at cemeteries, battlefields, and in museums is important historical reference that embodies all of the honor and respect those fighting against our nation should ever be able to claim. I no longer even see a way that reinterpretation of the statues and memorials with a more comprehensive interpretive panel is enough either. The vestiges of the Civil War that are memorials to the cult of the lost cause need to be removed. They simply have no place in our history that is good. It is like saving the schoolhouse doors that Wallace stood in front of. It is like saving a tree used to lynch black people. It is an affront to black Americans who have ancestors who were slaves. It is a repudiation of unity and the United States. It is honoring those who fought our nation. We don’t do that.

    Here in Virginia there is a D-Day Memorial that has some statuary in place. One director wanted to add a bust of Stalin to the line-up of Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. There were incredible public protests that he had no role and deserved no “honor” even though the plaque mentions “the tens of millions who died under Stalin’s rule.” He had a role in the success of the Allied invasion but the bust was removed and has not come back that I know of. The local board of supervisors were among those complaining of such an “honor”.

  5. Bob Huddleston March 27, 2016 / 6:34 pm

    We have been to Cambe, so veryt different from Colleville-sur-Mer. And equally sad.
    “Statues, we are told, honor service and sacrifice. They are not political statements about the cause for which these men fought.” However, statues are also political statements about the times and the people who erect them.

    • Brooks D. Simpson March 27, 2016 / 9:29 pm

      I agree, but others may not.

      Recall the quote:

      Statues, we are told, honor service and sacrifice. They are not political statements about the cause for which these men fought. I might disagree with that argument (most war memorials offer at least implicit explanation and affirmation about the cause of the conflict and related political statements), but let’s set that aside.

  6. Phil R. March 27, 2016 / 8:17 pm

    In the US, you can commemorate whatever you like, as long as you control the ground on which you install your commemorative devices. I suppose it depends on what local laws and attitudes in Europe or North Africa allow. BTW, one major difference between German and American cemeteries in France is that while US cemeteries are US soil, Germany leases the ground in which their war dead are interred. There is no German analogue to the very serious ABMC. Cemetery maintenance is dependent upon volunteers.

  7. Michael William Stone March 28, 2016 / 1:01 am

    Well, as I understand it the British soldiers who fought Rommel in North Africa generally respected him, even if, given the circumstances, they couldn’t be expected to like him. I doubt if many of them would have any problem about a statue. But of course I cannot speak for the French.

  8. bob carey March 28, 2016 / 3:06 am

    As far as the cemeteries are concerned, leave them be, human decency would demand this. The rank and file soldier of any nation at war has little input as to the cause of that war.
    In the case of Statues being placed at these cemeteries I do not think that would be appropriate. The German officer caste was complicit in the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. For their support they demanded that the power of the Brownshirts be diminished and Hitler complied. The Night of the Long Knives purged the leadership of the Brownshirts
    These same German officers gave,at the very least, tacit approval to the Holocaust by doing nothing to prevent it or to stop it. This “I was only following orders” nonsense didn’t fly at Nuremburg and shouldn’t be accepted as an excuse today.
    I believe that most of the Confederate monuments we have today were dedicated during the time
    when the political leaders of the white south were trying to rationalize their involvement in the Civil War and were used as a tool to promote white supremacy in the South during the Jim Crow Era. They should be recognized as much and interpretive signage should be placed to explain this. As far as keeping them in place I think that should be left up to the individual locales where they are located. No more should be erected anywhere.

  9. John Foskett March 28, 2016 / 1:32 pm

    So far as I know, Mallmann and Cuppers did not uncover evidence that the SS character in charge of that project, Walter Rauff, and Rommel ever actually met or had direct communication, or that Rommel was involved in the Einsatzgruppe planning. As I pointed out, there is little support for the notion that Rommel was a “dyed in the wool Nazi”. That is very far from posturing him as some kind of Anti-Hitler Knight, of course. The Wehrmacht generally bore responsibility for its complicity in SS actions on its various fronts, although in the USSR significant SS forces were actually incorporated into the Army Groups.

  10. rcocean March 28, 2016 / 3:53 pm

    We have statues of General Lee in the USA because Lee was an American. He fought for the USA before 1861 and according to a large number of Americans – both North and South – his fight for the Confederacy was a legitimate one. After the Civil war, he supported reconciliation.

    To put up a statue of Rommel in France would be absurd. He was a foreigner and an enemy of France in two world wars. OTOH, if the Government of Tunisia or Egypt was OK with a Rommel statue on the old battlefields -I’d see nothing wrong it. It’d probably draw some tourists.

  11. fundrums March 30, 2016 / 7:51 am

    You mention cemeteries. It has taken me a while to accept and understand the current movement against Confederate Monuments and Flags. Within the public sector I think their presence should be left up to the surrounding community. That said I have no issue with monuments that are erected in cemeteries. Those “sentry” statues are there to “guard the dead” and represent a sign of respect. I hope that we will not see a backlash on these monuments because they (IMO) are not part of the Lost Cause narrative. In a related sense I see no problem with erecting similar statues of everyday soldiers (on both sides) in WW2 military cemeteries. Their sacrifice on the battlefield remains regardless of the politics. – Michael Aubrecht

  12. James F. Epperson March 30, 2016 / 11:33 am

    Does Rommel deserve a statue? I think the answer is an unequivocal “yes,” but the important question remains: Where does it belong? I think there would be lots of well-founded objections to putting his statue in Normandy. In his home-town in Germany? I can see no grounds for objecting to that.

    Extending this argument to Confederate statues becomes difficult, for the obvious reasons. I continue to fall back on other European experiences, however: What did the Czechs do with all the statues of Marx and Lenin, etc., that used to grace Prague and other cities? I think they were largely moved to museums.

    • Thom March 22, 2018 / 8:21 pm

      Go to East Berlin & you will still see plenty of Soviet-era statues publicly displayed. They did not remove them, largely for kitsch value. Of course, the Czech experience was much different – I’ve not been to a part of the world that so hated the communists.

  13. Charles Edward Lincoln III March 30, 2016 / 12:55 pm

    I would absolutely and unreservedly support a memorial to Erwin Rommel. He was military genius, a great man and a hero. We in the West have already, in effect, made several monuments to him in movies and documentaries. Why NOT a physical memento? If anyone wants to pay for it, it’s at least as legitimate to honor this military genius as half of the nitwit actors who have stars on the Hollywood walk of fame—get real folks! Anything that makes people THINK is good….

  14. John Foskett March 30, 2016 / 2:20 pm

    “He was military genius, a great man and a hero.”

    Whoa Nellie……

  15. Sherree March 30, 2016 / 3:16 pm

    No, Rommel does not deserve a statue. Does Hitler deserve a statue? That said, is the Confederacy analogous to Nazi Germany? That is the million dollar question, isn’t it?

    • Fergus Fitzpatrick (@fitzangus) April 16, 2016 / 11:51 am

      Germany invaded sovereign nations, it planned and carried out mass genocide,the Confederacy did not. It treated people as property but had a vested interest in that property.Also slavery existed in the US at that time as well.

  16. Matt McKeon March 30, 2016 / 4:50 pm

    Rommel was a servant of the Third Reich. He led troops in invading France, enabling an occupation with its attendant horrors. There shouldn’t be a statue of Rommel in France anymore than there should be a statue of Admiral Yamamoto at Pearl Harbor. There probably shouldn’t be a statue of Rommel in Germany either.

    • hankc9174 April 6, 2016 / 11:34 am

      perhaps the context is important. would a statue of Rommel saluting the graves be OK?

  17. Matt McKeon March 30, 2016 / 4:59 pm

    An example of a monument that is solely about the dead is the Vietnam Memorial. It remembers the individual Americans who died in Vietnam without endorsing its cause. I am not surprised that a group of heroic giant G.I.Joes had to be added later.

    I don’t think many people are protesting cemeteries with Confederate fallen. Its the triumphant statues erected during the Jim Crow years, the Confederate flags flapping over everything, that draws people’s ire.

    • Kristoffer March 30, 2016 / 9:08 pm

      ‘It remembers the individual Americans who died in Vietnam without endorsing its cause. I am not surprised that a group of heroic giant G.I.Joes had to be added later.”
      You speak as if the Vietnam veterans were mostly draftees. This is not true. Contrary to popular myth, only 25% of those who served in Vietnam were draftees, and only 38% of those who were drafted went to Vietnam:

      • Matt McKeon March 31, 2016 / 9:57 am

        The Vietnam Memorial makes no distinction between volunteers and draftees, only the living and the dead. I made no mention of draftees or volunteers, either. The conventional bronze heroic statuary added later. Your comment is a bit of a tangent.

        • Kristoffer March 31, 2016 / 4:10 pm

          You did say that the Vietnam Memorial “remembers the individual Americans who died in Vietnam without endorsing its cause,” and you didn’t mention those who volunteered, so I interpreted it as referring to draftees.

          • John Foskett April 1, 2016 / 7:30 am

            You seem to make the erroneous assumption that every kid who enlisted was doing so because he was driven by the Domino Theory of World Communism. Quite a few had no other employment options, among other things. We’re back to the good old distinction between (1) the cause and (2) an individual soldier’s motivation.

          • chancery April 2, 2016 / 12:49 am

            English word order is sometimes tricky, and it can be difficult to frame an unambiguous sentence without using an awkward number of commas. Mr. McKeon’s sentence beginning with “It remembers” contains a _potential_ ambiguity. You’ve interpreted the phrase “without endorsing its cause” as describing the Americans who died in the war, but nothing in the sentence prevents the phrase from being instead a statement about the manner in which the Memorial remembers.

            But I don’t view this as a true, unresolvable ambiguity. Even looking at the sentence in isolation, I would resolve the potential ambiguity in favor of the latter meaning, i.e., that the memorial does not endorse the cause of the war. This is based on something about the rhythm and balance of the sentence, but I lack … something, perhaps the technical vocabulary of rhetoric, necessary to explain my conclusion better. The context, i.e., the sentences immediately proceeding and following, together with my own experience of visiting the monument, makes me confident that I’m correct.

            In any event, Mr. McKeon knows best what he meant, and I believe that his response confirms that he wasn’t saying anything about the views of the Americans who died in the war, let alone distinguishing between draftees and volunteers.

          • Kristoffer April 2, 2016 / 8:45 am

            @John Foskett That answer reminds me of the people who perpetuate the myth that movies drive dog breed popularity: anecdotes at best, and no actual data. In fact, in the case of Dalmatians, actual data directly contradicts the myth:
            In any case, your statement “You seem to make the erroneous assumption that every kid who enlisted was doing so because he was driven by the Domino Theory of World Communism” is flat out wrong, as I assumed nothing due to not knowing individual motivations. All I did was point a fact that seems to be a bee in your bonnet.

            @Chancery If you actually believe I was referring exclusively to those who died, you’re completely wrong and didn’t actually read my comment.

  18. Mark Snell March 31, 2016 / 7:14 am

    These two links are barely tangential to Brooks’ question, but they are quite interesting nonetheless:

    As a sidebar, in the late 1970s while serving as a young lieutenant, I was stationed in a suburb of Stuttgart, near the Headquarters of the US Army Seventh Corps. The deputy corps commander at that time was LTG George S. Patton, IV, and the mayor of Stuttgart was Manfred Rommel. If I recall correctly, they were good friends.

  19. Michael Bradley April 5, 2016 / 12:27 pm

    There are a few statues to German soldiers from WW II, including one in the Netherlands. German soldiers who died as Allied POW’s, including those who died in the U.S., had their graves marked with the insignia of the German armed forces. There are a few of these graves still on U.S. soil since no contacts were ever made in Germany for the return of the remains.

    Actually, a great many of the soldiers in the German armed forces were not German since men from several occupied nations were drafted.

    • John Foskett May 21, 2017 / 8:31 am

      As pointed out earlier, this discussion seems to be a zero sum game – Rommel was either a “dyed in the wool Nazi” or he was an anti-Nazi hero who rose up against an immoral regime. How about a middle ground? There’s nothing indicating that he was an SS-type cloaked in professional Wehrmacht garb whose forces engaged in the campaign of genocide which preoccupied the SS units, but he also fought vigorously for an immoral racist regime and certainly “accommodated” its genocidal policies – until he figured out that Hitler was taking Germany down the drain.

  20. James Balmer August 13, 2017 / 11:57 am

    In light of the recent on pleasantness in Charlottesville, it would seem more poignant than ever. Both Erwin Rommel and Robert E Lee were considered prominent historical figures and brilliant military tacticians. And since history is written by the winners they were also, both playing for the wrong side. Losers don’t get statues. Especially when one considers the cause that each were fighting for. Sure, they both may or may not have been conflicted. Doesn’t matter. If the south had “won” the Civil War, what’s happening now would be about the appropriateness of Ulysses S Grant statue. That’s just the way it goes.

    • James Balmer August 13, 2017 / 12:02 pm

      As a side note, I wouldn’t mind seeing the likeness of either one covered in bird shit.

  21. Renate West Australia November 12, 2017 / 3:38 pm

    Absolutely. In most cases they are not political. Removal of Erwin Rommel or Robert E. Lee is politically correctness gone too far. These people fought for their country regardless of personal beliefs. Regardlrss of who are the victors. Some countries unlike US dont bring their dead home. If we cant bury our enemies dead we stop being Christiam or human.

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