Erwin Rommel is one of the most studied and debated military generals of the Second World War. He's been often praised as a strategic genius, having successfully held the line against the Allies during a two-year deployment in the North African Campaign. However, his character has been put under much scrutiny by scholars and historians. While he supported the rise of Hitler and the Nazi seizure of power, there are accounts of his reluctance toward anti-Semitism and his battlefield chivalry, leading some to believe that he joined the war for apolitical reasons. However, these accounts have also been called into question, being seen as part of a propaganda tactic by the Nazis' considerable engine of persuasive media. Now, Vietnam War veteran and prolific military historian Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr. has decided to take on a biography of the complicated German general.
The biography is laid out very simply. There's not as much personal detail or intimacy with the subject that you would find in the biography of somebody like Steve Jobs or Louis Zamperini. However, as Mitcham explains, Rommel was a simple man.
"Rommel was a very simple man," Mitcham told Townhall. "It doesn't take a lot to explain him as a person... He never fooled around with his wife. He didn't drink, except the occasional glass of wine. He didn't go out. He had a very simple, plain, basically middle-class existence."
Because of this, the chapters going over Rommel's childhood, his relationship with his wife and his time spent in WWI are glanced over in a few chapters. However, Rommel's career during WWII is thoroughly explored throughout the majority of the book. From his beginning in the Afrika Korps to his ascension to general in the Nazi ranks, the core arc of Rommel's life is in the Second World War.
"As a military man, he rather transforms himself," Mitcham explained.
While Rommel was a decorated officer for the Third Reich, Mitcham insists that he was not, in fact, a Nazi. At least, not ideologically. While Rommel was "close to being a Nazi pretty early on in the 30s," Mitcham explains that he was ultimately put off by Hitler and his methods, though we are unsure when his loyalties shifted or what caused them.
"Some people don't like to have heroes at all," Mitcham said, regarding the growing belief that Rommel wasn't as apolitical as people first thought.
Mitcham brought up several incidents that he explores in the book, including Rommel forbidding his son to join the S.S.
Rommel ultimately joined the conspiracy to defeat Hitler (though he wanted Hitler arrested rather than killed to prevent him from becoming a martyr). He was caught and for his crime, he was given a choice. Either he commits suicide, in which case his family wouldn't be harmed. Or he stands trial for treason, resulting in the public humiliation and hatred of himself and, by extent, his family. Rommel chose the cyanide pill and was dead within the hour.
"...he tried to do the right thing," Mitcham said, "and ultimately he paid the price for it."
The book, however, isn't just about bringing light to the story of a good man in darkness. It also sets up Rommel's life as a sort of inspiring tale of perseverance.
"[The battlefield] was where he made his mark on the world," Mitcham said. "Faced incredible odds and most of the time he won."
"Desert Fox" is available on March 12.