Sunday, November 28, 2010

A flawed hero is laid to rest

Readers familiar with the war in the air during World War II will doubtless recognize the name of Hans-Joachim "Hajo" Hermann of the Luftwaffe. Details of his extraordinary war record may be found at the link. He was a doctrinaire Nazi all his life, fanatically loyal to his cause to the end - which came for him on November 5th this year. The Telegraph reports:

Hans-Joachim ("Hajo") Herrmann, who died on November 5 aged 97, was one of the most deadly Luftwaffe pilots of the Second World War and one of its most innovative air tacticians; a committed Nazi determined to fight to the end, he even formed a special unit of fighter pilots whose task was to ram Allied bombers out of the air.

Even after the war he never participated in the collective soul-searching about Germany's role in the conflict.

. . .

After a period studying law Herrmann opened a legal practice in Düsseldorf in 1965. His clients included Holocaust deniers such as Otto Ernst Remer, Fred A. Leuchter and David Irving. Something of an idol to the far-Right, he held political and historical evenings all over Europe to tell a younger generation what it meant to "live for the cause".

There's more at the link.

It's uncomfortable to think of a man like Hermann, staunchly pro-Nazi for so long after the destruction of that poisonous ideology. Something in me wants to turn away from him, ignore him, because of what I can only judge to be a misplaced loyalty. However, I also have to admit that from the perspective of his wartime achievements, he was one of the greatest air combat experts, both in theory and in practice, on either side. He had a profound impact on Allied losses and tactics, and his personal courage was beyond question. It's that same courage, of course, that led him to defend Nazism during the post-war decades, when the 'easy' way would have been to shut up and hide his convictions. He never took the 'easy way', in war or in peace.

Reluctantly, I'm forced to offer him my respect for that. After all, we can hardly fault him for his dedication to his cause when we (in America, at least) honor Stephen Decatur for his toast, "Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!" For Hermann, it was always "right or wrong, his country!", and he never wavered from that standard.

If the Good Book is right about the next life, Oberst Hermann now knows the truth about Nazism and Hitler. I hope and trust his soul was in sufficiently good order for the knowledge to benefit him.



Old NFO said...

Excellent post and excellent point Peter... He WAS the recognized expert on killing from the air!

Charlie McDanger said...

Linked you in this post:

Shell said...

You've made an error in your comparison between Decatur and Herrmann, Peter. There is no comparison, actually. Decatur's dedication was to his country, Herrmann's dedication was to the ideology of Nazism. There is a profound difference.