By Peter Shawn Taylor - Friday, November 9, 2012 - 0 Comments
While Hitler’s Germany laid waste to much of Europe during his short but murderous reign, the Continent’s two most celebrated and historic cities—Paris and Rome—were spared destruction. Could it be that even the Nazis understood the irreplaceable nature of these world treasures?
Historian Neiberg takes a new look at the liberation of Paris and how it narrowly escaped devastation. It’s a story that’s been told many times before, perhaps most memorably by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre in their 1965 book Is Paris Burning? and then given star-laden treatment (Kirk Douglas, Orson Welles, Charles Boyer, Leslie Caron, Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Glenn Ford, Gert Froebe, Anthony Perkins) in a sprawling movie of the same name a year later. That title, of course, refers to an order given by Adolf Hitler but ignored by his retreating army to lay waste to the City of Light.
An equally impressive cast of real-life characters populates this retelling of Paris’s deliverance, ranging from future world leaders Dwight Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle to writers Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre to the brave rank and file of the French Resistance. And yet the most fascinating and controversial figure remains German Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz, the man who left Paris unburnt. Collins and Lapierre based much of their work on Choltitz’s own memoirs, which suggest he saved Paris for moral reasons.
Neiberg reconsiders the evidence and comes to a different conclusion: Choltitz spared Paris because he lacked the means to do otherwise. The general’s nickname on arrival in Paris was “smasher of cities,” a moniker earned for his treatment of Rotterdam and Sevastopol earlier in the war. So there’s no reason to believe he felt any unease over destroying great landmarks. Rather, says Neiberg, Choltitz underestimated popular support for the Resistance and was left powerless once Parisians took to the streets ahead of Allied forces. In the end, the German general surrendered to save his men from the wrath of a wild mob. As for the famous question of whether the city was burning or not, Neiberg says “There is no evidence those words ever left Hitler’s mouth.”
Visit the Maclean’s Bookmarked blog for news and reviews on all things literary
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, August 6, 2008 at 1:40 AM - 867 Comments
Back, for a moment, to David Foster Wallace’s take on John McCain.
Near the end of that little book Foster Wallace arrives at his definitive division of political leadership—laying out a distinction between “leaders” and “salesmen.”
“A real leader,” he writes, “isn’t just somebody who has ideas you agree with, nor is it just somebody you happen to believe is a good guy. A real leader is somebody who, because of his own particular power and charisma and example, is able to inspire people, with ‘inspire’ being used here in a serious and non-cliche way. A real leader can somehow get us to do certain things that deep down we think we are good and want to be able to do but usually can’t get ourselves to do on our own … In other words, a real leader is somebody who can help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better, harder things than we can get ourselves to do on our own…
“There is a difference,” he continues later, “between a great leader and a great salesman. There are similarities, of course. A great salesman is usually charismatic and likable, and he can often get us to do things (buy things, agree to things that we might not go for on our own, and to feel good about it. Plus a lot of salesmen are basically decent people with plenty about them to admire. But even a truly great salesman isn’t a leader. This is because a salesman’s ultimate, overriding motivation is self-interest—if you buy what he’s selling, the salesman profits. So even though the salesman may have a very powerful, charismatic, admirable personality, and might even persuade you that buying is in your interests (and it really might be)—still, a little part of you always knows that what the salesman’s ultimately after is something for himself.”
This leads to a consideration of whether John McCain (circa 2000) could quite literally sell himself as a real leader, without, in the process, becoming a salesman. (see also, Barack Obama circa 2008).
But, for the moment, let’s consider something else. Namely, when was the last time Canada had a real leader? Continue…