73

RENAISSANCE MAN

Whom Do You Trust?

1940

Here is a “what if ”: If you were the leader of a nation at war, whom would you trust as your second-in-command? A man who:

1. May have stopped the panzers short just so that his aircraft could get credit for destroying the trapped British in Belgium and then instead allowed more than 300,000 enemy soldiers to be evacuated from Dunkirk?

2. Had failed you in the Battle of Britain even though his Luftwaffe far outnumbered the Royal Air Force? Then he blamed his pilots and called them cowards.

3. Bragged publicly and continually that his Luftwaffe would never allow a single British aircraft over Berlin? In a radio interview, he said that if one bomb fell, you “could call him Meier,” which was contemporary slang for “I would be a fool,” and a week later, seventy-five British bombers attacked the German capital with few losses.

4. Guaranteed that if the surrounded Sixth Army stayed in Stalingrad, his aircraft could deliver 750 tons of supplies a day? This promise was made even though his own officers informed him that they had barely enough planes to deliver a third of that amount. The army was ordered to hold the city and not to break out when it could. Eventually starved for ammunition and just plain starved, more than half a million German and allied Axis soldiers were lost at Stalingrad.

5. Forbade the head of his fighters, Adolf Galland, to report to anyone that the new American fighters were now accompanying the bombers deep into Germany?

6. Even as the Allies bombed Germany’s cities, continued to extend the Goering Works manufacturing empire until it employed 700,000 workers, many of them prisoner labor? Most of what the Goering Works made were items under contract to the Nazi government or the Luftwaffe. You can bet those were no-bid contracts. During the war, his company made him one of the richest men in Germany.

7. Regularly used morphine and had been effectively addicted to the drug since 1923? Because of this addiction the Reichsmarschall gained more than 100 pounds by 1943.

8. Was notorious as the greatest art thief in history, assigning entire military units to loot thousands of art treasures from all of Europe for his personal collection?

Who would trust and rely on such a man? Hitler did. The man, of course, was Hermann Goering. He became Hitler’s war minister, commander of the Luftwaffe and, as Reichsmarschall, the number two head of the Nazi government. He was even Hitler’s designated successor almost to the very end of the war. No matter how often Hermann Goering failed, Hitler made the mistake of continuing to trust “Fat Hermann,” the self-proclaimed Renaissance man. Perhaps we should be very grateful for this mistake. How frightening might the world be today if the Führer had instead found a competent right-hand man?

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