Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Can You Be a Good Guy if You Fight for the Bad Guys?

I've mentioned in the past that I think some of the finest work that EC Comics produced was not from its better-remembered horror comics, but from the war stories that appeared in Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat.

Perhaps the most thoughtful tale that appeared in this book was from Frontline Combat #3 (Nov-Dec 1951). Titled "Desert Fox!" it was written by Harvey Kurtzman and drawn by the great Wally Wood. The way the story is visually structured is by itself fascinating.

Each page shows us number of a true incidents from the military career of Erwin Rommel, arguably Germany's finest military tactician during the Second World War. If it were possible to set aside the cause Rommel was fighting for, the "Desert Fox" would be one awesome dude. This story includes incidents such as personally scouting enemy positions during an artillery barrage and visiting wounded in a hospital (oh--that's a British hospital) to make sure his men were being well-treated.

But at the end of each page, after one of these extraordinary incidents, we get a one-panel reminder of exactly what Rommel is so bravely fighting for. We're told of high school students executed for putting up anti-Nazi posters. We're told of women and children being ruthless killed enmasse. We're told of the population of a village being herded into a building and burned alive and of bodies piled up in death camps like garbage. By the time we get to page 6 of this seven-page story, we are shown nothing but panel after panel of Jews, intellectuals, priests and many others who were tortured and killed by the Nazis.

The last page recounts Rommel's death. Confronted by the Gestapo because he was suspected of being involved in a plot to kill Hitler, he is given the option of committing suicide--an option he takes.

The story can be taken in two ways, each of which is true. First, it shows us an evil regime that eventually turns on its own heroes--killing anyone it perceives as a threat no matter how valuable that person has been in the past.

But "Desert Fox" also can question whether loyalty to one's country has any value if that country has descended into evil. Rommel was not a Nazi--though not discussed in this story, he once refused an order to execute prisoners and had the pull at that time to get away with it. He treated enemy prisoners humanely. He did not participate in war crimes or murder the innocent.

But the government he fought for DID murder the innocent--murdered them by the millions. It's possible that Rommel did not personally know just how bad the ghettos and death camps were, but it's impossible for him not to know that a lot of evil was being perpetrated by the man he took an oath to fight for. Even if Rommel didn't fully grasp the numbers, he certainly knew the Nazis were killing the innocent.

So should we admire Rommel for being a brave soldier and in many ways a good man? Or do we condemn him for fighting for an evil regime? To what degree do we separate soldiers who fight to defend an evil cause--however honorably they fight--from those who are able to commit mass murder only because those soldiers are fighting for them? It's an interesting question and one that this story raises without definitively answering.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...