Countdown To Valkyrie: The July Plot To Assassinate Hitler, by Nigel Jones
There are a lot of things that one can take away from a book like this. It is easy to look at the failure of the Valkyrie plot and wonder what would have happened with a bit more time to make sure that the bomb killed Hitler, or wonder about the failure of the plotters to have thought about basic questions of how to ensure that Hitler’s loyalists didn’t disrupt efforts at forming a new government, or whether it was in fact far too late by that time for there to be a peace treaty between Germany and others that would allow for some of Germany’s gains from the beginning of World War II to be preserved. It is obvious today that Hitler was a world-historical level monster but it was less than obvious how he was to be removed, and this book examines the tragic history of those who opposed him within Germany, many of whom lacked the sort of resolution that he had, and often found that their own lack of character and resolution made things easier on Hitler and undercut their sane opposition to Hitler’s opportunism and warmongering.
This book is almost 300 pages long and is divided into ten chapters. The book begins with an introduction and then a prologue that begins in media res by looking at sumer at the Wolf’s Lair where Hitler ran the efforts to stem the Soviet counterattack from Barbarosa. After that the author discusses the early life of Count Claus von Stauffenberg, looking at his family life as well as the influence of the Georg circle (1). Then the author turns to a discussion of the rise of Hitler (2) and the rule of the outlaws during the chaotic years where extralegal violence became ordinary (3). The author discusses Hitler’s march to war (4) as well as Hitler’s war (5), and even a full chapter on a lone wolf effort on the part of Georg Elser to kill Hitler in Munich that narrowly failed (6). The author discusses the devil’s luck and the failure of various army plots against Hitler (7) as well as the role of Stauffenberg (8) in providing firmness to efforts at ousting Hitler to save Germany. A chapter is spent on detailing the events of the July 20th 1944 plot (9) and then the author discusses Hitler’s cruel revenge (10), after which the book closes with an afterword with Claus’ son, a list of dramatis personae, a guide to sites, acknowledgements and sources, as well as photo credits and an index.
At the end of this book there is a particularly poignant discussion of what the son of Stauffenberg felt in the postwar German army as the son of an anti-Nazi hero, given the fact that even in those times there were some who would have felt it wrong to celebrate someone who gave his life in an attempt to put Hitler to death and to stop Germany from at least some measure of its madness and folly. The reader must determine whether or not they celebrate tyrannicide, or even attempted tyrannicide, and where this would be applicable in other cases. Sadly, it appears as if there was a great deal of incompetence in Valkyrie and other efforts like it, but that should not stop us from realizing that it demonstrates the existence of at least some sane people in Germany, even if those sane people were not sufficient to stop Germany’s decline into barbarism. We must all lament the use of violence towards political ends, but sometimes one faces desperate choices, and it would be wise for us not to condemn others lest we in turn be condemned ourselves. Clearly the author views tyrannicide as legitimate and it colors the way this book is written, even if the plotters were sadly incompetent in many respects.