“Only an American could ask a question like this,” German newspaper Die Welt wrote on Tuesday, in response to a list published in US magazine The Quarterly Journal of Military History. The list was sparked by a reader’s question about the greatest German military minds.
It was answered by historian Robert M. Citino, professor for European history at the University of North Texas, and author of the book The German Way of War. Though the list leaves out major Nazi military figures like Erwin Rommel, it does include Heinz Guderian, who is said to have developed modern German tank strategies during World War II, as well as two other Nazi generals.
Such lists are considered highly suspect in Germany. “The actions of a general in the German-Soviet war is today exclusively judged on how many civilians and prisoners of war were killed or starved to death within his remit,” military historian Johannes Hürter said in Die Welt. “Against that, hardly anyone asks about their military performance.”
Two of Hitler’s generals who made it onto Citino’s list – Erich von Lewinski, known as Manstein, and Eberhard von Mackensen – were later convicted of war crimes. Manstein was sentenced to 18 years in prison and Mackensen was sentenced to death, though both were eventually pardoned.
The list largely concentrates on Prussian-German military history, and includes two actual Prussian rulers – Frederick the Great himself and Frederick William I, King of Prussia from 1713 to his death in 1740.
The pre-Nazi-era generals on the list include Count Hellmuth von Moltke, Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Prinz Friedrich Karl of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz, and Georg Freiherr von Derfflinger. Except for Guderian, the entire list is made up of members of aristocratic Prussian families.
But the newspaper could not resist a swipe at the academic value of such exercises. “Such debates are limited to hobby historians in Germany,” Die Welt wrote. “If you want to reduce war history to lists, you have to go to America.”