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Four Generals trapped; (October 4, 2009)

 

            The German army failed to capture Stalingrad and the Soviet army has encircled it.  The Fuhrer Hitler decided to supply his army by air; by then the German army could no longer retreat.  The Fuhrer ordered his army “never to surrender”.

            Now you have four Generals trapped in a hut during Russia’s winter; they have not eaten for two days and didn’t sleep for three night.  The highest ranked among the Generals is the German Leopold Reims,  another German General Von Augenstrahl, the Austrian General Kowalka, , and the Italian General Capognoni. There is no gunfire; just strong wind sweeping the flat desolate land covered with snow and dead bodies of man and animals.

            “I give it another ten minutes,” growled Reims in a weak voice “and then I will take my life.”  Kowalka replied: “Why wait ten minutes?”  Reims threw him a look of disdain.  Capognoni had three Turkish flat cigarettes left and offered one to Reims who was fumbling in his empty packet of Overstolz cigarettes. Reims said: “I don’t smoke”. Capognoni hatred for Reims was too deep to linger on this last stung. Kowalka accepted one with pleasure.

            General Von Augenstrahl said: “Suicide is the ultimate form of cowardice.”  Reims shouted feebly: “It is the height of honor” Von Augenstrahl retorted: “By killing yourself, you are doing the work of the enemy. For one thing, you are wasting a bullet to be used in battle”. Reims snapped: “Our orders specifically forbid us to fall into enemy hands.” Von Augenstrahl could no longer control his nerves and said: “Our orders were given by a crackpot Austrian corporal residing in Berlin.” Kowalka laughed: “Our friend in Berlin was a corporal in the German army. Had he stayed in his homeland of Austria he would have remained a private.”

            After a short silence Kowalka broke it: “Hey, General Capognoni, we fought the only civilized wars. At Caporetto you ran away, at Vittorio Veneto it was our turn.  It was all done as gentlemen should do it. At the first sign of an advance, the other side retreated.  There was none of this nonsense of both sides trying to advance at the same time.” Capognoni flushed and retorted: “Wars are to be won, and every effort should be made to win them.” Reims butt in: “It is well known that Italian strategy leads in only one direction, backwards!” Capognoni replied: “The German strategy is to leave the dirty work to their allies. It is in the greatest tradition of the German Army: it is to fight with the Italian soldiers every where the Italian army was present such as in Libya and Greece.”

 

            Reims said around noon: “I have decided that if by noon no relief arrives then I will end it in honor. The order is not to fall in enemy hands. To insure this, with the exception of General Capognoni, I order you all to take your own lives in an honorable way.  Are there any question?” Von Augenstrahl, a Catholic, reiterated his answer: “I will not waste my breath. I cannot obey orders which are against the dictates of my conscience and of common sense.”  “You are under arrest” snapped Reims.  Kowakli laughed: “Is there no end to absurdity?” Kowakli left the hut in search of any Soviet soldier to surrender. “I am staying here,” said Capognoni. “As a Roman, it amuses me to see how the barbarians prepare for the end.”

 

            Reims needed help to insert the bullet in his revolver. When he was ready Von Augenstrahl stepped outside the hut. Capognoni is day dreaming of the good life he had prior to joining the Russian front amid the blood in the hut; he had all the right connections not to join the army to the Russian front; and then he heard a shot outside. The Italian army did not fight well on this front, nor had he. His temperament was too volatile for battles of attrition; for battles when reason declared to be lost from the outset. It was no proof of courage voluntarily to disobey your own intelligence. It was not as you are driving a racing car with a public gallery to play to. The Italian could coax his less performing race car than the German one and win by humanizing the inanimate. That was courage.

            After a while a Russian young soldier entered hesitantly and then rushed out to call on his Lieutenant. “Lei parla italiano?” asked Capognoni. “Raus” shouted the Soviet Lieutenant. “Parlez-vous Francais?” asked Capognoni, “I refuse to surrender. We are still at war”.  The Russian replied with a smile: “What do you want to do about it?” Capognoni faked to shoot at the Russian who was stumbling to remove his revolver and then the Russian shot Capognoni.  The Lieutenant was utterly angry and cried: “What did you do that for?” Capognoni said before dying: “You tell them that the Italian Army was the last to cease resistance on this front”.  The Russian retorted: “Crackpot! Who the hell cares; so long as we are winning!” Capognoni had a witness to his courage and that was the ultimate in aftertaste: an applauding gallery.

  

             

Note: This topic was taken from “The Aftertaste””; it is a short story of the book “Add a dash of pity” by Peter Ustinov.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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