My Heroes II

Continuing the account of my heroes….

4. Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt (December 12, 1875 – February 24, 1953) was a Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) of the German Army during World War II, holding some of the highest field commands in all phases of the war. He was an epitome of the aristrocratic Prussian military professional, but extremely courtly and well-mannered.  When you consider his World War II record, it must be realised that he started his military service in 1891, when he was commisioned as an officer. At that time, Erich von Manstein was all of six years old, Adolf Hitler was two years of age and Erwin Eugene Johannes Rommel the ‘Desert Fox’ was yet to be born. That would mean that at the start of the war, von Rundstedt had put in 48 years of service – including over decades before the First World War had even strated – (in fact he had retired in 1938, but was summoned back to active service less then a year later) and by the war’s end, spent 54 years in uniform, over great historical changes. Before I speak more on him, consider some estimations of him.

Von Rundstedt was a “extravagantly polite to women” and smoked too much. To those he disdained (and there were many) he was haughty, reserved and curt.” (Danny S.Parker)

“Moreover, Gerd von Rundstedt was a gentleman to the core. His natural dignity and good manners inspired the respect even of those who differed widely from him in views.” (Basil Henry Liddell Hart)

“Rundstedt was a brilliant military leader, quick to grasp the significance of any particular operation, to analyze the obstacles, and then in turn successfully and oftentimes brilliantly to overcome these barriers.”  (Robert Edward Merriam)

“In appearance, Rundstedt was a man of more than average height. His head was large and well formed; his nose was of the classic Prussian boldness, which gave him a distinguished look. His thinning hair was gray and cut close to his head. His aloof air gave the impression that he was impervious to ordinary matters, men or problems. He moved with a certain mechanical precision. A puritanical Prussian.” (Mladin Zarubica)

These are quite enough but the best and the one that explains my liking was in a book titled “Hitler’s Field Marshals” by Samuel Mitchum jr, that was one of my most prized possessions before someone divested me of it. However, it quoted an American military historian (Col. Albert Seaton, if I remember) remarking about von Rundstedt’s ability “to evoke a past that few could even remember and even few had access to…” (or words to that effect). For me, like the Feldmarschall, I also strive to act honourably in a age, far removed to what I have been accustomed too and where the values and norms have drastically undergone a change… though not for the better.

5. Rezā Shāh, also known as Rezā Shāh Kabir or Rezā Shāh Pahlavi (رضا شاه پهلوی ) (March 16, 1878 – July 26, 1944) was the Shah of the Imperial State of Iran from December 15, 1925 until he was forced to abdicate by the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran in September 16, 1941. The Shah is known as being another Middle Eastern in the mould of Ataturk (both came into power roughly the same time and used the same methods towards the same objectives, but whereas the Father Turk succeeded in his endeavour, Reza Shah was resented by the same people he made citizens of a much developed state and fought off colonial powers for. The same people celebrated when the combined efforts of two of three greatest powers then – the British and the Soviets – removed him from his throne and sent him into exile. His son was unable to be as resolute and…… but well that is another story for a different time. It was much later when some people remembered what the Shah, though heavy-handedly and in accordance with Cossack training, had contributed in resolving the chaotic circumstances of the times and bringing prosperity to the nation but by then it was too late.  

6. Marcus Ulpius Nerva Traianus, commonly known as Trajan (September 18, 53 – August 8, 117), was a Roman Emperor who reigned from AD 98 until his death in AD 117. As a civilian administrator, Trajan is best known for his extensive public building program, which reshaped the city of Rome and left multiple enduring landmarks such as Trajan’s Forum, Trajan’s Market and Trajan’s Column. It was as a military commander however that Trajan celebrated his greatest triumphs. In 101, he launched a punitive expedition into the kingdom of Dacia against king Decebalus, defeating the Dacian army near Tapae in 102, and finally conquering Dacia completely in 106. In 107, Trajan pushed further east and annexed the Nabataean kingdom, establishing the province of Arabia Petraea. After a period of relative peace within the Empire, he launched his final campaign in 113 against Parthia, advancing as far as the city of Susa in 116, and expanding the Roman Empire to its greatest extent.

But was is most striking about him and that commends my admiration and respect is that Trajan’s reputation has endured – he is one of the few rulers whose reputation has survived the scrutiny of nineteen centuries of history. Every new emperor after him was honoured by the Senate with the prayer felicior Augusto, melior Traiano, meaning “may he be luckier than Augustus and better than Trajan”. Ancient sources on Trajan’s personality and accomplishments are unanimously positive. Pliny the younger, for example, celebrates Trajan in his panegyric as a wise and just emperor and a moral man. Dio Cassius admits Trajan had vices like heavy drinking, but added that he always remained dignified and fair.

The Christianisation of Rome resulted in further embellishment of his legend: it was commonly said in medieval times that Pope Gregory I, through divine intercession, resurrected Trajan from the dead and baptised him into the Christian faith. Medieval Christian theologians, such as Thomas Aquinas, considered Trajan a virtuous pagan. In the Divine Comedy, Dante, following this legend, sees the spirit of Trajan in the Heaven of Jupiter with other historical and mythological persons noted for their justice. Also a mural of Trajan stopping to provide justice for a poor widow is present in the first terrace of Purgatory as a lesson to those who are purged for being proud. Continuing the good work, the 18th century historian Edward Gibbon popularized the notion of the Five Good Emperors, of which Trajan was the second.

The justice of Trajan was a popular subject in paintings, and more beneficial than the judgement of Paris. But that is a different subject all together…..


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