June 19, 2010

What Men Perceive as "Romantic Evil"

I am retrieving this one-year-old entry from the blog bilges because of the re-started discussion in the comment section. In the context of this blog entry, I strongly recommend FPB's article on military style.

I happened to find the following by mere chance, while searching for some information on Piper Bill Millin and Lord Lovat at Flickr and it had me floored. I think it fits brilliantly the ongoing discussion about what makes men and women tick so differently.
La Style Anglais

Bad behaviour is more interesting, more downright entertaining, than goodness and rectitude. This is a great gift to the Devil of course, but there's no getting away from it. Who ever heard of a soap opera about sober, sexually continent people who go to bed early and take their holidays in Redcar?

I think this explains why the generals of the Wehrmacht High Command, with their whiff of arrogance, cruelty and romantic evil, have always received more attention than their equivalents on the "good" Allied side. For every biography or television documentary about Viscount Slim, or Alexander of Tunis, there must be a dozen about Guderian or Von Rundstedt and a hundred about Rommel. Yet there were some eccentric and flamboyant characters among the commanders of the wartime British Army...
Guderian? Rundstedt? And -- of all unlikely people -- ROMMEL as examples for "romantic evil"? For heaven's sake, Rommel looked exactly like what he was, the son of a small-town schoolteacher, Rundstedt looked exactly like what he was as well, namely the scion of a family of generations of dour Prussian career officers and Guderian, the only one of the three who shows a smidgeon of dash, looks basically too like what he was, namely the son of another Prussian officer, albeit from a lesser family. All three of them, whatever they may have in fact been, look like the archetype of sober, sexually continent men who go to bed early and take their holidays maybe not in Redcar, but in Warnemünde.




The discussion following the "La Style Anglais" picture at Flickr may serve as a key to such an (I think) obvious misconception:
Well, thats a DSO and bar, OBE, MC, 4 ww2 stars (one with a bar, maybe 8th army?), ww1 pair with an MiD, and probably the silver jubilee medal. Don't think there are too many out there with that combination. He looks like a poof but the medal bar proves he's solid English oak.

Alas, with the red hackle on his bonnet and the sword guard of his claymore poking out of the bottom right this 'solid english oak' is most likely a scotsman :) the red hackle is the regimental distinction of the Blackwatch regiment.

The soldier in question is a Commanding Officer from the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment). I believe he is Lt Col Critchley a very distinguished soldier and a gentleman. his son carried on the tradition of serving in the Regiment. Neither of which were in the least bit a poof nor English.

Why couldn't he have been a hero AND a poof?
Indeed, and that's what men find so hard to understand. I see neither arrogance, nor cruelty, let alone romantic evil, in the German archetypes, just austereness, sobriety and professionalism, and I'd like to know how other women react to the different archetypes. My money is on the Brits, and not on the Germans in their demonstratively sober uniforms, who shout "straight" in marked difference to the elegant, flamboyant, dashing, bordering on the sexually ambiguous, Brits, who show more than just a whiff of arrogance, as I understand it.

Interestingly, the author of the "La Style Anglais" entry contradicts himself by quoting from Evelyn Waugh's "Men At Arms":
He was the great Halberdier enfant terrible of the First World War; the youngest company commander in the history of the Corps; the slowest to be promoted; often wounded, often decorated, recommended for the Victoria Cross, twice court martialled for disobedience to orders in the field, twice acquitted in recognition of the brilliant success of his independent actions; a legendary wielder of the entrenching tool; where lesser men collected helmets Ritchie-Hook once came back from a raid across no-man's-land with the dripping head of a German sentry in either hand.
Frankly, that is not exactly a prime example of goodness and rectitude and a scenario in which the boringly sedate mugs of neither, Guderian, nor Rommel, nor Rundstedt seem quite to fit.

At my other blog there is an entry about Rex Whistler, another one of the Brit archetype, again one who carries that sexual ambiguity, and again one who was found irresistible by many women (and men), a feeling to which I can relate.

And of course, Lord Lovat, the man who triggered off this entry, makes an excellent romantic hero as well:

There is hardly anything more endearing about the male sex, and I am not cynical or jaundiced here, than the trait, which sees something romantic, even if it is romantic evil, in Guderian, or Rommel, or Rundstedt. The great tragedy is that their women are meanwhile eloping with Evelyn Waugh's Ritchie-Hook.

First published here on June 7th 2009 and cross-posted at The Evil Style Queen.


Mine Host said...

A bit of quick googling to look for more on Lt Col Critchley reveals that there are at least Two Lt's Colonel R. Critchley DSO MC who served in WW2.

Love the photo of Lord Lovat! Photos of soldiers in WW2 are remarkable. It would not be possible in this day & age to make an authentic movie about front line soldiers of that era. Where would one find enough men with such thin waistlines?

The_Editrix said...

Yes, Lovat was a fine male specimen. To come across as elegant in the middle of a horrific war is something only an upperclass Brit gets done. Tom Cruise as Stauffenberg was bad enough, but can you imagine ANY actor posing as Lovat?

Alligator said...

Some of my fellow historians and I have sat and discussed the general fascination many have with officers of the Third Reich. One the things we hit on was the uniforms. We all agreed that the German armed forces had the sharpest looking uniforms of any of the combatants, Allied or Axis. I think its a bit of the adage "clothes make the man." At least I think it is a contributing factor to this fascination.

The_Editrix said...

Do you really think German uniforms are the sharpest looking? (Not QUITE sure what it exactly means, though.) Rommel and Rundstedt's pictures were obviously official ones and required dress uniform, and Guderian... after all he was a highly decorated general, so there was bound to be some (as we say) "Lametta". I am still labouring with that *harrumph* epochal work on the German cavalry school and specifically the equestrian teams at the Olympic Games 1936. If I compare the uniforms I always marvel at the minimalism of the German ones. They were certainly superbly cut. Is it that what you mean by "sharpest looking"? If I look at pictures of Lord Lovat I get weak knees. If I look at pictures of Stauffenberg, another extraordinarily good looking man, I feel just awe. Maybe the German archetypes were "men's men" and thus so popular with Americans. The only timelessly famous (by military standards) German commander is Manstein. Rommel was just a bag of hot air and got his reputation because he made an ass of the Brits in Africa who thus hyped him up. If I see American online fora about WWII, I sometimes think they still haven't twigged who lost the war.

The_Editrix said...

To quote myself: "Tom Cruise as Stauffenberg was bad enough, but can you imagine ANY actor posing as Lovat?"

I remember I once saw a feature on German TV where the ageing Lord Lovat said some VERY unflattering things about the man who portrayed him in "The Longest Day". Peter Lawford, that was. And he was right. It's like comparing a Ming vase to a nice piece of crockery. (Am I being sexist now?)

Mine Host said...

Simon Fraser was Lovat's real name.

Though I recall at the time his obituary being widely published, there was no mention of the financial ruin that marked the end of his days. One of his last acts was to conduct the forced sale of the clan chief's castle (incongruously, the sale was forced by the need to meet inheritance taxes)

The_Editrix said...

Not exactly his real name, rather his name before he inherited the title.

Yes, I read that about his financial ruin. Very sad story. Death duties shouldn't exist at all, nowhere. They are a tax on money that has been already taxed. It's legal robbery. But then, others in his situation DID manage. Let's change the topic. Financial ineptitude always reminds me painfully of myself. :-|

Epaminondas said...

Bunk - for this American male

If I had to pick out a guy who REALLY looked sharp, for the right reasons ..it's HIM

Mud, slouched, dedicated with savage intent, and ready to to whatever it takes ...

Americans admire FIREPOWER and the will to use it.

There is a picture of Sherman covered in mud to his thighs which is even more admirable.

Certainly not uniforms, a narcissistic fault which is a blemish on a man such as Patton

If there is a fascination with officers of the 3rd Reich, it falls under the category Daniel Goldhagen covered quite well. This is not 'bad behavior' which is in someway fascinating it is in a far different category.


The_Editrix said...

Well, this entry is not about "the right reasons" but about male archetypes and sexual attraction, something which does not ask for "right reasons".

If it were about "the right reasons" I could write several very unflattering books about those three men.

Besides, my point was that the German archetypes do exactly NOT, in a sexual sense, personify "bad behaviour", but the opposite.

And while I agree with Goldhagen (at least with what he writes in HWE) I can't help noticing that it was about GERMANS and not about Americans. So I am presumptious enough to assume that, if countless (presumably) decent American men are wasting their time on WWII "Panzer-Ace" sites, it has to do with something else and not the "far different category" of Evil which Goldhagen covers and which he doesn't attribute to Americans anyway.

You have probably overlooked that this entry was one of a series with an anti-feminist common topic, which I haven't posted at IBA.

Epaminondas said...

Overlooked...yes. But I will go back and look.

What can be less attractive than the ignorance of either a bigot, or someone who kowtows to a bigot for power and ambition?

Ever see White Hunter, Black Heart?
Clint Eastwood (as John Huston) delivers a knockout scene talking to a very attractive British lady over precisely this in reverse.

The_Editrix said...

You are really reading to much into it. It was all about archetypes, physical appearances, and their sexual attraction.

And -- I repeat -- that the German physical archetype was the less attractive to the opposite sex.

Alligator said...

"They were certainly superbly cut. Is it that what you mean by "sharpest looking"?" YES

"If I look at pictures of Lord Lovat I get weak knees. If I look at pictures of Stauffenberg, another extraordinarily good looking man, I feel just awe." THAT'S A GENDER RELATED ASSESSMENT, AND I'M NOT THAT WAY.

If you look at Russian uniforms, they seem to wear like potatoes sacks. American uniforms appear to be casual. That's why when Patton had all his ribbons, medals and leather straps on, he looked almost as silly as Goering. I liken it to wearing blue jeans and a flannel shirt, and trying to make it look good for a formal occasion. Nothing will hide the fact it is casual wear.

The_Editrix said...

That's an ENTIRELY sex related assessment.

Yes, I think the old Reichswehr- and Wehrmacht-Uniforms got it all right. Perfectly cut and formal enough, yet nothing of the peacockyness of many of the other nations' uniforms who subscribed to formality as well. That is the more remarkable as Germans, different from Brits, were never (and are not) known for their dress sense.

I agree what you are saying about casual clothes and the American uniforms. I loath the current trend to prop up casual clothes and wear it in lieu of formal ones. It is quite telling that the Germans chose to reduce themselves to badly cut uniforms to emphasize the "civilian", non-aggressive, defensive character of the Bundeswehr. "Citizen in uniform" is the slogan. It says more about the perception of a "civilian" than about that sorry excuse for an army.

I remember (it is long ago because I was in my mid-twenties) that, at an equestrian event, I noticed a man in a (bad) uniform with a big entourage. I asked: "Is that a postman?" which caused the boys to drag me away, hissing: "Come ON and shut UP! That's a general." I admit that I didn't really think that it was a postman, however I'd never thought of a general.

fpb said...

I thought the original phrase was just an example of bad phrasing - some sort of perception that had not found its proper translation in words. And I would say that what it really was trying to express was the mysterious attraction of the Enemy (which is why Russian spies in fiction are so often female and beautiful). Just because you are German, and those people are not alien to you, you could never feel it in the same way. (It also leads you, in my view, to badly underrate Rommel, but never mind. The man will always be controversial.) A parallel for an Italian would be movies such as The Godfather or series such as The Sopranos; not only is the Mafia, to us, thoroughly unglamorous, it is also familiar - and that makes the difference. I will also agree that the German uniforms of WWII were the height of military elegance; their very spareness is the perfect statement of military style - and there is such a thing.

The_Editrix said...

FPB says: "...the mysterious attraction of the Enemy (which is why Russian spies in fiction are so often female and beautiful). Just because you are German, and those people are not alien to you, you could never feel it in the same way."

You're really on to something there. It is difficult for me (as it would for anybody) to distance myself from my own ethnicity, so I'll say that my view is at least to a considerable extent based on that boredom with sameness.

As for Rommel, I will gladly admit that my assessment of his military merits is presumptious. Some say that military history ought to be only written by soldiers and that makes sense to me. However, I can as much try to distance myself from my own Germanness as possible, I still don't see anything attractive in the man. I do in Rundstedt and Guderian, though.

I, personally, never found anything "romantic" or attractive in the Mafioso-Latin-Lover archetype and I have rarely seen a film that I found quite as boring as Godfather I, needless to say I didn't see any more of them. But maybe that is just me.

Thank you for the link to your excellent article on military style.

Jeff Hall said...

I think maybe you're confusing two separate concepts: (1) what women find attractive and (2) what men think that women find attractive.

See e.g.


Ein Fremder aus Elea said...

Prussia had a long tradition of stylish uniforms, sweeping marches etc.

Germans are serious, war is serious. Because of that they have good taste in uniforms.

The seriousness of the look is most certainly at the core of the fascination. Lovat looks like a "Hühnerdieb". Rundstedt looks indeed like what he is. But exactly that is appealing. Generations of serious devotion.