- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 27, 2006

Barbara Tuchman, writing in “The Guns of August,” observed that German generals fall into two physical categories: wasp-waisted and bullnecked. Walther Model, who at age 53 became Hitler’s youngest field marshal, fell into the latter category. Although he came from a middle-class background, Model appeared every inch a Prussian, even to his ever-present monocle.

Model is now the subject of a well-researched biography by Steven H. Newton, a military historian at Delaware State University — Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walther Model (Da Capo, $35, 416 pages).

In World War I, Model gained a reputation as a brave and conscientious officer. He was twice wounded, and his record led him to be retained in Germany’s small postwar army. As a staff officer in the interwar years, he became known for his independence of mind and rudeness. The charm-free officer rode roughshod over his subordinates and freely criticized his superiors. Politically, Model’s hatred of Bolshevism appears to have made him sympathetic to Hitler’s rise to power.

Model led a division in the invasion of Poland, and two years later drove a panzer unit into Russia. When the Russians went on the offensive, he gained Hitler’s attention with his rock-ribbed defenses. He restlessly roamed the front, bullying his officers and plugging gaps in the line.

But when, in January 1942, his 9th Army faced encirclement, Model went to Hitler personally to demand reinforcements. He repeatedly stood up to Hitler, which improved his standing in the eyes of his peers.

Model was a key player in “Operation Citadel,” the great German counteroffensive at Kursk in July 1943. He criticized the offensive as pointless and doomed to failure, but once battle was joined he led his army with his usual elan. When the Russians were victorious at Kursk in the greatest tank battle of the war, the 9th Army suffered heavy losses, but Model emerged with his reputation intact.

In July 1944 Hitler moved Model to the Western Front, placing him in command of Army Group B, which had been shattered in the Allied breakout from Normandy. Model was shocked by what he found; a month after taking command he bluntly informed Hitler that “the unequal struggle cannot long continue.” But September brought a brief respite, and Model’s army was able to defeat the ill-conceived Allied airborne invasion of Holland.

In Mr. Newton’s account, Model comes through as a nasty piece of work who was, however, a highly skilled defensive tactician. His finest hour may have come at the very end. Ordered by Hitler to implement a scorched earth policy in the Ruhr, Model ignored the command. Hopelessly surrounded, Model dissolved Army Group B, encouraging his men to make their way home. He declined a courteously worded request to surrender from American Gen. Matthew Ridgway, insisting that such an action would violate his oath to the Fuehrer.

On April 21, 1945, Model shook hands with members of his staff, walked into the woods, and blew his brains out.

The only reason to read John Grogan’s Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog (William Morrow, 291 pages, $21.95) is to make you feel better about your own presumably non-manic, but perhaps less-than-perfect, dog. Marley, a yellow Labrador retriever who was eagerly sold at a discount by his breeder, was a clearly dysfunctional, incredibly destructive dog whose story, however sugar-coated by the author, is less “heart-warming” than horrifying.

The author notes that even Barbara Woodhouse, the famed British dog trainer and author of “No Bad Dogs,” advised that some dogs are flawed and beyond keeping in your household. He quotes her: “Some are born unstable, some are made unstable by their living conditions, but the result is the same: the dogs, instead of being a joy to their owners, are a worry, an expense, and often bring complete despair to an entire family.”

Writes Mr. Grogan, “Woodhouse had nailed our dog and our pathetic, codependent existence … We had it all: the hapless, weak-willed masters; the mentally unstable, out-of-control dog; the train of destroyed property; the annoyed and inconvenienced strangers and neighbors.”

But when Mrs. Grogan gives her husband an ultimatum (“I’m done with that dog, you find him a new home, or I will”), you can practically hear Mr. Grogan saying, “But, honey, remember the book deal that’s going to make us rich.”

Indeed, Mr. Grogan’s tale of 13 astonishing years with Marley is a bestseller, but one gasps at the tales the other members of the family — not to mention the neighbors and some unsuspecting friends who helped dog-sit from time to time — could tell. Mr. Grogan, a journalist in Philadelphia, milks his experience for all it’s worth, but he should have put his family’s welfare ahead of his book deal.

The last chapter, “The Bad Dog Club,” may explain the success of this book. When Mr. Grogan wrote a eulogy for Marley for his newspaper column, he got hundreds of sympathetic responses, a substantial number of which disputed the central premise of his report: “My in-box resembled a television talk show, ‘Bad Dogs and the People Who Love Them,’ with the willing victims lining up to proudly brag, not about how wonderful their dogs were but about just how awful. Oddly enough, most of the horror stories involved large loopy retrievers just like mine.”

We’re now going to give our gentle dachshund, who is only slightly nutty, a hug.

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