In a Ruined State

Chapter 8

Conclusions & salient points

    This short chapter draws together what I believe are the main conclusions and salient points that can be drawn from the story of Oradour-sur-Glane; the views expressed are mine alone.

    The points below are not laid out in any particular order and I have made no attempt to rank them into degrees of importance.

If I say to you, 'put your hand in the fire' and you do so, who is to blame for the resulting injury? Most people would say that you have ultimate responsibility for your own safety and so you were a fool to have obeyed the order. But if it were a battle situation and I as your commander ordered you to attack a strongly held position, no matter how dangerous and you refused, then under military law the consequences for yourself would be severe. Otto Kahn said as much in his statement "a command-refusal appeared pointless to me at the moment and also risky, especially since we were in action".

The ordinary soldiers at Oradour had no choice when they were under direct supervision, they were in the SS and they had to obey or die themselves. The officers were carrying out Diekmann's orders and were basically in the same position as their men; Diekmann alone had the ultimate say as to what happened that day. He could have acted with less severity, for he was not under binding orders to destroy the village, but his political indoctrination coupled with the almost religious belief that Nazism inspired in its cause, made it a disaster waiting to happen.

There is no cause so right that all men will follow unquestioningly and there is no cause so bad that no man will follow at all. When a dictatorship conquers a nation, some people will co-operate to an extreme degree with their vanquishers; others will oppose them regardless of the cost to anyone, friend, foe, or those just wanting to get on with their lives. In their own turn the conquerors will not respect any of the conquered at all.

Therefore the message in the ruins of Oradour to the French is, 'be strong, and be self-reliant'. To this end France did not have its troops under full NATO command between 1966 and 2009 and in addition, still has its own independent nuclear weapons capability (it was President Nicolas Sarkozy in March 2009 who announced that France was to return to Nato's military command, reversing the four decades of self-imposed exile, imposed by Charles de Gaulle in 1966). The French nation feels that it is better to avoid another test of national unity following a conquest, than to have to preserve another village in a ruined state at some time in the future.

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This is a very brief summary of what I think are the salient points concerning the events at Oradour:


When the extreme Right meets the extreme Left, those in the middle are going to get hurt.

    Wars are easy to start for any reason, difficult to end honourably without a huge amount of pain.

    Nothing can excuse the destruction of Oradour, but it is easy to see how it happened.


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© Michael Williams: 17th February 2001 ... revised Thursday, 05 May 2016