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Heroics and Lidice

Early in World War II adolescent heroics and vain over-eagerness were employed in assassinating the German governor in Prague, SS officer Reinhard Heydrich. The assassins were members of the Czech resistance, dropped into Czechoslovakia by the British Royal Air Force.

In the Marine Corps that I knew in 1951 my drill instructor sneered at John Wayne heroics. The Marine Corps wanted things done the Marine Corps way. One did what he had to do with his fellow Marines in engaging the enemy but with some sobriety and calculation. A marine was of no use to the Corps dead. He killed the enemy but he did not risk the lives of others unnecessarily.

Killing Heydrich, on May 27, 1942, did not help speed the end of the war nor otherwise substantially benefit the Allied military cause against the Axis powers. Rather than accomplish any reduction in Germany's brutalities, it stimulated brutalities. A lot of people died who would otherwise have lived. In ethnically mixed areas the German military had to intervene just after the assassination to prevent the lynching of Czechs. The German military wanted reprisals that were official rather than mob actions, and for three months following the assassination a total of 3,188 Czechs were arrested and sentenced to death. In addition, 252 relatives and helpers of the parachutists were targeted for reprisals. The village of Lidice was wrongly accused of having assisted the parachutists, and on June 10 all men in this town were shot dead. A radio transmitter belonging to the parachutists was concealed in the village of Lexaky, and on June 24 all inhabitants of the village were exterminated except two little girls who were considered worth Germanization and given to a German family or families. The parachutists killed themselves rather than let themselves be captured. The Czech resistance movement was not able to resume its activities until the end of the war – an end taccomplished by the everyday fighting and slogging of regular forces.  

The passion and eagerness of those who favored the mission to assassinate Hitler's governor, Heydrich, should have been overruled by wiser council. It was appropriate for the Allies to pursue military advantage with persistence and with measure and patience, and these combined did not detract from such determination. 

Copyright © 2005-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.