One of Britain’s leading universities has gone into a blind panic after discovering that a quotation it had used to motivate students originally came from the mouth of an actual World War II German general, Erwin Rommel.
Here is Rommel’s aphorism:
“One cannot permit unique opportunities to slip by for the sake of trifles.”
The quotation was one of a series sent out by Exeter University’s career department in an email to students. Not unreasonably, you might think, given that the sentiment expressed is both motivational and wise.
But the moment someone pointed out that the quote came from Rommel, the university began frantically retracting.
According to The Sun:
A spokesperson said: “This was a genuine error and in no way intentional, however we apologise unreservedly for any offence it may have caused, and have put additional processes in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
They added that staff member who selected the quote did not know who Rommel was and the information was taken from a free to use website.
This is indeed an extremely shaming incident for Exeter University, though not for the reasons given in the article.
Most worrying, perhaps, is the sheer level of ignorance at an academic institution ranked among the world’s top 150 universities.
Rommel was the Second World War’s most famous and brilliant general. Not to have heard of him is akin to not knowing who Winston Churchill was.
One of the reasons Rommel is so well known and admired is that he was one of the Good Germans. Though Hitler admired him, Rommel was never a member of the Nazi party and, indeed, participated in one of the plots to kill Hitler.
Tom Utley takes up his story in the Mail:
When the plot failed and the charges were laid before him, he was given three choices. He could answer personally to Hitler or face trial by the People’s Court — either of which would have meant all-but-certain execution not just for him but for his wife and son and others close to him. Or else he could commit suicide, with the promise that the manner of his death would be hushed up and he would be given a hero’s funeral.
Having secured assurances that his family and staff would be protected if he took his own life, he swallowed the cyanide pill handed to him by Hitler’s messengers.
And this is the man whose memory Exeter University finds so offensive that it feels it must apologise for quoting him? They don’t feel like that about him in modern, liberal Germany, where the Desert Fox is one of the very few prominent figures in the Third Reich who is remembered without shame.
To this day, the German army’s largest military base, at Augustdorf, carries the proud name of the Field Marshal Rommel Barracks.
It’s bad enough that the university employs people so ignorant that they don’t know this basic stuff.
What’s even worse though is its craven acceptance of the idea that it might have done anything wrong by quoting him.
Yes, you might expect this level of oversensitivity and political correctness at Oxford and Cambridge, which fell to the Social Justice Warrior forces long ago.
But Exeter has a reputation as one of Britain’s last university bastions of soundness. During the lecturers’ strike last year which deprived students across the country of valuable tuition time, most of Exeter’s staff carried on teaching. It’s also better than most on issues like freedom of speech.
It isn’t clear who made the complaint about the Rommel quotation. But if anyone actually was offended, then we are undoubtedly talking a tiny minority of professional offence-takers.
The job of any self-respecting academic institution should not be to abase itself before cry-bully grievance-mongers but, rather, to tell them exactly where they can stick their weaponised, politically-motivated offence-taking.