“A Man Under Authority”
"A Man Under Authority", Battle of the Bulge, Books, Joachim Peiper, Reid Mitchell, WWII
Left: StandartenfÃ¼hrer Joachim Peiper commanding 1st SS Panzer Regiment during WWII; Right: Peiper, aged 61, shortly before his murder in 1976.
For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
Reid Mitchell is a resident of New Orleans and author of a book on the history of Mardi Gras. He is best known as a Civil War historian. Mitchell taught American Studies at the University of Hong Kong as a Visiting Fulbright Professor during the 2005 academic year.
His only novel, A Man Under Authority, now out-of-print, was published in paperback by a small press publisher in 1997.
The man under authority is an aged, never specifically identified by name or nationality, Colonel (clearly directly modeled on Joachim Peiper), living in poverty in retirement in a former enemy country, eking out a modest living with translations.
The Colonel receives a letter (written, with characteristic American arrogance or linguistic ineptitude, in English) offering him a highly remunerative job as technical advisor to a film crew making a movie about his most famous battle, a battle in which he unsuccessfully led an armored assault force attempting to make a strategic breakthrough behind enemy lines.
Not unappreciative of the irony and implicit humiliation of his position, the elderly Colonel accepts the assignment, hoping to use the money to give a little pleasure to his wife.
Mitchell’s novel depicts the Colonel’s last campaign as another final desperate attempt, this time with self-awareness and the maintenance of personal dignity, rather than the Meuse River and the Allied fuel reserves, as his unreachable goal, with the infirmities of age, modern Philistinism, and his own historical status as the defeated as his adversaries.
Arriving at the production site, the Colonel finds that the film crew are using the same chateau, now a hotel, which had been his own headquarters during the famous operation. But the choice highest tower room in the oldest part of the castle this time belongs to the female director, not to him. His role, this time, will not be that of commander, but that of curiosity, ornamental credential, and bemused spectator. Nonetheless, the Colonel finds himself able to maintain his Stoicism and even, on occasion, to employ his long-disused habit of command.