The University of Exeter has had the embarrassing task for apologizing for its distribution of an inspiration quote to students that “One cannot permit unique opportunities to slip by for the sake of trifles.” The problem is that the quote is from General Erwin Rommel. What should be the most alarming aspect of this story is not the use of the Rommel quote but that the university personnel did not know who the “Desert Fox” was.
As a military history nut, I cannot let the story pass without noting that the quote actually came from the North African campaign. In the campaign, Rommel was subordinate to Italian commander-in-chief General Italo Gariboldi who had ordered Rommel to stop his drive against the British at Mersa El Brega. Rommel instead pushed the British out of Benghazi and when Gariboldi severely reprimanded him for insubordination, Rommel responded “One cannot permit unique opportunities to slip by for the sake of trifles.”
According to Sky News, the National Union of Students issued a statement that the use of the Rommel quote added to the feeling of Jewish students that they are unsafe on campus.
Rommel certainly did lead the Afrika Korps to sweeping battlefield victories but he was not viewed as a Hitler follower. Indeed, a Nazi tribunal found that he was complicit in the conspiracy to kill Hitler on July 20, 1944. Two generals came to Rommel with the choice of surrendering for a trial or taking his own life. To protect his family and staff, he killed himself.