Beneath the Rock by Tommy Birk begins in Germany. It is almost the end of the Second World War and the Germans know they are losing but some of them believe there is life after the Third Reich. Gunther Balbach works for SS Major Hans Peiper. Their unit captures a group of Americans and has no plans to keep them prisoner. Major Peiper intends to execute them. One of the Americans, Ernie Balbach, turns out to be a distant cousin of Gunther. Gunther decides to aid Ernie in an escape attempt so that he can surrender to Ernie and the two of them can deliver information to the Americans about the postwar plans of several Nazis. The plans envision the building of a Great Reich throughout the world and achieving world domination through economic and political means while using military means sparingly for enforcement of new rules.
But the American recipients of the plan don’t believe it. Their alternative belief is that all Germans will gather at a last redoubt and eventually be defeated. Inevitably, the war ends. Gunther has been made an assistant to Ernie while still in the US Army before the war ended. The two cousins have become friends. Both return to the US and take up civilian jobs in Dubain, Indiana. They marry girls who are best friends. They have comfortable jobs and create a good life. Back in Germany, Peiper and his associates have been both hiding and organizing. They arrive in the US several years after Ernie and Gunther. Settling in the same town as Ernie and Gunther, they are well disguised. Accepting the fact that they will be discovered by Ernie and Gunther, Peiper develops a complex series of threats that will force Gunther back to Germany and Ernie out of his home into a nearby bar. Peiper must resort to increasingly complex plots to keep his identity secret while he creates an organization that will take political power in the US. When some of his plans demand the deaths of people inconvenient to him, Tom, Ernie’s son and a Vietnam War veteran, starts to pay attention. Peiper is also paying attention to Tom while monitoring Ernie and Gunther.
Peiper is not happy with Tom for several reasons. Maria, Peiper’s adopted daughter is developing a romantic interest in Tom. Maria is an aware and a committed member of the Great Reich but that is because she doesn’t know the truth about her father and a massacre that occurred in the presence of Tom’s father, Ernie, and Tom’s uncle, Gunther, during WWII.
The conflicts are set. There will be complications in the romantic story. Tom and Maria are on opposite sides even if one of them is ignorant of the truth. In this story the Germans are trying to influence American elections but we know that such a thing can’t happen in the USA. One side in this conflict must lose, probably in a violent manner.
The negative side to this interesting novel is the endless discourse about how one deals with war and death. It drags on way too much. Ernie, Gunther and spouses are dealing with the effects of WWII, a massacre, and needless death. Tom is dealing with the Vietnam War, war atrocities, and needless death. We also read of a group of veterans at Piankashaw Rock, Ernie’s hideout from Peiper, who are dealing with WWI and needless death. After each character assures everyone else that no one who has not experienced killing can ever know how it feels, each character then goes on and on trying to explain what they did, why they did it, and how they are having difficulty dealing with it. Birk makes the point that everyone has to find their own way. Absolutely correct. If that is true, we could do with a lot less attempts at explanation of actions. There is a reason many combat veterans don’t talk about their experiences. If you haven’t done it, no one can explain it to you. If you have done it, there is no need for further talk beyond the boundaries of qualified counselors.
This is an interesting read for those with a military background. Those struggling with the idea of justified killing might enjoy revisiting well worn arguments to see if anything new has developed. Conspiracy theory buffs will like this. Veterans struggling with wartime past experiences will find the extensive dialogues devoted to this quite shallow.
As a veteran, I found the book interesting. I was able to glide over the parts I found shallow and find an interesting story remaining.