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Tried as a war criminal, Kesselring was sentenced to be shot on the ground that he was responsible for the reprisal massacre of 335 Italians in the Ardeatine Caves and more than 1,000 other Italians elsewhere. He makes a three-point defense: 1) reprisal action was in the hands of the SS; 2) partisan warfare falls outside the rules of The Hague Convention; 3) Hitler had ordered an arbitrary 10-to-1 reprisal ratio. The defense is less than convincing. In his 1947 trial, Kesselring swore under oath: "If there is any guilt, it is mine and mine alone." In July 1947 Kesselring's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He won his release in 1952 on the ground of ill health.
"More Than I Can Take." Since then he has been an energetic spokesman for what he regards as the unjustly smirched reputation of the German soldier. He is president of the Stahlhelm, one of Germany's largest veterans' groups. Last November he testified at a war crimes trial and warned that "there won't be any volunteers for the new German army if the German government continues to try German soldiers for acts committed in World War II." An enthusiast for EDC, he insists that the "war opponents of yesterday must become the peace comrades and friends of tomorrow." Formerly an unwavering Nazi in spirit, Kesselring is certainly no democrat today. He finds people "astonishing" who believe "that we must revise our ideas in accordance with democratic principles . . . That is more than I can take."