Category Archives: Criminology

“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (6)

Last time I was looking at the relatively long list of motivations for the extreme violence used by the German army in World War Two. This list was supplied by Messrs Neitzel and Welzer in their book “Soldaten”. If you remember, Sönke Neitzel had discovered in the British National Archives that, during World War II, British Intelligence had recorded German prisoners of war in secret and then transcribed their conversations. This process had produced 50,000 pages of transcripts as they chatted, mainly at Trent Park near Cockfosters, but also at Latimer House near Amersham and at Wilton Park near Beaconsfield, which are both in Buckinghamshire:

All the reasons on the list of motivations for extreme violence came together from 1939 to 1945, as a maniac only five feet seven inches tall and who couldn’t grow a full moustache claimed that the Germans were the Master Race and had the right to wipe out completely from the face of the earth one of the oldest communities on the planet, the Jews. How you eliminated the Jewish men, women, children and babies was not important, so long as they all died, every single one of them:

The conversations taped at Trent Park, therefore, are frequently way beyond incredible. How could you be a member of the human race and say things and do things such as these people did ? How could anybody treat genocide as a sport? an entertainment?

First is SS Oberscharführer Fritz Swoboda:

“…there was a column of 500-600 men. They came in through the gate and went to the firing range. There, they were killed, six at a time, picked up and taken away and the next six would come. At first you said, great, better than doing normal duty, but after couple of days you would have preferred normal duty. It took a toll on your nerves. Then you just gritted your teeth and you just didn’t care. There were some of us who got weak in the knees when shooting women even though we had selected experienced front line soldiers. But orders were orders.”

Edwin, Graf von Rothkirch was recorded as saying:

“I was at Kutno. I wanted to take some photographs…that’s my only hobby…and I knew an SS-leader there quite well and I was talking to him when he said, “Would you like to photograph a shooting?”. I said, “No, the very idea is repugnant to me.” “Well, it makes no difference to us. They are always shot in the morning, but if you like, we still have some and we can shoot them in the afternoon sometime. You can’t imagine how these men have become completely brutalised.”

Kammeyr, a mechanic in the Kriegsmarine said:

“Nearly all the men there were interned in large camps. I met a fellow one evening and he said “Some of them are going to be shot tomorrow. Would you like to see it?” A lorry went there every day and he said “You can come too”.

The lorry arrived and stopped. In a sort of sandpit there was a trench about twenty metres long. I didn’t know what was happening until I saw the trench. They all had to get into it and were hurried into it with blows from rifle-butts and lined up face to face; the feldwebel had a tommy-gun. There were five of them, they shot them one after the other. Most of them fell like that with their eyeballs turned up. There was a woman among them. I saw that. It was in Libau.”

Luftwaffe Lieutenant–Colonel von Müller-Rienzburg said :

“The SS issued an invitation to go and shoot Jews. All the troops went along with rifles and shot them up. Each man could pick the one he wanted.”

First Sergeant von Bassus, rather incredulous,  asked :

“You mean to say that it was sent out like an invitation to a hunt?”

And von Müller-Rienzburg replied: “Yes.”

Lieutenant-Colonel August von der Heydte also reported in hearsay, second hand fashion, that executions resembled hunts.

Lieutenant–Colonel von der Heydte recounted how:

The SS-Führer Böselager was having dinner and after dinner he said: “Now we’ll go and have a look at..(place of execution).   They drove out in a car and shotguns were lying about, ordinary ones, and thirty Polish Jews were standing there. Each guest was given a gun; the Jews were driven past and every one was allowed to take a pot shot at a Jew. Subsequently they were given the coup de grâce.”And finally, Luftwaffe First Lieutenant Fried: “I was at Radom and an SS captain said : Would you like to come along for half an hour? Get a tommy gun and let’s go.. I had an hour to spare so I went, We went to a kind of barracks and slaughtered 1,500 Jews.  There were some twenty men with tommy guns. It only took a second and nobody thought anything of it.”:

Although the types of appalling behaviour that Neitzel and Welzer have detailed in their book “Soldaten” have happened with disgraceful frequency, it would be wrong to think that the problem is an insoluble one.

Firstly, before young people are even old enough to consider the armed forces they should be made abundantly aware in their schools that racism is completely unacceptable. Outside the schools, the concept of free speech must not become an excuse to allow race hatred. Otherwise, race hatred will end in the shocking events I have described above. Punishments for race hatred should involve custodial sentences, if only a few days. They should not include fines.

In the Armed Forces, old, experienced combat veterans should explain to new recruits what combat will be like, what emotions you can expect to feel and what is unacceptable behaviour. War crimes should not be tolerated and the guilty parties should always serve time in prison.

Hopefully, this would avoid a situation where civilians are just as frightened to see the arrival of the British, the Americans and the French as they would be with the arrival of any number of less disciplined and less well trained armed forces.

 

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (5)

Last time, we were looking at “Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer:

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The book relates how German prisoners of war were listened to by German speaking operators, usually Jews, who wrote down the horrific tales they told. Here are some Wehrmacht prisoners, crossing one of the Great Lakes on their way to a Prisoner of War camp:

And here is one of those listeners, back in England:

Towards the end of their book, “Soldaten”, Neitzel and Welzer provide a brief summary of what they have discovered:

“A lot of what appears horrible, lawless, and barbaric is part of the normal frame of reference in wartime. Stories about German cruelty don’t attract any more attention in World War II than they do in reports by US soldiers in Vietnam. Instances of cruelty rarely seem spectacular to the majority of soldiers. Such violence is instrumental in nature. It’s hardly any surprise that it occurs in war.”

To be honest, I’m not too sure that I agree with all of that. My perception is these horrific events were much more the norm with the German forces in World War Two than they were with either the British or the Americans in World War II or in other wars.

Having said that, the Germans did not carry out My Lai and the Germans were not present in the Korean War. My Dad’s friends in the RAF, not Germans, were the ones who sank two U-boats after VE-Day and, as a little boy, I remember a friend of mine telling me how his Dad, a soldier in India, Burma and Siam witnessed appalling incidents of violence, cruelty and murder in native villages, and he wasn’t in the Japanese army. He was in the British army.

During World War Two, though, the majority of the incidents of extraordinary cruelty and barbarity took place on the Eastern Front, committed by Germans on Russian victims. One of the tapes mentioned in Post No 1 was of a man whose surname was Graf. He was an ordinary Wehrmacht soldier:

“The Russian POWs had nothing to eat for three or four days, then the guard would hit one over the head and he was dead. The others set on him and cut him up and ate him as he was.”

Here are some Russian prisoners:

All of the various motivations for violence come together when the Final Solution is considered:

As far as the Final Solution is concerned, this type of violence is seen as one possibility in the list of possible social actions between communities. In this case, it was violence by more or less every German against every Jew they could find:

In Allport’s Scale, it is Stage Five of five, namely “the extermination or removal of the out-group”. Other examples include Cambodia, Rwanda and Armenia.

In the Second World War, say the authors, individuals tended to repeat their previous behaviour, especially if they had escaped punishment for it. One of the most frequent actions on the Eastern Front was the massacre of defenceless people as a reprisal for the death of a German soldier:

If people commit acts of violence and nobody is ever punished, we have “inhumanity with impunity”, which describes perfectly German behaviour in captured Poland and the Soviet Union. Killing young children was not a problem:

“Autotelic violence” is violence for its own sake, because the perpetrator finds it exciting and entertaining, whether it is the first killing or the thousandth:

Individual soldiers usually did what the group did. The group was their entire world and their standards of behaviour were considered the ones to follow.

If some of the group wanted to kill Jews and then throw them into a ditch, it soon became acceptable behaviour. So did the mechanised slaughter of the death camps :

One other, final, factor helping to trigger off the violence by the Germans in the Second World War was their desire for revenge after defeat in 1918. In German thinking, their defeat came about not because the Allied armies were victorious, but because the German army was betrayed by the people back home in Germany, such as the Communists, the Socialists and the Jews. (And most of the Communists and the Socialists were Jews anyway.)

The solution was easy. Kill them all. The Communists, the Socialists, the Jews, the Gays, the Gipsies, Black People, everybody who didn’t agree with you. That’s a long road to go down. And it’s marked with a corpse every few yards:

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (4)

In my very first blog post in this book review, I mentioned how German academic, Sönke Neitzel, had discovered that during World War II, British Intelligence had taped German prisoners of war in secret and then transcribed their conversations. This process had produced 50,000 pages of foolscap transcripts. These transcripts have in their turn inspired a four hundred page book called “Soldaten” in which Neitzel and his co-author, Harald Welzer, examine the reasons for the war crimes committed by the Germans, and indeed, by the personnel of a number of other nationalities. Here are our authors and their book:

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The bugged prisoners were kept in three locations – Latimer House near Amersham, Wilton Park near Beaconsfield, both in Buckinghamshire, and Trent Park near Cockfosters in north London. The first two held captured U-Boat submarine crews and Luftwaffe pilots, who were bugged for a week or two before being moved on to conventional captivity. Trent Park was often used for high-ranking officers of the Wehrmacht, whose own personal vanity led them to betray many secrets:

There were large numbers of pro-British German speakers, usually Jews, listening to prisoners’ conversations in a place known as the “M room”. The “M” stood for “Microphoned”. According to Helen Fry, the author of a book about this particular episode, the information pouring out of these pampered Prussians was so top secret that Churchill gave the whole operation an unlimited budget.

Last time we were looking at the reasons that men in war are capable of the most vile violence. Here are the ideas put forward by Neitzel  and Welzer so far . I have tried to include a few short clues of the examples they used:

“There is a  vast gap between what people believe about their moral standards and their actual behaviour”.  (The Good Samaritan episode at Princeton University)

“When you have reacted once in a particular way to a certain situation, you will continue to apply the very same rules.” (German soldiers killling Jews on a large scale)

“The unit was the entire world….what they thought was right, was right and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.” (Only one man refused to take part in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam)

“inhumanity with impunity…..if soldiers commit crimes, and are never punished, they will repeat their behaviour.” (German soldiers raping passing women in Kiev)

“a dynamic of violence” ……… anybody who tries to flee is automatically an enemy who should be shot.” ( A frequent attitude in Vietnam, probably because the Vietcong guerillas were difficult to identify)

One final extremely large motivation towards violence is revenge. In a film, revenge will be the simple, basic story of how a soldier is killed by the enemy, usually in particularly appalling circumstances, and, as he dies, his friend swears to avenge him. For every military revenge film, though, there are many more set in a civilian context.  This may not be the best example, but it’s certainly the most obscure:

In real life,  there were GIs in Vietnam who had re-enlisted to avenge their best buddy who had been killed in the fighting, or tortured to death, and so on. The authors have found a quote:

“I did not hate the enemy for their politics but for murdering Simpson, for executing that boy whose body had been found in the river…Revenge was one of the reasons I volunteered for a line company. I wanted a chance to kill somebody.”

In the Second World War, the situation could be slightly different. American GI, Joseph Shomon said:

“Even in hopeless situations, the Germans would fight to the last, refusing to surrender. Then, when their ammunition was gone, they were ready to give up and ask for mercy but because many Americans had been lost in this delay, our troop often killed the Germans.”

As well as revenge, of course, this shooting of surrendering Germans is a good example of a couple of other reasons for the occurrence of war crimes previously mentioned by Neitzel & Welzer. Firstly, if everybody commits acts of violence and nobody is ever punished for it, then clearly, they can:

“follow what they had already done”.

And secondly:

“what (the unit) thought was right, was right and what (the unit) thought was wrong, was wrong.”

Sometimes soldiers in the two World Wars were actually ordered not to take any prisoners. The latter were then very much more likely to be executed than to be taken back to base. In the Second World War, the German military were ordered by the Führer to hand over immediately to the Sicherheitsdienst (SD, or Security Service) all British Commandos, SAS, SOE and any other type of “irregular” soldier. This was the famous “Kommandobefehl” which you can read about here.

In actual fact, my own Grandad was placed in a similar position on at least one occasion during the First World War. It must have been on the anniversary of the execution of Edith Cavell on ‎October 12th 1915 that he and his colleagues in the Canadian army were told to take no prisoners during that day’s attack. Whether my Grandad carried out the order, I have no idea.

My own perception, though, is that rather than refuse to take prisoners in the usual way, and instead to kill them, it was far more frequent in World War One, to try and spare the lives of the men who had been ordered to attack but who were now in a situation which could only have one outcome. Harry Patch, for example,who at 111 years of age was “the Last Fighting Tommy”, has spoken of how he refused to kill a German soldier:

“Patch came face to face with a German soldier. He recalled the story of Moses descending from Mount Sinai with God’s Ten Commandments, including “Thou shalt not kill” and he could not bring himself to kill the German. Instead, he shot him in the shoulder, which made the soldier drop his rifle. However, he had to carry on running towards his Lewis Gun, so to proceed, he shot him above the knee and in the ankle.”

My Grandad was wounded in the legs on two occasions, so perhaps the Germans did the same kind of thing.

We have a long, bloody way to go with “Soldaten” yet, so let’s finish with some wise words from Harry Patch, the last British soldier of World War One, who lived to become a pacifist:

When the war ended, I don’t know if I was more relieved that we’d won or that I didn’t have to go back. Passchendaele was a disastrous battle—thousands and thousands of young lives were lost. It makes me angry. Earlier this year, I went back to Ypres to shake the hand of Charles Kuentz, Germany’s only surviving veteran from the war. It was emotional. He is 107. We’ve had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it’s a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that ? “

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (3)

Last time, I continued with my review of “Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer. The authors were illustrating the idea that:

“The only thing that counted was how people thought of you in the here and now…the unit was the entire world…what they thought was right, was right and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.”

They used the My Lai massacre of 1968 as their example of how group behaviour can turn apparently decent young men into madmen and war criminals :

A subsequent chapter makes reference to the violence of our own time, 2010 to be precise. It discusses a movie which was released onto WikiLeaks. The film shows the indiscriminate killing of more than a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad. These victims of violence included two Reuters news staff.

The whole sorry tale is told by Wikipedia on this page here. You can view the video on this page here.  There is a shorter version of some 18 minutes and the full version at around 40 minutes.

According to WikiLeaks:

“The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.”

I found three stills to look at, although the content is such that I have decided that I could not not display them. The first was entitled:

“The men try to cover as the first rounds of shots hit them from the Apache helicopter” :

The second still shows how “one man falls to the ground”:

And the third still shows how “Namir Noor-Eldeen runs for his life. ”

I really would recommend that you follow the link and watch the film, perhaps the shorter version. Alternatively, the Wikipedia page does have one or two stills to look at.

This film does not show an incident in the fog of war, as the full version lasts around forty minutes. The footage concerns a number of Iraqi men, including some who were armed and who were standing where insurgents earlier that day had shot at an American vehicle. Among the group were two Iraqi reporters working for Reuters.

The group of American military personnel  seem so quickly to transform events into some kind of appalling video game. Their opinion of events is exactly the same as that witnessed by Michael Bernhardt at My Lai. It was that same idea, namely that with groups of soldiers in war:

“What they thought was right, was right, and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.”

So, everybody in the group in Iraq is OK with “it’s a guy with a weapon”

which becomes firstly:

“I have individuals with weapons”

and then “he’s got an RPG.”  (Rocket Propelled Grenade)

and then “Yeah we had a guy shoot”

at 02.49 “Let’s shoot”

at 02.50 “Light ‘em all up”,

at 02.52, “Come on, fire”

at 02.57, “Keep shooting, keep shooting”

at 02.59, “Keep shooting”

at 03.02, “Keep shooting”

at 03.10, “All right, we just engaged all eight individuals”

at 03.23 “All right, hahaha, I shot ‘em”.

That was topped off at 04.31 with “oh yeah, look at those dead bastards”.

At 04.36 and 04.44 it was “Nice….”

At 04.47 it was“ Good shot”

And at 04.48 with “Thank you”.

The last still shows how “The helicopter pilot inspects the pile of dead bodies. ”

These men see the world with their own group vision. Observations and comments which have only been made once and by just one person are soon confirmed by the entire group, and indeed are quickly developed by other people within the group. Thus a single weapon soon becomes a number of individuals with weapons. A number of individuals with weapons are soon transformed into a Rocket Propelled Grenade. And then an individual, is seen to shoot. This imaginary event gives the group the justification they crave to open fire. And then they can kill what were, in actual fact, merely passers-by. Now though, they have become combattants.

Neitzel and Welzer call this phenomenon “a dynamic of violence” or “group thinking”. At the end:

“everything is crystal clear. the targets are dead, order has been restored, the delivery truck was an enemy vehicle, the would be rescuers in it were further terrorists”

More specifically, the authors explain how:

“The behaviour of those defined as “enemies” confirms the truth of that designation.”

The only characteristic of “target persons” that counts is that they pose a threat. Any indication to that effect provides sufficient reason to kill.

So, by that thinking, babies may carry hand grenades, children can be partisans and women can be insurgents.

This had already been put forward by Berndt Greitel, writing about the Vietnam conflict who said:

“Anybody who tried to flee was automatically an enemy who should be shot.”

The attempt to escape merely confirmed the group’s suspicions that an individual was a Vietcong.

Taken to its extreme, we finish up with the much repeated idea that “Whoever we said was a Vietcong was a Vietcong.”

But not everybody could have been a combattant. The US 9th Infantry Division killed a total of 10,899 people, but only found 748 weapons during their searches.

And even those figures may be suspect as some GIs apparently placed Soviet weapons in villages so that they could come back to find them on a later occasion.

Next time, the tapes made by the Germans at Trent Park, and, believe it or not, a genuine RAF joke. Well, the first half of it, at least.

 

 

 

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (2)

Last time I wrote about “Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer. This is a book about the appalling attitudes and shocking behaviour of, primarily, the German armed forces during World War II. What makes the book so interesting though, is that the two authors range relatively far and wide in their search for an explanation for the Germans’ extreme violence:

“At Princeton University in 1973, a remarkable experiment was carried out. Forty Theology students were told to write a short essay about the Good Samaritan and then it would be recorded for radio at another building.”

Here’s a view of that beautiful university:

The students completed their essays about the Good Samaritan and waited for the word to leave. Eventually an obvious authority figure arrived and told them loudly:

“Come on!!! You’re all going to be late !!! Come on!!! GO !!  GO !!   GO !! “

When the Theology students got close to the building where they would record their essays for radio, they found a man lying on the pavement, eyes closed, coughing and moaning. It was impossible to miss him. He was clearly in a bad way:

Of the forty students, 24 ignored him completely and only 16 stopped to help. A number of the 24 lied that they had not seen him, which was completely impossible.  “Soldaten” argues that this proves, and it is rather difficult to contradict them, that:

“There is a vast gap between what people believe about their moral standards and their actual behaviour”.

Take that sliding scale to its logical end and we are faced with “Autotelic violence”. This is violence for its own sake, violence carried out because you like it, you enjoy it. My best example would be the German pilot over London who machine gunned the civilians as they walked peacefully along Downham Way and then bombed the seven and eight year old children waving to him in the playground of a school in Catford. You can read this appalling story here and, if you are still in any doubt, here.

If you have followed the links and read the two accounts, then let’s take a quick look at some of those transcripts made by British Intelligence. This is Lieutenant Pohl who flew a light bomber in the early part of the war when Germany invaded Poland:

“On the second day, I had to bomb a station at Posen. Eight of the bombs fell among houses. I did not like that.

On the third day I did not care a hoot and on the fourth day I was enjoying it. I chased single soldiers over the fields with machine gun fire, and people in the street… I was sorry for the horses.”

One valuable piece of advice from the two authors is that

“If we cease to define violence as an aberration, we learn more about our society and how it functions than if we persist in comfortable illusions about our own basically nonviolent nature. If we reclassify violence as part of the inventory of possible social actions among communities, we will see that such groups are always potential communities of annihilation.“

In other words, we are deluding ourselves if we think we have overcome our willingness to be violent. Our apparently civilised world is no different from anybody else’s world.

This is emphasised by the book’s detailed examination of the events lived through by Michael Bernhardt, which suggest very strongly that the behaviour of the group reinforces the behaviour of the individual. This idea we have already seen, to some extent, when discussing “inhumanity with impunity” in a previous post. Michael said:

“The only thing that counted was how people thought of you in the here and now…the unit was the entire world…what they thought was right, was right and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.”

Despite his name, Michael Bernhardt was not German but American. He served in Vietnam and, when the time came, he refused to take part in the My Lai massacre of 400-500 old men, women and children. You can read about these terrible events here, and here:

For this refusal to participate in a war crime, Michael Bernhardt was ostracised by every single one of his fellow soldiers, even though back in the USA he was to receive the New York Society for Ethical Culture’s 1970 Ethical Humanist Award.

In other words, in the world of Bernhardt’s fellow soldiers, “what (the unit) thought was right, was right and what (the unit) thought was wrong, was wrong.”

Can everybody use that excuse though? Even the SS ?

We will see next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (1)

“Soldaten”, which means “Soldiers” is a book about the many atrocities committed by the German armed forces during World War II, although the two young authors do not hesitate to include other conflicts if they wish to make a particular point. War crimes by American forces in both Vietnam and Iraq are therefore included:

The two young authors are both highly distinguished academics, Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer.

Harald Welzer (above) was born in Hannover in 1958 and he is a German social psychologist, having studied sociology, psychology and literature at the University of Hannover.

Born in 1968, Sönke Neitzel (above) studied at the University of Mainz and is Professor of Military History at the University of Potsdam. He has previously held professorships at the London School of Economics, the University of Karlsruhe, the University of Bern, the University of Glasgow and the University of Saarbrücken.

The two young men belong to a burgeoning group of modern German academics who are completely willing to study and to write about Hitler, Nazism and the conduct of the German people during World War II. They are not in the slightest bit biased towards the Germans and they do not try to defend the behaviour of the Nazis. Overall, in “Soldaten”, they treat the Nazi period, quite rightly, as if Hitler’s Germany was so far away in the past that it has become a foreign country. Things were done differently there:

I read “Soldaten” recently and I found it absolutely stunning. I even read the first fifty pages twice to make sure that I had understood it all fully.

The book is based on what was probably Sönke Neitzel’s luckiest day ever. He discovered that during World War II, British Intelligence had taped German prisoners of war in secret and had then transcribed their conversations. This process had produced 50,000 pages of transcripts, which he was able to locate and then to read. Neitzel later found that the National Archives in Washington DC had around 100,000 further pages of prisoners’ conversations. The transcripts from the German prisoners in England have produced a 400 page book which I am going to review in almost note form.

In the earliest pages, it is explained that:

“the brutality, harshness and absence of emotion are what is so disturbing for us, sixty years after the fact…..killing and the worse sorts of violence were part of everyday reality (back then).”

The book will seek to explain why these levels of violence came about, and whether they were unique to this period of the twentieth century.

One idea, mentioned as early as page four, is that when you have reacted once in a particular way to a certain situation, you will continue to apply the very same rules:

“In the Third Reich, people didn’t need to be anti-semitic to murder Jews, or altruistic to rescue them….it was enough to be in a social situation in which one or the other course of action seemed called for. After that, people tended to follow what they had already done…massacre or rescue.”

When the course of action chosen is massacre, the situation may also incorporate the idea of “inhumanity with impunity”. Clearly, if everybody commits acts of violence and nobody is ever punished for it, then this promotes situations where people can “follow what they had already done”. Here is an example from a conversation between German POWs which was taped by British Intelligence:

Soldier A : “Kharkiv was a delightful town. At Taganrog too, there were splendid cinemas and wonderful cafés.

Everywhere we saw Russian women doing compulsory service.

We drove past, pulled them into the armoured car, raped them and threw them out again. And did they curse!”

Where does “inhumanity with impunity” come from? Well, on page 25 of “Soldaten, an explanation is given:

“In psychological terms the inhabitants of the Third Reich were as normal as people in all other societies at all other times. The spectrum of perpetrators (of violence) was a cross section of normal society. No specific group proved immune to the temptation of “inhumanity with impunity”.

The Third Reich did not though, reduce the variations of individual personalities to absolute zero. But it showed them to be of comparatively slight, indeed often negligible, importance.

In other words, we are more or less all capable of carrying out dreadful acts, because our characters do not differ enormously from those of other people. And that is why those variations are of negligible importance. All of us, every single one, can do dreadful evil.

They were people just like any other, under that showy uniform………

 

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Why no statue ? (3)

Last time I wrote about statues erected years ago to what we could well call “dubious heroes”. A monarch who was the Number One Slaver in the world. A president who kept slaves even in a country where everybody knew “that all men are created equal”.

I certainly feel that, if there are largish numbers of people who do not want statues of a particular person,  then so be it. Such men will then be gradually forgotten rather than commemorated by a statue and in this way be kept alive artificially.

Recently we have seen various groups of people smashing statues down, and even in one case throwing them into the harbour. But there does not necessarily have to be violence or hooliganism involved. Sometimes the local people can decide for themselves about a statue.

After James II was thrown out in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, various groups of people tried to put the Stuarts back on the throne of England. It all came to a head in 1745 when a Scottish army marched on London.  By 1746, though, their dream was shattered. The Duke of Cumberland had fought and won the decisive Battle of Culloden. The Highland Scots,  the vast majority of them Jacobites, and their army, were completely destroyed.

No mercy was shown. British soldiers killed all of the wounded Highlanders left on the battlefield. When Cumberland realised that a wounded man near him was a Jacobite, he told Major James Wolfe to kill him. The latter refused and a soldier completed the job.

In the Highlands, every single person thought  to be a rebel was killed and over a hundred in total were hanged. Villages were burned. Farm animals were stolen. In other words, it was not very different from the arrival of the Wehrmacht or the SS in a Russian village in 1941. Here is the great man:

Not everybody in Georgian England thought the same way, though. In 1770 an equestrian statue of the Duke of Cumberland was erected in Cavendish Square in London to honour his exploits. Little regard had been paid, though, to the direction in which His Lordship should face. And sure enough, after a century of looking up a horse’s backside, the locals got fed up and in 1868 the statue had to be taken down.

One hundred and forty years later, a woman came up with a wonderful idea. She was a Korean artist called Mekyoung Shin. She constructed a life size statue of the Duke and put it back on the empty plinth. But her statue was made of soap and it gradually melted away, limb by limb:

To my mind, this idea of making statues of “dubious” people out of soap and then just letting them dissolve in the rain is an excellent one and should be encouraged widely.

We’ve already looked at Lord Nelson, and he would be an ideal candidate for a soap statue. And he was a sailor, so he must have liked water. Here he is:

But what about people who have reformed? Is it OK to erect statues to them?

Nowadays, Benjamin Zephaniah is a famous poet:

When he was a teenage boy, Benjamin Zephaniah, by his own admittance, was a member of a gang in Birmingham. He was a thief, he was a pickpocket, he was a burglar, he was a liar, he stole cars, he was violent and he took part in an attack on a gay man. He went to Borstal and to prison. But then, through poetry, he turned his life round. He now has 16 honorary degrees, he is Professor of Poetry at Brunel University and he narrowly lost the ballot for Professor of Poetry at Oxford.

Should we have statues to those who have reformed like Benjamin? Of course we should, and in his case, it should be placed outside whichever prison where he served half of his sentence, in such a way that it looks outwards to his future.

And finally one or two other rules. Every single statue should be retired after 200 years and auctioned off. Every city’s statues should be subject to a regular review to make sure their ethnic origin is not 100% white or male, and that there are a fair number of other categories represented.

And no famous sportsmen or women to feature. If statues of such people are needed, the fans themselves should pay. Or in the case of footballers, the football clubs they play for.

The only sportsperson to get a statue will have overcome great handicaps to become successful:

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Next time, we will look at the people who have never had a statue erected to them.

picture of soap statue borrowed from urben 75

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why no statue ? (2)

Last time, I talked of how men who were once famous but who had evil hidden deep in their souls can live on artificially through their statues. Without that statue, such men would soon be forgotten in the dustbin of history.

I would rather emulate John Hickenlooper, the Governor of Colorado, who, in 2014, told the descendants of those murdered by Colonel Chivington and his men at Sand Creek in 1864:

“We should not be afraid to criticize and condemn that which is inexcusable ……. We will not run from this history.”

And in 2015, construction of a memorial to the Sand Creek Massacre victims began.

And I certainly feel that, if there are people who do not want to have statues of these “dubious heroes”, who do not want to be reminded of their ancestors’ suffering, then so be it. And, by this method, such men will gradually fade away rather than be kept alive artificially by a statue.

An excellent example would be Werner von Braun. Operation Paperclip made him an American citizen, along with 1600 of his fellow scientists. These were the people who helped to mastermind manned space flight and the landing on the moon. An ordinary person might want a statue.

I can think of a few Jews who wouldn’t though. And Russians, and Poles or any other East European descendants of the ones who died, as tens of thousands of slave workers perished building concrete bunkers, blast proof shelters, and rocket launching ramps all over the island of Peenemünde. If these people feel strongly enough, then no statue.

Back then, of course, von Braun was known as SS Sturmbannführer von Braun. And here is the SS Sturmbannführer with high ranking Nazis:

Here he is with the highest ranking Nazi of all. The SS Sturmbannführer is dressed as a civilian, middle of the next to back row:

This one is more difficult, but von Braun is behind Himmler, dressed up in his all black SS uniform:

We’re not in the slightest bit short of people in this category. Lord Nelson was an excellent naval commander with a 100% belief in the British Empire. But by 1801, Nelson, already married to the unfortunate Mrs Frances Nelson, was living with another woman, Emma Hamilton. She was not his wife, and he shouldn’t have been living with her. In actual fact, she was the wife of one of his closest friends, Sir William Hamilton.

There will be a lot of men nowadays who will not be too bothered about Nelson’s little foibles, but I bet there are a lot of women who would not want a statue of him staring them in the face, especially in the nation’s capital city.

I wonder who bought more of these satirical jugs? Men or women?

High on the list of people from this period who have shocking sides to their character is Lord Byron, the Romantic poet. Not that he couldn’t knock out some famous poems when he put his mind to it:

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes”

Or, perhaps more famous, “The Destruction of Sennacherib”

“The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.”

Lord Byron, though, ought to encounter a great deal of difficulty having a statue erected to him, and I don’t mean just his dress sense:

George Gordon Byron, the Sixth Baron Byron, was allegedly England’s greatest poet. Yet, it has been written that “By our own modern standards he was probably a paedophile and certainly a rapist, at least of the statutory kind.”

The evidence for these charges include the fact that Byron had an infatuation with a shapely fifteen year-old Greek boy, Lukas Chalandritsanos and spent enormous sums of money on him.

He had already had an incestuous relationship with Augusta Leigh, his own half-sister. Here she is:

Augusta gave birth to Elizabeth Medora Leigh, who was widely thought to be Byron’s child. Three days after the birth, Byron visited Augusta and the baby. He reported later to a friend, Lady Melbourne:

“It is not an Ape and if it is – that must be my fault.”

There was a widely held belief at the time that a child born of incest would be an ape.

Byron’s wife was Anne Isabella Noel Byron, 11th Baroness Wentworth and Baroness Byron, Here she is:

Evidence from a servant says that Byron raped his wife only days before she gave birth to their daughter, Ada. And then he raped her again only days after she had given birth.

In those days, of course, a husband could not be refused by his wife. What would now be considered rape was just a gentleman exercising his conjugal rights. But by today’s standards, actions like that are repulsive, especially so soon either before or after the poor woman has given birth.

Byron’s appalling arrogance was equally in evidence in his love affair with Claire Clairmont. Here she is:

Claire gave birth to a daughter, Allegra, but Byron immediately forbade her all access to her child, whom he sent away to a convent. She died there aged five.

And to think that I criticised the baddies in the TV series “Poldark” as not being true to life!

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What would you do ? (12) The Solution

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys, and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

And here is the puzzle:

And as we turn quickly to page two, we find out that:

“There is only one thing the fighter pilot can do. Sweeping down out of his dive he flies alongside the V.I., maintaining the same speed. Then, he gently manoeuvres his wing-tip under the wingtip of the deadly bomb. With a gentle pull on his stick, he turns his plane away, his wing whipping the V.1. over. Its delicate gyro-compass thrown off-course, the bomb hurtles earthward, to explode harmlessly in open countryside.”

So now you know!!

The people who throw around their accusations  about Bomber Command, aiming them chiefly at Bomber Harris, as if he was the Number One in the RAF rather than someone subject to a whole chain of superior officers and politicians, they forget both the V-1 and the V-2, which were pilotless and aimed only in the most general of terms. The V-1s were all aimed at Target 42, London, and more precisely, Tower Bridge. They never hit Tower Bridge or even got particularly close. V-2s were even more random and indiscriminate. In efforts ordered personally by Hitler to blow up the bridge over the Rhine at Remagen, no V-2 got within 900 yards but they did hit Cologne (still German at the time).

The statistics are not very precise but 22,880 V-1s were fired at targets in England (8,892) and Belgium (11,988). Around 4,000 V-2s were launched at targets in England (c 1,400) and Belgium (2,342). The main target in Belgium was the port of Antwerp. Hitler was determined to deny its use to the Allies. Overall,  V-weapons killed approximately 18,000 people in England and Belgium. Nearly all of them were  civilians.

Here’s a V-1 and a Spitfire playing nicely:

And here’s a V2 setting off to annihilate as many civilians as possible in London. It was designed by SS Sturmbannführer Werner von Braun, soon to be an American citizen and certainly not a war criminal responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of slave workers, most of them Russian or East European, particularly Poles. Hopefully though, like the Führer, he loved his dog:

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Famous Adverts of Filmland (2)

Last time I talked about the American magazines which appeared in Albert Taylor’s newsagent’s shop from time to time during the early 1960s. They all had one thing in common. They had advertisements for what we all thought were rather bizarre products which were largely unobtainable in England. On the other hand, had a lorry arrived in our village, full of “Crawling Hands”, we would have been fighting each other for the chance to purchase this amazing toy for only $4.95, plus an extremely reasonable 50c for postage and handling:

Wow and double wow!! It walks across the room and the ring on the third finger sheds light over the floor. What a bargain.  I wondered how much $5.45 in 1960 might be worth today. Well, it’s between $45-$50. In English money, that’s around £34-£37. I repeat. What a bargain!

I’m not so sure about the next one though.  A whistle for dogs?

What kind of trick is that? You can’t hear it but the dog can? What rubbish. How do you know if it works?

And how will you know the dog has heard it if he is habitually disobedient? And why should he obey a whistle that you cannot hear when he can pretend he hasn’t heard it and you are none the wiser?? He’ll just carry on in the same old way and you’ve wasted your money.

This is a much better product. While my friends join the Boy Scouts, I can put on my black mask and become a member of the Judean People’s Front, or perhaps the Judean Popular People’s Front, or even the Popular Front of Judea.

What have the Romans ever done for us ? “Romanes eunt domus“:

As an adult, I can see now that the majority of the adverts appeal, for the most part, to two categories of customer. The first category is that of the person who is perhaps less intelligent, shall we say? He does not know the names of the simplest dinosaurs. He needs pictures to distinguish between a cave BEAR and a Giant BIRD, or between a GIANT WOOLLY MAMMOTH and a thirteen inch long JUNGLE SWAMP :

In the intelligent section of the magazine, however, much more technical language is used. And if you’re intelligent enough to know what a Styracosaurus is, you’ll definitely want one with a wind up motor :

It isn’t the most intelligent kind of person, though, who will pay money for an authentic fingerprint kit, but is unaware that it will be completely useless without access to the FBI fingerprint database and three years at Police College:

Other adverts just offer products for customers who want to frighten people. They want to scare the living daylights out of the last few friends they have. Perhaps they’ll do it with a monster fly:

They’d like a mask that makes them look like their movie heroes:

Or, the only full colour advert that I could find, a zombie mask:

Presumably, they will wear their mask with their eyeball cufflinks:

And what a slogan.

“NO–THEY’RE NOT REAL, BUT THEY LOOK LIKE IT !

Surely that has a future with a publicity hungry plastic surgeon. It’s certainly better than this excessively subtle 1950s ad :

I borrowed that advert from a website which boasts 39 more. Take a look. It certainly shows how attitudes towards women have altered over the years.

Or have they?

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