Sunday, August 31, 2003

History lesson
A while back, someone taught Bush a new phrase and something about the concept that goes with it: “historical revisionism.” Like many people with a new cool concept he couldn’t wait to find opportunities to work it into conversations. The leader of the free world may or may not have been briefed that “historical revisionism” is a term embraced by Holocaust deniers and that in using it to describe his critics, he got to slip in an oblique accusation that they are in some way anti-Semitic. And although an accusation that critics of the war in Iraq must be anti-Semitic by itself makes no sense, he could rest snug in the knowledge that it nevertheless pissed off liberal intellectuals to hear it.

Now the administration, in the persons of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Rummy, has decided to practice historical revisionism.

On Monday, Dr. Rice told the San Antonio VFW that:
There is an understandable tendency to look back on America's experience in postwar Germany and see only the successes. But as some of you here today surely remember, the road we traveled was very difficult. 1945 through 1947 was an especially challenging period. Germany was not immediately stable or prosperous. SS officers—called “werewolves”—engaged in sabotage and attacked both coalition forces and those locals cooperating with them—much like today's Baathist and Fedayeen remnants.

Before looking at the substance of her statement notice how she frames her parallel by anachronistically transferring modern terminology into the past. The Allies have become “coalition forces.” By this rule I suppose we should start referring to John Wilkes Booth as a member of the Fedayeen Jefferson Davis.

On the same day before the same audience, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld referred to, “dead-enders … known as ‘werewolves’ …[who along with] other Nazi regime remnants targeted Allied soldiers, and they targeted Germans who cooperated with the Allied forces.”

Meanwhile, Australian blogger John Quiggin, has tracked the source of this story to an article in National Review Online by Mackubin Owens. There can be no doubt that this is the source because Rumsfeld uses as examples in his version of the Werewolf story only those examples that appear in one block quote in the Mackubin article. The source of that quote, and indeed apparently the only source for Mackubin is a one-thousand-word book review in the British magazine History Today.

Daniel Benjamin in Slate demolishes their story. There was some resistance by German soldiers behind the lines while the fighting was still going on at the end of WWII. Among these were the famous efforts by Otto Skorzeny in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, the assassination of the collaborationist mayor of Aachen after the Americans occupied that town, and the less known efforts by Volkdeutsch leader Andreas Schmidt in Rumania against the Red Army. However, none of these were Werewolf activities in the sense that Rice and Rumsfeld mean. These were commando activities directed by Reich authorities in Berlin.

The real Operation Werewolf had a little reality and a lot of myth. The reality was a plan to train troops in guerilla tactics and sabotage, to create hidden supply depots in the Bavarian and Austrian Alps, and to make Germany ungovernable for the Allied occupiers. The reality was more like an unfunded Bush social program; the supply depots never materialized and the troops were mostly Hitler Youth boys who, as soon as the command structure vanished, ditched their guns and cyanide capsules and went home. In an ugly sequel, the Soviets, who had some understanding of partisan warfare, used the Werewolf rumors as an excuse to execute German POWs while the restored national governments of continental Europe used those same rumors to justify their expulsion of 14 million ethnic Germans from Eastern and Southeastern Europe. Werewolf has lived on as a great plot device for a hundred Ludlum wannabes and not much more.

This is not a matter of interpretation where one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. There was no one there to call a terrorist, freedom fighter, or ice-cream vendor for that matter. No one.

Not long ago, on a drive down to Mom’s, my wife and I engaged in a variation of the perennial “stupid or evil” debate. You know the one, does the administration act the way they do because they are stupid or because they are evil? The usual answer is that it’s a trick question and the correct answer is “all of the above” (on our trip we were dividing the administration into plain old corrupt and ideological fanatics). This time the division appears easy. Dr. Rice is co-author of a book on recent German history and should know better. Her willingness to sacrifice truth for her career has been well established through revelations concerning the run up to the war. It’s clear, to me at least, that she’s a willing liar. Rumsfeld is only a little harder. He has already demonstrated by his version of the early epilogue to the American Revolution that History is not his best subject. On the other hand, he too has shown that he doesn’t really care about truth; he’ll say whatever is necessary to get his way.

I’m only going on like this because history is my field. After all, they are not abusing history any worse than they already have science, economics, or ethics.

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