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World War II was totally unrealistic (squid314.livejournal.com)
255 points by goodside on July 12, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 152 comments

At first I thought the author might be poking fun at the war -- then I realized that he was actually poking fun at himself. People have high standards for fiction, yet some of the strangest things are real-life stories from history.

A couple of my favorites from the Pacific Theater: 1) Radar detected the Japanese strike force approaching Pearl Harbor, but the guy in charge said it was a glitch. 2) The Japanese planned to declare war before attacking, but mix-ups in the way coded messages were processed kept the Japanese delegation from delivering the declaration of war until after the attack, and 3) On several occasions Yamamoto made battle plans that stood some chance of success -- only to have Army guys muck around with the details. That had to get pretty frustrating.

You really can't make some of this shit up.

As I mentioned before, not only do the Nazis have an urgent plan to conquer the world ASAP, but they also have super science weapons research. Stealth bombers, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and jet planes. Yet, at the beginning of the war, they faced cavalry charges! There are real life super-scientists engaged in real-life super-science intrigue to keep nuclear secrets out of Nazi hands. And on top of that, these guys are worse or on a par for atrocities with anyone ever, real or imagined. And to cap it all off, they're running around doing this stuff while wearing outfits designed by Hugo Boss.

It's like the Nazis escaped from the pages of fiction and invaded reality using a time machine.

EDIT: Turns out Hugo Boss didn't design the uniforms. Still, they were quite stylish.

"And on top of that, these guys are worse or on a par for atrocities with anyone ever, real or imagined."

This is a Euro-centric perspective. The Germans did not do anything different than any of the colonial powers in their own colonies. The difference with the Germans is that they decided to colonize Europe.

In terms of excess mortality, the man-made British famines in India are worse. The genocide of Native Americans by the Spanish, English and French colonists is unparalleled in human history for its duration, brutality and number of casualties. In Africa it is much the same - forget Belgians in the Congo, the British had death camps in Kenya in the 1950s!

Also the Irish potato famine was likely caused by the British.

I was thinking in terms of quality, not quantity.

Technological innovations do make a big difference. I'm sure the Mongols or Ottomans would have implemented similar methods of mass execution if they had the tools. But OTOH the living conditions on European and American slaving ships actually make German death camps seem humane in comparison.

"these guys are worse or on a par for atrocities with anyone ever, real or imagined"

If you look at the total number of people killed, hitler's atrocities pale in comparison with those of Stalin and Mao.

Another big difference was that in Stalin's Soviet Union or Mao's China just about everyone was under potential threat - being a member of the party or close to the leader wasn't really any help.

Whereas in Nazi Germany it was a much colder clinical decision to systematically remove "undesirable" elements from society. I think it is the systematic element of their terror, rather than the sheer lunatic barbarity of the communist regimes, that makes them so scary.

isn't this a reductionist view? the night of the long knives is just the first example I can think of, but I'm pretty sure there were more examples of people _becoming_ undesirable.

But in the Soviet Union the arrests were made to quota to feed the slave labor camps of the gulag - not because of anything the prisoners had actually done (of course, they had to confess).

There were some courageous Germans who chose to defy the Nazis (e.g. the White Rose group http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Rose) but that to me is quite different.

The overwhelming majority of Germans, if they didn't belong to one of the racial or political categories hated by the Nazis, had nothing to fear unless they chose to defy the state. Most didn't.

I had not heard of a "arrest to quota" design in the USSR, could you point me to a relevant source so I can read about it?

I still disagree on the main point that to be at risk in nazi germany you had to somehow defy the regime.

Your view seem to be that in nazi germany you could simply comply with the ruling ideology and be fine, but as I said above, you can think of the killings and arrests by the thousands of the SA (which had been key to hitler's seize of power) as a glaring counter example.

Moreover, the gestapo mostly run operations based on delations from common citizens (the origin of the "gestapo=big brother" misconception), it's not hard to imagine how mundane they can be. Unless you have a much better view of humanity than I have :)

Whenever shit like that happens, you can be sure that there are people taking advantage of the situation to settle old scores. Wherever the official reason for depriving people of life or liberty, corrupt functionaries will trump up accusations to suit their personal agendas.

True but if you look at the manner in which it was done then the Nazis are up there. What was horrible was the systematic way it was done. It wasn't a city gassed on a whim, or a population shot because they where rebelling. Those are terrible, but what is terrible about what the Nazis did was in the planning and efficiency of it all.

And you can combine that with guards picking up children by the ankles and dashing their brains out on the nearest building.

Sorry, but those two didn't made lanterns and mattresses out of people. Hitler very much one-upped everyone in 20th century in terms of atrocities.

As for the count, there are reasons to believe that Hitler was direct cause for WW2 in Europe. That one took quite a bit more people than 6M Jews you seem to imply.

The total numbers pulled from Reagan's imagination?

edit: I'll post some sources when I get home

As promised:

This includes the best available numbers on the people imprisoned and executed for counter-revolutionary (political, kulaks, etc.) crimes from 1921 to 1954 in the entire Soviet Union (includes republics annexed in 1939) from a report ordered by Khruschev (ie - the real numbers, not speculation), as well as an analysis of the commonly published speculative numbers:

http://www.thewalls.ru/truth/repress.htm (Russian)

http://translate.google.com/translate?js=y&prev=_t&h... (Google English translation)

642,980 executed, 2,369,220 imprisoned, 765,180 internally exiled over a 30-year period. That is 21,433 people receiving capital punishment each year, and 78,974 imprisoned per year. To put it in perspective, 89,000 people were sentenced (up to a maximum term of 5 years) for cannabis possession in the UK in 1998.

If you include the number of excess deaths from the Ukrainian and Kazakh famines of 1932, the direct and excess deaths from the civil war and the civil war famines, there's still no comparison to the Third Reich.

According to Solzhenitsyn a quarter of the population of Leningrad were arrested in and around 1937. Apparently this turned out to be a conservative estimate.

If this is so, your numbers cannot be correct.

And yes, the Holodomor counts too.

I'm so glad this article was posted on HN recently:


What kind of asshole draws historical conclusions based on /numbers/ dead? Reducing the dead to numbers and comparing a lost life to another an atrocity in itself.

Classic morality problem: sacrifice 1 you know for 10 you don't. Have you solved it? Enlighten us.

"One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic"


I had to check out that Hugo Boss one: they were one of thousands of manufacturers; they didn't appear to have "designed" the uniforms (they manufactured police and postal uniforms back then). They didn't do suits til the 50's http://www.nytimes.com/1997/08/15/business/hugo-boss-acknowl...

tschild's two comments here summarize my thinking: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=257389#...

I stand corrected. Still, the Nazis were pretty stylin.

By "cavalry charges" I assume you are referring to the Polish cavalry who did not, in fact, charge.


I have read about Soviet cavalry charges as late as 1942, but in memoirs, not history books.

Speaking of the intrigue to keep secrets out of the hands of the Nazis, there were some truly inspired espionage that would make Bond look like an unimaginative phony.

Not to mention the aircraft carriers made out of ice, the campaign to firebomb Japanese cities using bats with incendiaries tied to them, or the brilliant idea to starve out Japanese island garrisons by airdropping pigs onto them in the hope that the pigs would eat the grains before the Japanese ate the pigs (failed).

My favorite messed up weapons from WW II.

The Americans came up with an anti-tank grenade that was really sticky so that it would stay to the tank it was thrown at. Discontinued due to an unfortunate tendency to remain in the thrower's hand.

The Russians (land of Pavlov and all that) came up with the idea of dogs with bombs strapped to their backs that had learned to associate the under side of tanks with food. Great idea, and it might have worked, if the Russian trainers had access to German tanks for the training. Unfortunately when first deployed the dogs proved able to tell Russian tanks apart from German ones, and immediately put the Russians in full retreat.

(I found these in a book of world's worsts that I read many, many years ago.)

The wikipedia article about the sticky bomb - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sticky_bomb - notes that it was made by the British for use in the event of a German invasion, and so only saw limited front-line use in North Africa and by the French Resistance.

There is also info about the Soviet anti-tank dog program at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-tank_dog#Deployment_by_the...

(You meant "The Russians (land of Pavlov...", right?)

Thanks, corrected.

You missed my favorite one. B.F. Skinner had a WWII weapons program that trained pigeons for use as the guidance system of bombs ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Pigeon ). From a video I saw (but now cannot find) the pigeons were trained to peck at the shape of a warship. Then they would peck at video of a ship which worked to keep the bomb centered on the warship as it fell by directing the fins to where the pigeon pecked.

What about bombs bouncing on water or giant weaponized Catherine Wheels:


There were actually successful attacks with water-skipping bombs. In some cases it was the only way to get the bombs to the target due to the low angle needed.


The technology was innovative, but the results were mixed. Almost half the aircrews died, and the main casualties of the resulting floods were forced laborers and POWs.

Wow, never heard about that one. Did they never duct-tape bottle rockets together as kids? Might have taught them a little humility and saved some time.

Duct tape, IIRC, was only invented in World War II, so no :-)

Developed largely by engineer (and later famous novelist) Nevil Shute.

The history of the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development is incredible. Their exploits make an episode of the A-Team look plausible.


If anyone is interested in the "aircraft carrier made out of ice", you can find out more here:


Mythbusters had an episode about it http://mythbustersresults.com/alaska-special-2

> aircraft carriers made out of ice

Pykrete, really - a combination of wood and ice. And the idea had merit - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Habakkuk for lots of interesting details.

Someone should do a post or web comic about pig projectiles in warfare.

Pig projectiles?

What about nukes kept warm by live chickens:


Also bats with firebombs attached to them. Surely that's almost as good as sharks with laser beams on their heads.

"Bats with frickin Napalm!"

And Shakespear is just a bunch of cliche's strung together.

Every think this stuff is cliche BECAUSE of WWII? Or am I just dense?

Well the main point is that the history of WW2 is full of 'plot holes' and hard to believe stories (if it was a TV show)

Only because we believe, because of the movies, that largescale event SHOULD behave as if orchestrated by a logical, sane author.

History is just, all of us, doing things selfishly.

That is actually why Hitler had an incursion in the USSR while waging war in North Africa and the Atlantic, creating an anti-Hitler coalition and thus having no chance of an outcome that isn't a catastrophe for Germany. Surely an unwise decision.

The Soviets knew in advance of the invasion of the USSR but Stalin could not believe that the Germany could do such thing. Not because he trusted Hitler, but because such a decision would be stupid - Hitler himself claimed that war on two fronts was unwinnable for Germany since WWI and because he didn't see an adequate preparation for an invasion - sure you have troops near the border, but they were in no way prepared for Russian roads, Russian winter or the Russian distances. There was no way Germany could defeat the USSR before winter sets in with no planning.

Stalin planned an invasion of Nazi-controlled Europe, before the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. But the Germans had their invasion a few weeks before the planned. But since the troops and materiel were prepared for an offensive war they could react adequately in the beginning. The Russians had only bombers and a million trained paratroops - this is definitely a preparation for an offensive war.

The Germans couldn't achieve any major objective in the USSR anyway:

* they didn't destroy the Russian industrial capability: Moscow and Leningrad weren't taken and behind them you have the Volga and Ural areas, which produced materiel and provided manpower which let the USSR win the war and conquer for itself half of Europe. Plus even much of the plants that were in Ukraine and Belarus were evacuated of their skilled workers and expensive machinery and new ones quickly were formed deep behind the lines of combat and the ranges of Wehrmacht air power.

* no major resource was lacking in the USSR - certainly not oil, which was one of the critical ones. Germany barely had enough from Romania for its own needs. France, the Balkans, Northern Europe, North Africa were invaded with Soviet provided oil, thanks to the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact.

* they didn't isolate Russia politically - they couldn't convince the Japanese to attack them in the back while Soviets had instant allies - Britain and United States which generously provided even more materials and technology.

And this was exactly because the war was started by a logical, sane author.

Stalin overestimated Hitler, thinking he wouldn't do such a thing. Germany had no realistic way of winning a war against the USSR with those conditions. I am not saying that USSR was unbeatable. Just that the Germans didn't have a feasible plan to do it and it was obvious to Stalin.

I disbelieve. When Hitler invaded, he immediately put his plan from Mein Kampf into action, and tried to consolidate control and create Lebensraum (aka "living space") for the German people. He had made his desire for that invasion clear many years earlier.

If Hitler hadn't been a deranged fool he would have not sent the SS into Czechoslovakia (which turned the initially rejoicing population hostile), and would have immediately drove right for Moscow. Had he done that the Russians would have had no communication lines, which would have made it massively harder for them to organize a resistance.

Hitler in some sense was the best friend the Allied forces had. Every time he made a major military decision (eg "let the English rescue all of their troops at Dunkirk") it turned out to be really stupid. And the conduct of the Russian war shows lots of examples of that.

Oops, I picked the wrong area. I was misremembering a reference to the Ukraine. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Barbarossa for more details.

In particular note that the claim that the Nazis were attacking first to head off a counter-attack is a claim the Germans made during WW II. However there is little evidence for this, and Stalin's instructions to his generals in December of 1940 suggests that the Soviet Union knew it would eventually be invaded, thought it would easily be ready in 4 years, and was trying to put the invasion off for at least 2. When the invasion came in May they were caught unprepared and by surprise.

Not just large-scale events. Many people make the mistake of reading their own lives as literature, even though as far as I know, even the ones who believe in God do not believe he is an Author who imposes a literary aesthetic on his creation.

This is one of the central themes of The Black Swan: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Black-Swan-Impact-Highly-Improbable/...

This is the effect of telling the histories of nations as if they were groups of 5 people. It's convenient to say sentences like, "Germany then instigated the Battle of Britain, causing Churchill to say X and beginning a lengthy battle," but anything like this is a gross simplification. When nations take action, the whole org-chart needs to move into gear, which takes extra planning and arguing and wrangling and doubting. It doesn't seem realistic because we're told the results of decisions and battles as if they were they were made by anthropomorphised countries with a leader and some generals. But it's always more complicated than that. Trimming facts off at the first few levels of details makes everything feel, well, oversimplified.

Sure, but in the end Stalin says "Yes" and that's it. Really. And Roosevelt says "Ok, Peace" and the shooting stops. It really happens like that sometimes.

Not really

??? Say more. The treaty at Yalta wasn't signed by Roosevelt? what?

Well, look at it this way: treaties don't blink into existence completely understood by all parties as perfectly fair without any loopholes or unnecessary concessions.

Of course leaders have enormous powers. But it was never like comrade Stalin waves and everything stops.

Hm, I guess I don't buy that at all. Stalin in particular.

then you have oversimplified view of the world and I don't. let's agree to disagree.

Cute, get the last shot in, then pretend its reasonable to stop discussing.

Books have been written about the "Stalin Personality Cult", his enormous personal power and his perfect control over all matters of state. And you dismiss this with a few cute remarks.

For your remarkable claims, you will have to provide MUCH more evidence. Try this: google Stalin and start reading.

we can continue to debate if you insist, but judging by your other comments it may not be exactly pleasant experience.

also let me caution you that probably unlike you I have actual experience living in Soviet Union (not under Stalin, fortunately) and getting to know the "evidence" first hand.

Right, under enlightened Soviet rule your education in history and politics is wide-ranging and complete. I believe that.

You would be surprised. People who grew up under Soviet education are a lot more cultured and worldly than Americans. Hint: if your worldview is a cartoon, it's probably inadequate to reality.

"Trimming facts off at the first few levels of details makes everything feel, well, oversimplified."

But it's not just oversimplification of collective action, the plot was overblown even at the level of purely individual events in individual characters' lives. Arguably the greatest theoretical/experimental crossover physicist of the century takes the occasion of accepting his Nobel Prize to escape with his Jewish wife from Il Duce, and a few years later stands musing over a nuclear chain reaction in a secret project in Chicago? Puhleeze.

a few years later stands musing over a nuclear chain reaction in a secret project in Chicago? Puhleeze.

Not only that, but the reactor is in the basement of the University's stadium. Whoever wrote that one must've been reading Spider Man!

interesting view on the history. Of course, over here in Europe, we go into great detail when looking at WWII in history at school (at least the European part) and to be honest, I have to agree with the poster - all this feels kind of surreal and inaccurate.

I guess this is already some consequence of history-rewriting going on in some parts, combined with strange coincidences. But in general, yes, the whole story, especially when told in such few words as the original article, doesn't make a lot of sense.

On a different note: I totally agree on his opinion about Bablyon 5. There are few other series that managed to capture me as much as B5 did. Especially seasons 2 and 3 are brilliant and I would highly recommend everyone with even just a slight liking of Sci-Fi to give at least these two seasons a go.

If you want, you can start at S1, but it's quite slowly building up story, so you might get bored out, but in the context of the whole series, quite many episodes in S1 do make a lot of sense too.

Upvoted for daring to raise the issue of history-rewriting.

History is written by the victors.

I recommend reading David Irving's Hitler's War and Churchill's War as an antidote to the Churchill hagiography. You'll be able to filter out Irving's opinions and still see another perspective on the war. One in which Chamberlain and Halifax are statesmen who might have been successful in avoiding armed conflict, but for the determined war party of Churchill. I'm not here to make that case -- just saying, there are mighty few revisionist histories you can pick up at Borders, and you should read them.

> One in which Chamberlain and Halifax are statesmen who might have been successful in avoiding armed conflict, but for the determined war party of Churchill.

No one disputes that it would have been possible to avoid armed conflict with Nazi Germany. The relevant question is "at what cost?" Given Hitler's ambitions, do you really think that he'd have stopped at the channel?

It is reasonable to suggest that Chamberlain bought some time for Britain to re-arm and that trying to defend the continent was a bad idea. But that's very different from suggesting that sustained peace was a reasonable possibility.

Obviously we'll never know, and we can speculate all day. But I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that yes, Germany would have calmed down eventually.

Empires have a tendency to reach their zenith and slowly recede after that. When you have occupying powers like Nazi Germany they're likely to fall apart eventually due to internal strife. The Roman Empire did, so did the Soviet Union, partly.

Had WW2 not happened we might just have had a Cold War with four actors (USA, UK, Germany, Soviet Union) instead of 2. The world might not be too different today, with Germany either toppled from within, or having had their version of the civil rights movement.

Then again they might have tried to take over the entire world. But I think it's somewhat naïve to extrapolate states at their most violent beginnings to how they might have evolved in the future.

If some hypothetical world police would have stopped the USA at its beginnings we might very well read in our history books today that if it wasn't for that, the US would have proceeded to eradicate the rest of the world's indigenous peoples. And that it would still be keeping millions of people as slaves.

In reality the fate of states is more complex than the plans of any one man. Even if he's the Führer.

> The Roman Empire did, so did the Soviet Union, partly.

The Roman Empire didn't "calm down" for hundreds of years. Even the USSR took a couple of decades. And in both cases, they ran into opposition.

If you're going to argue that a legacy-obsessed Hitler would have calmed down within a year or so despite encountering no significant opposition, you need something more than "it could happen".

That's the point of reading the books: it offers something more than "it could happen".

So we should can the history book writers in favor of JMS? I could have told you that a decade ago!

Also, S1 is the best B5 there is, rise of the psycorps, nightwatch, captain getting kidnapped by creepy intelligence guys to be mindfucked, it's just like WWII!

S2 is more like the beginning of WWII. If I remember correctly, the Nightwatch is a program initiated by president Clark (or his administration) and he isn't in the office during S1.

At the end of S1, events are set in motion (not spoiling anything here, but the end of S1 is super-awesome and constantly sends shivers down my spine when I'm watching it), but it's not quite there yet.

Also, there are many non-story-relevant episodes in S1. But as I said: It's building up background. Just very slowly for first-time watchers.

That's not surprising as that's how TV series worked back then: Most episodes are closed in themselves and there basically is no overall story progression.

IMHO it was B5 that broke with that tradition and nowadays series are just like very, very long movies.

the B5 part of my answer is non-related to the history-rewriting part. B5 isn't quite the accurate replacement for history books, but I do agree that some of the story has its root in the WWII parts of history.

Well S1 is "just" about introducing characters and setting up scenery and context - which are broad indeed. Covering such ground while trying to create an engaging experience would be very hard. Something had to give - story or spectacle and decision was made (I guess).

B5 has to be the best mix of great writing and proper execution I have ever seen. Had to have lots to do with Straczynski doing stuff his way.

On this note - what are other similarly well executed series that I'm unaware of, genre is irrelevant?

Supernatural also really cought me with interesting story and great buildup. The genre couldn't be more different though

"An intelligent observation of the facts of human existence will reveal to shallow-minded folk who sneer at the use of coincidence in the arts of fiction and drama that life itself is little more than a series of coincidences." -- Rafael Sabatini

This article was probably meant as humour, but I can't help but notice that fiction and life are two very different things. Fiction makes sense; life very often does not.

And what of Stephenson's Cryptonomicon?

Are you trying to argue that Fiction is sometimes not believable, are actually the reverse?

It wasn't actually a rhetorical question. Just wanted to point out that historical fiction is interesting food for thought on the question and hoping someone else would say something enlightening.

You need to read more fiction :).

Good fiction, then. I suppose you may argue that bad fiction need not make sense.

Good fiction doesn't need to 'make sense' either.

Of course, what qualifies as 'good' is subjective, and to get a little meta, fiction doesn't make sense - we make sense of fiction, just as with life. See also: religion vs. science.

And then, in a sub-plot hardly ever mentioned, we have this superhero-like guy with the weird name of Audie Murphy! Who is too young to even be in the war to begin with! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audie_Murphy

How about a pacifist war hero?


You want a historical "yeah, right" moment, then take the sequence of events that start WWI. If it was a tv show, you would be thinking the writer was on drugs.

Watch Robert Newman's history of oil sketch: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5267640865741878159

It addresses that particular piece of rewritten history.

Apparently we're supposed to believe that in the middle of the war the Germans attacked their allies the Russians, starting an unwinnable conflict on two fronts, just to show how sneaky and untrustworthy they could be? And that they diverted all their resources to use in making ever bigger and scarier death camps, even in the middle of a huge war?

Sheer ignorance. Simply read Mein Kampf. The Nazis had an urgent program to conquer the whole world ASAP because of they thought there was too much cross-breeding with "inferior" races. They had to get started right then! The death camps? To rid the world of so-called genetic contamination. It's all spelled out in Hitler's books. (There was a sequel book.)

EDIT: Okay, I get to the end, and the article is all tongue in cheek.

"The death camps? To rid the world of so-called genetic contamination."

What part of that does not sound like a cartoonishly evil super-villain motivation suitable for a comic book?

I hope that wars over religious ideology come to seem as incomprehensible one day.

In a world where it's the 1920s and not the 2010s?

But Churchill remained the awful strategist he had always been. Outstanding organizer for the Navy, inspiring leader, but: Norway, Anzio, the Dodecanese...

He forgot the Japanese Balloon Bombs and the US Government coverup of them.


He should have gone further in his analysis.

"Battalions of stormtroopers dressed in all black, check"

Maybe at the onset at the war, but for the last year or two it was a pathetic lot of teenagers and the elderly after all the desirable soldiers had all been killed, captured or maimed.

>Apparently we're supposed to believe that in the middle of the war the Germans attacked their allies the Russians, starting an unwinnable conflict on two fronts, just to show how sneaky and untrustworthy they could be?

That's not fair. They explained it in the backstory - the Germans were short on fuel and needed full access to Caspian hydrocarbon reserves.

+1 for staying in OP's story mode :)

WWII fits the stereotypes so well because it originated (a lot of) them.

No intellectual curiosity was satisfied by the article.

Really? I thought the same at first about the stereotypes, and I still do, but the article was just really really funny. Maybe no intellectual curiosity, but sure gets a +1 for humor from me.

And like most good humor, makes you stop and think about some things in a new way.

history has been shoehorned into a narrative that fits well with the motivations of the victors. that this narrative is childish, condescending to its audience, and inaccurate is hardly surprising.

Totally depends on your frame of mind/expectations. I had a lot of fun reading that article. Nothing condescending to the audience at all.

I dont know the author and why its here on HN, but its easy to make obvious statements that most of TV shows are oversimplified BS. I'd be interested to read his vision of true WWII history though. I think the truth is that its was complex combination of various forces. None of them were evil/good or black/white, simply because it was a story about huge masses of ppl , who are hmmm.. more complex than good elves and bad orcs. Perhaps its hard to see from US but here in Europe its still a big deal that should be touched with respect as so many ppl died and so many lives changed during that period.. RIP

I think that the author's point was something else. People expect fiction to be consistent, believable and predictable and yet they take their own history for granted.

You'll hear people complain that the show X jumped the shark because of the character A or plot device B. Yet a lot of those same people don't question much of what they "know" about World War II. And a lot of those who do question it, just give up and say "Oh, well, it's history. We'll never really know, will we?"

That's what I got out of it too. "Believable" or "realistic" often translates to "conventional" or "predictable." Fiction authors tend to toe the line between them very carefully; yet some of the most respected literature around tends to be based on a ridiculous or fantastic premise. Examples: Moby Dick, the Odyssey, Don Quixote, the Metamorphosis.

Part of that is that fiction generally gives a very immediate, close-up view of events, whereas you get history as a biased summary of a vast amount of indirect reports.

well i can only agree with you. to me lessons here are quite obvious: 1) history channel is not a right pick if you want to learn some history. 2) if you take any complex story and try to make popcorn story out of it - you most likely end-up making something inconsistent/unbelievable for some curious minds(like HN readers)

I believe you have misunderstood the article. What he was saying was that how incredible the story of the Second World War is (and while he didn't say that, I think it's safe to extrapolate and say that the whole history of the human race is generally incredibly interesting) and using that as a reference he has shown that perhaps there's nothing wrong with a bit of "unrealistic" plot in fictional stories.

I don't know about your definition of evil - but to me parts of the Nazi and Soviet leaderships were as close to pure evil as has ever existed.

And to lots of people in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq, the Israeli and American leaderships are as close to pure evil as has ever existed.

"Evil" is a concept useful for propaganda and little else.

Often, those who say this haven't been on the receiving end of much evil.

Also, please name a government that hasn't done anything evil. There's none! Governments are dangerous things.

Usually, those who are most enthusiastic about dividing things into "good" and "evil" are themselves extremely evil by common standards. Case in point: the Nazis, to whom the Jews were evil incarnate, and they themselves the valiant defenders of the Aryan race.

Calling an action "evil" does not explain it or help prevent it - it's usually a way to express revulsion and avoid further thinking.

Calling specific people "evil" again does not explain their actions or give insights how to make them not-evil or prevent others from becoming like them. In fact, all such explanations and insights are usually strongly rejected by those who'd rather express the strongest possible revulsion for them.

Finally, calling groups of people "evil" is almost always a method to dehumanize them and justify killing them, while suspending critical thought in those you want to do the killing.

"Usually, those who are most enthusiastic about dividing things into "good" and "evil" are themselves extremely evil by common standards."

True, but it isn't always about dividing things... Sometimes there's just no other word to describe certain actions or groups of people. Mentioned elsewhere in the thread were the atrocities of Hitler, Stalin, Mao -- what is one to say about those? "Oh, it's just a matter of perspective?" I think not.

Calling an action "evil" does not explain it or help prevent it - it's usually a way to express revulsion and avoid further thinking

Okay, let me put it this way: What government hasn't done something that would cause revulsion in a bystander? None!

So you'll be OK with some country right now doing Holocaust over some minority, or will you protest that?

If you'll protest, why? And why you don't protest againist all the governments that do this all evil things?

Many things are relative, but not all. Making it seem relative is just comfy, but comfort is less important than truth.

I'll agree that every country in WWII wasn't innocent, that Jews right now are overplaying the Holocaust card, that many countries politis, unfortunately including mine, makes victims of itself, which is indignifing and stupid thing to do. But telling me Holocaust wasn't evil makes me think you wouldn't mean it repeating, and that makes me hate you a little :) (ok, I really don't believe you wouldn't mean - I think you just play the devil advocate there).

So you'll be OK with some country right now doing Holocaust over some minority, or will you protest that?

That's definitely not okay.

If you'll protest, why? And why you don't protest against all the governments that do this all evil things?

Hell, I only have 112 useful waking hours a week. If I tried to protest over every egregious thing perpetrated by a government, that would be a full time occupation. Heck, just keeping track of those things would be.

But telling me Holocaust wasn't evil makes me think you wouldn't mean it repeating, and that makes me hate you a little

AHEM! If you read the parent comments, you'll find that I am advocating the applicability of the term evil!

Your comment is so full of putting words into other's mouths, grasping for straws, and unwarranted leaps, I don't know where to begin.

Ok, I'm sorry. I've overreacted to this post and somehow mixed in my mind who is replying to whom (by not reading all posts in between, my fault, should teach me to think before posting).

I've interpreted your statement that all countries did sth wrong as statement that Nazi Germany, USSR were no worse than other countries, and their deeds were nothing more evil than deeds of other countries.

Should have deleted my comment, but that way it will remind me to read whole thread before replying.

Well said - I guess I was using "evil" as a personal shorthand for my own beliefs about certain political regimes. Certainly using a label of "evil" as a shortcut to avoid any further analysis is something to be avoided.

As for governments, their danger lies in their size and authoritarian power structures, which lets people on top give orders without taking responsibility for how those orders are implemented.

Non-government organizations of similar size are just as good at perpetrating evil, when they get the chance. Fortunately, few private companies are allowed to participate in wars.

And for the innocents on the receiving end of some horror that is an understandable sentiment.

However, for what separates the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century from today's situations is the degree to which the unimaginable suffering of individuals was known about and dictated by those in power rather than being a tragic side-effect of other misguided policies.

    "Evil" is a concept useful for propaganda and little else.
Really? Can you read _Lord of the Flies_ and conclude that what the boys are doing isn't evil, because all ethics are relative?

It's not about ehtics being relative, it's about "evil" being a label that's used to condemn (often falsely) and discourage discussion.

Seeing WWII completely in terms of how valiant US soldiers defeated the evil Nazis is a great way to avoid noticing tendencies in the US that the Nazis would feel right at home with.

    It's not about ehtics being relative
That's the message from the post I responded to, and that's what I'm responding to. You contradicted arethuza, and basically implied that arethuza'a ideas about pure evil were invalid. They're not.

It's easy to become so consumed with something that you throw the baby out with the bathwater, which you did above in claiming that evil had little use apart from propaganda.

That's false. Evil is an idea that stands on its own, and is important in our thinking.

News Flash. The Lord of the Flies is fiction.

Evil is a very useful way to understand fiction because the "reality" it exists in is made-up and fits the description. In the real world evil is much more ambiguous, and is mostly a tool for helping convince people that one side is awful and the other must therefore be right. The fact that people are wired to react that way makes it very useful for propaganda.

I thought so, but after having heard the podcasts from Hardcore history, it is quite clear that the Nazis aren't nearly as evil as many of the previous regimes, they just have far, far more advanced tech and an industrial society capable of mass production.

Oh cmon, it has definitely been long enough to poke fun at now. The last people who fought in it are dying as we speak.

The important thing is we should never forget the dead and forget Europe's folly of WW1 and WW2. Its our generation's responsibility to work together in Europe so it doesn't happen again.

We've already forgotten.

I'm witnessing the rise of fascism around me as I write this, it comes in the guise of 'freedom', just like last time. So it is already happening again, indeed, while the last who fought to put down the previous monstrosity are still alive.

We'll see where it leads, I'm not so pessimistic as to think that it will be as bad as last time but there is a small chance that in the next elections the Netherlands will have it's first ultra-right wing nationalist regime.

People really do forget, and while I'm all for poking fun at stuff it would be good if the lessons of history stayed learned.

It is our all generations' responsibility to work together in the whole world to prevent such atrocities happening again.

Shame we're not doing great. Just look at Rwanda. A genocide in the mid 1990s

The Second Congo War was the deadliest conflict since World War 2 and lasted until 2003.

Okay there is no way to say this that is nice, but:

It is Africa, and as much as it sucks for the people there, it has always been so and will properly be so long after we are gone.

There is nothing special about Africans that will make them "properly[sic?] be so long after we are gone". The same tendency for long wars is everywhere. The history of Europe in the 19th century and earlier was almost a series of continuous wars. The main difference is that the cost of war is now too high for advanced countries. Even WWI wasn't enough. People recognize it and made the League of Nations, which still wasn't enough so the lesson had to be repeated with bigger losses.

I'm fairly sure that the author meant to write "probably" instead of "properly".

And no, there is nothing special about Africans, but a lot that is "special" about Africa. The rampant disease. The widespread corruption. The poverty resulting from those. The political boundaries that are a remnant of European map making rather than any sort of internal logic. These have contributed to generations of misery, and there is no immediate prospect of this changing.

The difference between Africans and Europeans is that Europeans didn't have more advanced civilization constantly prodding and poking them (and drooling for their resources), and that is what makes Africa prone to constant warfare.

The best thing for Africa imho currently would be a big fence around it, and a label on the gate reading "Do not open before year 3000 AD. Sincerely, the people of 2000 AD."

And seal the fence with the Wikkit gate?

True there is nothing special about the Africans that makes them more likely to make wars. It is just that the meddling that we have done the last couple of centuries, combined with the culture has left them with little alternative.

Don't forget Bosnia and Darfur.

Luckily, Monster Quest, Ghost Hunters and all those other shows should satisfy any desire for fiction on the History Channel.

Churchhill did have a frikkin amazing ability to produce one-liners. In retrospect it was almost inhuman.

Reminded me of that Mark Twain quote (apocriphal?) "Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't."

"The greatest generation", indeed.

my god. I can hear the air quotes.

"The difference between reality and fiction? Fiction has to make sense." - Tom Clancy


It may have been unrealistic but I hope nobody makes a sequel.

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