Jack D. Hunter's Blog

24 November 2007

History's Lies

I was doing the Google foxtrot today, researching some military history for a thing I’m writing, and I was struck once again how intrinsically faulted historical records — of any kind and from any period — can be. Every cave drawing, every hieroglyphic, every epistle, every record of every kind over all the centuries is basically the product of somebody’s spin.

Caesar wrote official reports on how things went in the Gallic Wars. But each report represented what he (or maybe his ghost writers) wanted posterity to believe. I’ve never found similar reports from, say, Gallic infantrymen on just how they felt about the conflict, which would seem to explain why historians have tended to live with Caesar’s self-aggrandizing spin.

Matthew wrote a book on the works of the Man from Galilee. But so did Mark, and so did Luke, and so did John, and each gave his personal spin to his coverage of the same events. You have to read all four to get a handle on what went on — and even then you’re left with the need to make up your own mind. But that’s hard to do when eighty jillion sects and denominations try to sell you their convictions on the matter as the only ones that count.

Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, in which he described his view of the world and what had to be done about it. That particular spin, because it wasn’t so readily accepted outside of Germany, killed a lot of people over a 12-year period.

Speaking of which, it was during today’s effort to track down some particulars on Germany in the immediate aftermath of World War Two when I had this renewed dourness, which, in turn, gave rise to an old saying I just made up: “History is written by the SOB who holds the pen.”

I fell into reading the recent and acrimonious haggling over similarities between the occupation of Germany in the late 1940s and what’s going on in Iraq today. I have my own ideas about all that, gained from direct, bitter experience, but I won’t let myself be drawn into the argument. Rather, what really got my nanny was the pervasive contention that there are absolutely no records — military or civilian, U.S. or German or Lower Slobovian — of any organized attempt by the surviving Nazis to resist the Allied Occupation. This is hogwash, as I spent the most of two years leading an Allied effort ordered by Eisenhower to break up precisely such an organization. There are military records on this, and actually a lot of press accounts (see any major newspaper of March 31, 1946), as I showed in an earlier posting. So those who claim absolute Nazi quiescence in 1945-46 are not only wrong but also guilty of faulty homework.

But what really irritates me is the idea that “there are no more than a few records of any American soldier or civilian being injured or killed by the postwar Nazi resistance.” Of course there are only a few records. I’m surprised that there are any at all. Eisenhower’s need was to show the people back home that we’d torn down the German goal post and the Nazis were done, done, done. The Gospel According to Allied Headquarters: “The Nazis are crushed, dammit, so don’t let anybody tell you any different.” That’s why the Army permitted a big publicity orgy on “Operation Nursery,” the thing I worked on, and how it erased the Nazis’ last gasp, blah, blah, blah. But what was not permitted was any ongoing publicity concerning the continuing secret war and the people who fought and died in the back alleys.

The idea of the Nazi “Werewolves” was pooh-poohed at every level of the Occupation and in every Allied capital, so when some Allied agent got zapped in the dark of night (and his body was found), it had a way of being reported as a traffic death or an accidental drowning or a fall down stairs or a gun-cleaning mishap or whatever. So many American soldiers were dying in traffic accidents the highways in the U.S. Zone were lined with signs cautioning, “Drive Carefully — The Life You Save May be Your Own!” And you can be sure a lot of those traffic deaths were not due to poor driving. Morever, when some Burgermeister’s office burned down, it was due to a bad chimney; when a collaborator was found dead in his barn, hanging by his genitals, he was “the victim of a suspected jealous husband.” And so on and on, ad nauseam.

My point in all this is that history is spin. And run-of-the-mill historians, reading somebody else’s spin, rewrite what they have read, adding their own spin.

So was there organized Nazi resistance in post-World War II Germany? You’re damn straight there was. But you won’t find much in your library about it.

And too many historians operate on the assumption — make that “principle” — that if it isn’t in some library somewhere, it didn’t happen.


Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I had that same old experience, that reintroduction to gratitude. It stems from the universal, chronic hunch that more’s going on than those things we see, feel, hear, smell, and taste.

Locked into our five senses as we are, comfortably smug with the idea of our preeminent intelligence in a measurable universe, made secure by the folkways and mores of pragmatic societies, our general tendency is to keep the hunch very much to ourselves, lest our contemporaries dismiss us as kooks. Others among us more or less openly admit to this uneasiness but try to make it more socially acceptable, either by proclaiming themselves to be atheists and vigorously denying it or by establishing religions that seek to explain it.

Either way, and no matter how much we struggle against it or with it, each of us has a psychic itch that can’t be scratched. This, I guess, is what has always been at the root of the American Thanksgiving Day observance.

In my case, I have a recurrent bad dream. I’m lost in a rainy nighttime city, a strange, dark town devoid of life or movement. Only the cold drizzle, the muted streetlights. I’m always without money or friends. No door opens to my knocking. I feel a desperate urgency to get home, but I don’t know where home is. The loneliness and lostness are often so intense they waken me, and I sit up, wide-eyed and sweating. But as my wakefulness increases so does my giving of thanks — a huge swelling of gratitude that it was only a dream and that today is the day I have, and it’s a magical one in which my beloveds — those still living — are either at hand or as close as the phone, and whatever the day brings I can deal with out of my gratitude.

Paraphrasing the old saw, it’s hard to be lonely and bitter when you’re grateful.



Copyright © 2007 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.