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Archive for May, 2009

Readings from summer 2009

“This preoccupation with dramatic anecdotes rather than technical overviews is entirely understandable, and we today are hardly in a position to complain given the routine amplification of anecdotal observations such as celebrity culture or child safety concerns within our own television-dominated societies.”
–Phillip Sabin (Lost Battles, 2007), on the way historical records of ancient battles try to portray a good story rather than render authentic facts.

“This is perhaps the great, still-unanswered question about Germany and the German people between 1933 and 1945. With the vast material and spiritual riches of places like Dresden at your disposal, why place all that at risk by launching a ruthless, in large part genocidal attack on the rest of Europe?Whatever the Nazi ideologues might say, Germany did not lack Lebensraum. Did anyone really expect the world to fight back while wearing kid gloves, in order not to damage Germany’s artistic treasures or kill German civilians?

Those who concentrate on the war in Western Europe miss the sheer massive scale of the mass slaughter inflicted on the civilian population in European Russia by the invading Germans. The vastness of such a mosaic of violence makes it hard to grasp: because of this we seek instinctively for the personal, the particular, the apparently clear-cut case. It is rarely mentioned that almost the same number of Soviet citizens died as a result of bombing during the Second World War as Germans: around half a million. Why are there no shelves of books emotively recalling the fate of forty thousand human beings – many of them women and children and refugees – who died in the Luftwaffe’s systematic bombing of Stalingrad, which began with a thousand-bomber raid and lasted over four days in August 1942, even before the siege had officially begun? Or in the bombing of Minsk, which included the central hospital? Was it morally right for eight hundred thousand Russians, again mostly civilians, to die by bombing, shelling and starvation in the German siege of Leningrad? The conventions of war allow almost any tactic of destruction against a defended fortress town and the people within it, once it has refused to surrender. But is such a thing, on such a scale, more or less MORAL compared with the bombing of Dresden?”
–Frederick Taylor counters the various myths surrounding the bombing of Dresden, arguing that the Nazi-imposed Total War had long since stripped Dresden of the status of a Kulturstadt, and made it into a military, industrial, and logistical centre of great importance.

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A Soviet soldier in Germany

“How should one treat them, Comrade Captain? Just think of it. They were well off, well fed, and had livestock, vegetable gardens and apple trees. And they invaded us. They went as far as my oblast of Voronezh. For this, Comrade Captain, we should strangle them”
–A Red Army sapper to his superior. Many of the Soviet soldiers were “disgusted by the plenty” they encountered as they burned, raped and pillaged their way across Germany.

The notion of Value

“Banks and Financial Institutions have forgotten (or ignored) the fact that money has no intrinsic value; it is a token of exchange, a way of comparing our valuation of disparate goods and services and a way of valuing the labour we sell”
–Reader comment in The Ecologist

I’ve been reading Adam Smith of late, and that comment struck a chord.

Currently Reading: An Inquiry into the Causes of the Wealth of Nations (Adam Smith, 1776)
Music: Alice in Chains (Alice in Chains, 1995)