30 March 2007

WWII as Entertainment

In case you haven't surmised from my earlier posts, I am of a later generation than most writers on the Second World War, neither GI Generation nor Baby Boomer. As such, I wasn't there and wasn't even raised by those who were there.

I find the entire war period fascinating. I devour books about all theatres of the war, both fiction and non-fiction. I grew up watching black-and-white documentaries about the war. I don't think anyone can claim to have seen all the movies about WWII, but I've seen my share. I hope to one day turn Doolittle's into a bookstore to make this all more than just a hobby.

And I game.

I've played computer games, both strategic and tactical. When time, space, and opponents permit, I play table-top wargames. I'm currently involved in a role-playing game set in the 1940s.

But what do you do when your 80+ year-old grandmother turns to you and says "For us it wasn't a game."

One of my favorite web sites for a while was called "Gary's Wargaming Page." Every week or so, he would update a bunch of play-by-play summaries of WWII wargames taking place all around the country, complete with commentary. One day, when I visiting the site, there was just a banner saying that he could no longer keep the site running in good conscience after watching "Saving Private Ryan." A few weeks later, the site was now devoted to tropical fish.

Another of my friends has said that he feels uncomfortable playing in a modern military role-playing campaign while he watches his neighbor recover from wounds he received in Iraq.

Is what Spielberg did with actors in "Ryan" any different than what Gary did with cardboard counters? Does pretending to be a Polish paratrooper at Arnhem Bridge in a role-playing game diminish the sacrifice of a Marine wounded in Fallujah?

I think most gamers realize that everyone involved in war is a person, a human, just like you and me. Even the saints and the monsters were just human. By retelling, replaying, even fictionalizing, their experiences, I don't think that we are dishonoring them.


16 March 2007

Nazi Germany's Antarctic Colony

Today's post is a chance for me to point out one of my favorite snippets of Web-strangeness. Strange Maps has a wonderful 1930's map of Neu-Schwabenland.

The 1938-1939 expedition in which Germany surveyed and claimed this swath of the frozen southern continent has led many of the more conspiracy-minded to believe that the Third Reich lived on (and may yet still live on) in secret bases beneath Antarctic glaciers. Supposedly the massive 1946 survey and training exercise Operation Highjump was an effort by the United States to find and defeat these Aryan hold-outs.

Regardless of Nazi penguin aficionados, the Strange Maps site also holds several other WWII era gems, such as Nazi propaganda claiming secret plans to dismember post-war Germany, actual Dutch plans to expand into German territory, and the Czech aerial threat to the Nazi regime.

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08 March 2007

Captain America, Dead at 66

Marvel Comics has killed-off Captain America.

The patriotic character was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby 9 months before America entered WWII and was centered around that conflict for his first few years. Later, Cap was used by writers to reflect on what they saw as an earlier era's morals and courage.

Of course, there is something ironically fascist about a blond-haired, blue-eyed, super soldier at the 'peak of human potential.' But the comics industry has always had a the problem of how to tell their epic stories without falling into the trap of supporting 'Big Man' theories of history. Captain America's problems are nothing compared to Superman, inspired by Nietzsche's Overman philosophy.

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07 March 2007

Campaign for a Purple Heart Bond

Maybe this is off-topic, maybe not.

Reading the news articles about the utter debacle and poor conditions at Walter Reed Hospital has gotten me thinking about the continuing differences between the Iraq War (and larger War on Terror) and WWII.

Several other folks have commented on the lack of sacrifice requested of the American public in the wake of 9/11. And maybe the world is different now and cutting back on luxuries would only help our enemies. Maybe sacrifice on the home front - victory gardens, conservation, rationing - would do little to help in the fight.
However, I think most Americans can agree that our wounded veterans deserve the best medical care available. Iraq veterans are surviving wounds at amazing rates versus previous wars, but that means that the military and VA medical system are treating a much higher number of patients in long-term care than anyone expected from a war of this size, intensity, and length (assuming anyone expected it to be this long, this bad, and this large).

At the same time, other populations served by the VA are also facing crises. More American WWII vets die a day now than at the height of the fighting in the 40's. Vietnam Vets are heading into their 60s.
To serve all of these folks, the US government should build a network of top-notch, modern medical facilities. I'd like to see 21st Century hospitals and out-patient care facilities that any vet could walk into and staff will have immediate access to his full medical files. Take this opportunity to show what modern medicine can do for chronic injuries, end-of-life issues, and support in the home for the disabled. This new VA system can then serve as an example, and backbone for a more-modern national hospital system.

But how would you pay for such a grand system? I propose a Purple Heart Bond. Much like WWII's War Bonds, this plan would allow individual citizens to do more to help than stick ribbons on their cars. I would even guess that a fair number of these bonds would never be cashed, instead they would serve as patriotic reminders that we can sacrifice some luxury now to help those who need it, and in the end come out with something better than what we had before.

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06 March 2007

Holocaust Archives finally being opened

First, let me apologize for letting Doolittle's go so long without a post. Explanations really aren't worth the digital ink.

OK, for those who do no know me, I'm a professional Records Manager by trade. I've had the honor and joy of touring and working with some of the great archives of the U.S. including the Library of Congress, National Archives, Boston Public Library, and the Smithsonian. Maybe it was these organizations' zeal to make their collections relevant and accessible that made me all the more surprised by this story.

The International Red Cross has been managing the archives of the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen since the end of WWII. This repository contains "files on more than 17 million people who passed through the concentration camps and forced labor camps of the Third Reich, as well as the displaced persons camps that sprang up across Europe after the war." Sounds like a great resource for historians, genealogists, and those who just want to know what happened to friends and relatives who were subjected to this system of camps.

Apparently, attempts to access this information have been effectively stymied by a combination of bureaucratic inertia (the archives are under the jurisdiction of eleven nations), eccentric management, and little to no technological or monetary investment. Now, finally, the information is being digitised (an expected total of 7 terabytes) to be made available to the member nations.

Each country will have to handle the information according to their own privacy rules. In addition, the original hard copies will only be available to family members of those mentioned within them (in order to protect the physical items). But even with these limitations, this will be a huge boon to survivors and their families as well as researchers and historians.

The fall of the Soviet Union and the opening of massive archives in Russia has allowed for new popular and scholarly examinations of the Soviet Gulag. The opening of the ITS archives holds the promise of similar new research not just on the Holocaust, but also on Nazi labor camps, population transfers, and even Nazi rat-line networks such as the infamous ODESSA group.

This release may also help quiet Holocaust deniers. To paraphrase the Supreme Court, the solution to bad information is always more information, not less.

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