Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Vicariously Duped About Dresden, Or How Dare I Note That Venerated German American Novelist Kurt Vonnegut May Have Spent His Entire Career Making Erroneous Statements About The Fire Bombing Of Dresden, Germany As Told In YouTube Comments And Blog Posts

Last month, I noted that a 2005 BBC programme memorializing the 1945 Allied bombing of Dresden during World War II featured an interview with American novelist and humanist Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut had been in Dresden during the bombing as a prisoner of war, and drew on his experiences of the bombing and its aftermath in his famed novel, Slaughterhouse Five. The problem is that in the novel, the interview, as well as in other writings, Vonnegut erroneously states that the death toll of the bombing was 135,000.

135,000 is a piece of disinformation hatched up by German neo-Nazi, Hans Voigt, and disseminated in English by the British Holocaust denier and fraudulent historian, David Irving. Historical consensus has since placed the actual death toll much lower: generally somewhere between 18 and 25 thousand (most estimates I have seen support the lower figure.)

I posted the following comment to the YouTube video:

The figure of 135,00 that Vonnegut cites is derived from the "The Destruction of Dresden" by David Irving, an infamous Nazi-sympathizer and Holocaust denier. He knowingly based his figures on Nazi propaganda. The figures compiled by the city of Dresden at the time resulted in the estimate of 25,000. A more recent study commissioned by the city of Dresden places the death toll at around 18,000.

I certainly do not believe that Kurt Vonnegut used the 135,000 figure out of sympathy with Irving or Irving's politics. Irving's book, The Destruction of Dresden was was simply the most widely available book on the subject at the time that Vonnegut was attempting to make sense of his wartime experiences and incorporate those experiences into his novel. I am more concerned with the fact that since Slaughterhouse Five and Vonnegut's other literary accounts comprise the primary source for most English speakers' knowledge of the Dresden bombing, that he was repeating the 135,000 figure in 2005, long after Irving had been widely discredited, and that the BBC apparently did not fact check that statement in a programme about the bombing.

My comment was met with hostility as I expected it would. As I learnt when I first took Peter Schumann of Bread and Puppet fame to task on his misrepresentations of both the Warsaw Ghetto and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I found that criticizing venerated figures results in a backlash. What follows are some highlights:

From "vaporcobra" who argued from authority and accused me of being a conspiracy theorist:
You kidding me? Take your conspiracy elsewhere. I didn't mind up until you insulted someone who is obviously a genius and obviously is not manipulated as easily as you infer he is.
Get YOUR facts straight before you insult someone whose work is in the canon.
"masterchiefer123" used some particularly colorful invective:
You're a disgusting brain washed sheep obviously biased its despicable...Trying to make it sound like the allies did no wrong. go learn history, you werent there, kurt vonnegut was...his words or yours?...id choose him obviously
"aboxandtheghostinit" was particularly inventive:
Published in 2008 you say, Vonnegut died and this program was aired in 2007. I don't disagree with the revised numbers but love how you embrace this study yet Irving is a "Holocaust denier" for questioning the numbers that died in the camps. You sound like a Dresden denier and mass murder-sympathizer to me ;)

"aboxandtheghostinit" actually suggests that accepting the the general consensus of historians who have examined all the evidence about the bombing of Dresden over the unsupported statements of Hans Voigt is on par with denying the Holocaust, the best documented genocide in human history.

However, the most clever response was from "ssJokatu":
The numbers keep on dropping. Does it really matter that much in the end?
Vonnegut was hardly a historian, but a fiction writer. We could argue the factual existence of characters in the end.
I don't deny the overestimation by Nazi propaganda, but in the end, in truth, people died. Jews, Refugees, Soldiers, Children, Japs, Chinese, Nazis, and morals. It's immoral to justify death with death, or justify death with different statistics.
135,000 died in a story with aliens in the end. War is cool..

"135,000 died in a story with aliens in the end." I do not suppose that the BBC fact checked the existence of Tralfamadorians either.

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