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Super Bowl Open Thread/Prediction

[ 10 ] February 1, 2015 |

If only this game had happened last year:

Your 2013 record: 12-4, featuring an AFC title game curb-stomping at the hands of the Broncos, who were themselves curb-stomped by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl two weeks later. Obviously, this means that if the Patriots had played the Seahawks, they would have lost 945-6. God, I would love to see that happen in a Super Bowl one day. I’d love to see Pats fans get all stammery and annoying just because Pete Carroll beat them senseless. HE’S NAWT REALLY A GOOD COACH! WE KNOW BETTAH!

As the sarcastic “obviously” suggests, you can’t take the chain literally — the same logic can show that the Raiders (who beat the Chiefs, who beat the Seahawks and the Patriots) were the best team in the NFL this year. But it certainly would have been very hard to see the Patriots beating the Seahawks in the Super Bowl last year. This year, of course, it’s very easy to see. New England is substantially better, Seattle not quite as good. Schatz claims that it could be the closest Super Bowl matchup ever, and it’s not implausible.

I assume if you care you’ve read Barnwell already. The opening insight — that both teams have defenses largely constructed to stop things their opposition in this game doesn’t really do — makes the game especially hard to call. What this near-coin flip comes down to for me is that I think the market is overreacting slightly to last week. The Green Bay game, admittedly, did reveal some real issues. Most notably, Seattle’s receivers are a real problem — if I was making a case for New England, I’d assume Revis takes Baldwin out of the game and ask who’s making plays for Seattle. And Green Bay shut down Seattle’s thinner pass rush — if Rodgers had been healthy, even Mike McCarthy couldn’t have given away enough points to keep Seattle in the game.* New England’s offensive line isn’t Green Bay’s, though, and Wilson isn’t going to play football that would embarrass Ryan Lindley for 50 minutes again. And note that Seattle turned the ball over twice and gave up only 22 points to the Packers — as you may have heard, Seattle can play some defense. Looking at the season as a whole, Seattle is a better team than New England — not much better, but better. And they’re mild underdogs. I think you have to take the point for what should be a terrific game. Seahawks (+1) over Patriots.

*For those who missed them, I think these thoughtful comments from fellow master of strategery Jim Caldwell — exclusive to LGM! — deserve careful consideration:

My biggest issue with McCarthy’s otherwise excellent coaching is I don’t think he used his punter effectively. That’s an awfully big weapon to leave just sitting on the sideline, especially late in the game. For example, on the last drive in regulation, I would have considered punting instead of kicking the field goal. McCarthy still had a timeout, and if he really pinned Seattle deep and trusted his defense, he could have forced a safety or a turnover. Then overtime wouldn’t have even been necessary.

Though it is pretty hard to dispute that McCarthy coached circles around Carroll. I like Carroll’s idea to fake the field goal, but he completely botched it. The better call there is to have the punter/holder take the snap and pooch kick it. That’s what you do when you trust your defense. Having him throw it is a sign of serious weakness and lack of trust.

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No, Company Towns Did Not Represent the Beneficence of Coal Companies to Their Workers

[ 17 ] February 1, 2015 |

Alex Tabarrok wrote a very strange article earlier this week. He decided a defense of the early twentieth century company town was necessary. Arguing that company towns and company stores were necessary extensions of capital investment in isolated places and that the isolation meant that the companies were doing workers a favor by not forcing them to tie themselves down to a place that would isolate them from a national labor market, Tabarrok ultimately wants to rehabilitate the company town as a piece of corporate beneficence that saved workers from the impact of monopoly power over their lives. Tabarrok claims our entire view of company towns and exploitation is backward.

Before going into the many problems here, let’s note where Tabarrok is closest to right. It is certainly true that most, although not all (Pullman for instance) company towns were in isolated places, especially the mountains of Appalachia, but also mining regions elsewhere, logging towns, etc. There wasn’t a lot of preexisting economic opportunity in these areas and building a town might make sense for a company in order to get out the resources more quickly than if relying on local labor or private concerns to build housing. That investment meant a quicker overall profit. And no, there certainly wasn’t going to be a variety of stores for workers to choose from that could create low costs through competition. These were usually small places that didn’t have enough people to support a lot of stores. And given that, it is certainly possible that a private store might have charged prices equally high or maybe even higher than a company store. Company towns were not monolithic. Some treated workers well, others poorly. People made community in these towns as they did everywhere. Ultimately, the cost and trouble of running these towns eventually convinced most companies to shed them by World War II, especially since most people had automobiles by this point and could drive to work and since labor law had undermined corporate control over workers in the previous decade so that the advantages of the towns had disappeared.

But that is far from the full story of company towns, as much as Tabarrok would like to make that story strictly quantitative. What Tabarrok doesn’t seem to understand (or perhaps he approves of this) is that a very important advantage for employers in company towns is that they increased their control over the workforce. That meant everything from implementing aesthetic preferences in housing to threatening to kicking workers out of housing during labor disputes. In a documentary on the company town of Valsetz, Oregon, one man remembered that the company store only sold one kind of beer because it was the owner’s favorite beer. Tabarrok doesn’t even mention company scrip in his defense of these towns. Whether the prices at these company stores were higher than other stores or not becomes irrelevant when you can’t buy at those stores because you are not paid in cash money. The entire purpose of scrip is to control workers’ spending, whether you charge unreasonable rates or not. Again, not every company town used scrip, but some did and that has to be discussed in any defense of company towns. And from having read internal industry debates on logging camps in the 1910s (essentially temporary company towns), I can tell you that at least in that industry, the majority of the employers openly wanted to make profit off the camp cookhouses, in part because they wanted to take back some of the wages they paid to workers and in part because they believed that without the profit motive there was no way to create an efficient cooking operation. These employers were not doing workers any favors through the company towns. They were doing themselves favors that perhaps sometimes also benefited workers.

And what about company housing? Notice how Tabarrok glides by the issue that companies could kick workers out of housing if they went on strike.

On the one hand, this did mean that during a lengthy strike the firm could evict the workers from their housing. On the other hand, would you want to buy a house in an isolated town dependent on a single industry?

First, most of these workers weren’t buying houses in the type of housing market that exists today or had the money to anyway, but let’s just leave that. You can’t just say “oh one the one hand sure the company could toss you on the street at their own whim while…” That’s a big deal! Yeah, you could be kicked out of your homes. Like at Ludlow, when Colorado Fuel & Iron tossed the miners out of their homes when they struck, forcing them onto a tent town just off the mountains during a Colorado winter (imagine the wind!) and then burning the tent town and killing a bunch of people. And if the Ludlow Massacre was not necessarily a common event, the eviction was common. If you didn’t live in company housing, at least you could try to do something to make ends meet if you lost your job or went on strike. Thus company housing provided companies an enormous amount of control over their workers’ lives because they could threaten them with eviction. Given the poverty of coal miners and the isolation of the miners, it’s not like most had good options to just go find another job. The same isolation that Tabarrok says made companies do the right thing by workers through these towns also vastly increased employer power over the workforce.

Tabarrok also compares these company towns to oil rigs today, writing

Oil rigs are similarly isolated today and once on board the workers have nowhere to go but the company restaurant, the company theater and the company gym but that hardly means that the workers are exploited.

Do we know that? What are the prices charged in these stores? How does it compare to workers’ wages? And in fact, workers are exploited on the oil rigs, which I guess serves as something close to a company town. That is an extraordinarily dangerous job and workers have few rights on the rigs. Guestworkers from India working on the rigs after Hurricane Katrina were openly exploited. The job pays fairly well for blue collar labor in the 21st century, but conditions are very dangerous. As the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, with noted Wobbly organizer and former Florida senator Bob Graham as co-chair, reported to President Obama, the conditions of work on these offshore oil rigs need a massive overhaul to prevent the deaths of these workers.

Finally, Tabarrok trivializes the popular memory of these towns as irrelevant and wrong, which exposes problems with his entire way of viewing the world. Tabarrok of course doesn’t much care about things like memory as he wants the quantitative data he believes answers all major questions. But for as much as he might dismiss “Sixteen Tons” with its classic line “I sold my soul to the company store,” the song became a hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford (written by Merle Travis and recorded on his groundbreaking 1947 album Folk Songs of the Hills), it is how the people who listened to country music in the mid-20th century, many of whom had personal memories of company towns or even still lived in one, remembered these towns. I argue that the lyrics of country music, even the bad country music of Nashville today, does in fact provide an honest window into the popular thought of the audience for this music, whether the people of the mountains in the 1930s, southern migrants living in Detroit in the 1950s, the white working class angry over Vietnam protests in 1970, or the suburban women who make up the core of the music’s fans in the present. You can’t just dismiss how popular culture talks about these issues. There is a reason that many workers hated these company towns and that there is so much Appalachian popular culture, including country music lyrics, that remembers this situation so unfavorably. That can’t be ignored or dismissed. Rather, it’s a sign that workers (who Tabarrok claims aren’t stupid but who he doesn’t show much respect for) hated the exploitation they faced in these towns and flocked to the United Mine Workers of America as soon as they could.

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Defining Greatness Down

[ 48 ] February 1, 2015 |

Nothing against him, but Jerome Bettis in the Hall of Fame? I know he had a long career, but it consisted of mostly mediocre or replacement-level performance at a low-impact position. He had two premium quality years, and in neither was he the best RB in the league. It would be like putting, I dunno, Arthur Rhodes in Cooperstown. I don’t think Terrell Davis is a Hall of Famer either, but I’d certainly put him far above Bettis. And Warner’s on a whole other planet.

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Book Review: Eric Thomas Chester, The Wobblies in Their Heyday: The Rise and Destruction of the Industrial Workers of the World during the World War I Era

[ 12 ] February 1, 2015 |

Eric Thomas Chester’s new book on the rise and fall of the Industrial Workers of the World before and during World War I provides several key new insights about this union that plays such a large role in the American radical imagination. In particular, Chester makes four key points I think deserve further delineation–that the IWW’s overly masculine rhetoric hurt them significantly, that the IWW vacillating on World War I was a terrible decision that did nothing to protect it from repression, that the IWW was on the verge of transforming the American working class at the point the war began, and that the response to IWW effectiveness is what led to its complete crushing by the combined forces of business, the states, and the federal government during and after the war. Three of these I agree with, one I find problematic.

The IWW started in 1905 and struggled to hold together for several years. The strikes in Lawrence in 1912 and Paterson in 1913 brought the organization to national attention, but the IWW could not gain a significant foothold in eastern states. In the West, however, the IWW had more success, organizing miners, farmworkers, and loggers. These industries had largely male workforces and between the masculine cultural the union developed and the ideological attraction of violent resistance to a lot of desperate men, the use of sabotage became an important principle for the IWW. Wobblies held that industrial sabotage was key to worker power and to punishing corporations for their actions. They talked about it in their publications all the time.

But the IWW rarely if ever actually used sabotage. There were probably isolated incidents—but I say probably because it’s almost impossible to prove, even though industries and government wanted to. The far greater problem was that the violent rhetoric opened the door for criticism and attack of the IWW writ large, which would come back to bite them during World War I.

IWW involvement in the Bisbee copper strike in 1917 plays a pivotal role in Chester’s story because when the Bisbee Deportation happened, it showed that a) business was ready for violent responses to the IWW when the government didn’t step in and when they were threatened by IWW organizing and b) that those businesses would use it an excuse to crush all organizing, including the AFL. This was not palatable to Wilson, who wanted the AFL as a wartime partner. In Butte, when Frank Little arrived from Bisbee, he found a left-leaning miners’ movement united but fractious. Little did not help soothe over those factions. Little’s militancy and his focus on class war prisoners, attempting to tie the Butte strike with the Bisbee Deportation and keep all workers out until the Bisbee workers were freed certainly did not make all factions in the diverse left of Butte comfortable and added to internal divisiveness. But Little was a powerful organizer and his presence frightened the copper magnates and local leaders, who responded by lynching Little in one of the most famous acts of labor violence in American history. Eventually, the Butte and Bisbee strikes both failed but more importantly to the story of the IWW, the violence used against the IWW by employers would demonstrate to the federal government both the threat of the IWW and the threat of employers taking violence into their own hands.

Although Wilson’s record on organized labor was stronger than any previous president, that certainly did not extend to the Wobblies, who Wilson, along with the AFL, held in contempt. Wilson had to walk a fine line here. He wanted the support of Samuel Gompers and other mainstream labor leaders, so despite the desire of many corporate leaders to use the war to crush all labor, Wilson decided to clearly demarcate between the respectable organized labor he valued as a partner and the traitorous organized labor that struck instead of working to defeat Germany. It was easy enough for Gompers to go along. Gompers always held that the AFL was the only true representative of American workers and saw all competitors as enemies to be crushed, even if those unions organized workers the AFL did not bother with. And since the Bisbee Deportation rounded up AFL workers too, Gompers wanted a clear separation between his membership and the IWW so this did not happen again. So with Gompers’ support, Wilson decided to crush the IWW. And crush it he did, with a multifaceted attack that included new laws, rigged courts, and the military. It was brutal and it was effective.

Probably there was nothing the IWW could have done to resist this onslaught. But Chester is right that the Wobblies waffling on the war did not help. The die was already cast with its long history of statements opposing war and supporting sabotage. His claim that it was the IWW’s effectiveness in Bisbee and Butte that caused such a harsh government crackdown is interesting and may be overstated, but the IWW proved enough of a threat in western industries to provoke that response. Had Haywood openly opposed the war instead of realizing, quite correctly, that opposition would be an excuse to repress the IWW, maybe it would have created a broader resistance that would have pushed back against repression. Probably not. But in any case, even without the absurd statements about the IWW being an arm of the Kaiser, the IWW had provided plenty of ammunition against itself with its statements over sabotage to convince enough of the public that it was a real threat that needed violent suppression.

In some ways, the greatest tragedy was the collapse of the IWW over the prison release issue in 1924. With the fanaticism of the war behind the nation, freeing the period’s political prisoners became a popular cause. While Warren Harding maintained a case by case basis for release, Calvin Coolidge wanted the issue behind him entirely. Chester sees this issue as the final government victory for having divided the IWW beyond repair. I am a bit less convinced here. I wonder what would have happened if Big Bill Haywood had remained in the country rather than fleeing to the Soviet Union to avoid prison time. Early in the Wobblies’ existence, there was a great deal of resistance to centralized leadership, but by 1913, Haywood was the clear leader of the union. His departure both demoralized fellow Wobblies and radicals and created a leadership vacuum at a time of crisis. No one could really fill this, especially with major leaders in prison.

My major critique of Chester’s book that is he occasionally projects a radical past he thinks was on the verge of coming into existence. He calls World War I “intensely unpopular in the western states” but that’s far from clear. Moreover, he claims that millions of Americans were looking for IWW leadership on the war and that the union failed them. I’m really unconvinced of that claim. Chester states that workers joined the union fully aware that it demanded revolutionary changes. That is no doubt sometimes true, but there were lots of reasons people joined the IWW, reasons that could be as non-revolutionary as that the IWW controlled some trains that people needed to ride to get a job. Its membership was in constant flux and was never very large. So I don’t buy his claims for a huge section of the American working class ready for forceful resistance against the state and that IWW leadership against the war might have sparked it. You never know, but it feels more like wish than reality.

Still, the major points of this book are spot on. The discussion of the violent rhetoric and its disadvantages is particularly useful in a world where the same kind of sabotage the IWW fantasized about is looked upon as an outright positive by certain, albeit small, sections of the left. Knowing more about the overwhelming state repression of the IWW also reminds us of how the state can be mobilized to crush resistance. Overall, this is a really good book that I strongly recommend.

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Uncle Sam and the Bolsheviki-IWW Rat

[ 19 ] January 31, 2015 |

In 1918 and 1919, the Ford Motor Company produced a bunch of cartoons to support World War I and the Red Scare. This piece of radical eliminationism is from 1919.

Here’s a link with sound, which is better because the rat is singing The Internationale. But I can’t embed it.

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Debts

[ 34 ] January 31, 2015 |

If Germany wants Greece to pay its debts, maybe Germany should pay Greece the reparations for World War II it owes the country.

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The GOP Will Not Have An Alternative to the ACA. Do They Need To?

[ 72 ] January 31, 2015 |

With the Supreme Court quite likely to willfully misread the ACA and destroy the insurance markets in a majority of states, the GOP is again pretending that it will at some point have some alternative policy.  Ed Kilgore (correctly, in my view) thinks there’s virtually no chance of that happening, especially as the fight for the 2016 nomination heats up:

No one at this point in the GOP is addressing how they deal with the ecstatic reaction of their party’s conservative activist base if and when the news blares out on Fox that SCOTUS has landed a lethal spear in the hide of the Great White Whale. Just yesterday polling data came out showing Republican rank-and-file opposed the idea of Congress doing anything to “repair” Obamacare. Ya think maybe the already difficult process of agreeing on a “fix” might be complicated a bit more by the shrieks of “NO! NO! NO!” from every Republican who has been told again and again that the Affordable Care Act is the worst thing to happen to America in living memory? Is it possible a Republican presidential candidate or three would exploit the situation by starting a crusade to destroy any GOP member of Congress who even thinks about “fixing” Obamacare?

The fact that congressional Republicans are highly unlikely to even be able to pretend to have an alternative to the ACA may make the Roberts and/or Kennedy marginally less likely to embrace pure lawlessness in support of Republican policy goals. But should the Court reverse King, will the lack of an alternative hurt the GOP? I don’t really think so. Obama, not congressional Republicans, is likely to take the brunt of the political hit if the Court wrecks the markets. Voters who don’t follow policy details are going to tend to blame the president for bad things that happen, irrespective of who’s actually responsible.

For the same reason, I don’t agree with the arguments I’ve seen in some quarters that the Supreme Court upholding King while using Chevron deference would be barely better than the Court wrecking the exchanges immediately, because a future Republican president would remain free to wreck the markets. I don’t agree. I’m not at all sure that a Republican president would do that unilaterally — the GOP can largely escape political retribution for raising taxes taking insurance away from 10 million people if the Court does it, but not if a Republican president does it. President Walker might do it anyway — but if it’s going to happen, it’s still better that a Republican White House takes appropriate responsibility for it.

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The Big Corn and Pea Man

[ 55 ] January 31, 2015 |

Does this 1945 advertisement make you want to eat corn or curl up in a ball and hope the nightmare goes away?

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The Curse of Chuckie

[ 62 ] January 31, 2015 |

And the Krauthammer Award for Lazy Mendacity goes to… Charles Krauthammer. In the process of using the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz to shill for war against Iran, Chuckie writes:

Didn’t it [deterrence] work against the Soviets? Well, just 17 years into the atomic age,we came harrowingly close to deterrence failure and all-out nuclear war. Moreover, godless communists anticipate no reward in heaven. Atheists calculate differently from jihadists with their cult of death. Name one Soviet suicide bomber.

Former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, known as a moderate, once characterized tiny Israel as a one-bomb country. He acknowledged Israel’s deterrent capacity but noted the asymmetry: “Application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.” Result? Israel eradicated, Islam vindicated. So much for deterrence.

As Krauthammer undoubtedly knows, Cold War hawks regularly invoked the atheism of Soviet and Chinese leaders as justification for concern about Communist nuclear programs. Atheists, with no fear of eternal punishment and no hope of heavenly reward, could not be trusted to value life. In addition to providing a useful explanation for genocidal Soviet policies in Ukraine, the Stalinist purges, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution, the Communist-as-indifferent-to-life trope helped justify attacks on deterrence theory. If Mao and Stalin cared so little about human life that they were willing to kill tens of millions of their own people, then it made no sense to trust their rationality with respect to pushing the button.

And, as Krauthammer is surely aware, there were Soviet suicide bombers. On June 26, 1941 (at least in Soviet propaganda; the reality is murkier) a Soviet pilot named Nikolai Gastello plunged his bomber into a column of German tanks. Suicidal ramming was not an uncommon tactics by Soviet pilots early in the war, the official atheism of the Soviet state notwithstanding. And while I can certainly sympathize with (and even admire) the willingness of Soviet pilots to engage in suicidal self-sacrifice while fighting the Nazis, the question that Krauthammer poses is whether godless communists, who anticipate no reward in heaven, can nevertheless be motivated by nationalistic and ideological commitments to undertake suicide attacks.  The answer is yes.  The answer is also “yes” for Vietnamese Communists, who were sufficiently motivated by nationalistic and ideological commitments to undertake suicide attacks in several instances.

With respect to Rafsanji, I can only assume that Krauthammer appreciates that rhetorical invocations of an Islamic community aside, Iran has behaved far more like a nation-state than an apocalyptic death cult. Indeed, the Islamic Republic has, thus far, demonstrated remarkably little interest in committing national suicide in the service of “vindicating” Islam.  And as Middle East watchers have long noted, while Iran isn’t shy about rhetorically embracing the tactic of suicide bombing (and supporting such tactics in proxies), actually instances of Iranians engaging in suicide attacks are quite rare.

At this point, I find the lazy almost more irritating than the mendacity.  Krauthammer is a rhetorician, largely indifferent to the accuracy of the claims that he makes, but in the past he’s made at least a middling effort to distance himself from the rabble by striking an erudite pose.  In his old age, this seems to be slipping. One would hope that the editors of the Washington Post would expect more from one of their front line columnists, but alas…

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The NFL and the Left

[ 79 ] January 30, 2015 |

Can a leftist have a rooting interest in the Super Bowl? Dave Zirin on why the Seahawks are so awesome from a political perspective:

But to make this a social-media story, or a narrative about the more relaxed nature at the top of the Seahawks organization, takes too much credit away from the courage of the players themselves. To have Seahawks linebacker Michael Bennett use the Super Bowl media scrum to slam the NCAA and say, “I think the NCAA is one of the biggest scams in America” and “I think there are very few schools that actually care about the players. Guys break their legs and they get the worst surgery they could possibly get by the worst doctors with the worst treatment” is more than someone sounding off. It’s an act of solidarity.

To have their always-outspoken cornerback Richard Sherman follow that up by saying, “I tell you from experience that one time I had negative forty bucks in my account. It was in the negative more times than positive. You have to make a decision whether you put gas in your car or get a meal” turns it into a national story.

To have Marshawn Lynch consciously try to control his own labor and by doing so, dredge up the worst impulses in the sports media aristocracy was, intentionally or not, a national service. Thanks to Lynch, we have seen a layer of sports writers regurgitate all of their suppressed bile against young black athletes—tweeting things like their desire for an “English to Marshawn dictionary”—and exposing the long-standing resentments older and mostly whiter sportswriters have towards the people they cover. When Lynch looked at the media and said, “Shout out to all my real Africans out there,” you could almost hear the ventricles in the room constricting.

Plus who does not want to see Roger Goodell squirm if he has to give the MVP trophy to Marshawn Lynch? Now that would be Must See TV! The idiot sports journalist community would also freak out. It’d be great.

Speaking of the NFL, Jeb Lund published a harsh but true attack on Goodell’s NFL in Rolling Stone today. The magazine then pulled it for unspecified reasons. Maybe Goodell is able to persuade mainstream media outlets to kill anything that criticizes him to an extent that even I don’t realize, who knows. You can read the essay at Jeb’s personal website. You should and then publicize Rolling Stone’s cowardice.

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It’s That Time of Year Again…Looking Forward to Game of Thrones, Season 5

[ 25 ] January 30, 2015 |

Thankfully the recent blizzard that hit the northeast did not bring with it White Walkers, pale spiders, wights, and other things that go bump in the (long) night. But it did bring with it the launch of HBO’s Game of Thrones in IMAX and the first proper trailer for Season 5. (EDIT: which it turns out Facebook won’t let me embed)

At 5:30 Eastern, I’ll be discussing the IMAX presentation of Season 4, Episode 9 and 10 and the new trailer with Elana Lavin over at Graphic Policy Radio. You can listen in live here, or just download the podcast afterwards.

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Night Will Fall

[ 67 ] January 30, 2015 |

Night Will Fall is an HBO documentary about one aspect of the Holocaust. Specifically it’s a documentary about the making of another documentary: German Concentration Camps: Factual Survey. GCCFS was filmed, written, and edited — by among others Alfred Hitchcock — in the spring and summer of 1945, but then shelved for political reasons; it was only completed recently, by members of the Imperial War College. It has not yet had any general release, but hopefully Night Will Fall will help change that.

Indeed the most compelling features of Night Will Fall are a few minutes of excerpts from GCCFS, along with digitally restored footage taken for the making of the older film. A few observations:

1. One of the striking aspects of both the British and American response to the liberation of various concentration camps in Germany was that military authorities in both nations immediately mobilized considerable resources to document what their troops had found. Gen. Eisenhower in particular insisted on having a delegation of leaders of both houses of Congress visit the camps at once, even though the war in Europe was still being fought. (The report to Congress this visit generated is well worth reading, as among other things it illustrates how relatively little understanding the Allies had of the true scope and nature of the Final Solution even by the end of the war).

The Russians also brought in cameras to Auschwitz and Majdanek immediately after capturing them. The latter camp was unusually well preserved, because the rapid advance of the Red Army caught the SS by surprise, and much of the sort of evidence that was destroyed at other camps was preserved there. German Concentration Camps: Factual Survey employees some of this footage as well.

All this demonstrates how the Allies appreciated at the the time that the enormity of the Nazis’ crimes would be met with incredulity, no doubt in part because both world wars featured the use on all sides of exaggerated or wholly invented atrocity stories for propaganda purposes. In the case of the Holocaust, the atrocity stories turned out to be considerable understatements.

2. Night Will Fall isn’t an easy film to watch. The restored footage from the camps is in many cases extremely disturbing — as an Imperial War College expert who took part in the restoration notes, the tradition among those who photographed and filmed war had until then been to avoid graphic representations of war’s carnage, but this tradition was certainly not followed by the camera operators (almost all of them military men who had just learned to use their equipment) who chronicled what they found in the camps.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the images is that they make clear the extent to which the deaths in places like Dachau and Bergen-Belsen were products of brute starvation: the sheer emaciation of the corpses (and the film features thousands of corpses, including those of many women and children) is almost beyond belief. A couple of the camera operators — hardened soldiers being interviewed nearly 70 years after the fact — break down in tears when recounting their memories of their roles in the making of the original film.

3. For all the indescribable barbarity and horror of the concentration camps, these camps were in a sense peripheral to the core of the Holocaust: a point which GCCFS cannot have possibly conveyed, since this wasn’t understood at the time, but which the makers of Night Will Fall should have noted.

Although I’m far from an expert in these matters, it seems to me unfortunate that the sites that did make up the core of the Holcaust — Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor, Chelmno, and Auschwitz Birkenau — are referred to in English, following the German usage of the Nazis themselves, as “camps.” The word camp is properly applied to the forced labor prisons, designed originally for political prisoners and other “undesirables,” that are the focus of GCCFS and Night Will Fall. These concentration camps were qualitatively similar to the Soviet gulags, in that, although they ended up killing large numbers of their inmates as a consequence of extremely brutal conditions, rampant disease, starvation diets, and arbitrary executions, they were not designed to carry out bureaucratized, industrialized, carefully cataloged mass murder on a daily basis. What could more properly be called the Nazi murder factories were designed for no other purpose. Indeed these “camps” had essentially no residents, since, with the exception of a handful of inmates conscripted into the sonderkommando, the millions sent to them were murdered within a few hours of their arrival.

The word “camp,” even in the form of “extermination camp” or “death camp” can, I think, obscure what the essence of the Holocaust really was. The Nazis went to extraordinary lengths to hide the existence of these places, and indeed unlike the concentration and labor camps, the murder factories were never liberated or filmed (Auschwitz Birkenau was shut down and mostly dismantled months before the Soviets captured the territory on which it had operated, while the other murder factories were obliterated by the SS when they were abandoned, well before the lands on which they had stood were overrun by the Red Army. The one exception was Majdanek, but it was primarily a concentration camp, and it operated as an extermination center on a relatively small scale).

Holocaust denial is based almost exclusively on this fact, which once again illustrates the prescience of the Allies in doing what they could to document through film those parts of the Nazi murder machine that could not be disassembled before Allied troops swept over them.

Hopefully now that it has finally been completed, German Concentration Camps: Factual Survey will have a general theatrical release, and be made available on DVD. In the meantime, Night Will Fall is a film that ought to be seen.

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