Garlasco, part 2

Some friends have made the point, a propos of what I wrote here yesterday, that the Iron Cross is not a specifically Nazi insignia, but a longterm insignia of the German military. Thanks for that clarification.
They also make the completely correct point that it’s important to distinguish between things German and things Nazi.
I don’t have much time to write more here, right now. But I’ve just had a 30-minute phone conversation with Iain Levine, the over-all Director of Programs at HRW, about the Garlasco affair (which I’ll report on here as soon as I have time.) Meantime, very quickly, I want to clarify what my concerns in this regard are:
1. As a Quaker, I find it very troubling that anyone spends much of their free time collecting “military memorabilia”, from any military. I do believe this represents an unhealthy obsession with matters military. If my son had done this in his teens I would have been concerned enough. If he’d continued to obsessively pursue such a hobby till his 30s I would be very seriously worried. Collecting military memorabilia is not the same as collecting old lunch-boxes.
Garlasco’s out-of-hours involvement in this has certainly not been trivial, as the heft of his book reveals.
2. “Collecting” such memorabilia– which also involves a lot of trading, discussing, cataloguing etc–is not the same as being a serious military historian. Has Garlasco’s book, which was published in 2007 January 2008, garnered any pre- or post-publication reviews from serious military historians? Has it been cited by any? I have seen no indication that it has.
3. Within the broader universe of collecting military memorabilia, if that is what a person wants to do, I think one has to put a particular red flag beside Nazi-era German memorabilia, which in Garlasco’s case included an involvement with those from both Wehrmacht and SS units.
All of us who are concerned about the integrity of HRW’s work going forward need to gain a clear understanding of the nature of Garlasco’s collection. He has told HRW officers that it contains both German and American memorabilia from the WW-2 era. But in what balance? I think that information would be helpful.
Within this question of the “balance” of his collecting and related interests, it is relevant to ask why his first book-length publication was on the German artefacts rather than American or other artefacts.
… I think my colleagues and friends at HRW need to gain a very much fuller understanding of the nature of Garlasco’s out-of-hours collecting activity. I have not yet been able to talk to Marc directly. But if, as Levine reported, Garlasco really does want to minimize the damage this affair causes to HRW’s work, then he certainly needs to cooperate very fully, honestly, and in good faith with their efforts to gain that understanding.
One last point. Last night the powers-that-be at HRW did finally send me the text of the (quiet-ish) but apparently fully authorized statement they’ve been circulating on this affair.
Levine explained that the “quiet-ish” nature of this communication is because HRW don’t want to make too much of it in public at this point. But since just about everyone else in the world except me has now been given this text, I obviously am glad to be able to publish it in full here:

    Note on Marc Garlasco, from Human Rights Watch
    (New York, September 9, 2009) – Several blogs and others critical of Human Rights Watch have suggested that Marc Garlasco, Human Rights Watch’s senior military advisor, is a Nazi sympathizer because he collects German (as well as American) military memorabilia. This accusation is demonstrably false and fits into a campaign to deflect attention from Human Rights Watch’s rigorous and detailed reporting on violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Israeli government. Garlasco has co-authored several Human Rights Watch reports on violations of the laws of war, including in Afghanistan, Georgia and Iraq, as well as by Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah.
    Garlasco has never held or expressed Nazi or anti-Semitic views. He prefaced his monograph on military memorabilia by giving thanks that Germany was defeated in the Second World War.
    Garlasco’s grandfather was conscripted into the German armed forces during the Second World War, like virtually all young German men at the time, and served as a radar operator on an anti-aircraft battery. He never joined the Nazi Party, and later became a dedicated pacifist. Meanwhile, Garlasco’s great-uncle was an American B-17 crewman, who survived many attacks by German anti-aircraft gunners.
    Garlasco own family’s experience on both sides of the Second World War has led him to collect military items related to both sides, including American 8th Air Force memorabilia and German Air Force medals and other objects (not from the Nazi Party or the SS, as falsely alleged). Many military historians, and others with an academic interest in the Second World War, including former and active-duty US service members, collect memorabilia from that era.
    Some bloggers have picked up three comments Garlasco made on a memorabilia website in 2005, and a photo of him wearing a sweatshirt with a picture of the Iron Cross and the words in German: “The Iron Cross, 1813, 1870, 1914, 1939 and 1957.” The comments reflect the enthusiasm of a keen collector. They are not in any way indicative of support for Nazis, as has been alleged, and have no bearing on Garlasco’s work for Human Rights Watch.
    Garlasco is the author of a monograph on the history of German Air Force and Army anti-aircraft medals and a contributor to websites that promote serious historical research into the Second World War (and which forbid hate speech). In the foreword he writes of telling his daughters that “the war was horrible and cruel, that Germany lost and for that we should be thankful.”
    To imply that Garlasco’s collection is evidence of Nazi sympathies is not only absurd but an attempt to deflect attention from his deeply felt efforts to uphold the laws of war and minimize civilian suffering in wartime. These falsehoods are an affront to Garlasco and thousands of other serious military historians.

20 thoughts on “Garlasco, part 2

  1. Craig

    “As a Quaker, I find it very troubling that anyone spends much of their free time collecting ‘military memorabilia’, from any military.”
    Helena, I really think you are letting your own moral biases imbalance your judgment here. I’m not interested in collecting military antiques myself, but people are interested in all sorts of things for reasons that don’t necessarily have direct links to their own moral beliefs or allegiances. If Garlasco had been photographed wearing an actual SS uniform (whether vintage or modern reproduction), I would find it odd and a bit creepy, but not much more so than when I see people dressing up as Klingons or vampires. As it happens, Garlasco was only caught wearing a T-shirt with an Iron Cross on it. So what?
    Whether collecting military memorabilia, even Nazi memorabilia, is the same as “collecting old lunch boxes” is kind of beside the point, and anyway I would argue that old lunch boxes are a much sillier thing to collect. A vintage 1967 Flintstones lunch box is nothing but a remnant of trashy pop culture and the corporate exploitation of children; it’s yesterday’s garbage and the only reason I can imagine for wanting one is the nostalgia of remembering when you had carried one to school yourself in first grade. Military memorabilia is at least about something that was genuinely important in its day, whether or not one approves of war in general or the actions of the government associated with any particular piece. And the Nazis, precisely because they were so bizarre and their actions against the Jews, the Gypsies, and others so atrocious and carried out with such cold-blooded precision, are more fascinating than just about any other political or military organization of the last few centuries.
    You are on firmer ground in questionining Garlasco’s credentials as a military historian. Having a large memorabilia collection and writing a book about memorabilia collecting is not the same as being a historian.

  2. Anonymous

    Helena, thanks for clarifying that Garlasco is not Jewish. The question was more than mere curiosity. Certain Jewish archivists are actually quite avid in collecting death camp and SS materials, some even in private collections. Personally, I’ve never fully understood this, but the explanation offered is that it provides the physical means to “never forget”. Thus, such collections are politically acceptable. Ironically, since Marc is not Jewish, he doesn’t qualify for this justification.
    By the way, German war militaria, including that from the Nazi-era, is not the same as KKK regalia. The German example encompasses the functions of a state military, whereas the KKK represents a specific socio-political movement. Thus, respectable museums dedicated to 20th century European conflicts can feature collections of German war militaria, and it is generally considered acceptable. On the other hand, respectable museums find it near impossible to present items belonging to the KKK. (Has anyone seen a KKK item in a museum? I haven’t.)
    Garlasco’s historical work can even be considered valuable, yes, even to serious historians. A reference manual on German flak badges (I’m assuming they are Luftwaffe) can assist researchers handling physical and photographic evidence, in identifying significant individuals, effective dating, unit positions and more. So this is actually not a mere fetish.
    Again, I’m not defending Garlasco. If his work did not include political activism, especially as it concerns the activities of Israel, than such an interest in German war militaria would not, in itself, be something of any real concern. But the fact that it does, well this is a real problem. The uproar that this creates is proof of that, just by judging from these comments alone.
    Garlasco’s interest predates his involvement with HRW. He should have exercised good judgement and not pursued his interest while at HRW. Some might even say, rather persuasively, that his enthusiastic pursuit really disqualifies him from a current position at HRW

  3. Peter H

    Helena,
    To repeat what I wrote on a earlier blog entry of yours, I think Garlasco’s fetish for Nazi paraphernalia is creepy, and certainly unwise given his job responsibilities. The real issue is what relevance this has for Garlasco’s work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nobody has provided a shred of evidence that Garlasco, his hobbies notwithstanding, is a Nazi sympathizer or an anti-Semite. It is therefore completely groundless to insinuate, as right-wing bloggers are, that Garlasco’s fetish for Nazi paraphernalia calls into question the motivations behind his criticisms of Israeli actions in Gaza.

  4. Steve Connors

    I went to see the Tarantino movie a couple of weeks ago – “Inglorious Basterds”. An interesting experience, to say the least.
    There’s a scene in the film that has some relevance to this discussion. For those who haven’t seen the film but intend doing so, slight spoiler alert. Most probably know the basics of the movie’s premise so I won’t go into that here.
    The group from which the film takes its name have attacked a German army patrol killing – and scalping most – and have taken prisoners. One of them is the Wermacht Sergeant, Werner Rackman who Lt Aldo (Brad Pitt’s character) orders to sit on the ground in front of him. Rackman does so and there follows this exchange and description from the final draft of the script:
    LT.ALDO
    Well Werner, if you heard of us, you
    probably heard, we ain’t in the
    prisoner takin business. We in the
    killin Nazi business. And cousin,
    business is boomin.
    The Basterds laugh.
    LT. ALDO
    Now that leaves two ways we can play
    this out. Either kill ya, or let ya
    go. Now weather or not you gonna
    leave this circle alive, depends
    entirely on you.
    Aldo takes out a map of the area, and lays it out in front of his prisoner.
    LT.ALDO
    Up the road a piece, there’s a
    orchard. ‘sides you, we know there’s
    another kraut patrol fuckin around
    here somewhere. Now if that patrol
    were to have any crackshots, that
    orchard, would be a goddamn snipers
    delight. Now if you ever wanna eat
    a sauerkraut sandwich again, you
    gotta show me on this map, where
    they are, you gotta tell me how many
    they are, and you gotta tell me,
    what kinda artillery they carrying
    with ’em?
    SGT.RACHTMAN
    You can’t expect me to divulge
    information that would put German
    lives in danger?
    LT.ALDO
    well, Werner that’s where your wrong.
    Because that’s exactly what I expect.
    I need to know about Germans hidin
    in trees? And you need to tell me?
    And you need to tell me, right now?
    Now take your finger, and point out
    on this map, where this partys bein
    held, how manys comin, and what they
    brought to play with?
    Werner sits, head held high, back straight, chin up, every inch the German hero facing death.
    2S.
    SGT.WERNER
    If I respectfully refuse, sir?
    Aldo jerks his thumb behind him.
    LT.ALDO
    You see that ole boy battin rocks?
    WE RACK FOCUS to a one of The Basterds not in the circle. He’s wearing a wife beater, and power hitting stones with a baseball bat. Werners eyes go to the ballplayer.
    LT.ALDO
    That’s Sgt.Donny Donowitz. But you
    might know him better by his nickname,
    The Bear Jew. Now if you heard of
    Aldo the Apache, you gotta heard about
    The Bear Jew?
    SGT.RACHTMAN
    I heard.
    LT.ALDO
    What did you hear?
    SGT.RACHTMAN
    He beats German soldiers with a club.
    LT.ALDO
    He bashes their brains in with a
    baseball bat, what he does.
    LT. ALDO
    Now Werner, I’m gonna ask you one
    last-goddamn-time, and if you still,
    “respectfully refuse”, I’m callin The
    Bear Jew over here, and he’s gonna take
    that big bat of his, and he’s gonna
    beat your ass to death with it.
    Now take your wennersitnitzel lickin
    finger, and point out on this map
    what I want to know.
    SGT Rackman still refuses to disclose the location of the German units and the audience is treated – in true Tarantino fashion – to the gruesome killing of the prisoner. Pretty standard fare for a QT film, of course, but then something else happened that truly shocked me: a quite substantial number of the members of the audience began to laugh and cheer! Not everyone but enough to make me want to get up and leave the theater in disgust. A friend went a few days later and reported the same response.
    I’m going to leave it at that because I really don’t know what it means but I suspect that Tarantino does.
    Helena, sorry about the profanity in the script, you can edit if you wish.

  5. dartmouth park

    You are right to distinguish between Mr Garlasco’s book, which appears essentially to be a collector’s manual, and military history. There are no references to Mr Garlasco’s work on flak badges in Google Scholar or in any of the journals in the field of which I am aware.
    The fact that the Iron Cross has been around since 1813 is, I think, marginal here. Mr Garlasco is evidently interested in memorabilia of the Third Reich. If someone can show me that he has dealt with considerable numbers of Iron Crosses from say the Napoleonic or Franco-Prussian wars, I will be happy to change my mind.
    Extreme right sites and Nazi paraphernalia are seldom more than a couple of clicks away and to use a name including the digits 88 on such a site indicates to its users that one is a neo-nazi, just like 18 or 14 do.
    My problem with this is not that he writes reports critical of Israel or that he engages in something with such a violent past; I find neither of these things particularly troublesome. My difficulty is that Mr Garlasco evidently has no problem, indeed finds it natural, mixing with some of the most extreme and violent elements on the far right of the political spectrum. Whatever Mr Garlasco’s beliefs, those with whom he associates feel violent hatred towards democracy, people of other races and the very concept of human rights.
    Were Mr Garlasco a private citizen, this would be of no interest. But he is a public figure, representing a human rights organization with a worldwide reputation to defend. He has a responsibility to his employer, and HRW has a responsibility to those who support and defend it around the world. Pictures of Mr Garlasco wearing an Iron Cross shirt, for example, may do great damage to the reputation of HRW in countries like Germany.

  6. mary sue seymour

    look, he said a leather SS jacket made his blood run cold it was so cool! And while your collegues seem to support him and his nazi fetish don’t lose the moment of clarity and join the crazyness! He has been very critical of Israel, and his reports are very controversal. What if he was wrong?
    Also, go look at his photo site! It has all these pictures of kids in Gaza, and nothing in Israel , there were people suffering on both sides.
    Also he has pictures on line of his swastikas and he said he liked to get them out and look at them! who does that? Its the fact that people there dont find this remotely odd that worries me.
    I for one would never believe HRW again.
    And I am certain there are many more people like me. And not because of Marc’s ‘collecting’ or his comments….because of the crazy defense HRW and their lies.
    It was not the Israeli government that broke the news like the letter by HRW in the Gaurdian said it was bloggers and NGO watch.
    How can you expect people to believe you when you lie like that?
    Why would you lie at HRW to protect him if nothing was wrong.
    Its chilling and sad to think of.
    Don’t give up on calling the powers that be on this.
    Don’t let them drag you into thier insanity.

  7. Derick Schilling

    “to use a name including the digits 88 on such a site indicates to its users that one is a neo-nazi, just like 18 or 14 do”
    I believe Mr Garlasco used the screen name “Flak88,” which is probably a reference to the famous German 88mm flak gun and not the phrase “Heil Hitler.” Now, why one would want to use “Flak88” as a screen name is another question entirely.

  8. Warren L

    Steve Connors, thanks for the the snippet about the new Tarantino film, particularly since I don’t think I’ll get around to seeing it in the theatre. Yeah, it’s interesting to put the l’Affaire Garasco against a broader cultural tapestry where you have American audience members cheering on and applauding the brutal cinematic killing of a defenseless, imprisoned soldier.
    I’m so glad our American boys didn’t act like that back during the actual war (you know, that actual “history” thing), in fact we were quite good and humane to Nazi German POW’s. I frankly don’t think the audience reaction reflects any abiding anti-German sentiment. Just the typical dumb American movie audience manipulation of ‘this is the designated bad guy, he’s being brutally killed, cue–I’m supposed to laugh and applaud!!’. The pathetic & unthinking nature of the sadistic audience response is further magnified in that, given the context of a soldier’s code, the prisoner was doing the ‘noble’ thing in terms of sacrificing his life rather than giving away info to the ‘enemy’, don’t think I’d have that bravery, or would most of the snickering audience (who notably aren’t over there fighting in Iraq & Afghanistan).
    Having read Manohla Dargis’ interesting review of the film in the NY Times though, it’s notable that the whole ‘Jewish revenge fantasy’ billing of the film is kind of undermined and problematized by Dargis’s observation that by far the most mesmerizing, seductive, interesting character in the movie is the main SS bad-guy, played by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz. I guess Waltz totally & utterly upstages the rest of the cast and really dominates the film (according to Dargis). So Tarantino is clearly having the last joke on the dumb cheering audience, what a devious guy.
    Bigger point is that it’s this sort of deranged mass culture of ours (evidenced above) that helps give us, or facilitates the acceptance of, two brutal occupations and a lot of dead Arabs, I don’t believe we’ve scalped any of them, though. I can’t imagine our boys back then producing an ‘Abu Ghraib’, or Cheney-style torture, either. Maybe we’re projecting our contemporary degraded values back onto a period of greater American nobility (I’d rather have the old America back). Man, we’ve really gone downhill as a country…

  9. Warren L

    P.S.–sloppy writing above, ‘The L’Affaire’ is obviously a redundancy. My apologies to the francophiles out there.

  10. Titus

    I am with Helena, would I want this sick Nazi pornographer as my kids elementary school teacher? Hell no. These puppies all end up like the old geezer that shot dead a black guard dead at the Holocaust museum. Abandoned by his own son, and in jail in an orange suit.
    Loser.

  11. Joe in Australia

    I’m in the “eeewww” camp. I don’t believe he’s a Nazi sympathiser: the very fact that he was so indiscreet about his hobby implies that he would have been equally bad at hiding his ideology. But it’s sick and sad and taints HRW. Someone who collects Nazi swastikas simply has no credibility when talking about Israel or Jews.
    Incidentally, the fact that he calls himself “Flak88” is troubling. I can’t imagine that this is a mischievous nod to neo-Nazi slogans … but how could he be oblivious to its implications when he works in the field of human rights and (let’s be frank) must have met many neo-Nazi collectors? In isolation it isn’t enough to persuade me that he’s a neo-Nazi, but as I said, it troubles me.

  12. Donald

    “I believe Mr Garlasco used the screen name “Flak88,” which is probably a reference to the famous German 88mm flak gun and not the phrase “Heil Hitler.” Now, why one would want to use “Flak88″ as a screen name is another question entirely.”
    Well, he’s probably expressing solidarity with the gunners shooting at his grand-uncle in the B-17. I mean, that’s the only logical conclusion.
    I think Garlasco should resign–it’s important that HRW be able to issue reports on Israeli atrocities without constantly having this issue brought up by the chorus of Israeli apologists. And one can predict that the New York Times will jump onto this soon, and every future mention of HRW when they discuss Israel will include this stupid controversy.
    That said, collecting Nazi-related objects is a creepy hobby to me, but in itself that’s no reason to accuse someone of Nazi sympathies. Lots of people collect all sorts of creepy things, but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. This is really basic. And Helena’s position, where she is offended by any interest in the military, is so extreme it makes her look like the Quaker thought police. It’s a really judgmental self-righteous position.
    Her calls for civility are going to look really smarmy to me from now on.

  13. dartmouth park

    ‘I believe Mr Garlasco used the screen name “Flak88,” which is probably a reference to the famous German 88mm flak gun and not the phrase “Heil Hitler.”‘
    It may be that Mr Garlasco’s use of the digits ’88’ is entirely innocent. In which case, one has to wonder a) if he is claiming to the large number of nazi sympathizers interested in nazi paraphernalia that he is one of them when he is not; or b) about how someone in this field could be so staggeringly naive. Either way, Mr Garlasco’s sense of judgement doesn’t look very good right now.

  14. Salah

    I don’t believe we’ve scalped any of them,
    looks some they don’t remembered their history well, talking about the war’s brutality that carried by his follows!.
    But good you name it here.

  15. anon

    Just to add my two cents, for what it’s worth. Personally, I think Garlasco should drop his hobby, if he wants to remain in the world of HRW, or similar organisations. But for different reasons than those so far mentioned.
    As a teenager, I too had an interest in military weapons and regalia, in my case more the weapons than the regalia. A typical civilian child, with no intention of entering the military, quite like the War Nerd, if you’ve read his commentaries. I regret that period in my life now, though it taught me a lot about war.
    There are two dangers in such a military hobby:
    1) That there is a tendency to idealise the military, and to see their solutions as right. That is, to prefer military action over diplomatic activity as a solution for international political problems. We’ve already had that with the Bush-Cheyney administration, so it is not limited to military hobbyists.
    2) For the military hobbyists, the Nazis are the perfect military machine, much more interesting than the WW2 US, for example. All military hobbyists feel the draw, though they don’t approve of Nazi politics.
    They are wrong, of course; Nazi military policy was confused. But it has a Germanic air of being systematic. Hobbyists love typologies, where you analyse any object – weapon, medal, etc. – by type, without regard for its signficance.
    Garlasco should grow up, and abandon hie youthful misadventures.

  16. Salah

    Did any one asked/ email the Hasbara pornographer why he doing this hobby? what his motivation while there are more important and more recent war crimes that should concerns him in our living time where the evidence on the ground.
    Is he really is doing this by spends much of his free time? I doubt using his free time spending to do this.
    If some who don’t believe in “scalped” humans as in old brutal wars, the new way DU used in Iraq. DEPLETED URANIUM the war crime that has no end. he or she should go read : URANIUM IN IRAQ: POISONOUS LEGACY OF THE IRAQ WARS

  17. Craig

    Donald: “And Helena’s position, where she is offended by any interest in the military, is so extreme it makes her look like the Quaker thought police. It’s a really judgmental self-righteous position. Her calls for civility are going to look really smarmy to me from now on.”
    I have to agree. I find Helena’s writings on contemporary Middle East issues informative and generally fair, but I am severely disappointed in the moralistic righteousness she is showing on the Garlasco issue. Her extension of Quaker pacifism to an attitude of horror that anyone should take a strong interest in military matters is repellent and revolting. Apparently her respect for diversity does not extend to people who don’t accept her extreme pacifism — which is actually really weird considering how favorably she reports on Hamas. I don’t think Hamas are the incarnation of Pure Evil that Israel and its fellow-travelers would have us believe (in fact Khaled Meshaal seems to me like one of the more sensible people involved in the Israel/Palestine conflict) but quite obviously they’re not pacifists.

  18. Lev

    Marc Garlasco is no a “serious military historian”; as Cobban points out his books are not cited by any serious historians. He’s a man with a Nazi toy fetish and who wears a sweatshirt with the Prussian Cross, a symbol of a nation that started two world wars. This is who HRW installed to judge the actions of the State of Israel. Think about it.

  19. Andrew

    Yes, I believe he is using the name “88” to refer to the caliber of the flak cannon, because he mentions that although he was happy that the Nazis lost the war, it was his grandfather’s experience with a flak battery that led him into the study of World War II.
    If he has not been cited by any historians, then he is at least an amateur historian. I don’t remember any Supreme Court ruling saying that anyone who studies Nazi history minutely, and writes amateur histories about them, is of course a Nazi sympathizer. If that were the case, then the fellow who created the Checkpoint Charlie museum, who wrote an amateur history of the period, would have been a Nazi sympathizer too. He wasn’t.
    This is simplistic thinking and illogic, and/or a smear campaign.

  20. vimothy

    “As a Quaker, I find it very troubling that anyone spends much of their free time collecting “military memorabilia”, from any military. I do believe this represents an unhealthy obsession with matters military.”
    This statement is a bit silly. I don’t have much of a dog in this fight, but clearly, if you want analysts who understand the military, an interest in the military is surely a prerequisite.

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