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.