This post was sent to me by a colleague. I wasn’t sure of the WW2 connection at first. The other was talking about how Babylon 5 wasn’t that great, but at least the plot was “consistent and believable.” Unlike Doctor Who where if it were the least bit realistic the Doctor would have been killed the moment he stepped in front of an invading alien nation with nothing but his sonic screwdriver and some unkept hair. But none of that comapres to the completely unbelievable series on the History Channel, “the so-called World War II.”
Let’s start with the bad guys. Battalions of stormtroopers dressed in all black, check. Secret police, check. Determination to brutally kill everyone who doesn’t look like them, check. Leader with a tiny villain mustache and a tendency to go into apopleptic rage when he doesn’t get his way, check. All this from a country that was ordinary, believable, and dare I say it sometimes even sympathetic in previous seasons.
I wouldn’t even mind the lack of originality if they weren’t so heavy-handed about it. Apparently we’re supposed to believe that in the middle of the war the Germans attacked their allies the Russians, starting an unwinnable conflict on two fronts, just to show how sneaky and untrustworthy they could be? And that they diverted all their resources to use in making ever bigger and scarier death camps, even in the middle of a huge war? Real people just aren’t that evil. And that’s not even counting the part where as soon as the plot requires it, they instantly forget about all the racism nonsense and become best buddies with the definitely non-Aryan Japanese.
The author (whom I do not know other than his sobriquet “squid314”) goes on with a brilliant little piece of satire. Again, like the “I Write Like” piece, I think this serves as a nice reminder of the complexity, the unreality if you will, of real life. History often has twists and turns with leaders making inexplicable decisions that from a distance look ludicrous. If squid314 can be so convincing with his farce where we do know the real history imagine how wrong are our reconstructions of history two to three thousand years ago. A bit sobering perhaps.
5 thoughts on “Doctor Who, World War II, and writing history”
I generally suppose “reconstructions” are roughly about as accurate as the data that goes into them.
It sounds like what you (and squid314) are critiquing is the critical mind which refuses to suspend judgment and consider that startling claims just might be reasonable, somehow.
This post is wonderful overall. I just winced a bit at the last line’s seeming suggestion that *all* reconstructions must likely be wrong.
Bill, I would say that reconstructions are at best as accurate as the data that goes into them. The problem is there the data from antiquity is always so (relatively) sparse that we as historians are left with many gaps to fill. And when we begin to discuss motive, as many often do, we are well beyond what the data can provide, unless we happen to have a diary of the person in question where their motives are revealed.
You are certainly correct that my target are those who look at, e.g., historical Jesus research, and say that none of it is plausible when if you used the same rationale we would have to discount so much of what we otherwise accept as historical fact. (And I am leaving aside the miracles and whole resurrection thing.) I do think that all reconstructions are of necessity incomplete. Some are better and thus likely more accurate than others. The problem is when we become so confident in our created edifice that we become arrogant and argue for our creation rather than seeking what actually occurred historically.
And lest my example drive this train of thought down a different track, the same criticisms can be applied to any event in history, take Alexander’s campaigns, Caesar, the American Revolutionary War, etc.
I completely agree. Thanks again.