Timothy Garton Ash: What he thinks of the blogosphere

Historians in the News

It's taken me nearly a week to read all 353 comments posted on the Guardian blog in response to my column last week about cheese-eating surrender monkeys and fire-eating war junkies. I'm still reeling. Take this post from KCharlesSimmonds: "The west is at war. The enemy has two faces, personified by Mohammad Atta and Timothy Garton Ash. TGA strums away on his keyboard, congratulating himself and us on our complacency and irresolution. Go on, roll over, fall asleep, lie back and take it." Or this from TexansRule: "Islamic fanatics (and there are millions of them!) want us dead, dead, dead. England has long ago lost its backbone and morality. Plus, the English need to make nice with the Muslims as they will be running their country in 20 years." And maimon: "You Eurabians can afford to do nothing - after all, you live in the safety of the American military umbrella - the US taxpayers foot the bill to defend your cheese eating and yet you still bitch about it. Incredible." Not to mention constructive contributions such as this from marbleflat: "DanHiggs is a troll. Ignore him." And so on, and on, and on.

What have I learned? The most interesting things, to me, were not any of the views expressed but the occasional nuggets of fact, or pointers to possible facts. Belsam posted a riveting extract from a 1996 manifesto for "national greatness conservatism" by the neoconservatives Bill Kristol and Bob Kagan, with added links for convenience. Thank you, belsam, whoever and wherever you are. Erbkon suggests that "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" is actually a corruption of "cheese-eating surrender mongers", as delivered in a heavy Scottish accent by Groundskeeper Willie in an episode of The Simpsons. I also liked the story from bessaroth about a New York Times reporter climbing up Iwo Jima hill to ask US war hero Chesty Puller: "Sir, can you tell us what you're fighting for?" Promptly came the answer: "$235 a month." I doubt that it's true - was Chesty Puller even at Iwo Jima? - but it's a nice story.
Yet to find these buried nuggets you have to take an exhausting five-mile trek through a seemingly endless swamp of views - some intelligent, others stupid, some well-informed, others ignorant, some polite, others abusive. How could the trek be made easier and more rewarding? One helpful device would be to enable users to rate contributions, from one to five stars, as happens in some other discussion forums. So as a subsequent reader you could go swiftly hopping through the swamp, from marked mound to mound. In the archived version, those contributions that got fewer than, say, two stars, might appear only as a link. You could still follow the development of the debate, but without having to stumble over so much garbage along the way....

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