David Neiwert: Famed WWII historian Bill O'Reilly smears yet another Allied hero

Roundup: Media's Take

For some time now, Bill O'Reilly has been so desperate to prove that the Bush administration's use of extreme tactics in the"war on terror" -- including torturing detainees and killing civilians -- that he's even been willing to smear the memories of American veterans of World War II to make that point. Last night on his Fox News show, he added Winston Churchill to the list of smear victims.

We all remember the Malmedy smear, for which O'Reilly has never either apologized or corrected the record:

In Malmedy, as you know, U.S. forces captured S.S. forces who had their hands in the air and were unarmed and they shot them dead, you know that. That's on the record. And documented."

O'Reilly in fact had it completely reversed: At Malmedy, it was American troops who were massacred by SS guards, not the other way around.

Not only did O'Reilly never correct the insulting gaffe, a year later he repeated it:

In Malmedy, as you know, U.S. forces captured SS forces who had their hands in the air, and they were unarmed, and they shot them down. You know that. That’s on the record, been documented. In Iwo Jima, the same thing occurred. Japanese attempted to surrender, and they were burned in their caves.

As Robert Parry observes:

O’Reilly also engages in historical revisionism with his explanation that the small number of Japanese POWs at Iwo Jima and other Pacific battles is proof that U.S. Marines committed systematic murder. According to most historical accounts, the Americans wanted the Japanese soldiers to surrender but they chose to fight to the death.

So last night he wandered into the same waters, claiming that Winston Churchill was likely a war criminal under the standards"the far left" wants to impose on the Bush administration. What started all this was President Obama citing Winston Churchill's views on torture:

O'Reilly: And since then, the Factor has been investigating Winston Churchill's position on waging war and interrogating the enemy. Via Boston University professor Cathal Nolan, we have found out the following:

Churchill actually wanted to use poison gas on the Germans in violation of the Geneva Convention, but was stopped by the British War Cabinet.

The Royal Air Force killed hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of civilians by targeting non-military sites.

And the British operated a number of military interrogation centers during and after World War II, including one called the"London Cage," where German prisoners were beaten, deprived of sleep, and threatened with death.

Another center was opened in Bad Nenndorf on German soil after Churchill left power. It was almost like a concentration camp. British government documents detailed terrible torture inflicted on the Germans. Some of the inmates were branded human skeletons.

Well, is O'Reilly right? Er, as you might expect given his track record -- No.

It's not as egregious a smear as the Malmedy/Iwo Jima claims, but close.

Let's run through these:

-- Yes, the RAF targeted civilian areas. So did the United States -- see, most notoriously, not just Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but also the firebombings of Kobe,Osaka, Nagoya, and Tokyo, which actually resulted in more civilian casualties. Yet the fact is that this is not a war crime. Is Bill O'Reilly suggesting that it is -- and that American troops, by extension, are also war criminals? Need we even mention the word"Vietnam" in the context of this matter?

-- Was Churchill responsible for the"London Cage" abuses? Probably not. ABC's Political Punch has a reasonably good rundown, duly noting that President Obama's Churchill quote that sparked this O'Reilly rant was probably overdrawn. As for Churchill's war-crimes culpability, there's this:

"We don't know what detail he knew about what was happening in interrogation centers," Cobain said."Clearly, he would have known there were interrogation centers. There's no evidence that Churchill knew that people were being tortured there. And of course, Churchill was himself a prisoner of war, and during the Boer War, and wrote at length about his horror of war and his horror of imprisonment."

-- What about Bad Nenndorf? Well, first: Churchill had no responsibility for it. Second: It was in fact widely viewed as criminal, and was dealt with as such:"Four of the camp's officers were brought before courts-martial in 1948 and one of the four was convicted on charges of neglect."

Indeed, Churchill after the war penned this observation in response to the Bad Nenndorff scandal:

"The use of instruments of torture can never be regarded by any decent person as synonymous with justice."

In other words, O'Reilly is smearing yet another hero of World War II just so he can claim that it was OK for Bush to create a torture regime because hey, Churchill did it too.

Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens have more.

Read entire article at Crooks and Liars

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More Comments:

Jonathan Dresner - 5/15/2009

Context is important.

Not as important as getting the facts right, but yeah.

Moreover, culture and law are part of the context. Some of what happened in WWII -- especially the bombardments -- wasn't really a violation of the law of war as it existed at the time but we've had some time to think about things and have decided to evolve.

Donald Wolberg - 5/15/2009

Mr. O'Reilly will never be accused of maintaining two complicated notions in his head at the same time, or perhaps even one! However, emotionalism can frequently cloud the intellect as well. Arguments or assertions without context can muddle the point(s) one is trying to make, as Mr. Neiwert does here--what is the point? Indeed, good people make errors of judgement or act less appropriately than we would wished they had, and in combat, especially nasty hand to hand exchanges, bad things happen. Mr. O'Reilly's accomplishments of the mind escape mst pople, but allied leaders in a struggle against almost incomprehensible evil can only be viewed within the context of their time and situation. Concern for Japanese who would not surrender on Iwo, is avery nice, but I tend to shed more tears for the American kids who had to be there, and die there when they should have been back on the farm in Iowa. Similarly, those who worry about whether Mr. Churchill really considered using gas on the Nazis, something that was never ordered, might compare that supposed action to those Germans who did use gas in the camps or the trucks that put engine exhausts into vans packed with Jews and other "refuse" of the Nazis Empire. Similarly, the British decision to bomb at night was a technological choice because "accurate" bombing required daylight and a lot more British deaths. Even the vaunted Norden bombsight of the American B-24 and B-17 aircraft of the War did not allow for real precision and resulted in daylight attacks that cost 10's of thousands of deaths of American air crews. Context in very important.