Respectful Insolence

Back in October, Jamie McCarthy and I castigated Bill O’Reilly for implying that at Malmedy in December 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge U.S. Airborne troops had massacred Nazis soldiers who had surrendered when in fact the Malmedy massacre was perpetrated by SS troops to whom U.S. soldiers had surrendered. Naturally, after ragging on him a bit, we wrote it off as yet another example of Bill O’Reilly’s self-confident ignorance. I figured O’Reilly had simply mixed up historical facts in his eagerness to defend the abuses at Abu Ghraib by pointing to supposed atrocities committed by U.S. forces during World War II and that, once burned, he would be unlikely to make that same mistake again.

How incorrect I was!

Tuesday night, O’Reilly topped even himself for sheer historical ignorance and idiocy. While discussing the killings by U.S. troops at Haditha, Bill O’Reilly invoked Malmedy again. Only this time he did not imply anything. He explicitly stated 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. And been documented.

You won’t be able to find this exact quote on the Fox news website, because it’s been scrubbed from the official transcript, with the word “Malmedy” replaced by “Normandy.” Fortunately, you can find the original video documenting what O’Reilly actually said here, with Keith Olbermann’s blistering takedown of O’Reilly’s despicable idiocy. There is no doubt at all that O’Reilly said “Malmedy,” not “Normandy.” Particularly disgusting is O’Reilly’s lame explanation when reader mail pointed out to him that he had gotten his facts wrong. I can’t imagine why O’Reilly would keep making such a historically erroneous statement, given that his remarks are likely to tick off a large part of his core audience (at least the ones with some knowledge of World War II history). The only explanation I can think of is that O’Reilly seems to think that if members of the “Greatest Generation” committed atrocities during what we consider to be a just war, then he can argue that the abuses at Abu Ghraib (warning: graphic images) and the massacre at Haditha are no big deal. It’s the “shit happens during war” defense at the expense of sliming the American soldiers murdered at Malmedy.

Of course, in this whole incident, it’s not just Bill O’Reilly that infuriates me. I now consider General Wesley Clark to be just as big of an idiot as he. Clark had not one, but two chances to counter O’Reilly’s ignorant bloviations but chose to remain silent. I could forgive him the first time (perhaps he was simply so taken aback that he didn’t know how to react), but not this second time. It’s not clear to me whether Clark remained silent because he simply doesn’t know the facts about Malmedy or because he was just too timid to give O’Reilly the bitch-slapping on the air that he so richly deserved. As a retired four star general who served his nation so honorably and bravely for so many years, Clark should know a little military history–they do still teach that stuff in West Point, don’t they?–particularly of his own military. He should know that it was the SS who murdered U.S. troops at Malmedy, not the other way around. Yet he said nothing when O’Reilly implied in October that it was U.S. troops who murdered Nazis at Malmedy and he again said nothing on Tuesday when O’Reilly explicitly stated that U.S. troops murdered SS troops at Malmedy! Any self-respecting veteran or soldier with a little knowledge of World War II history would have publicly ripped O’Reilly a new orifice for his slurs upon the U.S. Army or, at the very least, would have ripped off his microphone in disgust and left the studio, preferably with the fluorish of a colorful stream of profanity.

Yet Clark said nothing and did not even disagree with O’Reilly.

I think Keith Olberman put it best:

When you’re that wrong — when you’re defending Nazi War Criminals and pinning their crimes on Americans, and you get caught doing so–twice–you’re supposed to say ‘I’m sorry, I was wrong’… and then you should shut up for a long time. Instead, Fox washed its transcript of O’Reilly’s remarks Tuesday — its website claims O’Reilly said “In Normandy…” when in fact he said, “In Malmedy…”

The rewriting of past reporting — worthy of Orwell — has now carried over into such on-line transcription services as Burrell’s and Factiva. Whatever did or did not happen later, in supposed or actual retribution… the victims at Malmedy, were Americans, gunned down while surrendering — by Nazis in 1944 — and again, Tuesday Night and Wednesday Night — by a false patriot who would rather be loud than right.

“In Malmedy, as you know,” Bill O’Reilly said Tuesday night, in some indecipherable attempt to defend the events of Haditha, “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.”

The victims at Malmedy in December, 1944… were Americans. Americans with their hands in the air. Americans who were unarmed. That’s on the record. And documented.

And their memory deserves better than Bill O’Reilly.

We all do.

Their memory also deserves beter than weasely Wesley Clark.

Comments

  1. #1 pough
    June 2, 2006

    So… what happened in Normandy? I mean, we are talking about foreign places, right? Aren’t they all the same? If events happened in Normandy that match the description, I’d be inclined to let him off the hook (in these cases) based on the sort of people who just never seem to have a great connection between their brain and their tongue – particularly when it comes to foreign places and words.

    Still and all, O’Reilly is an obnoxious moron. It’s tempting to lambaste him every chance we get. If nothing matching that description ever happened in Normany, he’s a damn liar and the Orwellian edit is more than a little bit baffling.

  2. #2 Mekei
    June 2, 2006

    I had the honor interacting with a patient years ago who was a survivor of the Battle of the Bulge. He recounted the events just as Orac as described. I can’t imagine the scars of that day or that battle. O’Reilly has it all wrong. I wish this gentleman were still alive so he could take the bloated bloviator to task.

  3. #3 Sastra
    June 2, 2006

    If Normandy was indeed intended instead of Malmedy, I suspect the incident “we all know about” where Americans shot surrendering Nazis was recorded and documented by Ron Howard. What do you want to bet O’Reilly is somehow using “Saving Private Ryan” as a factual documentary?

  4. #4 natural cynic
    June 2, 2006

    The fact manglers at Fox may have had a Reaganesque moment by confusing something in the movies with fact with respect to Normandy. If you remember at the end of Saving Private Ryan, the wimpy translator/corporal kills the german soldier in cold blood because he participated in the fight that killed the captain played by Tom Hanks. This happened after that particular soldier was captured and let go by Hanks’ platoon after he promised not to fight.

    [That there were several actual individual revenge killings - similar to the movie depiction - done by Americans in WWII would not at all surprise me at all]

  5. #5 Mark Paris
    June 2, 2006

    The thing that makes O’Reilly’s error so bad is that Malmedy was infamous at the time and remains so today. Anyone with a smattering of historical knowledge has heard of the Malmedy Massacre. It’s as bad as saying that Custer killed all the Indians at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

  6. #6 Orac
    June 2, 2006

    If Normandy was indeed intended instead of Malmedy, I suspect the incident “we all know about” where Americans shot surrendering Nazis was recorded and documented by Ron Howard.

    Actually, I think it was Steven Spielberg. ;-)

  7. #7 Roman Werpachowski
    June 2, 2006

    Anyone with a smattering of historical knowledge has heard of the Malmedy Massacre.

    In the USA, yes. In Poland, no. I think of myself as having a bit more than a smattering of historical knowledge, but it wasn’t until recently that, while reading commentaries on the excellent series “Band of brothers” I read about Malmedy.

    [That there were several actual individual revenge killings - similar to the movie depiction - done by Americans in WWII would not at all surprise me at all]

    They might be more common than you think. It’s against basic instincts to let live a man who an hour ago killed or wounded your best buddies. In the heat of battle, people may go mad sometimes. Whoever thinks his country’s army in a large war acted like a bunch of saints, is hopelessly naive.

    Also, if someone says that “Americans killed POWs at Normandy”, he probably is confusing things. Americans did not (maybe there were some incidents, but I’m talking about generalities here) kill prisoners there. They simply DID NOT TAKE THEM. When you’re outnumbered, in no position to keep POWs under control, you do not accept the enemy’s surrender. The paratroopers, for example, when dropped on the enemy’s rear, will almost never take prisoners. What would they do with them? The same could be said about the troops who just landed on the beach. It’s combat, and it’s main purpose is to stay alive and kill your enemies…

  8. #8 Dave S.
    June 2, 2006

    Sastra writes:

    If Normandy was indeed intended instead of Malmedy, I suspect the incident “we all know about” where Americans shot surrendering Nazis was recorded and documented by Ron Howard. What do you want to bet O’Reilly is somehow using “Saving Private Ryan” as a factual documentary?

    You know, I thought the same thing. Not only did that German get shot at the end of the movie as natural cynic mentions, but another was shot while surrendering near the beginning of the film, close to the end of the big invasion scene. And I don’t doubt there may have been an isolated incident here and there of a German POW getting shot. Nothing like a systematic massacre of unarmed men though!

    But the reason I’m writing now is to point out that as it happens, there indeed was another massacre that did happen during the Normandy campaign. In the Caen sector were deployed elements of the 12th SS Panzer Hitlerjugend Divison under SS Colonel Kurt Meyer. On D+1, 23 captured Canadian soldiers were told to disarm and remove their helmets. Then were shot at close range. Some had their bodies dragged to the street to be run over by German tanks to the disgust of the French civilians. Others were taken to the Abbaye d’Ardenne, interrogated, and then executed, first as small numbers, and then as larger groups. Overall some 120-160 Canadian soldiers met their end this way. Meyer was convicted and spent time in prison, but it was never clear (at least as I understand it) how culpable he was personally.

    Although matbe I should check with Bill, as it could have been the other way around.

  9. #9 Roman Werpachowski
    June 2, 2006

    For example, a sniper who runs out of ammunition and then tries to surrender to the very troops he was firing on (and killing), IMHO has a low chance of survival.

  10. #10 Mark Paris
    June 2, 2006

    Roman, it should probably come as no surprise that the Malmedy Massacre is less familiar to Poles because it involved US and German troops, and Poland had already had its share of atrocities. As to your sniper example, my father (a WW II vet) recounted just such an incident.

  11. #11 Tim
    June 2, 2006

    “You know, I thought the same thing. Not only did that German get shot at the end of the movie as natural cynic mentions, but another was shot while surrendering near the beginning of the film, close to the end of the big invasion scene. ”

    He was actually Czech
    (from IMDB):The two “German” soldiers who are shot trying to surrender were speaking Czech. They were saying, “Please don’t shoot me, I am not German, I am Czech, I didn’t kill anyone, I am Czech!” They were members of what the Germans called Ost [East] Battalions, men–mostly Czech and Polish–taken prisoner in eastern European countries invaded by Germany and forced into the German army.

  12. #12 Ktesibios
    June 2, 2006

    In his autobiography The Brass Ring Bill Mauldin recounted seeing the capture of a German officer- a lieutenant or captain- who had been left behind by his retreating unit because he was too badly wounded to move, and a private from the man’s unit who had volunteered to stay behind with him and care for him until the advancing Americans caught up.

    Mauldin noted that surrendering individually like that was not a guaranteed ticket out of the war, that if the man you tried to surrender to was in a hurry, badly frazzled or had just lost a friend, he was likely to shoot.

    He also noted that the GIs seemed to have their own opinion of a man who would take that risk for the sake of a fellow soldier, and of an officer who could inspire that kind of loyalty in his men. He said they were handling the wounded officer very gently and had given the private cigarettes and rations from their own personal supplies.

    O’Reilly is clearly in desperate need of a good swift kick in the chops, and we’re in desperate need of politicians with the stones to stand up to a cheap bully and administer the treatment P.R.N.

  13. #13 Roman Werpachowski
    June 2, 2006

    They were members of what the Germans called Ost [East] Battalions, men–mostly Czech and Polish–taken prisoner in eastern European countries invaded by Germany and forced into the German army.

    AFAIK, they were not forced – they were volunteers. The Germans forced only people from Silesia and Kaszuby (two regions of Poland) to join Wehrmacht (the story of one such man played a role in Poland’s recent presidential elections). The people in the “main” occupied Poland were not forced to the army, only as a slave labour.

  14. #14 nomial
    June 2, 2006

    I thought the “Massacre”, had been de-bunked, the men were shot while trying to escape was the story that I heard.

  15. #15 DarkSyde
    June 2, 2006

    I don’t think you fully understand how Fox News works or O’Reilly’s ability to throw a hissy fit and get his way on anything. Remember: This network paid off a former producer something to the tune of 10 mill when that lady had a tape of O’Reilly saying some pretty naughty stuff.

    IOW, I don’t know for a fact, but it is my guess based on past performance and current gripes running around among Fox guests that had Clark wanted to say something and blast Bill 1) He would have been told NOT TO DO IT and 2) It would have been edited out or the mike cut had he tried anyway, plus he would have been fired.

    People automatically assume that guests on Fox (Or anywhere else for that matter) are free to say what they wish. Incorrect, this is showbiz, ratings rules, it isn’t the news business, it’s the advertising and selling business. And egos like O’Reilly’s are preserved to extraoridnary lengths to keep them happy. They have some of the most Orwellian ‘pre-interview agreements’ you’ve ever seen. Most folks, like Jack Murtha and even some Repubs, will not appear on The Factor precisely because of this practice. Whichincidentally, O’Reilly then uses to claim they’re ‘scared of debating him.’

  16. #16 Sastra
    June 2, 2006

    “If Normandy was indeed intended instead of Malmedy, I suspect the incident “we all know about” where Americans shot surrendering Nazis was recorded and documented by Ron Howard.”

    Orac wrote:

    Actually, I think it was Steven Spielberg. ;-)

    Ah, so it was. Perhaps I was thinking of “Saving the Da Vinci Code” ;)

    Early in the film, during the invasion of Normandy, the American soldiers who have finally gotten up that hill are shown shooting lines of nazis who run out of the bunkers with their arms up. If this is based on actual accounts, it might have been a case of what Roman said, being unable (or unwilling) to take prisoners at all. This was the specific scene I was thinking of — and which I suspect O’Reilly was thinking of — though there is that example of personal revenge killing at the end.

    Even so, if O’Reilly got his documentation from a Spielberg movie, my naive faith and trust in his credibility is on the way to being damaged…

  17. #17 Lucas McCarty
    June 2, 2006

    I can also say that the Malmedy massacre isn’t well-known in Britain either. Our history of WW2 focuses on reminding us that it was Neville Chamberlin that declared war on Germany and not Churchill as is often belived because the recording of him saying so on the radio sounded like Churchill.

    The Battle of Britain was a blitz, some shooting back from the ground, inventing radar, inventing the Spitfire, stealing the Enigma and letting Ben Affleck take the credit and completely overlooking that Churchill was an awful domestic prime minister no matter how great an inspiration he was in hard times.

    Most of the information given to me in school about the Battle of Europe talked about how the French were as they put it ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’ who built their firing bunkers facing the wrong way in towards France instead of Germany. Very Blackadder.

  18. #18 Jurjen
    June 2, 2006

    I’m not so certain the transcript was “scrubbed”; rather, I’d surmise that the person who wrote the transcript had simply never heard of Malmédy and consequently parsed it incorrectly as “Normandy.”
    It should be noted that there were instances of American GIs (and other Allied troops, for that matter) refusing to “give quarter” and killing German troops who were trying to surrender, but that’s not quite on the same level as killing enemy soldiers who have already been taken prisoner (especially since the Germans in question often did not try to surrender until their ammunition ran out, by which time they might have inflicted some casualties on the Americans). I think the only instances of GIs shooting Germans who were trying to surrender and had not put up a fight beforehand occurred during the liberation of concentration camps, and the reports of those events are inconsistent.

  19. #19 Prup aka Jim Benton
    June 2, 2006

    The story is a LITTLE more complex than you say. The events at Malmedy occurred as you described them. The SS men were captured — it was the “Blowtorch Battalion, btw — and imprisoned by the Americans. After the war, a claim was made by the SS men that they had been mistreated, tortured, and forced to confess by the Americans holding them prisoner. A prominent US Senator — well, not prominent at the time — with a strong German-American constituency brought these claims to the floor of the Senate, and an investigation was held, proving, despite the grandstanding and obfuscation of the Senator, that the claims were totally false. I am unaware if that Senator’s defenders accept his accuracy in this deception as they accept the claims he made later in his career, and if O’Reilly is one of those defenders, as he might well be, and is merely confusing the two stories.

    The Senator was Joseph McCarthy. The story is told in Richard Rovere’s SENATOR JOE MC CARTHY, p 111-118 (Meridian edition).

  20. #20 PZ Myers
    June 3, 2006

    I’ll be sitting on a panel with Wesley Clark next week. Shall I tell him to show a little more spine in his interviews with O’Reilly?

  21. #21 Orac
    June 3, 2006

    Please do if you get the opportunity.

    Feel free to print up my post above and Jamie’s and my posts from October to show to him. Use my real name if you wish.

  22. #22 guthrie
    June 3, 2006

    [quote]I’ll be sitting on a panel with Wesley Clark next week. Shall I tell him to show a little more spine in his interviews with O’Reilly?

    Posted by: PZ Myers | June 3, 2006 08:49 AM

    Please do if you get the opportunity.

    Feel free to print up my post above and Jamie’s and my posts from October to show to him. Use my real name if you wish.

    Posted by: Orac | June 3, 2006 09:53 AM

    [/quote]
    Now thats how I like to see the internet use!

  23. #23 Nsherrard
    June 3, 2006

    I have a healthy contempt for Mr. O’Reilly, who is undoubtedly a blowhard ignoramus. Moreover, any attempt to defend wartime atrocities is despicable. Nevertheless, I find myself increasingly aggravated by the shock expressed when such atrocities occur. It seems to me the utter height of naivete (or perhaps duplicity), to then express dismay when said young men don’t treat the enemy with humanity and compassion. How absurd to expect a soldier to kill the enemy and treat the enemy honorably at the same time. This is especially difficult in an occupation, where it is often impossible to distinguish between a combatant and a civilian. Expecting such a double standard to work is unrealistic. Let me restate, for clarity’s sake, I am by no means defending these actions. I am simply fed up when people are shocked, SHOCKED, that our guys could do something like this. Only the hopelessly naive or unrepentantly disingenuous could hold such a point of view.

  24. #24 Nsherrard
    June 3, 2006

    Apologies, but somehow I accidentally deleted a clause in the editing process. The post should read:

    I have a healthy contempt for Mr. O’Reilly, who is undoubtedly a blowhard ignoramus. Moreover, any attempt to defend wartime atrocities is despicable. Nevertheless, I find myself increasingly aggravated by the shock expressed when such atrocities occur. It seems to me the utter height of naivete (or perhaps duplicity), to send young men to kill the enemy, then express dismay when said young men don’t treat the enemy with humanity and compassion. How absurd to expect a soldier to kill the enemy and treat the enemy honorably at the same time. This is especially difficult in an occupation, where it is often impossible to distinguish between a combatant and a civilian. Expecting such a double standard to work is unrealistic. Let me restate, for clarity’s sake, I am by no means defending these actions. I am simply fed up when people are shocked, SHOCKED, that our guys could do something like this. Only the hopelessly naive or unrepentantly disingenuous could hold such a point of view.

  25. #25 Orac
    June 4, 2006

    I am simply fed up when people are shocked, SHOCKED, that our guys could do something like this. Only the hopelessly naive or unrepentantly disingenuous could hold such a point of view.

    Straw man argument. Never did I say I was shocked–SHOCKED!–that such things happen. I was merely expressing my outrage that Bill O’Reilly, in his zeal to justify recent abuses by pointing to past abuses, slimed honorable and brave American soldiers who were the victims of a war crime.

    If O’Reilly had wanted to point to abuses by American soldiers during World War II, he might better have pointed to the liberation of Dachau, where a number (the exact number is under dispute and estimates vary by an order of magnitude) of German guards were shot. I can’t condone that behavior. The killings were wrong and remain a blot on the great deed of liberating the concentration camp. However, given the horror of the atrocities that American soldiers discovered upon liberating Dachau, particularly a string of over thirty railway cars filled to capacity with the emaciated corpses of men, women, and children, many in advanced states of decomposition, I can understand why it happened. Seeing what the Nazis had done would enrage any civilized person.

    Of course, that example wouldn’t have fit with his desire to defend what soldiers in Iraq are alleged to have done, because in this case American troops were clearly meting out vigilante justice on those whom they thought to be the perpetrators of the crimes at Dachau. They were not torturing captured prisoners for information, as U.S. soldiers appear to have done at Abu Ghraib.

  26. #26 Roman Werpachowski
    June 4, 2006

    The irony of the Dachau massacre is that, apparently, the wrong people were shot. Long-time guards fled the camp, leaving some fresh replacements in their stead.

    Vigilante justice is always wrong. It is easy to say “death camp guards were scum and deserved to be shot”. Well, I read recently that even some SS guards in Auschwitz were acting humanly sometimes and pretended not to notice the local people giving bread to the camp prisoners. Maybe they deserved death anyway, but their display of human feelings is enough IMHO to underline their right to a fair trial before punishment.

    One should point out a significant difference between shooting people in the heat of battle or after discovering a death camp (what the Americans did) and shooting POWs as a matter of policy (what the Germans did). The “Wacht am Rhein” plan of the German offensive in the Ardennes included “spreading terror” as a means of softening up the American army (the Germans failed almost totally in this area) and breaking apart the Anglo-American alliance (due to the Eisenhower-Montgomery feud, this part almost happened). How did the SS understood “spreading terror”, everyone can figure out on their own, based on the events in Malmedy and elsewhere. Can one show the evidence of American or British commanders giving such orders?

  27. #27 Nsherrard
    June 4, 2006

    I’m sorry, I should have been clearer–my post was not directed towards you at all, but towards the political establishment. It’s just something that’s been floating around in my head, and your original post brought it bubbling to the surface. I wasn’t saying YOU were shocked, merely that the attitude of shock is prevalent in the media and among politicians. That is where my irritation is directed. Hope that clears things up.

  28. #28 MCC Adobe
    June 5, 2006

    I heard Limbaugh on Friday (?) and he was running the similar defense. Only he sounded like Tokyo Rose – justifying the Japanese invasion of Indochina and even Pearl Harbor. After all, he (Limbaugh) said, We (the US) wouldnt sell them oil or scrap iron any more. What else could they do ?

    The Right is going off their collective rocker.

  29. #29 Roman Werpachowski
    June 5, 2006

    After all, he (Limbaugh) said, We (the US) wouldnt sell them oil or scrap iron any more. What else could they do ?

    Leave China, perhaps?

  30. #30 David H.
    June 5, 2006

    So many comments…where to start?
    The details are a bit dim to me, but there was a case where an American NCO massacred a number Axis POWs in Sicily or Italy (this would be in 1943). His defense: that was what he thought he was expected to do. He pointed to the exhortations of Patton as part of his defense. I don’t recall if he got off. What Wehrmacht apologists (such as what O’Reilly sure sounds like) forget when they cite acts such as this is that such masscres were comparatively rare among the Western Allies in Europe, while they seem to follow the Waffen SS around like flies.
    I wouldn’t necessarily condemn Limbaugh (although I’d like to out of reflex) for his statements about Japan….unless he is portraying them as innocent victims…then condemn away. The U.S. oil embargo was a provocative step and could be perceived as an act of war. Certainly Japan had more cause to hit the U.S. than we did to invade Iraq in 2003 – and Pearl Harbor was a strictly military target, I might add. But in our defense, Japan was an actively expansionist power and certainly a greater threat to U.S. security and aims than Iraq was as well.

  31. #31 Roman Werpachowski
    June 6, 2006

    “The Biscari massacre was a war crime committed by U.S. troops during World War II, in which unarmed German and Italian prisoners of war were killed at Biscari in 1943.

    Following the capture of Biscari Airfield in Sicily on July 14, 1943, seventy-six German and Italian POWs were shot by American troops of the 180th Regimental Combat Team, 45th Division during the Allied invasion Operation Husky. These killings occurred in two separate incidents between July and August 1943. The first incident involved 34 Italians and 2 Germans, while the second involved 40 Italians. The shootings violated Article 13 of the Third Geneva Convention on the treatment of POWs.

    Sergeant Horace T. West was charged in the first incident with killing the 36 POWs under his charge. General George Patton upon hearing of the charge directed the corps commander General Omar Bradley to order West to tell the court that the prisoners were “snipers or attempting to escape or something”. Bradley refused. West admitted that he had participated in the shootings, was found guilty, stripped of rank and sentenced to life in prison, though he was later released as a private. In the second incident, Captain John T. Compton was court-martialed for killing 40 POWs in his charge. He claimed to be following orders. The investigating officer and the Judge Advocate declared that Compton’s actions were unlawful, but he was acquitted. Compton was merely transferred to another regiment and died a year later fighting in Italy. This was seen at the time as a clear case of injustice and differing treatment for officers and NCOs.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biscari_massacre

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