Last night, I was watching a documentary about the 1943 Nazi film Titanic, an attempt by Göbbels to twist the tragic story of the sinking for German propaganda purposes (Briefly: Titanic sank because of the greed and hubris of British capitalists and despite the heroic efforts of a German first officer.)
The story behind the movie is fascinating (director was arrested by the Gestapo and hanged himself, film was banned by Göbbels and only shown in occupied territories, never in Nazi Germany), but then they screw it all up with a complete fabrication. The ship that was used for the filming, the luxury ocean liner SS Cap Arcona, was herself sunk in May 1945 with about 5,000 concentration camp prisoners on board. The sinking happened in part because of a shake-up of responsibilities between Bomber Command and Fighter Command in the RAF, in the wake of the firebombing of Dresden. But according to the film I just saw, the sinking was deliberately planned by the Nazis who filled the ship with flammable fuel and intentionally put it out for the RAF to bomb. This is just a boldfaced lie (it’s not like the Germans had any fuel reserves left in April 1945, and they certainly didn’t need to resort to such an elaborate plot to end the lives of a mere 5,000 people; besides, several ships were hit that day, including an unmarked German hospital ship) and I keep wondering why, nearly 70 years after the end of World War 2, we are still being subjected to wartime propaganda.
Incidentally, the Web page I linked to above states that the sinking of the Cap Arcona was the world’s greatest ship disaster. Not so. That sad distinction belongs to the MV Wilhelm Gustloff, another German ship that was torpedoed by the Soviets in January 1945 while carrying over 10,000 evacuees, mostly civilians. More than 9,000 people died.
And while I was debating with myself whether or not to turn this into a blog post, I was listening to the noon newscast on CTV Ottawa. In the context of a sexual attack this morning on Metcalfe street, the reporter told us that “in a single day, nearly 5,300 cases of sexual assault are reported in Canada”. What? That is a humongous number. It is also wrong. What actually happened in a single day (April 19, 2006) was that nearly 5,300 victims of sexual assault and other violent offences requested assistance from victim service agencies across Canada. The number of “incidents involving sexual offences” was 27,094 in 2002; that translates into about 75 sexual assaults in a single day. Not 5,300.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, there are lies; there is history; and then there are statistics.
But perhaps “damn lies” is just a synonym for history?