The academic scholars congregated once more in the theatre this week, for a much-anticipated talk by Ben Fletcher on the very topical theme of fake news. However, this was no clichéd adventure into the world of Trump; instead he explored the misconceptions of Dresden, Nanking and the problems of historical revisionism. Events in history I knew a little about, but Ben’s in-depth knowledge of both events showed us all how manipulated they had both become due to political expediency.
Many historians have described the Dresden bombings of February 1945 as merely a British and American attack on German civilians; a merciless aerial onslaught on a culturally and industrially innocent city. At the time, Goebbels (Nazi propaganda minister) announced 300,000 casualties, aiming to humiliate and condemn Allied actions. However, Ben deconstructed this myth; in fact ‘only’ 25,000 died. Most suffocated in the oxygen consuming fire-storms that seemingly would not have been out of place in a Hollywood blockbuster. There were books Ben showed us, one from famous (ex) historian David Irving, that were riddled with fiction, and which aimed solely to blow the event out of proportion and attract flocks of gullible readers. Goebbels escalated the drama just to encourage Germans to hate the Allies even more and to spur on a flagging German war effort.
Ben’s mellifluous tones moved on to Nanking in December 1937, the former capital of China. The Japanese had swarmed through the country and were on their way to Shanghai. They were not expecting the Chinese to hold out there for three months and this caused major embarrassment. They fell back to Nanking and took their revenge on the city. The massacre that ensued has been largely overlooked by history for mainly political reasons in the post-War years. A rather graphic PowerPoint illustrated the brutality of the Japanese, showing thousands of Chinese prisoners slaughtered in pits or buried alive, with many prisoners being forced to bury each other alive. The city was treated like an evil playground by Japanese troops who ran amok. Meanwhile, the world seemed to be turning a blind eye. It is estimated that 300,000 civilians were executed, and once tribunals finally arrived, the leader of it all was granted immunity, as he was a Japanese royal. Everyone in the audience was transfixed, you could have heard a pin drop in the theatre. Ben made it clear that these events should not be ignored.
Although the compelling talk was focused on historical fake news, it concluded with a message that is incredibly relevant in today’s ever-changing, technological world. Check your sources, and don’t instantly believe anything you are told. On behalf of all the academic scholars, I’d like to thank Ben Fletcher for such a well-constructed, knowledgeable and challenging presentation.
Year 11 Academic Scholar