Monday, February 11, 2013

Red Wire Blue Wire? Good German, Bad German? Bieganski and "The Guns of Navarone"

Stereotypes of Poles? What stereotypes? 
This is a good German. The plot hinges on his goodness. 
This is a bad German. You can tell because he is so pale. He will be defeated by the Good German.
Otherwise, no Marshall Plan, no NATO. 

Just finished rewatching "The Guns of Navarone," a big, loud, all-star, World War II action adventure film. It's about an international team of Americans, Brits, and Greeks defeating the Nazis in World War II.

Nazis. You may have heard of them? They started World War II. No, really.

"Bieganski" argues that America – and Israel – needed to make peace with Germany very quickly and thoroughly after World War II, for several cultural, financial, and geopolitical reasons. Popular culture reflected this in films that made it clear that a minority of Germans were bad, and that most Germans were good. These films made it very clear that evil was not the German essence.

"Guns of Navarone" does this work as well. The plot of the film hinges on the goodness of some Germans, and the badness of others. There is a good German officer, who is humanitarian and polite. There is a bad SS man, so pale he could glow in the dark. Sadistic. Wants to torture a British officer who has gangrene. The bad German bangs on the Brit's broken, gangrenous leg. He is stopped – by good Germans. The film states very clearly: there was evil in Germany. It was a clearly demarcated minority of the population. In fact, you could pick the bad guys out in a crowd. They were all really white and pale. The good Germans kept them from doing too much harm.

The concept of good, civilized German Nazis is so key to the plot that the team leader, Gregory Peck, leaves a member of his team, the injured, gangrenous British officer, to be captured by Germans, because he knows the Germans will offer expert and compassionate medical care to the captured British officer. Really. REALLY.

Um, how to put this. Humanitarian? Compassionate? Nazis? Mmmm … maybe not so much.

Anyway. All the hate and disgust that WW II and the Holocaust generated had to go somewhere. As a young Israeli I quote in Bieganski put it: "We have to hate somebody, and we've already made up with the Germans." Whom do we hate, then? People who are not like us. The Germans, like us, are clean, modern, formally educated, largely secular or Protestant. We need to hate someone different, someone "backward," someone dirty and "primitive." We select Bieganski, the Brute Polak, as the target of our righteous rage and disgust.

My beloved Polish brothers and sisters try to combat this stereotype by quoting this or that fact about WW II – the number of trees planted for Poles at Yad Vashem, the heroism of Irene Sendler or Jan Karski. These efforts are doomed. It's like trying to put out a fire by taking vitamins. Taking vitamins is a good strategy, but taking vitamins has nothing to do with fires. To fight stereotypes, you need to understand stereotypes, and the activism that defeats stereotypes. You've heard me say this before. Polonia, read the book, and take up activism


  1. Excellent points, Dr. Goska, about the whitewashing of the Germans and the tendency to shift the blame unto Poles.

    I have seen the GUNS OF NAVARONE a long time ago, and reviewed it. For those interested in the review, please click on my name in this specific posting.

  2. I have not seen the film. I have, however, read the book some time ago, in 1971. In the book the gangrenous British officer, one Andy Stevens, was left alone with just a cigarette in his mouth and Sten sub-machine to protect his comrades against advancing German Alpenjaeger, without a prospect for survival. Alistair McLean bitterly well knew the war himself and later tinkering with the plot is of your, American cooking.

    Courtesy of the BBC few days ago I saw another film of similar vintage, "Stalag 17" from 1953. The story goes, as per the title, in German POW camp. The most prominent German role is one Gendarmerie Feldfebel, who is to guard the POWs. The guy is just sweet. I would like to have a father like him. Not only speaks fluent English but also acts as a go-between for American POWs. There's of course, a bad German there too, Herr Kommandant. He tortures one American flyer as to extract from him an important piece of information, and how does he go about this??? You would never imagine yourself. They do not let the guy to fell asleep... Sleep deprivation is how Germans go about it.
    And now!!!! There's one Biegański there as well. American flyer of Polish descent, named Stanisław Kasawa, nicknamed ANIMAL!!! A barely human figure, more akin to Neanderthals.
    Very enjoyable cinema, see it again if you have a copy handy.


  3. Well- cartman from southpark would say: there's only one way to get out of this mess you guys. We need to divert the blame onto someone else. Muslims anyone? -Satire!-


Bieganski the Blog exists to further explore the themes of the book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype, Its Role in Polish-Jewish Relations and American Popular Culture.
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