Beautiful Catastrophe


There is something quite unnerving about revisiting statistics for an event which is long in the past. You could look at it as a way of validating the pedestal a particular event holds in time, which may be important. Or you could see it as a way of glorifying something truly horrific, and is likely never to happen again at least not in many lifetimes to come. It is with these perspectives that I clicked on The Fallen of World War II, a digital montage visualising the war casualties between 1939 and 1945.

…more at fallen.io

First up I should say that this is a slick and impressive display of the true cost to generations after the war ended. For major countries it is hard not to see how this war effected them. Often the dialogue surrounds the victors, and the price they paid for so called freedom (because, you know, the US and Britain were invaded and ruled for a brief period. Oh wait). Perhaps with the use of this video you can get a strong indication of how other countries really suffered. Indeed a quick scroll through the comments on Vimeo will show the level of appreciation of the maker’s visualisation.

Yet, I can’t really applaud this interpretation beyond the actual aesthetic, as there are far too many concerns raised here. This is especially important as this year sees the passing of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and we will be reassessing this past in the coming months.

It is well worth noting, and I do have The Fallen of World War II to thank for this important point, that to have fought in the war, veterans now would be at least in their late eighties, many would be in their early nineties. It is highly unlikely that there are many remaining, regardless of what country they fought for, and soon there will be none remaining. It is with this in mind that we need to take more care about how we interpret acts in history.

It’s very easy to do a statistical analysis of a historical event. With World War 2 it’s is particularly convenient as primarily we are discussing the actions of armies, together with their large bureaucratic arms that detail the specifics of each and every recruit, from all those who survived to all those who died. Knowing all this information, like the average age of new recruits, the amount of people who signed up from a particular town or the amount of Sagittarians that died on a Tuesday in 1942 serves a function which distances us from the ultimate tragedy of the Second World War.

The names of some of the people who lost their lives during World War II (Image courtesy rootsweb.ancestry.com)

I’m kind of a geek when it comes to reading over figures and statistics in history. I’m interested in populations, costs, quantities, and pretty much any other detail which can be extracted. But statistics, whether disputed or not, are merely numbers. To turn the millions of people who died into levels on fancy a bar chart does not settle easily with me.

There is little difference in this elaborate display of colours and stickmen to a chart with the countries listed in alphabetical order and the number of casualties detailed beside them. Creating a graph that shows how many people who died rising epically into some digital stratosphere still holds the same level of shock as when the number 20,000,000 is printed. Short of celebrating one’s own ability to create a quite beautiful display, it doesn’t make the lives that actually make up these statistics any less or more valuable.

British troops arrive on Normandy beaches signifying the beginning of the Battle of Normandy which saw over 400,000 soldiers killed.

What I struggle to accept though, looking at the larger picture, is that for all these people who did die, how do we celebrate their story? Does Ireland, a country that suffered only slightly in the war, deserve to be any less remorseful about the events which took place in Europe and Asia? How does a country like Russia or China, two countries that lost a catastrophic number of people, actually account for these lives? These are places we can find it difficult to imagine life in during those times, but grief like love is a universal factor, we all suffer from it to a comparable level. To me it seems that these people’s histories, and the sheer size of their tragedy, have been forced into statistics before we could ever understand them truly.

We are fortunate that the rich television history of the twentieth century has documented many of the ways in which life was lived both on the battle fields and at home. Recently we have been extra lucky to see more real-to-life interpretations, or as real-to-life as we are willing to be trusted with. Story telling brings us closer to the sadness wrought by the sudden death of a comrade, or the brutality of a shrapnel injury.

It is a story that seems to have been ignored. The countries which suffered the greatest loss of life decided to forget what happened. Can you blame them? Even a country like Poland rarely discusses this. Indeed it is not a surprise that the war is not a topic of conversation on every German’s lips, but I can be sure that those people are more aware than anyone of the history their nation created. I wish the same could be said for Japan.

As for the gaping hole in the generations of Russian and Chinese people who had to have been slaughtered to have perished in the quantities they did, what narrative or remembrance can we learn to truly understand a greater significance of World War II? I would hope we can create one which is not dominated by fancy graphics and data, but by realities wrought in the death and destruction of individuals whose fate was decided by men in offices in search of some class of glory.

 

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P.S. Describing every German soldier who fought and died in the war as a Nazi is an unfair accusation. You wouldn’t say that all the Russians were communists, and all the Americans patriots, or whatever.

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Differences. Think About Them, They’re Not So Different


Difference isn’t something we should chastise, it’s something we should celebrate. How many of us who complain about how things are done in Korea don’t complain about the utopia which we came from?

Yang Liu was only 14 when she moved from China to Germany, where she became a graphic designer. She presented a series of artworks detailing the differences between living in Germany and living in China. Her collection of graphics were based on her experience growing up in two distinctly different cultures, and despite the generalisations, they are relatively true, especailly if you change Korea for China.

I say this from a country that I believe has many socially cultural similarities (and many huge differences also) with Koreans but which is also considered western. And I also know that there are huge differences between western national cultural traits.

However, what is most important is that you have to understand here is that these images just describe the cultural attitudes, they do not judge or speculate the problems which either practice may encourage.

Every time I hear people complain about anything and everything in Korea, and I hear it a lot including from myself, this helps me to remember that this is just the way things are done.There is nothing you can do about it, you just have to hope that things don’t effect you negatively.

Ost trifft West (East vs West) by Yang Liu

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Someone always has to lose: World Cup 2010 Spain -v- Germany


Last night (or should I say this morning; 03:30hrs Korean time) was the first time I watched Spain play in the world cup. I kind of chuckled and didn’t care much when they were almost knocked out of their group during the qualifying stages. The prospect of another big European scalp was tantalizing for the cynic in me, and of course there could be fewer bigger scalps than the tournament favourites! France and the holders Italy, both went early and it would be only fitting to see the tournament favourites stumble with them. They didn’t as we all know.

 

I’ve watched a good few of Germany’s games, especially the games against England and Argentina. Few would have been forgiven for thinking that they have been the best team to play so far. They thrashed three teams by scoring four goals, and despite what you might say about the unrecognised goal (if I called it disallowed it would mean it was cancelled out, it wasn’t even spotted by the officials, all just another way of describing it), Germany probably would have still beaten England by a hockey score.

 

Well, anyway back to the point. Last night I finally got a chance to see Spain play. I was very impressed; I was in fact really impressed. What I hadn’t been impressed by up to this game was the number of 1-0 victories Spain had leading to this stage; I reckoned they didn’t have it in them. But then again maybe Paraguay and Portugal were considerably better teams than England and Argentina, or maybe they just work to their strengths and pull off win after win (incidentally Del Bosque has a 92% win rate since taking over as the Spanish boss, more about this man later). The Paraguay game looked like a real tough encounter, I watched the highlights and it went down to the wire, and so did this game between Germany and Spain.

 

Before I give an armchair account of the match, I reckon this must be said more than anything; this was a real clash of the titans, Spain, the tournaments starting favourites against Germany, the potential usurpers of their fiesta. Both teams met two years ago in the EUEFA final, and Spanish players were quoted in the papers that they knew they were playing against a vastly improved German side. The games against Australia, England and Argentina were a testament to this.

 

When the game started, it was clear that both sides were here to play football; both sides knew that this was the only way they could win. There were a few little tumbles here and there, but the tackles were hard and challenges were fair. I read on the Fifa website just a minute ago that 30% of the game, so around 30 minutes, was played before the ref blew the whistle for the first foul, a definite rarity in football these days but a clear example of the quality of player that was on show here. Another key element in this game was the honest respect that the two teams of players had for each other. There were a couple of incidents were players were tackled hard, and the whistle was blown for a foul, and the Spanish or German player went over and linked hands in a kind of united determination to keep fighting it out against each other until the last minute, it seemed that for some reason sportsmanship had returned to the realm of international football. Even when the ref did blow the whistle the players didn’t attack the ref, they just went about getting ready for the free kick.

 

Denis Irwin made a point on RTE about the makeup of the German team after it was clear that Germany would be playing England while the other ould fellas were scoffing away with their usual wisdom relating to the fact that this game could pull England out of the doldrums. The bulk of the German team play for only four teams; Hamburg, Stuttgart, Werder Bremen, and Bayern Munich and six of the team’s player’s play for Munich, including the key players, Scwheinsteiger, Lahm and Mueller.

 

What about Spain? Well ahead of Munich’s high player representation on a national team, is Barcelona with seven players on the Spanish team, and after that Real Madrid and Valencia had a further nine together.

 

Sure you could argue that in each country there are a couple of teams that dominate, but this has always been the case, and what this clearly points to is a core group of players who are very familiar with a large proportion of the team. What’s also a key factor is that Barcelona and Bayern Munich both reached the final four of the Champions League. Internazionalle, the winners, rather than fielding a strong Italian team which could have bolstered the national side’s World Cup prospects, have a squad with fifteen nationalities. On the other hand, Barcelona has seven, Bayern Munich has eight, and in both teams the foreign contingent is less than domestically produced players. Even Real Madrid, famed for its international contingent of Gallacticos has a dominant proportion of Spanish players on its team, half of whom are good enough to get onto the Spanish national team, who are now in the World Cup final. I’ve never been one to care about whether or not a club has more or less domestic players, but this is clearly showing that the biggest clubs with the most players playing in the same team in their home country has clear benefits for the progress of a national side.

 

I read on the ould internet the other day that Mesut Ozil turned around and criticised Wayne Rooney for saying that he was bored, and that how could he be bored when he is playing in the World Cup? While it might point to the over reliance on a superstar lifestyle by some of the game’s elite, it also points at the high morale and camaraderie of the German team. The players obviously don’t mind sharing the same airspace for a month or two, while the English players mightn’t be so keen on doing it for ninety minutes twice a season, let alone for the period of the World Cup.

 

So, all that being said, how did Spain actually beat Germany, a team that up to that point had scored almost twice as many goals as them? These were two teams that seemed equally matched, and equally prepared and willing to give everything to win.

 

I’m no Johnny Giles or Eamon Dunphy, so what I’ll do is stick with what I saw on the telly this morning. As I said I watched the Germans about three times and this was the first time that I saw Spain play. What Spain did, and they may have been doing this throughout the tournament, is that they played the game the Germans played against Argentina. They didn’t give them an inch, they were tight defensively and they weren’t afraid to pass the ball and to rely on the player who they passed it to do something similar or better. They, like Germany did against England and even more so against Argentina, played as a team that were confident and determined. What made Germany look so ordinary, or not as exceptional as they had in previous games, was they were crowded and weren’t given enough space to function. Schweinsteiger, who dominated against Argentina, hardly featured, Klosse who is lethal in the box, was forced to run at players with the ball and was easily policed away by the expert Spanish defence led by the fearless Carlos Puyol! The Spanish team had more chances and the way they played forced the Germans into long ball tactics and shots from distance. Sound familiar?

 

One final note on the Spanish side, who in ninety minutes made me forget all about the great football Germany played in the world cup, and this goes towards the manager, Vincente Del Bosque. After England were knocked out of the World Cup, fingers were pointed at the manager, a man who had significant success in domestic competitions, notably Siere A, the Primera Liga, and of course the Champions League. How was it, the question was asked, that a man with so much success domestically, could not produce satisfactory results from a collection of players of such a high standard? I wonder are the Spanish media in a similar state of rapture, exclaiming, how is that a manager with so much success domestically could produce such satisfactory results from a collection of players of such a high standard? I haven’t even bothered to mention Joachim Löw, who, as far as I can work out, has had less success at club level than…than…than… Steve Staunton?

 

So, it’s down to two teams. All those games, all those tears, all those cheers, not to mention those bloody horns that ruined a few good Sunday afternoon hangovers with the football. There have been seven different winners of the World Cup since 1930. The last time a team won for the first time and they were not the hosts was by Brazil, in Sweden, 1958. On Sunday there will be a new team on the World Cup and a new team to have one the World Cup for the first time. I’ve no idea who it will be. Exciting isn’t it?