Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/April 2014/Interview

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Interview: German military history

This month, the Bugle continues its occasional "Article writer's guide" series detailing the nuances behind certain categories of Wikipedia articles. We'll bring you answers from some of the foremost Wikipedia writers in the areas we examine, in the hope that their advice may help you to enter these areas and find success. This month we look at German military history. Don't forget that if you have a good topic for a future Bugle edition, please add it on our newsletter's main talk page.

Thank you for agreeing to answer some of our questions. What draws you to Wikipedia's articles on Germany?
  • My main reason is the involvement of the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS in Yugoslavia during WWII, which is my prime area of interest. The German actions in breaking up Yugoslavia and the particularly chaotic occupation regimes and puppet states they and their partners imposed there have reverberated through the last seventy-odd years. Peacemaker67 (send... over) 11:12, 1 April 2014 (UTC)
  • I first got interested in the topic of Nazi Germany when I read Speer's book Inside The Third Reich. Since then I have read biographies of most of the top Nazis and have read or have access to lots of other books on German military history. This interest carried over into my editing when my priorities changed in late 2011 from copy editing other people's work to trying to improve our core content. -- Diannaa (talk) 20:41, 1 April 2014 (UTC)

How did you come to choose some of the articles you've written?
  • The articles I have written on German topics have generally been on Waffen-SS units that were raised in Yugoslavia and their commanders. They include five of the FA-class articles I've worked on; Artur Phleps, a highly decorated Waffen-SS Corps commander, and a series of four articles on late-war home-grown Waffen-SS divisions. They were all involved in pretty egregious war crimes, and after personal military experience in the Balkans in the mid-90's, I believe it is important that WP has high-quality articles on perpetrators. I've also brought a few articles on German-led counter-insurgency operations up to A-class and GA, including Operation Trio. Peacemaker67 (send... over) 11:12, 1 April 2014 (UTC)
  • I am mostly interested in the biographies of Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross recipients. I find this combination of personal bravery, military skill and failures, coupled in some cases with personal involvement in war crimes, very intriguing. I also find it very interesting to observe how modern Germany deals with this military heritage, or better how we Germans attempt to distance ourselves from this heritage. To me this is very much reflected in the life stories of Werner Mölders and Günther Lütjens. How awkward and difficult the reflection of history is, can also be seen in the life story of Arthur Rudolph, the rocket engineer. I hope that the biographies of people like Hyacinth Graf Strachwitz von Groß-Zauche und Camminetz or Johann Mickl also help us gain insight into Europe's most recent history. MisterBee1966 (talk) 12:48, 1 April 2014 (UTC)
  • I am trying to mostly focus on articles that I personally consider interesting and important, while also considering the number of page views the article receives so that my work has maximum impact. I've found that a minimum of three good sources are needed to bring an article up to Good Article status, so the availability of sources on a given subject is also a factor in choosing which ones I work on. Fifteen of my 23 Good Articles are biographies. -- Diannaa (talk) 20:41, 1 April 2014 (UTC)

Generally speaking, what should be covered in the particular subjects you've chosen to write about? How do you structure your articles?
  • Depends on the subject matter. Bio articles need to be warts on all, but it is also important to ensure that the tactical decisions of highly competent and experienced commanders are reflected, alongside the details of their crimes. With units, the no-quarter nature of the fighting in Yugoslavia needs careful coverage. It is easy to blame individual Germans for the brutality they displayed, but both German and Austrian counter-insurgency doctrine in the first half of the 20th century was implacably harsh. Peacemaker67 (send... over) 11:12, 1 April 2014 (UTC)
  • What I'm doing is improving articles that already exist rather than creating new articles. In most cases, I keep the existing structure and work through the article from top to bottom (except the lead – I do that last), adding sources and adding/removing material to try to get a good overview of the subject. Since I'm working on articles that are already live and receiving daily views, it's important to at all times have a half-decent article available for the reader to use. -- Diannaa (talk) 20:41, 1 April 2014 (UTC)

What kinds of sources do you recommend using?
  • I try to use a wide range of academics to ensure comprehensive coverage. Generally, I try to avoid communist Partisan and emigre Chetnik scholars as much as is possible, although for some information it is unavoidable. There are a number of scholars whose roots are/were in Yugoslavia but who are highly respected in the West, like the late Jozo Tomasevich and Stevan K. Pavlowitch. But it is also important to use Italian academics like Milazzo and Rodogno as well as Nordic scholars like Sabrina Ramet. The mammoth official German history of WWII is a key resource which has been translated into English. Peacemaker67 (send... over) 11:12, 1 April 2014 (UTC)
  • Libraries in Alberta are connected by The Alberta Library, through which I am able to get access to some high quality sources (including university-level material) via inter-library loan. I will usually try to bring in some or all of the sources that were used in the initial development of the article so that I can verify the content, plus any other high-quality recent works. I work fairly slowly, especially on days where I cut content, so that other editors watching the page have an opportunity to evaluate and comment on my work. Luckily as I work in a library I don't have to pay late fees. – Diannaa (talk) 20:41, 1 April 2014 (UTC)

Have you experienced any difficulties accessing sources in languages other than English? If so, what approaches have you used to work around this issue?
  • Definitely. I have been very fortunate to have had help from like-minded editors with the necessary language skills, such as User:MisterBee1966 and User:PRODUCER, both of whom I have collaborated with to some extent on a number of articles. Google Translate and German don't mix too well... Peacemaker67 (send... over) 11:12, 1 April 2014 (UTC)
  • I consider myself almost bilingual so I can equally rely on English and German sources. My French language skills are okay, for reading only. Online translation tools help me to understand the general theme of things. MisterBee1966 (talk) 13:25, 1 April 2014 (UTC)

Have you encountered any differences in opinion or emphasis between works written by German historians and those by historians from other countries? If so, how have you handled this?
  • Yes. It is very important to compare and contrast sources where they conflict or provide differing perspectives. I am rather strict about this, much to the frustration of some editors. It's contested history, there isn't a whole lot of black and white, and grey needs careful explanation. Peacemaker67 (send... over) 11:12, 1 April 2014 (UTC)
  • Yes! In my opinion, pertaining to the history of World War II, the German press, media and publications, tend to fall into two categories. The first category draws a picture in which the German soldier, just like any other nations soldier, fought bravely defending Germany. In an attempt to white wash individual responsibility, information is (can be) presented selectively. These types of publications are often associated, or made believed to be associated, with right wing or far right movements. The German language created a word for this and calls these people Ewig Gestrige, translating to something as eternally of yesterday or die-hards. The other category draws a picture that any German soldier is foremost a murderer, unless somehow associated with the July 20 Plot. I am exaggerating the different point of views to help the reader understand. English sources tend to be more objective, giving both sides equal weight. I think that we have to remember that "truth is the first casualty of war". MisterBee1966 (talk) 09:36, 2 April 2014 (UTC)

Do you feel that the articles you work on are subject to higher levels of debate between editors than those on most other topics? If so, what approaches do you take during these discussions?
  • Oh, yeah. Balkans articles are almost always contentious at some level, sometimes incredibly so. There are a lot of very partisan (pun intended) editors out there, and plenty of socks/meat and POV-warriors. When I first started editing I was quite combative, but now I do my best not to add heat to the discussion without being too WP:POINTY. Nevertheless, there are those regular players that have gone way past any reasonable expectation of WP:AGF. The fact that some editors in this space do not have English as a first language can complicate communication further. It's not always a barrel of laughs... Peacemaker67 (send... over) 11:12, 1 April 2014 (UTC)
  • Nazi topics can get pretty volatile, even amongst knowlegeable users, and we also attract a fringe element. The best way to manage it is to focus strictly on the content and the quality of the sources and to try to limit any disruption to the talk page only, rather than letting it spill over into article space. I've found that opening an RFC is a great way to stop an edit war and bring more editors to a page to try to develop a clear consensus. -- Diannaa (talk) 20:41, 1 April 2014 (UTC)

What are the most common issues you strike when submitting articles on German military history to formal review?
  • Lack of familiarity of reviewers with what was a very complex theatre of war, along with the difficulty of accessing reliable published sources for some details, especially for biographies. Peacemaker67 (send... over) 11:12, 1 April 2014 (UTC)

Are there any other points you'd like to raise that we haven't covered in this interview, or parting advice that you'd like to offer?
  • I think that coverage of German military subjects (particularly WWII) is comparatively poor on en WP due to the legacy of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, and a regular accusations is that by properly covering the subject you are somehow glorifying the subject. The Phleps article was attacked as a "glorification" by a couple of editors after it was the main page featured article last year. If we forget (or fail to properly document) the past, we are condemned to re-live it. All sides in the Balkans in WWII committed horrendous atrocities, not just the Germans. They all need detailed and verifiable coverage, and I'm pleased to be able to do my bit. Peacemaker67 (send... over) 11:12, 1 April 2014 (UTC)
  • I follow the de-WP as passive reader of articles and discussions. Up to now, I find that the en-WP provides an excellent forum to editors and readers, making an attempt at trying to depict the German military history holistically. The de-WP lacks this carefree attitude towards German military history. This latent fear of "political correctness" in the de-WP, although motivated with the best intentions, renders castrated articles. I believe that this is one of en-WP true strengths; it builds around a concept of "information evolution". I can only encourage and ask that more people, of different cultural backgrounds, to continue to contribute to this project (and others as well). MisterBee1966 (talk) 13:09, 1 April 2014 (UTC)
  • I would like to acknowledge and thank for their extensive contributions Kierzek, Malljaja, and Khazar2, with whom I collaborated on several GA nominations. I am also grateful for the participation of everybody who helps maintain and improve our articles on military history topics. -- Diannaa (talk) 20:41, 1 April 2014 (UTC)
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