Monday, August 31, 2009

Annals of attribution

Why do newspapers keep having so much trouble telling matters of opinion from matters of the record?

Organizers of a conference this week marking the 70th anniversary of the start of the war that many say started with Germany's invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, hope to collect some of those stories.

Hard to figure out why this extremely straightforward assertion merited the "many say" treatment. It's a conference aimed at gathering the memories of Poles and Polish-Americans, yes, but it's not a uniquely Polish assertion that the Second World War began with the invasion of Sept. 1, 1939 (the Beeb is daring to leave out the attribution even as we speak). There are only a couple of reasons for thinking anything else:

1) The Asian conflict that ended up being part of the larger war -- in which case you could simply say that "World War II in Europe" began in 1939.
2) Wars don't begin until English-speaking people formally declare war! Meaning, I suppose, that the "war" didn't start until Sept. 3. That'll be a pile of fun when you tell the local VFW post that the U.S. didn't enter the war on Dec. 7, 1941.

Unfortunately, something else is probably driving the "many say" phenomenon here: the idea that life is only assertions and denials. The sun doesn't really rise in the east, water doesn't empirically go downhill, and all opinions are equally deserving of recognition. We might want to do a little better at distinguishing assertions from facts. People might expect it of us someday.


Blogger Pilland said...

Your report is very interesting indeed.
I invite You to visit htto:// , a great collection of large views of political borders, from all the world.
In the page about Poland there is the photo of the Germans who broke tre Polish border 70 years ago.
Helping text in 32 languages.
Best wishes from Italy!

1:54 AM, September 01, 2009  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

I dunno, I think they're just trying to say that the war started with Poland, not Pearl Harbor or something. Trying to tie the Polish aspect into it. Clumsily, but I think with good intentions (not that that's any guarantee of ... well, anything, really.)

8:21 AM, September 01, 2009  
Blogger fev said...

I appreciate it when newspapers get the benefit of the doubt -- but I do think the "many say"/"some call" phenomenon is a slippery slope we want to be cautious around. ("The date when many say Apollo 11 landed on the moon.")

12:00 PM, September 01, 2009  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

You're right, of course: many say feng shui......

2:26 PM, September 01, 2009  

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