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On Writing A Beset-Seller
by James Bacque

James Bacque`s book about the deadly conditions in U.S. and French prison camps for Germans after the Second World War, Other Losses, was a scandal and a best seller for the last year in Canada, Germany, France, and England. It is due out soon in the United States and six other countries. BEING A WRITER is difficult because it requires ego while it enforces humility. My ego was much gratified on learning from many publishers, including Jack McClelland, that Other Losses was about to make me famous. Indeed it was much noticed, but so harsh was the initial reaction that I began to feel there should be a special section in the book reviews for much-harried books to be called "beset-sellers" The reaction to the manuscript among those who first viewed it was violent antipathy, with several exceptions. Peter Hoffmann, a professor of history at McGill; Dr. Anthony Miller, an epidemiologist and biostatistician of the University of Toronto; Stephen Ambrose, the principal biographer of Eisenhower; and Dr. Ernest F. Fisher, the U.S. army historian, all risked their professional credentials in the interest of telling a necessary truth. The publishers Nelson Doucet and Jack Stoddart accepted the manuscript when it was still being prepared. John Fraser of Saturday Night took it up so enthusiastically that at times I had to talk fast to keep up with his comments to the press. But these were scattered exceptions to the many who were afraid or indifferent. Several publishers in Canada, along with dozens in New York, turned it down. A branch of Bertelsmann in Munich turned it down, but then Ullstein in Berlin took it on, in a fit of determination or profit-seeking. The fit soon passed: they were so frightened they left out an appendix, put the wrong jacket on it, and failed completely to promote it. So timid were they that they refused to help me come to the Frankfurt book fair for the launching. When I turned up on my own, they would not introduce me to another of their authors, former West German chancellor Willy Brandt, who in his turn had been afraid to answer my letters to him about his role in suppressing information about the U.S. camps. The initial German TV and press reaction was dominated by hostile comment from German academics who knew nothing about the subject, but pronounced anyway. Then a series of good reviews, beginning with an unprecedented full page in the influential newspaper Die Zeit, converted the book into a best seller. So many thousands of Germans wrote to Die Welt about its coverage that the paper finally announced they would nor accept any more letters on the subject. A few weeks ago my agent told me that the Bertelsmann book club had just taken the book. Academics in every country have encouraged me to he humhie. Michael Howard, a professor in England whose fame, I have been told, should make me tremble, wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that even an innumerate historian can apply the criterion of inherent probability. Which is in fact the more probable explanation: that 2 million German prisoners quietly died in American hands in 1945-6 without anyone noticing, or that the American authorities ... made mistakes? If we follow the reverend professor`s logic, then we shall be able to take down the monuments at Babi Yar, unpublish Solzhenitsyn, and settle back to watch the sun revolve around the earth. I think that all we can learn from the inherent probability theory is that wind expands to fill the bag available to it. To have been reviewed without first having been read is what all authors emerging from public excoriation claim has happened. In one case, Le Figaro, I have it on the authority of the reviewer himself, who proudly announced to a friend of mine, also an editor at Le Figaro, that he had been able to denounce my book on the basis of the blurb alone. "Why didn`t you read it?" my friend asked. "I didn`t need to, I knew it couldn`t be true," the reviewer replied. Cheeping was heard not only from the groves of academe in Europe, but also in Canada. A review by a professor at York University, whom I like to think of as Cuckoo, commented in Time magazine that "Bacque`s data are completely fallacious." My publisher immediately wrote to Professor Cuckoo asking which data were wrong, but it seems the Cuckoo sings only once, for no reply has come, though a year has since passed. When I walked into the French TV studio last spring in Paris where I was due to appear on "Apostrophes," I greeted the host, Bernard Pivot, who barely grasped my hand before running away from me. I also greeted several other of the guests, none of whom would say more than "Bonsoir." On the program itself, I was seated beside Jean-Louis Cremieux-Brilhac, a writer, who had been an army officer during the Second World War, and a friend of De Gaulle. De Gaulle`s friend placed before him not only Morts pour raisons diverses, the French edition of Other Losses, furred with yellow stick-on papers no doubt hearing witty denunciations, but also Der Geplante Tod, the German edition, similarly befurred. This was daunting stuff for rile, because I can`t read German, and my French is nowhere admired except among Toronto uniphones. The opening salvo of the attack came from Cremieux-Brilhac`s forefinger, which he jabbed into my arm repeatedly as if seeking to inject me with his lethal denunciations, in lieu of debating with me. After the show, only Pivot would talk to me; the other French people, beyond the small embattled circle of my publishers, avoided me like the truth. But Pivot told me with relief that an unnamed person had discovered a secret document that proved everything in my hook was false. I asked to see it, but oh dear, the man had just left. I asked who he was, but Pivot couldn`t say. A few days later, a man with a secret document, Cremieux-Brilhac, wrote a letter to Le Monde saying that my book was quite false. A friend of My Publisher, employed at Le Monde, sent rile a copy of the humiliatory letter, before publication. I smoked furiously for three days, going through my files here in Toronto, checking the letter. None Of it was true. In my reply, I quoted from French and American army documents, showing that Cremieux-Brilhac was quite wrong. My letter went by fax to my French publisher, who sent it on to Le Monde, saying that if Cremieux-Brilhac`s letter appeared, mine should he on the facing page. In the end, Le Monde printed neither. Who can explain this? One is left to assume that he withdrew his letter to Le Monde on reading mine. I invited Cremieux-Brilhac to a reading I gave in Paris a few weeks later. He refused the invitation. My publisher has since told me that the word in French journalism now is that even to notice Morts pour raisons diverses is "pas bon pour lot carriere" (not good for one`s career). Stephen Ambrose, the American academic who admires Eisenhower SO Much that he gives a birthday party for him every year, wrote me a very moving letter in 1988 in which he said, among other things, that my manuscript disclosed "a major historical discovery." Then after the book came out last year, Ambrose discovered that the discovery was not so major after all. He began in public to dispute the death totals in my book, apparently according to his changing moods; for his estimates have varied downwards front 200,000 to 100,000, and now are hovering around 50,000 or perhaps only 25,000. These numbers float the more freely as they are unattached to any impeding evidence. Indeed when I wrote to Ambrose in 1988, producing new evidence from General Everett Hughes`s diary to show Eisenhowers guilt, he denied this proved anything. So I asked him why lie thought this diary by Eisenhower`s best friend and special assistant was not evidence, and what his rules of evidence were. He replied that he had spent enough time on the subject. I have recently told my American publisher that because Ambrose has told so many lies about the book, and me, I refuse to allow anything by him to appear in the promotion of my hook. I then discovered that Ambrose through his lawyer has written a letter accusing me of misquoting him, or quoting bull out of context so as to distort his meaning. This from the man who said that I had included 100,000 transfers as deaths, although it is crystal clear in the book that these transfers are not included. So the press and the academics dance on hand in hand. When mass graves containing Germans murdered by the Russians after the Second World War are uncovered in East Germany, that`s front-page news all over the West, but the report by a provincial parliamentarian of a discovery of a mass grave near Mainz in West Germany, containing hundreds of bodies of prisoners from an American camp, never appeared in France, England, or North America. One small German paper published it, then it disappeared. Other German reports of mass graves of American and French victims have been overlooked west of the Rhine. A new prevarication by Kurt Waldheim gets front-page coverage all over the western world, but the cover- up of the death camps already admitted in the Bundestag by Willy Brandt has never been reported anywhere in the western press. Defenders of the Allies` virtue say, "You`re playing into the hands of the Nazis." That`s the most spurious possible point, but it does prove the origins of our feeling of moral superiority. We were the angels in 1945, avenging the misdeeds of Hitler and his hordes. So for the hypocrites among us, our virtue depends on German guilt. As Desmond Morton wrote in these pages a few months ago, the only defence of Other Losses that matters is truth. No one has been able to disprove it, so many people revert to the revisionist menace, which has nothing to do with the Allies` virtue, but everything to do with the Allies` guilt. People who use that argument are themselves no better than the revisionists, because they want to disguise the truth. The first step toward atrocity is euphemism. There has been much talk of fear of Germany following reunification. This is irrational. Germans today are spiritually so weak they cannot even rise in defence of themselves when they are slandered, as they frequently are in the West. In Silesia, taken from the Germans by the Poles in 1945, German tourists today walk around in tears at the loss that has led only to waste. The land is horribly polluted, the Polish men drunk and unemployed, the whole country in debt to Germany for unpayable billions, but Chancellor Helmut Kohl denies all German claim to return of the region. German guilt is pounded into them day and night, and they respond by hanging their heads. This is not a figure of speech -- I have seen them do it. Rich, busy, and sad, they look to us for a shining example. We have nothing to fear from them. We have much to fear from those among us who refuse to admit the truth. Canada is a great place to practise humility. Although I`ve been invited to speak at Harvard next winter, have given several readings in Paris, have been invited to read and to speak at the University of Strasbourg, here I am on the phone to the McGill University student society begging for a podium to help get some publicity for my new book, Just Raoul. At least four hours of TV film about Other Losses have recently been made and broadcast in three countries in Europe, yet I must try to get the indifferent CBC and CTV to interview me or to review Just Raoul, or run even a few minutes of the recent BBC one-hour TV documentary on Other Losses. And why isn`t my publisher doing this? Because they`re overwhelmed by publicity about another new book, By Way of Deception, this year`s beset-seller. After all, that one got them burgled.

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