BOOKS

Sullying the Allies

An exposé stirs up international controversy

DIANE TURBIDE November 13 1989
BOOKS

Sullying the Allies

An exposé stirs up international controversy

DIANE TURBIDE November 13 1989

Sullying the Allies

BOOKS

An exposé stirs up international controversy

In West Germany, it has caused a sensation and gone into a second printing of at least 8,000 books after selling out its first 3,000 copies within a week. In Britain, where the book will not be available until next year, it has already sparked extensive media attention. A French edition is scheduled to appear in December, and Japanese rights have also been sold. In Canada, the first edition of 10,000 copies sold out last week as the book stood at No. 3 on the Maclean ’s best-seller list for nonfiction. James Bacque’s Other Losses, published in Canada by Stoddart last August, makes the explosive claim that nearly a million German soldiers and civilians were allowed to die of starvation and exposure in U.S.and French-run camps in postwar Europe. Toronto-based Bacque, his Canadian publisher, and John Fraser—editor of Saturday Night magazine, which featured an adaptation of the book in its September issue—say that they expected controversy. But they were not prepared for the reaction of American book publishers. Almost every major U.S. house has been ap-

proached, but no one has bought rights to publish an edition there.

Bacque’s findings have generated much debate among academics and the public in Canada, Britain and Germany. In light of that, says Nelson Doucet, a vicepresident of Stoddart Publishing, the U.S. industry’s reaction is surprising. Said Doucet: “It is a sad state of affairs that the book is not being made available to the American public—particularly in a country that has traditionally stood fast for free speech and freedom of information.” But according to William Hanna, a Stoddart vice-president responsible for foreign rights, American publishers’ reactions to the book have ranged from guarded letters of rejection to outright hostility. When Hanna outlined the story to one

major U.S. publisher and described how prisoners had few rations and no shelter, the reply was, “They should have taken their God damn clothes away as well.” Another editor considering the manuscript wrote to Hanna that his superior “felt he simply couldn’t muster enough sympathy for all those dead Germans to want to publish the book.”

U.S. media coverage, meanwhile, has been sporadic. While some major news organs— including Time magazine and The CBS Evening News—have reported the book’s shocking allegations, others have failed to cover them. According to Bacque and Doucet, ABC’s current-affairs program 20/20 did pursue them earlier this fall for a feature on Other Losses. But the author says that after 20/20spent a week on the story, it decided to drop the project.

For his part, Bacque, now in France completing a book on French Resistance hero Raoul Laporterie, told Maclean ’s that he did not set out to write an exposé and that “ the story he uncovered—and I reactions to it—have been u “upsetting.” Referring to the reluctance of U.S. publishers, he added, “I guess people don’t like to hear about their own atrocities.”

DIANE TURBIDE