CZ:Managing Editor/2010/002 - References to war criminals

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Statement of problem

The basic question: is it acceptable and objective to use, in general article text, the term "war criminal" to someone for which a great deal of incriminating data was listed, but was never tried and convicted by a court, such as Adolf Hitler or Josef Mengele? If that is unacceptable, should the words "war criminal" be deleted from a direct quote stating an expert opinion?

As a History and Military Editor, I would rule that the usage is acceptable, especially in the often-vague and unprecedented legal situation following WWII. I have not yet so ruled, as I'm the main author of the Mengele article. I'd hate to disturb Russell, another history editor, when he's overloaded with MC matters.

I will introduce the matter as part of a broader Editorial Council discussion of how Charter Article 19, in particular, overrides the older CZ: Neutrality Policy.

Howard C. Berkowitz 22:05, 13 November 2010 (UTC) moved comments to discussion page

Which is the exact quote you referred to? Please provide a permalink to the latest version of the article in which it appears. --Daniel Mietchen 23:19, 13 November 2010 (UTC)
Daniel, this has been referred to the Ombudsman and it will probably go now to the EC. Howard has created a small disaster with this. Please note that I have deleted an article just started on War Crimes in which Howard is writing (without any references) that war criminals do not have to be indicted to be called war criminals. I have already told him that if he can provide references for this, then I will withdraw my objections. The terminology is just careless and popular -- even among historians of the Nazi period. They do not set CZ policies. Martin Baldwin-Edwards 00:17, 14 November 2010 (UTC)
See Talk: war crimes. Martin blanked the page without authority; he is not an Editor in any of the listed groups--History should probably be added. Now, if I found an unacceptable article in a group for which I am an Editor, I could make a formal ruling and request a Speedydelete as an editor. There is no provision for a non-Editor simply to blank. Howard C. Berkowitz 00:22, 14 November 2010 (UTC)
Howard, you can make your case to the EC. I am initiating a formal investigation. Martin Baldwin-Edwards 00:24, 14 November 2010 (UTC)
To be accurate, you can ask for an investigation, which will need at least two other sponsors to even have the proposal of an investigation to start. I shall be interested to see your Charter and EC policy justifications. Howard C. Berkowitz 00:30, 14 November 2010 (UTC)
I am well aware of the rules, as I wrote them. There are plenty of ways to deal with your behaviour. Martin Baldwin-Edwards 00:35, 14 November 2010 (UTC)
I regard the above as unprofessional and a threat. Howard C. Berkowitz 20:09, 15 November 2010 (UTC)
You should regard them as professional and a warning. Martin Baldwin-Edwards 21:52, 15 November 2010 (UTC)

Formal restatement of problem

This section defines the section structure of the decision.

Specific case: Usage of the term "war criminal"

Is it appropriate to use the term war criminal for someone who has not been convicted, or not even been subject to a trial relating to alleged war crimes?

Specific case: Redaction of a direct quote containing the term "war criminal"

Is it appropriate to use the term war criminal in a quote when it refers to someone who has not been convicted, or not even been subject to a trial relating to alleged war crimes?

General case: Usage of terms of art

Is it appropriate to use a term of art - one that is well-defined in one subject area - in a different sense in the context of another subject area, or time period?

General case: Redaction of quotes

Is it appropriate to redact a quote?

Existing applicable policy


  • Article 4: The Citizendium community shall recognize the special role that experts play in defining content standards in their relevant fields and in guiding content development towards reliability and quality.
  • Article 14: Editors are Citizens whose expertise in some field of knowledge is recognized and formally acknowledged by the community. Official recognition of expertise — obtained through education or experience — and its scope shall be based on guidelines established by the Editorial Council.
  • Article 15: Editors shall assure the quality of the Citizendium's approved content. They shall review and evaluate articles and shall have the right to
  1. approve high-quality articles that treat their topic adequately;
  2. resolve disputes over specific content matters when requested;
  3. enforce style and content guidelines as established by the Editorial Council; and
  4. identify for discussion incorrect or poorly presented content.
  • Article 17: An Editorial Council shall be empowered to develop policy on content and style.
  • Article 19: All articles shall treat their subjects comprehensively, neutrally, and objectively to the greatest degree possible in a well-written narrative, complementing text with other suitable material and media.

Decisions by the governing bodies

None so far.

Pre-Charter policy

Draft decision

The text below is what I plan to decide in this case. Feel free to edit the text if you think this improves it. If your edits require discussion, please use the dedicated section below. Editing and discussion in this "Draft decision" section shall stop 24h after my last edit to it.'

Is it appropriate to use the term war criminal for someone who has not been convicted, or not even been subject to a trial relating to alleged war crimes?

This depends on the context and would have to be established on a case-by-case basis by Editors of the Workgroups assigned to the article in question. For Josef Mengele, these are History, Military and Law.

Until these Editors or Workgroups or the Editorial Council have produced policy covering the usage of this term, the following usage shall be followed:

  • In articles for which the primary workgroup is Law, the term should only be used in the strict sense of a person that has been convicted for having committed war crimes.
  • In other articles, a less strict usage of the term is permitted, but it has to be indicated - e.g. by way of a footnote or other prominent notice - that such usage deviates from the strict legal sense of the word, and why the deviation is merited in that Citizendium article.

Is it appropriate to use the term war criminal in a quote when it refers to someone who has not been convicted, or not even been subject to a trial relating to alleged war crimes?

If a quote contains the term war criminal in a sense that would deviate from the sense established by the rule in the above section, this should be indicated to the reader, e.g. by way of a footnote, or in a following sentence.

Is it appropriate to use a term of art - one that is well-defined in one subject area - in a different sense in the context of another subject area, or time period?

Yes, this happens all the time in scholarly and other professional communication. As a project concerned with the structuring of knowledge, however, the different usages of the same term should be properly disambiguated, and the referring article should state (or link to) the description of the most relevant usage in a given context, as determined by the article's Editors.

Is it appropriate to redact a quote?

Yes, as long as this is permissible in normal scholarly usage of quotes. For instance, a quote can be modified to fit the grammar of the context in which it is cited, or if parts of a quote are irrelevant for the context in which it is cited, these can be left out. Such modifications have to be clearly signaled, as is scholarly convention.

Discussion of Draft decision

When reading or editing this section, please keep in mind that the current version of the draft decision might be different from the one referred to by previous commenters.

In general, I find this wise, although I'd mention where clarifications might be needed.

  • We don't have a rigorous definition of "primary workgroup". The Mengele article does not list the Law Workgroup at all. The war crime article does, but, since I created it (and don't own it), as a History and Military Editor, I saw those groups as coequal to Law, especially since the purpose of the article was to elaborate on a planned mention and link in Mengele.
  • Minor, but is a text box also acceptable to explain a less formal usage? I find footnotes are not always consulted. I suppose a text box would contain following sentences.
  • As far as the redaction of quotes, I would add, "if the material is clearly relevant to the context, it may not be redacted, certainly for challenging the source's actual words and simply replacing them with an ellipsis." In the Mengele matter, the direct quote was from Robert Jay Lifton, a prominent expert, and the underscored words were simply replaced with an ellipsis: ""Certainly no Nazi war criminal has evoked so much fantasy and fiction." Whether it is legally correct or not, deleting "war criminal" destroys the point of a sourced expert quote.

Howard C. Berkowitz 23:31, 15 November 2010 (UTC)

The workgroups to which articles are assigned are generally established by the first few authors. If their decisions are wrong, or the article takes a different direction, someone else should amend them. If there is dispute, the ME can make a provisional ruling. In any case, some intelligence is expected of editors that they respect others' knowledge as well as their own limitations. Formal categorisations are for librarians and civil servants.

Text boxes are not used on CZ and are not an acceptable way to explain a doubtful usage of terms in the opening paragraph.

The quotation used in the first paragraph was selected apparently precisely because it uses that terminology. Otherwise, the redaction would not be a problem. Therefore, if its meaning has been substantially altered by use of an ellipsis, it is clear that the quotation should not have appeared in the lead. it would not be appropriate to have a long explanation at that point, about how some people like to use legal terms incorrectly. Martin Baldwin-Edwards 01:06, 16 November 2010 (UTC)

Respecting knowledge is a two-way street. To be respected, however, it's wise either to quote sources, or have a credible writing history here so one's knowledge can be discovered by peers. ex cathedra statements about the ignorance of another Citizen both violates civility, and also is not especially credible.
That being said, the entire workgroup mechanism needs very deliberate review.
Actually, the sentence in question was not selected because it used "war criminal", which was not even in issue at that point. It was selected, as a complete sentence, as the opinion of a specialist in medical atrocities, presenting a view of the social and cultural impact of Mengele. It is not at all clear why it should not have been in the lead. Howard C. Berkowitz 01:16, 16 November 2010 (UTC)
Daniel, please consider unprofessional or inflammatory language on this page. Howard C. Berkowitz 01:16, 16 November 2010 (UTC)
What inflammatory language? That I dare to tell you that your choice of wording in the first paragraph was not ideal? As far as credibility is concerned, mine is established by research and publications in academic and professional journals, books etc., as well as appointments in various universities. I see none of these in your biography in relation to these subject areas. Martin Baldwin-Edwards 01:51, 16 November 2010 (UTC)


The matter has now been brought before the Editorial Council, to which I thus refer the above draft decision as a basis for discussion.

--Daniel Mietchen 15:49, 16 November 2010 (UTC) as CZ:Managing Editor