Sadly, the world is not a very safe place. People seek out conflict, and when confrontation arises, they sometimes aren’t able to work out their differences. At the turn of the century, a fellow named Eric Pilawski made it his business to start a website dedicated to researching an area where little good research had been done: the air forces of the Soviet Union during World War II.
Mr. Pilawski’s site grew and his status among aviation “buffs” grew as well. Eventually, he published a book on his findings, entitled (grandiosely): Soviet Air Force Fighter Colours 1941-45. Mr. Pilawski exhibited several peculiar personality “quirks” that were all too obvious to anybody trying to navigate his website. He expressed very strong opinions, and he responded to anything even remotely hinting that he might be in error with furious ridicule. I, personally, never tangled with him because it was obvious that would not engage in reasonable discussion. But the information he provided seemed legitimate (I hadn’t yet learned to be more skeptical). Like a lot of other “warplane buffs” I began to integrate Mr. Pilawski’s “findings” into my model building. After all, he might be an eccentric, but he sounded like he knew what he was talking about.
But the fall of the Soviet Union had caused a major tsunami in Soviet historical data to swamp the western world. Russian warplane buffs suddenly showed up on the internet, and, to a remarkable degree, they were unanimous in declaring Mr. Pilawski to be a fraud.
Few online wars of words were as heated (even if in poor English) as the outpouring of passion that erupted when the Russians confronted Mr. Pilawski and his book on Soviet aircraft colors. The end result was a kind of nuclear wasteland, where the living envy the dead and newborn babies glow in the dark.
Oddly, Mr. Pilawski went on a sort-of abusive rampage and then vanished into the abyss like Voldemort. His site remained online, in part, but he evaporated from the collective in such a peculiar way that one is inclined to think that maybe he was, after all, just a bit unstable.
The primary place for answers to Mr. Pilawski’s assertions regarding Soviet warplanes was a new site called sovietwarplanes.com which was run by one J.P. Myers and constituted a safe space for anyone who wanted to challenge the writings of Mr. Pilawski. Sovietwarplanes.com was not, originally, created merely to rebut Mr. Pilawski’s conclusions, but that’s what it became.
Notice that I used the phrase “safe space.” The amount of vitriol that can be unleashed via a keyboard is difficult to believe. Mr. Pilawski behaved as if his little Soviet Air Force project was the founding of God’s Holy Church. His opponents saw his work as that of Satan, and the two sides became utterly irreconcilable in their mutual loathing. I can hardly believe the animosity that arose over the color of a Yak.
It’s silly to imagine that it takes two to make a fight. All it takes is one unreasonable (or just, well, wicked) person. In most cases, online fights arise because one “bad apple” starts them. In this example. Mr. Pilawski was the bad apple. His nastiness infected the whole, and until he departed the discussion was always personal, always filled with attacks, and always unpleasant.
It was his fault. He did it. When we stupidly deny that a “bad actor” has acted badly and dragged everyone down, we just fan the flames of contention. Mr. Pilawski operated using words as weapons–trying to establish his “credibility” through intimidation. Some people behave in this way. To determine if they are the root cause of the bad behavior, just pull them out of the equation and see what happens. When Mr. Pilawski’s “contributions” were removed from the discussion of soviet warplanes, the discussion became reasonable. Sovietwarplanes.com was where that discussion took place.
About a year and a half ago the original sovietwarplanes.com site went off the air. Massimo Tessitori created a copy of the site in what seems to be an effort to continue the good work done there. Here’s the link:
It retains much of the old site, in particular the forums where much of the truly good information resided. On these forums, researchers compared notes, made observations, and arrived at reasonable conclusions. It’s not a perfect way to do research but nothing is. It is probably as good as we are going to get. The discussion seldom become “heated” because the discussion wasn’t about politics or religion. It was about this image or that written order and most people can only get so upset about that. You can speculate that a color was red or maybe blue, and then someone with more information can provide it and the whole “dialectic” will eventually arrive at a place where most people would be comfortable saying “this is a reasonable conclusion.” Only a few unfortunate individuals (like Mr. Pilawski) would resort to name-calling to “make a point.” Since Mr. Pilawski no longer participates in the discussion at the Soviet Warplanes Forum, just about nobody on that forum engages in intimidation.
Mr. Pilawski may be considered to be a very unlucky man. He tried to use a kind of mostly-silly on-line intimidation to sell a book, but he ran into a pyroclastic flow of Russians who had lived in a culture of intimidation and failed to notice that he was trying to intimidate them. He just fell into one of the most gaping cracks in history and is now discredited. But for a brief while, his hostility was the voice of VVS research on the internet.
I’m glad he’s decided to retire.
The fact that the original Soviet Warplanes Site came into existence should have been considered to be a very good thing. It’s unfortunate that it was created under the “cloud” of suspicion and conflict. What arose from all that radioactive dust is a forum where people can debate in good faith and arrive at valuable conclusions.
Valuable to them, anyway. I hope that Mr. Tessitori continues to support the site. It’s the only one in English that’s really helpful.