Is what the Joker says in The Killing Joke true?

Do you know how many times we've come close to world war three over a flock of geese on a computer screen? Do you know what triggered the last world war? An argument over how many telegraph poles Germany owed its war debt creditors! Telegraph poles! Ha ha ha ha HA!

Joker speaking madness in a hall of mirrors

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    I'm not sure I follow. Is this about whether there's evidence/testimonies/stuff that in the real world, WW3 might be caused by birds? Or is it about the second part, WW2 being supposedly caused by telegraph poles...? I wouldn't be sure about how DC's WW2 differ from our own, but real WW2 wasn't about telegraph poles... TLDR: I'm not sure what you mean. Could you please edit the question to clarify?
    – Jenayah
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 14:49
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    Maybe not true true, but possibly "true". We all know it wasn't caused by telegraph posts, but it would still be interesting to know what specifically the Joker is referencing here, if anything at all. Maybe that's more along the lines of what the asker is after here (and even for the first part there's a reasonable explanation hidden behind his words even if no actual geese were ever involved). But yes, the question could profit from some fleshing-out.
    – TARS
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 15:13
  • Because WWII is involved, there is a mandatory linkage to this.
    – Spencer
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 15:38
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    I want to close this question as off topic, but I can't decide whether to move to History or to Skeptics.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 16:20
  • 1
    @MrLister: The "Skeptics" link I gave actually refers to this same comic.
    – JRE
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 17:28

1 Answer 1


More "grain of truth" than "true."

This question on the "Skeptics" site goes into some detail about the telephone poles.

Not a cause of WWII, but more of an incident in the problems that built up to WWII.

France kept insisting that Germany pay the reparations after WWI, but the German economy was pretty shot and wasn't capable of it. Not helped by the Germans being at least partially obstructionist about the payments and the deliveries.

The French were pretty much looking for an excuse (after years of feet dragging from the Germans.) The telephone pole thing was the incident chosen to set off the French take over of the German Ruhr region. It could have been anything. The telephone poles were just an example of a short fall in deliveries that could be taken advantage of.

The "Straight Dope" gives "the straight dope" on the flock of geese story

There isn't a confirmed incident over a flock of geese, but it has been used as an expression meaning basically that some stupid mistake or breakdown in the early warning systems could lead to all out war.

In fact, there was a very close incident that only didn't result in war because one soviet officer had the balls to hold off on a retaliatory attack because he was convinced the radar system was mistaken.

So, neither part of what the joker said was strictly true - but there's enough truth in both of them be concerning.

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    +1,but there used to be a big problem with radar where it detected birds in addition to actual aircraft. This was one of the big problems around Pearl Harbor prior to December 7. The radar that was set up shortly before the surprise attack worked so well/poor it was detecting flocks of birds around the islands. I do believe that it was so bad that on the morning of Dec 7 someone in charge of the radar defense noticed something and said "Don't worry about it, it is just birds..." or something like that... I am having a devil of a time finding a source for some reason but I know it is out there!
    – Odin1806
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 16:43
  • Found one small mention of it here: paulbartonabc.com/…
    – Odin1806
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 16:47
  • @Odin1806: This book claims it was a later artillery radar that detected birds. The problem at Opana was just that none of the higher officers understood radar and what it could do for them. The guys operating the unit had some idea, but no real support from higher up - and didn't understand things all that well, either.
    – JRE
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 16:59
  • Yeah, and all about the higher ups fumbling rather than the radar failing.
    – JRE
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 17:01
  • 3
    Wikipedia has the story. The one officer on duty thought the radar operators were picking up some American bombers coming in. No mention of birds.
    – JRE
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 17:03

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