Monday, February 14, 2011

Stalin's Cannibals. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

What the new book Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder tells us about the nature of evil.

By Ron Rosenbaum, Slate.com


...Snyder's account of the Ukraine famine persuasively makes the case that Stalin in effect turned the entire Ukraine into a death camp and, rather than gassing its people, decreed death by famine.

Should this be considered a lesser crime because it's less "hands-on"? Here's where the accounts of cannibalism caused me to rethink this question—and to examine the related question of whether one can distinguish degrees of evil in genocides by their methodology.

The argument has been simmering for some time because it has consequences for how we think of events in contemporary history. Nazism, it is generally agreed, cannot be rehabilitated in any way, because it was inextricable from Hitler's crimes, but there are some on the left who believe communism can be rehabilitated despite the crimes of Stalin, and despite new evidence that the tactics of terror were innovations traceable to his predecessor Lenin.

There are those like the Postmodern sophist Slavoj Žižek who argue that Stalin's crimes were his aberrational distortion of an otherwise admirably utopian Marxist-Leninism whose reputation still deserves respect and maybe a Lacanian tweak in light of the genocidal reality of Marxist/Leninist regimes. But can one really separate an ideology from the genocides repeatedly committed in its name?

In reviewing Bloodlands in The New York Review of Books, my Slate colleague Anne Applebaum observed:

[U]ntil recently, it was politically incorrect in the West to admit that we defeated one genocidal dictator with the help of another. Only now … has the extent of the Soviet Union's mass murders become better known in the West. In recent years, some in the former Soviet sphere of influence … have begun to use the word "genocide" in legal documents to describe the Soviet Union's mass killings too.

Are there distinctions to be made between Hitler's and Stalin's genocides? Is it possible—without diminishing Hitler's evil—to argue that Stalin's crimes were by some measures worse? If we're speaking of quantity, Stalin's mass murder death toll may have far exceeded Hitler's, with many putting the figure at 20 million or so, depending on what you count.

But quantity probably shouldn't be the only measure. There is also intent. To some, Stalin's murders are not on the same plane (or at the same depth), because he may have believed however dementedly that he was acting in the service of the higher goal of class warfare and the universal aspirations of the oppressed working class. As opposed to Hitler, who killed in the service of a base, indefensible racial hatred.

But on the other hand, one could argue, Hitler too may have believed he was serving an idealistic cause, "purifying" humanity of a "plague bacillus" (his charming term for Jews) like a doctor (he often compared himself to Koch and Pasteur).

Indeed, I'll never forget the moment, which I recount in Explaining Hitler, when the great historian H.R. Trevor-Roper leaned toward me over a coffee table in London's Oxford and Cambridge Club after I'd asked him whether he felt Hitler knew what he was doing was wrong. No, Trevor Roper snapped, "Hitler was convinced of his own rectitude."

I find it hard to understand anyone who wants to argue that the murder of 20 million is "preferable" to anything, but our culture still hasn't assimilated the genocidal equivalence between Stalin and Hitler, because, as Applebaum points out, we used the former to defeat the latter...I've read things as horrifying, but never more horrifying than the four pages in Snyder's book devoted to cannibalism...The point of the controversy really should be not whether Hitler or Stalin was worse, but that there was more than one of them, more than two of course: There are also Pol Pot and the Rwandan killers, among others...

Propaganda poster
Should we hold different kinds of genocide differentially evil? ...Finally, the only other conclusion one can draw is that [Enlightenment --SH] "European civilization" is an oxymoron. These horrors, Nazi and Communist, all arose out of European ideas, political and philosophical, being put into practice. Even the Cambodian genocide had its genesis in the cafes of Paris where Pol Pot got his ideas. Hitler got his ideas in the cafes of Vienna.---Read it all

--->EU: Stalin planned Ukrainian famine. The European Union has recognised the Holodomor – the famine that hit Soviet Ukraine in 1932-1933 – as a crime against humanity and the Ukrainian people...

--->The Betrayal of Poland 1939-1945 by Patrick J. Buchanan...

--->A Rabbi Exposes the Animus Behind the Slandering of Pius XII...

"'I’ve never met a man more candid, fair, and honest,' marveled author H. G. Wells upon his return from a meeting with [Soviet genocidal mass murderer] Joe Stalin in 1934, at the start of the Great Purge. 'Everyone trusts him.' Wells had likewise been impressed by Vladimir Lenin, whom he called a 'frank,' 'refreshing,' and 'amazing little man,' who had 'almost persuaded me to share his vision.'---quoted in Paul Kengor's book Dupes

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