To the Editor:
I found Lev Navrozov’s article, “Notes on American Innocence” [August], disappointing and, ultimately, infuriating. Here is a sophisticated, cultured man flaunting his reactionary views and ridiculing liberals (who in his descriptions emerge almost invariably as humorless fanatics) for their astonishing naiveté What Mr. Navrozov is saying to Americans is this: You have it so much better than the rest of the world, what are you complaining about? . . .
When I came to this country as a Hungarian refugee in 1956, people expected me to rave about America and everything American. And I did—first out of conviction, then out of habit. I was always afraid (and I suppose, in a way, I still am) of the ultimate chauvinist taunt: “If you don’t like it here, go back where you came from!” Yet I also learned that even naturalized citizens have the right to be critical of their adopted country. Mr. Navrozov implies that if we saw America’s ills from a relativist perspective, we would realize just how good we have it. But I, for one, am not comforted by the knowledge that, say, the Watergate affair is child’s play compared to the Kremlin’s horror stories. . . .
The author is amused and often moved by all those “innocent Americans.” But who are these charmingly childlike people? Where, in what woods, can these babes be found? The Age of Innocence, if there ever was one, has long been over. And come to think of it, Mr. Navrozov may not even be very sorry to hear that, since he also warns us about the dangers of American naiveté, especially political naiveté. I imagine he is relieved to know that we have recently had a President who is anything but an innocent.
Suffolk Community College
Selden, New York
To the Editor:
. . . I am not in a position to dispute any of Lev Navrozov’s figures on, say, the prevalence of crime or the price of meat in the Soviet Union—since all such information available in this country comes from biased sources, whether pro- or anti-Soviet. However, his picture of this country seems like that of a person who once spent a weekend here—not like that of one who has lived here for two years. Now, when even our chief decision-makers have not been elected by the people, Mr. Navrozov’s characterization of our “democracy” is touching in its innocence.
Or is it innocence? One could write an article longer than Mr. Navrozov’s criticizing his distortions and omissions, the highly emotive words he uses. . . . Or the fact that Mr. Navrozov never mentions the CIA. But perhaps the grossest example is his attitude toward the Vietnam war. In this context it must be noted that there has been no evidence, nor even any accusation, that the North Vietnamese have tortured anyone other than U.S. pilots they . . . captured in the act of . . . bombing targets, including North Vietnamese schools and hospitals—whereas there is ample evidence from international observers that the South Vietnamese democracy has tortured thousands of its own civilians in such devices as the “tiger cages” of Con Son. Further, nowhere in his article does Mr. Navrozov cite anything in the USSR to compare with such atrocities (or the ones committed by the U.S. forces in places like My Lai and Ben Tre . . .) which would substantiate his claim that the “average Soviet reader . . . would be impressed with the civic progress of South Vietnam as compared with his own regime.”
Of course it is true that some democratic rights exist in the U.S. today, that our country hardly compares with Chile, Spain, the Union of South Africa, et al. But it is strange that Mr. Navrozov does not use these countries as a yardstick against which to measure the U.S. Could this be because our democracy-defending government supports and maintains these regimes?
Palo Alto, California
To the Editor:
. . . Lev Navrozov has movingly described the feelings of disbelief and helplessness experienced by those of us who have come from the “other side” when we are confronted by the all-knowing, slightly contemptuous, and always-so-confident “experts” on life and progress behind the Iron Curtain. . . . It took me many years to understand why Americans will not, cannot, know the truth. Not even after Solzhenitsyn. . . . So it is with great emotion and deep gratitude that I read Mr. Navrozov’s comments on his own thoughts and feelings in dealing with this aspect of his new life.
Lev Navrozov writes:
The fact that Ivan Sanders speaks of my “reactionary views” indicates that he and I have one concept in common: the belief that some social realities are reactionary, while others are progressive. But I wonder if our frame of reference as to what is progressive also coincides. In my frame of reference, the social system of China of the 3rd century B.C.E. would be reactionary in the 20th century, as are its analogues established by Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Castro, Rakosi, and others. On the other hand, the social fabric of the United States is not only highly progressive, but indeed revolutionary, though of course there is room for further progress, and it is not as easy as many seem to think to achieve progress (not to mention revolutionary advances) in social knowledge and practice. Some Americans, however, believe that, say, Castro (or Stalin, or Trotsky, or Mao) is a revolutionary simply because he calls himself one.
The foregoing, I believe, dispenses with much of what Mr. Sanders is saying. I never “ridiculed liberals,” and the word “liberal” did not appear in the article. Mr. Sanders himself has decided that the people I characterized as childlike or childish in their attitude toward closed societies must be “liberals.” Vague, ambivalent, or deceptive as the word “liberal” often is, it is not usually associated with Richard Nixon and J. William Fulbright at one and the same time, and yet these two men have contributed heavily to a foreign policy which is childish, ignorant, and fatal.
Another incorrect inference of Mr. Sanders is that I was saying to Americans: “You have it so much better than the rest of the world, what are you complaining about?” My point was simply that Americans must know about the war-civilizations which are so different from their own society.
Millea Kenin says that she is not in a position to know anything about crime or the price of meat in post-1917 Russia because all such information “comes from biased sources, whether pro- or anti-Soviet.” True, since the early 30′s the owners of Russia have not taken the trouble even to invent crime statistics; they simply declare that there has been no crime. A reasonable person might conclude from this not that Russia has had no crime for forty years but that it is a closed society which does not permit any truths about itself to be published either at home or abroad. As for the price of meat, Miss Kenin could easily learn this—at least what it is in Moscow’s state stores—as well as the salary of a Russian doctor or lawyer. Her unwillingness to know even what can be known is characteristic of the attitude of many Western journalists, scholars, and intellectuals who prefer to conclude that the regimes of Russia, China, or North Vietnam cannot be too bad since no “bad” statistics are available for them.
Miss Kenin notes that my “characterization” of American democracy is “touching in its innocence.” But I tried to explain that the “average civic index” seems to be higher for the U.S. today than for, say, Russia in the summer of 1917. The index as such has nothing to do with the specific constitutional problems Miss Kenin raises.
Miss Kenin notes that there is no hard evidence that the North Vietnamese tortured anyone other than U.S. pilots. True, just as there was no hard evidence that there had been torture in Russia after 1917 until Khrushchev’s speech “exposing” Stalin in 1956. How can we estimate the prevalence of torture in societies in which even common crime statistics are kept secret?
On the other hand, a Soviet reader of the New York Times would, in fact, be impressed with the civic progress of South Vietnam. Hundreds of actions the Times describes, from the independent behavior of opposition in the Senate of South Vietnam to marches, rallies, protests, etc. are unimaginable in Russia. Indeed, the claim on the part of some Americans that they know more of the “truth” about Vietnam because they know about the “tiger cages” resembles nothing so much as the claim of Soviet propaganda that there are no civil rights or freedoms in the U.S. because of the existence of Sing Sing and other “torture chambers.” As for My Lai, it and similar incidents show only that, inevitably, crimes, accidents, sudden mental aberrations, etc. occur in any army or in any other large group of people.
Miss Kenin suggests that I did not mention Chile, Spain, and the Union of South Africa because the “democracy-defending government [of the U.S.] supports and maintains these regimes.” But the U.S. government supports and maintains the war machine of Russia as well, and in fact is helping to raise its war potential. I referred to Russia, North Vietnam, China, and Nazi Germany rather than Spain, Chile, et al., because these former societies represent an extreme case of dangerous, closed, expanding war machines.
Finally I wish to thank Ella Jacin for her response. I feel that she speaks for those who have lived inside closed societies but never stopped thinking, either when they lived inside or after they escaped to democracy.