Commentary Magazine


Topic: Joseph Stalin

The Death of Another Tyrant

Finally, after weeks of speculation, the news is official: Hugo Chavez is dead. Venezuela’s Comandante, who kept an iron grip on power for 14 years, left this world, appropriately enough, on the 60th anniversary of Joseph Stalin’s death.

The similarities between the two dictators are compelling. Both Stalin and Chavez profoundly believed in a new, revolutionary morality that dispensed with such trifles as a free press and an independent judiciary. Even more pertinently, just as Stalin was, in his final months, obsessive to the point of paranoia about doctors in the pay of Zionism and Western imperialism poisoning him and his closest colleagues, so are Chavez’s cohorts. His appointed successor and vice president, Nicolas Maduro, ventured earlier today that the cancer which afflicted Chavez was somehow planted in his body–a suggestion the American government has already dismissed as “absurd.”

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Finally, after weeks of speculation, the news is official: Hugo Chavez is dead. Venezuela’s Comandante, who kept an iron grip on power for 14 years, left this world, appropriately enough, on the 60th anniversary of Joseph Stalin’s death.

The similarities between the two dictators are compelling. Both Stalin and Chavez profoundly believed in a new, revolutionary morality that dispensed with such trifles as a free press and an independent judiciary. Even more pertinently, just as Stalin was, in his final months, obsessive to the point of paranoia about doctors in the pay of Zionism and Western imperialism poisoning him and his closest colleagues, so are Chavez’s cohorts. His appointed successor and vice president, Nicolas Maduro, ventured earlier today that the cancer which afflicted Chavez was somehow planted in his body–a suggestion the American government has already dismissed as “absurd.”

Maduro, nonetheless, is determined to implicate the United States in a grand conspiracy to kill Chavez. Shortly before the announcement of Chavez’s death, two U.S. Air Force attaches in Caracas, Col. David Delmonaco and his assistant Devlin Costal, were expelled from the country. Explaining the decision, Maduro said that “scientific proof” would eventually emerge to confirm that Chavez was poisoned.

The parallels here with the “Doctors’ Plot” that surfaced in Stalin’s final months are all too clear. Ironically, though, while it took Stalin’s death for the plot accusations to be exposed as a fabrication, in Venezuela the reverse is true. Chavez’s death is an opportunity for his followers to stir up a Doctors’ Plot of their very own–and given the regime’s embrace of anti-Semitism along with anti-Americanism, these fantasies could wind up in some very dark places indeed.

What, though, of the immediate future? According to the Venezuelan constitution, elections have to be held within 30 days of the death of the incumbent president. However, in the more than three months that Chavez has been off the scene, the Chavistas have treated constitutional requirements with absolute contempt.

When Chavez failed to make his scheduled inauguration on January 15–an obvious sign of incapacitation and therefore a trigger for new elections–the Chavista Supreme Court, packed with judges personally appointed by the president, simply ruled that his absence was temporary and that new elections were not necessary. Meanwhile, Maduro went to extravagant lengths to maintain the fiction of a healthy, functioning Chavez recuperating behind close doors. As recently as two weeks ago, he claimed that he and his fellow cabinet ministers had held a five-hour meeting with Chavez. With a straight face, Maduro quoted Chavez lecturing those assembled, “…about the speculative attack on our currency and product hoarding, and said that we have to increase actions to fight the economic war being waged by the bourgeois.”

To a great extent, this strategy worked. Only five days ago, Datanalisis, a Venezuelan polling firm, reported that 56.7 percent of Venezuelans believed that Chavez would recover and return to politics. The tight control the regime exercises over the state media, its continued marginalization of independent voices like the Globovision television station, and, most importantly, its influence over the country’s National Election Commission–a body dubbed by the influential Venezuelan opposition politician Diego Arria as the “Ministry of Electing Mr. Chavez”–mean that in the event that elections are called, the opposition will find itself in a very difficult position.

An opposition candidate–currently, Henrique Capriles, who challenged Chavez last October, is regarded as Maduro’s likely opponent–will be able to articulate a cogent message. Chavez has dragged Venezuela’s economy into the gutter. Food shortages and the recent devaluation of the Bolivar against the U.S. dollar by 46.5 percent are damaging the very constituency of poverty-mired Venezuelans which the Chavistas claim to represent. The country has become a virtual colony of Cuba, which benefits hugely from Venezuela’s heavily subsidized oil supplies. Finally, during the Chavez era, relations with the world’s democracies have suffered as a result of the Comandante’s embrace of tyrants like Fidel Castro, the Iranian mullahs and the dictator of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko–relationships which have brought no material consequences other than to rob the Venezuelan people of precious oil revenues.

The Chavistas, now at their most vengeful and paranoid, will do their utmost to ensure that no one hears these basic truths. As a result, any election will more closely resemble polling day in Iran or Zimbabwe than the United States or Europe. The question, then, for the Venezuelan opposition, as it battles against accusations of plots and conspiracies, is whether to focus on elections in a system where the odds are stacked in favor of the regime, or whether to develop a mass protest movement alongside. Both these options are going to require huge investments of time, courage and willingness to continue in spite of defeats. After all, it took 37 years for the USSR to finally dissolve following Stalin’s death. One shudders at the thought that Chavismo will last as long.

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Stalin, Memory, and Moral Restoration

Today is the 60th anniversary of the death Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. There are many ways to mark such an occasion, though you could hardly do better than this Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty photographic tribute to Stalin’s victims. As the introduction notes, at the height of the purge period, Stalin’s henchmen were executing 1,000 people a day. And the anniversary comes this year at a time when Stalin’s vision for society, the fear and terror of totalitarian Communism, lives on in North Korea.

Recalling Stalin’s crimes is important, if repetitive, because it seems to be what the world failed to do with Stalin’s mentor, Vladimir Lenin, who created the system maximized by Stalin and who should also be remembered as a monstrous criminal, only one with fewer victims than his protégé. At any rate, one person who has chosen the wrong way to remember Stalin’s death and legacy is exactly who you might expect it to be: Vladimir Putin. Reuters reports:

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Today is the 60th anniversary of the death Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. There are many ways to mark such an occasion, though you could hardly do better than this Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty photographic tribute to Stalin’s victims. As the introduction notes, at the height of the purge period, Stalin’s henchmen were executing 1,000 people a day. And the anniversary comes this year at a time when Stalin’s vision for society, the fear and terror of totalitarian Communism, lives on in North Korea.

Recalling Stalin’s crimes is important, if repetitive, because it seems to be what the world failed to do with Stalin’s mentor, Vladimir Lenin, who created the system maximized by Stalin and who should also be remembered as a monstrous criminal, only one with fewer victims than his protégé. At any rate, one person who has chosen the wrong way to remember Stalin’s death and legacy is exactly who you might expect it to be: Vladimir Putin. Reuters reports:

Support for Stalin has risen in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 gutted the social safety net, damaged national pride and left many Russians longing for the perceived order and stability of the Communist era.

But Lev Gudkov, director of independent Levada Center polling group, said the biggest shift occurred after Putin came to power in 2000 and “launched a comprehensive program to ideologically reeducate society”.

“Reeducate” is certainly an appropriate term for the ruse. And how successful have Vladimir Putin’s efforts to clean up the image of a tyrannical murderer been? He’s made some progress:

In the same poll, 47 percent of respondents said Stalin was “a wise leader who brought the Soviet Union to might and prosperity”. And in a Levada poll last month, 49 percent said Stalin played a positive role, while 32 percent said it was negative – roughly the opposite of a 1994 Survey….

Nowadays, efforts to debunk the criticism and clean up Stalin’s image are a fixture of bookshop shelves, and school notebooks decorated with Stalin’s photo went on sale last year – something unthinkable at that time.

In Volgograd, the city where Putin celebrated the 70th anniversary of the 1943 Battle of Stalingrad last month, local authorities now allow the city to be referred to by its old name at annual anniversary events and on five other days every year.

It should go without saying—though Putin’s antics suggest that it does not—that the Soviet Union’s disintegration in 1991 is still a relatively recent event by historical standards, and that Russians are ill-served by any effort to keep them bound up in the lies of Putin’s imagination. In the July 2012 issue of COMMENTARY I reviewed Leon Aron’s book on the fall of the Soviet Union, and mentioned that Aron critiques the poison that Putin injects into the bloodstream of a still-recovering nation by whitewashing the crimes of its past.

Aron writes in the book of the great responsibility on the shoulders of the political leaders who inherit any revolution. The public, after all, must go back to some semblance of normal life for the new state to have a chance. “People have to make a living, to care for families, and so they leave the public square to the political class, which at this early stage cannot be but a moral centaur: half forward-looking human and half beast of the past,” Aron writes. Here is Aron’s description of the process that Putin has interrupted:

One could, with greater or lesser precision, assess the damage to Russian culture from everything that was blown up, burnt, lost, thrown out, and spoiled under the Soviet regime, the writer Boris Vasiliev wrote in January 1989. From the starved-to-death great poet Alexander Blok to those who were lost to Russia because of forced emigration: Bunin and Rakhmaninov, Repin and Chaliapin, Shagal and Kandinsky. But who, Vasiliev asked, could ever calculate the moral loss inflicted by the regime? Those who led the moral revolution were well aware of the vastness of the distance that must be traveled before their work was completed. As the sociologist Vladimir Shubkin wrote in April 1989 in the leading liberal magazine Novy mir: “We have miles to go before the public morality is restored … before we even approach what might be called the moral Renaissance.” He was right, of course. Sixteen years later Vladimir Putin–then a mere president, soon the “National Leader”–called the demise of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.

Pundits have, in recent years, grown noticeably impatient with those who bring up the Cold War past, and implicit (and sometimes explicit) in their disinterest in the topic is the question of why it is necessary to again recount what the West fought to defeat in the Cold War. The attempt to even partially rehabilitate Stalin’s legacy is one answer that sadly, in 2013, still bears repeating.

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Is Loughner Insane or Evil?

Over at Politico, Roger Simon has written a thought-provoking column about the descriptions of Jared Loughner in the media. News outlets have rushed to label Loughner as “insane” — but whatever happened to “evil”?

From Politico:

We know that anybody who guns down innocent people or sticks dead bodies under his house or eats them has got to be crazy, for pity’s sake.

And we believe that because we do not want to believe, as our ancestors believed, in evil. Evil is even more frightening than madness. Madness can be treated. All we need is early intervention and clinics and more resources devoted to the problem.

Simon argues that evil has “been medicalized into insanity. But only up to a certain point. There seems to be a correlation between the number of people you kill and whether you are called insane or evil.”

Loughner allegedly kills six and is insane.

Adolf Hitler kills more than 6 million, and he is evil. The same is true for Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung. We don’t say they needed the intervention of community health clinics; we say they were the ultimate examples of evil on Earth because they murdered tens of millions of people.

Is the difference just numbers, however? You kill a certain number of people and you are nuts, but you cross the line and kill more and you are evil? Is that how it really works?

Or, in our modern times, are we embarrassed by the term “evil”? To some, it seems too primitive or too religious or both.

And we would much rather believe that all sick people can be cured by medical intervention.

Because that is a lot less scary than believing that evil walks among us.

I agree that there is a cultural squeamishness about using the term “evil.” Society has become infused with a notion of moral relativity, and “evil” is a moralistic word with religious connotations that seem archaic.

The concept of evil is most distasteful to the political left. President George W. Bush was excoriated for using the phrase “axis of evil” and framing the global war on terror as a fight between good and evil. President Obama has notably shied away from using that type of rhetoric to describe our enemies.

Obviously there are people whose minds are so deranged that they commit heinous acts without realizing they are doing something wrong (think Norman Bates’s character in the movie Psycho). But there is a difference between Bates and a murderer like Ted Bundy, who understood that his actions were unconscionable and tried to cover them up. Bundy may have been crazy, but he was also evil — it’s definitely possible to be both, and the two are often found together.

The question of whether Loughner is insane or evil will be decided in a court of law. But, as Simon notes, it’s interesting that many media outlets have already made up their mind.

Over at Politico, Roger Simon has written a thought-provoking column about the descriptions of Jared Loughner in the media. News outlets have rushed to label Loughner as “insane” — but whatever happened to “evil”?

From Politico:

We know that anybody who guns down innocent people or sticks dead bodies under his house or eats them has got to be crazy, for pity’s sake.

And we believe that because we do not want to believe, as our ancestors believed, in evil. Evil is even more frightening than madness. Madness can be treated. All we need is early intervention and clinics and more resources devoted to the problem.

Simon argues that evil has “been medicalized into insanity. But only up to a certain point. There seems to be a correlation between the number of people you kill and whether you are called insane or evil.”

Loughner allegedly kills six and is insane.

Adolf Hitler kills more than 6 million, and he is evil. The same is true for Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung. We don’t say they needed the intervention of community health clinics; we say they were the ultimate examples of evil on Earth because they murdered tens of millions of people.

Is the difference just numbers, however? You kill a certain number of people and you are nuts, but you cross the line and kill more and you are evil? Is that how it really works?

Or, in our modern times, are we embarrassed by the term “evil”? To some, it seems too primitive or too religious or both.

And we would much rather believe that all sick people can be cured by medical intervention.

Because that is a lot less scary than believing that evil walks among us.

I agree that there is a cultural squeamishness about using the term “evil.” Society has become infused with a notion of moral relativity, and “evil” is a moralistic word with religious connotations that seem archaic.

The concept of evil is most distasteful to the political left. President George W. Bush was excoriated for using the phrase “axis of evil” and framing the global war on terror as a fight between good and evil. President Obama has notably shied away from using that type of rhetoric to describe our enemies.

Obviously there are people whose minds are so deranged that they commit heinous acts without realizing they are doing something wrong (think Norman Bates’s character in the movie Psycho). But there is a difference between Bates and a murderer like Ted Bundy, who understood that his actions were unconscionable and tried to cover them up. Bundy may have been crazy, but he was also evil — it’s definitely possible to be both, and the two are often found together.

The question of whether Loughner is insane or evil will be decided in a court of law. But, as Simon notes, it’s interesting that many media outlets have already made up their mind.

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Why No Outrage Over Oliver Stone?

Oliver Stone’s outburst of rank anti-Semitism in an interview last weekend with the Sunday Times of London has barely created a ripple in the mainstream media. Just as the sophisticates in liberal media outlets and the Hollywood elite gave a collective shrug of indifference when Mel Gibson issued his original anti-Semitic rantings, we have heard not much at all from the trend setters (too busy with their Roman Polanski victory celebrations?). The ADL issued a statement that nicely sums up what others prefer to ignore:

Oliver Stone has once again shown his conspiratorial colors with his comments about ‘Jewish domination of the media’ and control over U.S. foreign policy. His words conjure up some of the most stereotypical and conspiratorial notions of undue Jewish power and influence.

The myth of Jewish control is an old stereotype that persists to this day. Stone uses it in a particularly egregious fashion by suggesting that Hitler has gotten an unfair shake because of Jewish influence.

This is the most absurd kind of analysis and shows the extent to which Oliver Stone is willing to propound his anti-Semitic and conspiratorial views.

Israel’s Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein blasted Stone:

“Beyond the ignorance he proves with his comments, his demonization of the Jewish people could be a sequel to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the minister said. “When a man of Stone’s stature says such things, it could lead to a new wave of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, and it may even cause real harm to Jewish communities and individuals.”

It’s not like Stone’s interview didn’t have newsworthy remarks:

In the interview, Stone said America’s focus on the Holocaust was a product of the “Jewish domination of the media.” He said his upcoming Showtime documentary series Secret History of America would put Hitler and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin “in context.” “Hitler did far more damage to the Russians than the Jewish people, 25 or 30 [million killed],” Stone said … Stone, who recently met with Ahmadinejad, said American policy toward Iran was “horrible.”

“Iran isn’t necessarily the good guy,” he said. “But we don’t know the full story!”

By contrast, Stone praised Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez as “a brave, blunt, earthy” man, who does not censor the Internet in his country.

Stone also raised an uproar when he defended Hitler at a press conference in January.

“Hitler is an easy scapegoat throughout history and it’s been used cheaply,” he said at the time. “He’s the product of a series of actions. It’s cause and effect.”

Maybe it’s Stone’s long leftist track record — who can forget his glowing biopic of Fidel Castro? — that has earned him a pass from the liberal U.S. media.

But maybe there is something else at work. Stone’s venomous rant against “Jewish domination of the media” and his assertion about the “Israel lobby” (“They stay on top of every comment, the most powerful lobby in Washington. Israel has f***** up United States foreign policy for years”) are not so different from what comes from the lips of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, the writings of the Israel-hating left, and the bile-drenched blogs of those who, for example, claimed John McCain was surrounded by Jewish neocon advisers.

It’s reasonable to conclude that Oliver Stone hasn’t been called out by the liberals — those who advertise themselves as experts on diversity and bigotry — because a great deal of what he said doesn’t sound all that objectionable to far too many of them. And of course, it’s rather embarrassing for those seeking respectability (the “tough love for Israel” gang) to illuminate that anti-Israel venom is, when you scratch the surface, nothing more than old-fashioned Jew-hating.

Oliver Stone’s outburst of rank anti-Semitism in an interview last weekend with the Sunday Times of London has barely created a ripple in the mainstream media. Just as the sophisticates in liberal media outlets and the Hollywood elite gave a collective shrug of indifference when Mel Gibson issued his original anti-Semitic rantings, we have heard not much at all from the trend setters (too busy with their Roman Polanski victory celebrations?). The ADL issued a statement that nicely sums up what others prefer to ignore:

Oliver Stone has once again shown his conspiratorial colors with his comments about ‘Jewish domination of the media’ and control over U.S. foreign policy. His words conjure up some of the most stereotypical and conspiratorial notions of undue Jewish power and influence.

The myth of Jewish control is an old stereotype that persists to this day. Stone uses it in a particularly egregious fashion by suggesting that Hitler has gotten an unfair shake because of Jewish influence.

This is the most absurd kind of analysis and shows the extent to which Oliver Stone is willing to propound his anti-Semitic and conspiratorial views.

Israel’s Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein blasted Stone:

“Beyond the ignorance he proves with his comments, his demonization of the Jewish people could be a sequel to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the minister said. “When a man of Stone’s stature says such things, it could lead to a new wave of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, and it may even cause real harm to Jewish communities and individuals.”

It’s not like Stone’s interview didn’t have newsworthy remarks:

In the interview, Stone said America’s focus on the Holocaust was a product of the “Jewish domination of the media.” He said his upcoming Showtime documentary series Secret History of America would put Hitler and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin “in context.” “Hitler did far more damage to the Russians than the Jewish people, 25 or 30 [million killed],” Stone said … Stone, who recently met with Ahmadinejad, said American policy toward Iran was “horrible.”

“Iran isn’t necessarily the good guy,” he said. “But we don’t know the full story!”

By contrast, Stone praised Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez as “a brave, blunt, earthy” man, who does not censor the Internet in his country.

Stone also raised an uproar when he defended Hitler at a press conference in January.

“Hitler is an easy scapegoat throughout history and it’s been used cheaply,” he said at the time. “He’s the product of a series of actions. It’s cause and effect.”

Maybe it’s Stone’s long leftist track record — who can forget his glowing biopic of Fidel Castro? — that has earned him a pass from the liberal U.S. media.

But maybe there is something else at work. Stone’s venomous rant against “Jewish domination of the media” and his assertion about the “Israel lobby” (“They stay on top of every comment, the most powerful lobby in Washington. Israel has f***** up United States foreign policy for years”) are not so different from what comes from the lips of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, the writings of the Israel-hating left, and the bile-drenched blogs of those who, for example, claimed John McCain was surrounded by Jewish neocon advisers.

It’s reasonable to conclude that Oliver Stone hasn’t been called out by the liberals — those who advertise themselves as experts on diversity and bigotry — because a great deal of what he said doesn’t sound all that objectionable to far too many of them. And of course, it’s rather embarrassing for those seeking respectability (the “tough love for Israel” gang) to illuminate that anti-Israel venom is, when you scratch the surface, nothing more than old-fashioned Jew-hating.

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Busted Tribute

Bedford, Virginia’s D-Day memorial has just been embellished. Among emotionally evocative statues of soldiers dying on the beaches of Normandy accompanied by heroic images of their leaders now stands … Joseph Stalin.

At the beginning of June, his visage was added to memorialize “the tens of millions who died under Stalin’s rule and in tribute to all whose valor, fidelity, and sacrifice denied him and his successors victory in the Cold War,” as the plaque explains. The only problem is that the statue commemorates the man, not the men who he killed. While the supervisors of the memorial condemned the statue, the artist, Richard Pumphrey, who remains in Switzerland, was not “concerned” that it might be controversial.

Regardless of what the artist may say, there are artistic conventions. A bust of Stalin commemorates Stalin, not his victims. It is the wrong image in the wrong place.

Bedford, Virginia’s D-Day memorial has just been embellished. Among emotionally evocative statues of soldiers dying on the beaches of Normandy accompanied by heroic images of their leaders now stands … Joseph Stalin.

At the beginning of June, his visage was added to memorialize “the tens of millions who died under Stalin’s rule and in tribute to all whose valor, fidelity, and sacrifice denied him and his successors victory in the Cold War,” as the plaque explains. The only problem is that the statue commemorates the man, not the men who he killed. While the supervisors of the memorial condemned the statue, the artist, Richard Pumphrey, who remains in Switzerland, was not “concerned” that it might be controversial.

Regardless of what the artist may say, there are artistic conventions. A bust of Stalin commemorates Stalin, not his victims. It is the wrong image in the wrong place.

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What Can They Call McCain?

On a recent radio show John McCain said

I detest war . . .It might not be the worst thing to befall human beings, but it is wretched beyond all description … Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war.

Indeed, he should know.

With McCain as the presumptive Republican nominee, the call for the President’s daughters to suit up and go into combat has probably been sounded for the last time. The same goes for the charge that the President is a “chickenhawk,” or a war-hungry “armchair general” who’s avoided combat in his own life. Because those two “points” can find no purchase when applied to McCain’s support for the Iraq War, they have finally been excised from the Iraq discussion. And not a moment too soon.

A cause is rendered just or unjust based on considerations intrinsic to that cause, not because Jenna Bush isn’t a soldier—or because Joseph Stalin’s son was one, and not because those who decide to fight have not themselves necessarily seen battle.

The anti-war crowd that cries “chickenhawk” subscribes to the fallacy that people who have seen war would never again support combat. What’s most interesting about John McCain’s quote is the “might not” part. McCain–who never discusses his own son’s service in Iraq–understands that there are things worse than war. Tyranny without end perhaps being one of them. While that’s very easy for me to type, it can’t be easy for McCain to say. With the exception of Senator Jay Rockefeller, no one has questioned McCain’s firsthand war experience, and no one can call for him to “send” his own children into Iraq. John McCain’s presence in the presidential race can be credited with ridding us of some of the more frivolous aspects of the Iraq discussion and getting the public to focus on the cause itself.

On a recent radio show John McCain said

I detest war . . .It might not be the worst thing to befall human beings, but it is wretched beyond all description … Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war.

Indeed, he should know.

With McCain as the presumptive Republican nominee, the call for the President’s daughters to suit up and go into combat has probably been sounded for the last time. The same goes for the charge that the President is a “chickenhawk,” or a war-hungry “armchair general” who’s avoided combat in his own life. Because those two “points” can find no purchase when applied to McCain’s support for the Iraq War, they have finally been excised from the Iraq discussion. And not a moment too soon.

A cause is rendered just or unjust based on considerations intrinsic to that cause, not because Jenna Bush isn’t a soldier—or because Joseph Stalin’s son was one, and not because those who decide to fight have not themselves necessarily seen battle.

The anti-war crowd that cries “chickenhawk” subscribes to the fallacy that people who have seen war would never again support combat. What’s most interesting about John McCain’s quote is the “might not” part. McCain–who never discusses his own son’s service in Iraq–understands that there are things worse than war. Tyranny without end perhaps being one of them. While that’s very easy for me to type, it can’t be easy for McCain to say. With the exception of Senator Jay Rockefeller, no one has questioned McCain’s firsthand war experience, and no one can call for him to “send” his own children into Iraq. John McCain’s presence in the presidential race can be credited with ridding us of some of the more frivolous aspects of the Iraq discussion and getting the public to focus on the cause itself.

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Bookshelf

• Why are so many Americans unaware that Joseph Stalin was as brutal, systematic and effective a killer as Adolf Hitler? One reason is because so much of the Old Left looked the other way at Stalin’s nefarious activities, and was unwilling later on to admit that it had done so. Another is that the Soviet Union remained a closed society long after the killing stopped, making it vastly more difficult for interested Westerners to study the Great Terror in the way that the Holocaust became a subject of detailed historical inquiry. As a result, we know far more about the individual innocents who died in the Holocaust than about those who were murdered at Stalin’s command.

Will this situation continue? Now that the Old Left is dying out, it has become somewhat more acceptable for American academics to study the Great Terror and report on it in a straightforward way, which doubtless explains the publication of The Voices of the Dead: Stalin’s Great Terror in the 1930s (Yale, 295 pp., $30), a new book by Hiroaki Kuromiya, a professor of history at Indiana University. For the past several years, Kuromiya has been examining the files of the secret police in Kiev, which in the 30’s was the Soviet Union’s third-largest city. (Now it is part of the independent state of Ukraine, whose rulers are more willing than their opposite numbers in Moscow to let outsiders study what Stalin wrought.) Like all bureaucrats, the killers of Kiev kept detailed records of their activities, right down to the late-night death warrants that were signed minutes before their prisoners were hustled out of their cells, shot in the nape of the neck and dumped into mass graves. In order to write The Voices of the Dead, Kuromiya examined the surviving dossiers of several dozen victims of the Great Terror, paying special attention to the handwritten notes in which official interrogators recorded the results of their attempts to extract confessions out of their prisoners prior to having them executed. The result is a book whose deliberate flatness of tone does not make it any less sickening.

Kuromiya’s own description of The Voices of the Dead is no less eloquent in its plainness:

The present book is a modest attempt to allow some of those executed in 1937-38 a voice. The focus is on individuals, in particular those whose lives meant absolutely nothing to Stalin: innocent people who were swept up in the maelstrom of political terror he unleashed. Most of the people discussed here are “unremarkable”: they left no conspicuous imprint on history. . . . Stalin was certain that no one would remember them. The “all-conquering power of Bolshevism” condemned them to oblivion, but it could not suppress their voices completely. Ironically, Stalin’s efforts to extinguish their voices helped preserve them, in the depths of their case files.

The people we meet in The Voices of the Dead are indeed “utterly unknown, ‘ordinary’ Soviet citizens: workers, peasants, homemakers, teachers, priests, musicians, soldiers, pensioners, ballerinas, beggars.” All they had in common was that they ran afoul of Stalin’s killing machine. Many appear to have been tortured before being sent to the execution chamber. Some confessed to crimes that they may or may not have committed, while others went to their graves swearing that they had done nothing wrong. To read about them is a jolting experience, no matter how much you may already know about the regime that sentenced them to die.

The Voices of the Dead is illustrated with reproductions of some of the documents examined by Kuromiya, including two harrowing “mug shots” of a pair of victims that appear to have been taken not long before they were executed. The book also contains contemporary photographs taken at the site of the mass graves on the outskirts of Kiev where tens of thousands of Stalin’s victims are buried. It is now a memorial park dotted with crosses, though few go there: “Except on commemorative occasions…the graves are deserted—dark, serene and eerie. History weighs on visitors here.” The main grave is marked with a monument inscribed with just two words: Vechnaya pamyat—eternal memory. It is a devastatingly simple reminder of the evil that men do in the name of ideas. So is this disturbing, invaluable book.

• Why are so many Americans unaware that Joseph Stalin was as brutal, systematic and effective a killer as Adolf Hitler? One reason is because so much of the Old Left looked the other way at Stalin’s nefarious activities, and was unwilling later on to admit that it had done so. Another is that the Soviet Union remained a closed society long after the killing stopped, making it vastly more difficult for interested Westerners to study the Great Terror in the way that the Holocaust became a subject of detailed historical inquiry. As a result, we know far more about the individual innocents who died in the Holocaust than about those who were murdered at Stalin’s command.

Will this situation continue? Now that the Old Left is dying out, it has become somewhat more acceptable for American academics to study the Great Terror and report on it in a straightforward way, which doubtless explains the publication of The Voices of the Dead: Stalin’s Great Terror in the 1930s (Yale, 295 pp., $30), a new book by Hiroaki Kuromiya, a professor of history at Indiana University. For the past several years, Kuromiya has been examining the files of the secret police in Kiev, which in the 30’s was the Soviet Union’s third-largest city. (Now it is part of the independent state of Ukraine, whose rulers are more willing than their opposite numbers in Moscow to let outsiders study what Stalin wrought.) Like all bureaucrats, the killers of Kiev kept detailed records of their activities, right down to the late-night death warrants that were signed minutes before their prisoners were hustled out of their cells, shot in the nape of the neck and dumped into mass graves. In order to write The Voices of the Dead, Kuromiya examined the surviving dossiers of several dozen victims of the Great Terror, paying special attention to the handwritten notes in which official interrogators recorded the results of their attempts to extract confessions out of their prisoners prior to having them executed. The result is a book whose deliberate flatness of tone does not make it any less sickening.

Kuromiya’s own description of The Voices of the Dead is no less eloquent in its plainness:

The present book is a modest attempt to allow some of those executed in 1937-38 a voice. The focus is on individuals, in particular those whose lives meant absolutely nothing to Stalin: innocent people who were swept up in the maelstrom of political terror he unleashed. Most of the people discussed here are “unremarkable”: they left no conspicuous imprint on history. . . . Stalin was certain that no one would remember them. The “all-conquering power of Bolshevism” condemned them to oblivion, but it could not suppress their voices completely. Ironically, Stalin’s efforts to extinguish their voices helped preserve them, in the depths of their case files.

The people we meet in The Voices of the Dead are indeed “utterly unknown, ‘ordinary’ Soviet citizens: workers, peasants, homemakers, teachers, priests, musicians, soldiers, pensioners, ballerinas, beggars.” All they had in common was that they ran afoul of Stalin’s killing machine. Many appear to have been tortured before being sent to the execution chamber. Some confessed to crimes that they may or may not have committed, while others went to their graves swearing that they had done nothing wrong. To read about them is a jolting experience, no matter how much you may already know about the regime that sentenced them to die.

The Voices of the Dead is illustrated with reproductions of some of the documents examined by Kuromiya, including two harrowing “mug shots” of a pair of victims that appear to have been taken not long before they were executed. The book also contains contemporary photographs taken at the site of the mass graves on the outskirts of Kiev where tens of thousands of Stalin’s victims are buried. It is now a memorial park dotted with crosses, though few go there: “Except on commemorative occasions…the graves are deserted—dark, serene and eerie. History weighs on visitors here.” The main grave is marked with a monument inscribed with just two words: Vechnaya pamyat—eternal memory. It is a devastatingly simple reminder of the evil that men do in the name of ideas. So is this disturbing, invaluable book.

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Campus Progress, Regressing

According to its website, the mission of Campus Progress, an outfit affiliated with left-of-center think tank the Center for American Progress, is “to see that the next generation of progressive leaders is better trained, better informed, more diverse, and more united than any generation before.” Irrespective of one’s political affiliation, one can appreciate the organization’s idealistic approach to getting young people involved in public life.

But a piece by Kay Steiger on the legacy of Ernesto “Che” Guevara demonstrates the jejune approach that many on the Left still take when it comes to discussing left-wing totalitarians. An earnestness afflicts the entire piece, the purpose of which is to inform liberal readers that the man they lionize on t-shirts and lighters is not exactly a progressive hero, as he’s been portrayed. Steiger writes that “[Guevara] was a man of principles, to a fault.” The same, of course, can be (and still is) said about Joseph Stalin or Robert Mugabe; in the minds of many liberals, it is not the ideas of these men that were toxic from the start, just the way they were executed.

Steiger writes of Guevara’s “impatience with governing,” which is a nice euphemism for a belief in the virtues of violent revolution over the comparatively less sexy devotion to the rule of law and individual rights. Steiger is not the first writer to employ such rhetorical sleights-of-hand aimed at whitewashing the brutality of this particular left-wing thug.

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According to its website, the mission of Campus Progress, an outfit affiliated with left-of-center think tank the Center for American Progress, is “to see that the next generation of progressive leaders is better trained, better informed, more diverse, and more united than any generation before.” Irrespective of one’s political affiliation, one can appreciate the organization’s idealistic approach to getting young people involved in public life.

But a piece by Kay Steiger on the legacy of Ernesto “Che” Guevara demonstrates the jejune approach that many on the Left still take when it comes to discussing left-wing totalitarians. An earnestness afflicts the entire piece, the purpose of which is to inform liberal readers that the man they lionize on t-shirts and lighters is not exactly a progressive hero, as he’s been portrayed. Steiger writes that “[Guevara] was a man of principles, to a fault.” The same, of course, can be (and still is) said about Joseph Stalin or Robert Mugabe; in the minds of many liberals, it is not the ideas of these men that were toxic from the start, just the way they were executed.

Steiger writes of Guevara’s “impatience with governing,” which is a nice euphemism for a belief in the virtues of violent revolution over the comparatively less sexy devotion to the rule of law and individual rights. Steiger is not the first writer to employ such rhetorical sleights-of-hand aimed at whitewashing the brutality of this particular left-wing thug.

Perhaps knowing that she will not be able to convince her left-leaning audience that Che was bad by virtue of his politics, Steiger pinpoints the man’s reactionary views towards women and homosexuals, who rank highly among the intended beneficiaries of 20th century liberalism. (She does, though, make a key factual error in her assertion that the gay Cuban novelist Reynaldo Arenas “was killed as the result of the government’s prosecution of gays.” He died in Miami, where he had fled, of complications due to AIDS. This, of course, is not to discount the Cuban regime’s incarceration of gays, along with other undesirables, in prison labor camps.) Steiger helpfully informs us that

At best, Guevara’s politics advocated for a mindless devotion of the working man (with an emphasis on “man”) to socialism, but left out other causes many progressives have worked long and hard for: equality for gender and sexual orientation. In fact, gays were persecuted following the Cuban revolution.

The precious, explanatory manner in which this is written (“Hey guys, Che wasn’t exactly a great dude”) characterizes Steiger’s entire article, seen here in the surprise she evinces towards her own discovery that Guevara was violently hostile towards homosexuals (“In fact”). But the hostility of left-wing regimes towards homosexuality is hardly a secret. The Soviet Union and its satellite states around the world viewed homosexuality as a deficiency that would be cured with the perfection of Socialist Man.

It’s nice to see a liberal website like Campus Progress explain to its readers why Che Guevara was “cruel and militantly dogmatic in ways that should make the Left squirm.” But Steiger nevertheless qualifies this already tepid condemnation with an assertion that “[t]he discussion of Guevara is still divisive and complicated, years after his death, and it should be.” There is nothing “complicated” about the moral character of Che Guevara; he was an evil man. And the only thing “divisive” about “the discussion” surrounding him is that so many on the Left persist in claiming otherwise. That an ostensibly mainstream liberal organization like Campus Progress feels the need to explain to its readers that Guevara was not the hero of their imaginations, 40 years after the man’s death, says a lot about the “next generation of progressive leaders.”

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A Tale of Two “Doctors’ Plots”

What is the difference between an Islamic Doctors’ Plot and a Jewish Doctors’ Plot?

It sounds like the opening line of a joke, but it’s not.

So far, in the Islamic Doctors’ Plot now being unraveled by Scotland Yard, eight people have been arrested in connection with two failed car-bombings in London and a third at the Glasgow airport. Seven are doctors, and the eighth is a laboratory technician. They are all suspected of planning or participating in a mass casualty attack, using gas canisters, gasoline, and nails to inflict maximum carnage on innocents civilians, as part of a broader worldwide campaign of terror in the name of Islam.

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What is the difference between an Islamic Doctors’ Plot and a Jewish Doctors’ Plot?

It sounds like the opening line of a joke, but it’s not.

So far, in the Islamic Doctors’ Plot now being unraveled by Scotland Yard, eight people have been arrested in connection with two failed car-bombings in London and a third at the Glasgow airport. Seven are doctors, and the eighth is a laboratory technician. They are all suspected of planning or participating in a mass casualty attack, using gas canisters, gasoline, and nails to inflict maximum carnage on innocents civilians, as part of a broader worldwide campaign of terror in the name of Islam.

We do not yet know the nature of the evidence against all of those arrested, and presumably there is the possibility that some of them might be innocent of the charges on which they are being held. But, of course, the evidence against one of them, Dr. Khalid Ahmed, who was shouting “Allah, Allah” as he punched a British policeman and was burned over much of his body while attempting to pour gasoline on his burning Jeep Cherokee as it was lodged in the entranceway of Glasgow airport, would appear to be rather strong.

The Jewish Doctors’ Plot is another kettle of fish altogether. On January 13, 1953, the Soviet Communist party newspaper Pravda published an article under the headline “Vicious Spies and Killers under the Mask of Academic Physicians.” It told of a vast plot by a group of doctors who “deliberately and viciously undermined their patients’ health by making incorrect diagnoses, and then killed them with bad and incorrect treatments.”

The participants in the plot, continued Pravda,

were bought by American intelligence. They were recruited by a branch-office of American intelligence—the international Jewish bourgeois-nationalist organization called “Joint.” The filthy face of this Zionist spy organization, covering up their vicious actions under the mask of charity, is now completely revealed . . . .

Unmasking the gang of poisoner-doctors struck a blow against the international Jewish Zionist organization. . . . Now all can see what sort of philanthropists and “friends of peace” hid beneath the sign-board of “Joint.”

The victims of this alleged terrorist conspiracy were high-ranking Soviet officials. All but two of the nine doctors who were arrested for their part in the purported plot were Jewish.

The arrests were evidently the opening salvo of a vast new purge that was only interrupted by the death of Joseph Stalin on March 5, 1953. By April 1953, the charges against the doctors were retracted and a handful of mid- and low-level officials were arrested and executed for having fabricated them. The high-ranking associates of Stalin who had actually set the campaign in motion at his behest escaped unscathed. Seven of the doctors were released. Two had already perished while incarcerated. A fascinating “top-secret” CIA analysis of the episode, produced in the days when the CIA knew what it was doing, has just been declassified and made available on the web.

A notable sidelight is the reaction at the time—actually, the non-reaction—of the British medical establishment to the obviously trumped-up charges. As the Israeli scholar A. Mark Clarfield has pointed out, neither the British Medical Journal nor the Lancet, the country’s two leading medical journals, deigned to make any mention of the episode until after the doctors were already exonerated.

After the seven doctors finally were set free, the British Medical Journal issued an absurd statement, noting that as “doctors we felt disturbed by the assault upon the professional integrity of our Russian colleagues” and especially disturbed “by the probable effect of the accusation on the trust patients universally have in the doctor-patient relationship.”

Another notable sidelight is the contemporary reaction of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, to the Islamic Doctors’ Plot. It has posted on its website a statement from the Association of Muslim Health Officials that juxtaposes the events in the United Kingdom with a number of other greater and lesser crimes, including “unethical research for profit”:

If found to be guilty, these men will not be the first doctors to plan or perform heinous acts. If British justice system finds them guilty of these crimes, we put them in a pantheon of heinous physicians performing acts that go against the grain of all we believe in as Muslim Health Professionals. Josef Mengele, Mike Swango, Harold Shipman, and in the UK, John B Adams are small list of psychopaths with medical degrees who have harmed countless numbers of people in defiance of their professional oaths. We make no difference between health professionals who use their skills contrary to the human rights of any individual. Whether it is serial murder or genocide, medical torture for the military, or unethical research for profit, these people are not from us and we are not from them.

A question that emerges from all of this: is the world better off facing an Islamic Doctors’ Plot or a Jewish Doctors’ Plot? I doubt CAIR will be holding a contest to answer this question anytime soon.

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