Commentary Magazine


Topic: Vladimir Lenin

Did Beck Cross the Line? Yes.

Fans of Glenn Beck are complaining about what I wrote yesterday about his speech at the National Rifle Association convention, where he used a giant image of Michael Bloomberg photoshopped into what appeared to be an image of Hitler with his arm raised in a Nazi salute and wearing an armband. The Beck crowd now tells me that it wasn’t Hitler’s picture into which the New York mayor was transposed but that of Communist leader Vladimir Lenin. They say that means I owe Beck an apology along with the Anti-Defamation League and others who were also outraged by it.

Are they right? Nothing doing.

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Fans of Glenn Beck are complaining about what I wrote yesterday about his speech at the National Rifle Association convention, where he used a giant image of Michael Bloomberg photoshopped into what appeared to be an image of Hitler with his arm raised in a Nazi salute and wearing an armband. The Beck crowd now tells me that it wasn’t Hitler’s picture into which the New York mayor was transposed but that of Communist leader Vladimir Lenin. They say that means I owe Beck an apology along with the Anti-Defamation League and others who were also outraged by it.

Are they right? Nothing doing.

First, even if that is a picture of Lenin, Beck chose one in which the Bolshevik’s arm is raised in a manner that is suspiciously like that of the Nazis. That there is an armband on the figure’s arm is reminiscent of Hitler, who habitually wore the swastika in that fashion, rather than Lenin and the Communists, with whom that image is not generally associated. So even if it is proved that the original image is not that of Hitler, Beck and his staff clearly were trying to fudge the issue in order to make it seem more like a villain whose picture is far better known in the United States.

The imposition of the slogan “You Will” on the image of Bloomberg was also the sort of phrase that is more associated with the Nazis than Communists. Leni Riefenstahl’s classic Nazi documentary was entitled “Triumph of the Will.” Communist rhetoric, especially that of Lenin, often sounded more utopian than authoritarian even if it covered an equally murderous intent.

Nor did Beck tell his audience that it was Lenin that he wanted them to see and not Hitler when inveighing against Bloomberg. Given the concerted attempt to confuse onlookers in this matter, Beck had no right to cry foul if they drew the conclusion that he was clearly trying to entice them to arrive at.

Second, even if we were to concede that Beck was trying to associate Bloomberg with Lenin, that is not a whole lot better than the Hitler analogy. While the image of Lenin would take the use of the Holocaust out of the equation, it must be pointed out that the man who transformed Russia into the evil empire of the Soviet Union was also a mass murderer. Estimates about the number killed in the Red Terror that followed the Bolshevik coup of 1917 vary, but there is no question hundreds of thousands died. The toll of those who perished in Soviet jails and camps or at the hands of the secret police he unleashed is equally high. If one considers that he set in place the mechanism by which Stalin murdered tens of millions, he must be placed in the pantheon of the 20th century’s worst murderers.

I happen to share Beck’s disdain for Michael Bloomberg’s nanny-state liberalism. A year ago when the mayor first proposed his soda ban, I wrote here to condemn the measure and reminded readers the issue was “freedom, not soft drinks.” But comparing this infringement on personal liberty to mass murder, whether committed by Nazis or Communists, is not a rational or reasonable argument. At best, Beck’s stunt could be called hyperbole. At worst, it is the sort of demonization that undermines public discourse in a democracy.

It is true that many on the left play this same game. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews is just as guilty as Beck. Indeed, in denouncing Beck for what he, too, assumed was an inappropriate Nazi analogy, the left-wing talker called the tactic “Hitlerian.” That was hypocritical as well as over the top.

The bottom line in this discussion remains the same. By using this sort of imagery against Bloomberg, Beck is doing more than making a fool of himself again. He is doing serious damage to the cause of defending the Second Amendment. He deserves no apology. He and the NRA (which sanctioned his stunt) owe one to Bloomberg as well as to conservatives whose cause he has damaged.

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Remembering the Evils of Communism

An often-debated subject, especially among scholars on the right, is the discrepancy between the considered history of the crimes of Communism and those of Nazism. Both were totalitarian and evil, but there are far more victims of Communism than Nazi fascism–yet we shun one completely but make some room for the influence and ideas of the other; European governments outlaw one but not the other.

Two current debates illustrate this divide. Last month, in what appeared to be a public relations stunt to distract pro-democracy protesters in Russia from the neo-Soviet behavior of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s new culture minister touched off a national debate when he proposed–as someone does every so often there–that the state bury Vladimir Lenin’s body once and for all. The Soviet founding father currently lies in a glass coffin in Red Square. The fact that Lenin inhabits a shrine rather than be returned to the dust of the earth, where he belongs, has turned the phrase “Lenin’s tomb” into a sort of shorthand for the torn nostalgia of Russian society.

The other such debate, the subject of an interesting story in today’s Washington Post, is over whether, how, and where Germany should build a new Cold War museum. Neither society appears to have much taste for the totalitarianism that oppressed them throughout the 20th century, but the West’s victory in the Cold War cannot be so easily simplified in two countries that were divided–in Germany’s case, literally–about the issue as recently as the early 1990s. In Russia’s case, burying Lenin would be an act of tremendous psychological weight and exertion. In Germany, it is much the same:

Here at Checkpoint Charlie, where Soviet and American tanks once aimed at each other separated by 30 yards, Cold War tensions are still running high.

An international group of scholars, backed by Berlin’s center-left city government, wants to build a Cold War museum on a rubble-strewn plot of land here, arguing that one of the best-known sites of confrontation between the capitalist West and the Communist East should not be abandoned to tourist touts and vendors selling Red Army hats.

But a group of conservative politicians, seared by memories of the divided city, says the plans for the museum are overly sympathetic to the Communists. They want to go elsewhere in the city to build a museum that they say celebrates freedom….

“It’s a scandal to have hot dog stands and people in fake uniforms,” said Konrad Jarausch, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who was born in Germany and is leading the effort to build a museum at Checkpoint Charlie. “What the city needs is a museum on the same level of some of the museums that deal with the Third Reich.”

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An often-debated subject, especially among scholars on the right, is the discrepancy between the considered history of the crimes of Communism and those of Nazism. Both were totalitarian and evil, but there are far more victims of Communism than Nazi fascism–yet we shun one completely but make some room for the influence and ideas of the other; European governments outlaw one but not the other.

Two current debates illustrate this divide. Last month, in what appeared to be a public relations stunt to distract pro-democracy protesters in Russia from the neo-Soviet behavior of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s new culture minister touched off a national debate when he proposed–as someone does every so often there–that the state bury Vladimir Lenin’s body once and for all. The Soviet founding father currently lies in a glass coffin in Red Square. The fact that Lenin inhabits a shrine rather than be returned to the dust of the earth, where he belongs, has turned the phrase “Lenin’s tomb” into a sort of shorthand for the torn nostalgia of Russian society.

The other such debate, the subject of an interesting story in today’s Washington Post, is over whether, how, and where Germany should build a new Cold War museum. Neither society appears to have much taste for the totalitarianism that oppressed them throughout the 20th century, but the West’s victory in the Cold War cannot be so easily simplified in two countries that were divided–in Germany’s case, literally–about the issue as recently as the early 1990s. In Russia’s case, burying Lenin would be an act of tremendous psychological weight and exertion. In Germany, it is much the same:

Here at Checkpoint Charlie, where Soviet and American tanks once aimed at each other separated by 30 yards, Cold War tensions are still running high.

An international group of scholars, backed by Berlin’s center-left city government, wants to build a Cold War museum on a rubble-strewn plot of land here, arguing that one of the best-known sites of confrontation between the capitalist West and the Communist East should not be abandoned to tourist touts and vendors selling Red Army hats.

But a group of conservative politicians, seared by memories of the divided city, says the plans for the museum are overly sympathetic to the Communists. They want to go elsewhere in the city to build a museum that they say celebrates freedom….

“It’s a scandal to have hot dog stands and people in fake uniforms,” said Konrad Jarausch, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who was born in Germany and is leading the effort to build a museum at Checkpoint Charlie. “What the city needs is a museum on the same level of some of the museums that deal with the Third Reich.”

The site at present is a tourist destination, complete with food vendors selling–apologies in advance–“Checkpoint Curry.” It may sound insensitive, and obviously so, but it’s not all that straightforward. I recently visited the new 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero in Manhattan, and due to its park-like atmosphere and city location, it does not feel solemn, somber, or especially evocative of the magnitude of the tragedy. It has also, predictably, become a tourist destination–though that is not an entirely bad thing, as many people from all over the world pay their respects regularly.

But Professor Jarausch has made the essential point: historical crimes must be honestly reckoned with. Though this can heal a society’s old wounds in a way time alone cannot, it’s also painful. In his profoundly moving new history of the run-up to the Soviet Union’s collapse, which I reviewed for the current issue of COMMENTARY, Leon Aron tackles this with precision. I wrote:

Aron offers a fully rounded portrait of the moment when the Russian people, for the first time in nearly a century, were directed by their own modernizing regime to look in the mirror of glasnost. Mikhail Gorbachev’s administration said there was no way the country could move forward with the restructuring Gorbachev sought without first understanding its past. The problem was that “the road to self-discovery, now deemed vital to the country’s revival—indeed, her survival—was found to be full of vast gaps.” Censorship had been locked in place since 1921; secrecy had been the foundational doctrine of the empire.

That empire of secrecy and lies was Lenin’s foremost legacy. It is why fully burying that legacy may in fact require fully burying Lenin himself. Though Germany may seem farther along this road, the discussion has brought to the surface lingering resentments on both sides. The pro-democracy side wants to call Communism and its crimes heinous; but that would mean so designating the operational ideology of the East German state, and its citizens, many of whom are still alive. Unification itself was far from unanimous, and therefore solidified, rather than soothed, many an East German’s bitterness.

Are they just being sore losers? They will say they have been gracious enough in defeat, and that this is more they can say for the victors now asking to pour salt in their wounds. “Everything has its history, including history,” John Lukacs wrote. And the history of Communism is monstrous; it should be remembered this way.

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Let Them Meet Steel

As Noah pointed out yesterday, Syria is now being credibly accused of shipping Scud missiles with a range of more than 430 miles to Hezbollah, placing Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Dimona nuclear power plant inside the kill zone. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been forced under duress to visit Damascus and make amends with his father’s assassins, as has Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, effectively terminating whatever independence Lebanon scratched out for itself in 2005. At the same time, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contemptuously taunts the president of the United States, whom he clearly perceives as a pushover. “American officials bigger than you,” he said of President Obama’s attempts to talk him out of developing nuclear weapons, “more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you.”

Yet the Obama administration still seems to think engagement with Syria and the suggestion of possible sanctions against Iran may keep the Middle East from boiling over.

President George W. Bush lost a lot of credibility when the civil war and insurgency in Iraq made a hash of his policy there. It was eventually obvious to just about everyone that something different needed to happen, and fast. Replacing the top brass in the field with General David Petraeus and his like-minded war critics just barely saved Iraq and American interests from total disaster. The president himself never fully recovered.

If Obama’s squishy policies are misguided, as I think they are, it’s less obvious. The Middle East isn’t on fire as it was circa 2005. But it should be apparent that, at some point, all the pressure that’s building up will have to go somewhere. When and how is anyone’s guess, but there’s little chance it’s just going to dissipate or be slowly released during peace talks.

The Iranian-led resistance bloc is becoming better armed and more belligerent by the month. And the next round of conflict could tear up as many as six regions at the same time if everyone pulls out the stops. A missile war sparked between Hezbollah and Israel, for instance, could easily spread to Gaza, Syria, Iran, and even Iraq.

Even if it’s only half as bad as all that, we should still brace ourselves for more mayhem and bloodshed than we saw during the recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon. Israelis may show a lot less restraint if skyscrapers in Tel Aviv are exploding. Iran might even fire off some of its own if the leadership thinks Israel lacks the resources or strength to fight on too many fronts. The United States could be drawn in kicking and screaming, but resistance-bloc leaders have every reason to believe it won’t happen, that the U.S. is more likely to zip flex cuffs on Jerusalem.

I’m speculating, of course. The future is forever unknowable, and none of this is inevitable. An unexpected event — such as the overthrow of Ali Khamenei in Tehran — could change everything. A real-world conflict would take on a life of its own anyway that no one could predict or control.

What is clear, however, is that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah are hurtling ever closer to the brink. They’re acting as though they’re figuratively following Vladimir Lenin’s advice: “Probe with a bayonet. If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

I doubt most residents of South Lebanon believe in their bones that they won the war against Israel in 2006. I’ve been down there several times since. Entire neighborhoods were utterly pulverized. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, though, has touted his own “divine victory” so many times he may have convinced himself. Even if he knows he lost the last round, he has dug in with a much more formidable arsenal for the next one. As scholar Jonathan Spyer wrote not long ago, Hezbollah is “in a state of rude health. It is brushing aside local foes, marching through the institutions, as tactically agile as it is strategically deluded.”

It is also utterly unhinged ideologically. Let’s not forget what Christopher Hitchens saw at a rally last year in the suburbs south of Beirut commemorating its slain commander Imad Mugniyeh. “A huge poster of a nuclear mushroom cloud surmounts the scene,” he wrote, “with the inscription OH ZIONISTS, IF YOU WANT THIS TYPE OF WAR THEN SO BE IT!”

The Israelis may well decide they’d rather fight a bad war now than a worse one later. Their enemies can afford to lose wars because Israel isn’t out to destroy their countries. No Israeli believes Syria or Iran shouldn’t exist. Israel, meanwhile, can barely afford to lose small wars. And the resistance bloc is boldly threatening and preparing for one of the most ambitious and destructive wars yet.

There’s only so much President Obama can do about this, but he’s lucky, even so, in a small way. The Middle East isn’t burning right now as it was during the Bush years. He can change course without having to pay a butcher’s bill first if he starts thinking seriously about deterrence as well as engagement. Let the resistance bloc see glints of steel once in a while instead of just mush — and not only for the sake of the people who live there. Our own national interests are at stake, and so is his political hide. Iran’s leaders would savor few things more than a second Democratic president’s scalp.

As Noah pointed out yesterday, Syria is now being credibly accused of shipping Scud missiles with a range of more than 430 miles to Hezbollah, placing Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Dimona nuclear power plant inside the kill zone. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been forced under duress to visit Damascus and make amends with his father’s assassins, as has Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, effectively terminating whatever independence Lebanon scratched out for itself in 2005. At the same time, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contemptuously taunts the president of the United States, whom he clearly perceives as a pushover. “American officials bigger than you,” he said of President Obama’s attempts to talk him out of developing nuclear weapons, “more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you.”

Yet the Obama administration still seems to think engagement with Syria and the suggestion of possible sanctions against Iran may keep the Middle East from boiling over.

President George W. Bush lost a lot of credibility when the civil war and insurgency in Iraq made a hash of his policy there. It was eventually obvious to just about everyone that something different needed to happen, and fast. Replacing the top brass in the field with General David Petraeus and his like-minded war critics just barely saved Iraq and American interests from total disaster. The president himself never fully recovered.

If Obama’s squishy policies are misguided, as I think they are, it’s less obvious. The Middle East isn’t on fire as it was circa 2005. But it should be apparent that, at some point, all the pressure that’s building up will have to go somewhere. When and how is anyone’s guess, but there’s little chance it’s just going to dissipate or be slowly released during peace talks.

The Iranian-led resistance bloc is becoming better armed and more belligerent by the month. And the next round of conflict could tear up as many as six regions at the same time if everyone pulls out the stops. A missile war sparked between Hezbollah and Israel, for instance, could easily spread to Gaza, Syria, Iran, and even Iraq.

Even if it’s only half as bad as all that, we should still brace ourselves for more mayhem and bloodshed than we saw during the recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon. Israelis may show a lot less restraint if skyscrapers in Tel Aviv are exploding. Iran might even fire off some of its own if the leadership thinks Israel lacks the resources or strength to fight on too many fronts. The United States could be drawn in kicking and screaming, but resistance-bloc leaders have every reason to believe it won’t happen, that the U.S. is more likely to zip flex cuffs on Jerusalem.

I’m speculating, of course. The future is forever unknowable, and none of this is inevitable. An unexpected event — such as the overthrow of Ali Khamenei in Tehran — could change everything. A real-world conflict would take on a life of its own anyway that no one could predict or control.

What is clear, however, is that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah are hurtling ever closer to the brink. They’re acting as though they’re figuratively following Vladimir Lenin’s advice: “Probe with a bayonet. If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

I doubt most residents of South Lebanon believe in their bones that they won the war against Israel in 2006. I’ve been down there several times since. Entire neighborhoods were utterly pulverized. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, though, has touted his own “divine victory” so many times he may have convinced himself. Even if he knows he lost the last round, he has dug in with a much more formidable arsenal for the next one. As scholar Jonathan Spyer wrote not long ago, Hezbollah is “in a state of rude health. It is brushing aside local foes, marching through the institutions, as tactically agile as it is strategically deluded.”

It is also utterly unhinged ideologically. Let’s not forget what Christopher Hitchens saw at a rally last year in the suburbs south of Beirut commemorating its slain commander Imad Mugniyeh. “A huge poster of a nuclear mushroom cloud surmounts the scene,” he wrote, “with the inscription OH ZIONISTS, IF YOU WANT THIS TYPE OF WAR THEN SO BE IT!”

The Israelis may well decide they’d rather fight a bad war now than a worse one later. Their enemies can afford to lose wars because Israel isn’t out to destroy their countries. No Israeli believes Syria or Iran shouldn’t exist. Israel, meanwhile, can barely afford to lose small wars. And the resistance bloc is boldly threatening and preparing for one of the most ambitious and destructive wars yet.

There’s only so much President Obama can do about this, but he’s lucky, even so, in a small way. The Middle East isn’t burning right now as it was during the Bush years. He can change course without having to pay a butcher’s bill first if he starts thinking seriously about deterrence as well as engagement. Let the resistance bloc see glints of steel once in a while instead of just mush — and not only for the sake of the people who live there. Our own national interests are at stake, and so is his political hide. Iran’s leaders would savor few things more than a second Democratic president’s scalp.

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Al-Qaeda Attempts to Woo Useful Idiots

Last year in Lebanon, a left-wing American journalist tried to convince me that I’ve been too hard on Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, that I might like what I heard if I’d just listen more open-mindedly. “He’s trying to raise awareness of global warming,” he said to me earnestly over lunch. “Don’t you think that’s interesting?” I told him, no, I did not find it interesting, but the truth is I think it’s fascinating that anyone in the world would believe a terrorist and a fascist is concerned about the environment.

Osama bin Laden must be paying attention because now even he hopes to broaden his appeal by passing himself off as a green activist. “Osama bin Laden enters global warming debate,” reads the straight-faced headline in London’s Daily Telegraph, as if the Copenhagen Climate Conference organizers now have some rhetorical backup for their arguments against Republicans, Chinese industrialists, and Montana residents who set their thermostats to 70 degrees during the winter. Al-Qaeda’s founder and chief executive — assuming he’s actually still alive and recorded the most recent broadcast — even cites the latest anti-American diatribe in the Guardian by campus favorite Noam Chomsky. Read More

Last year in Lebanon, a left-wing American journalist tried to convince me that I’ve been too hard on Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, that I might like what I heard if I’d just listen more open-mindedly. “He’s trying to raise awareness of global warming,” he said to me earnestly over lunch. “Don’t you think that’s interesting?” I told him, no, I did not find it interesting, but the truth is I think it’s fascinating that anyone in the world would believe a terrorist and a fascist is concerned about the environment.

Osama bin Laden must be paying attention because now even he hopes to broaden his appeal by passing himself off as a green activist. “Osama bin Laden enters global warming debate,” reads the straight-faced headline in London’s Daily Telegraph, as if the Copenhagen Climate Conference organizers now have some rhetorical backup for their arguments against Republicans, Chinese industrialists, and Montana residents who set their thermostats to 70 degrees during the winter. Al-Qaeda’s founder and chief executive — assuming he’s actually still alive and recorded the most recent broadcast — even cites the latest anti-American diatribe in the Guardian by campus favorite Noam Chomsky.

Communists used to pull stunts like this all the time to get support in the West from what Vladimir Lenin called “useful idiots.” Even 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez manage to attract Western fans like Oliver Stone, Medea Benjamin, and writers at the Nation.

I’m slightly surprised it has taken al-Qaeda so long to figure this out. Hamas and Hezbollah are way ahead. They have far more sophisticated public relations departments. A few weeks ago, Hezbollah, Hamas, and leaders from what’s left of the Iraqi “resistance” hosted a terrorist conference in Beirut, which some of the usual subjects from the fringe Left attended — former Democratic party Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and British member of Parliament George Galloway.

Less prominent American and European leftists also attended, including a Jewish blogger from Sweden who said his first trip to Lebanon was an “overwhelming experience” and described his slide into the political abyss in two sentences. “As a Jew I felt guilt about the treatment of the Palestinians because it is carried out in the name of all Jews,” he said to a Syrian journalist who asked what he was doing there. “I converted guilt into responsibility by taking up the political cause for the dissolution of the Jewish state.”

In a way, it’s rather astonishing that terrorists can scrape up support from even marginal people who imagine themselves upholders of the liberal tradition, but look at the propaganda. This crowd isn’t just championing the environment and quoting Chomsky. A statement at the Arab International Forum for the Support of the Resistance said “the right of people to resist via all forms, particularly armed struggle, stems from a fundamental principle of self-defense and the right to liberty, dignity, sovereignty and equality among the peoples of the world, and emphasized that resistance is in fact a necessary condition for the establishment of a just international order, to prevent aggression and occupation, and to end colonialism and racism.”

Sounds great. Liberty, dignity, sovereignty, and equality? Post-racism? A just international order? Who could argue with any of that?

The problem, of course, is that Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iraqi “resistance” aren’t fighting for liberty, any more than Communist guerrillas fought for liberty. Hamas fires rockets at schools and throws its political opponents off skyscrapers. Hezbollah fires even bigger rockets at schools, torches Lebanese television stations, shoots political opponents dead in the streets, and self-identifies as the “vanguard” of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s murdering, raping, head-cracking government in Iran. Iraqi “resistance” fighters not only kill American soldiers with improvised explosive devices, they blow up mosques, massacre civilians with car bombs, decapitate children with kitchen knives, and assassinate officials and employees of the elected representative government.

None of the useful Western idiots attending the recent terrorist conference belong to the mainstream Left, nor does the American journalist who swooned over Hezbollah’s supposed global-warming “awareness.” There isn’t a chance that the likes of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or even Jimmy Carter will ever fall for this kind of nonsense or throw their support behind Hamas, Hezbollah, or active leaders of the Iraqi “resistance.” Still, having a gallery of rogues and naifs as your cheering section in the West beats having no one.

It’s too late for Osama bin Laden to polish his image, but I can’t really blame him for thinking he could.

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