Media

"Little is said here today about the unraveling of the Soviet empire"

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Paul Hollander, who escaped from his native Hungary in 1956, has an op-ed in the Washington Post today on the curiosity of American indifference to this month's 20th anniversaries. Excerpt:

Blood in the pool

While greatly concerned with communism in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Americans—hostile or sympathetic —actually knew little about communism, and little is said here today about the unraveling of the Soviet empire. The media's fleeting attention to the momentous events of the late 1980s and early 1990s matched their earlier indifference to communist systems. There is little public awareness of the large-scale atrocities, killings and human rights violations that occurred in communist states, especially compared with awareness of the Holocaust and Nazism (which led to to far fewer deaths). The number of documentaries, feature films or television programs about communist societies is minuscule compared with those on Nazi Germany and/or the Holocaust, and few universities offer courses on the remaining or former communist states. For most Americans, communism and its various incarnations remained an abstraction.

The different moral responses to Nazism and communism in the West can be interpreted as a result of the perception of communist atrocities as byproducts of noble intentions that were hard to realize without resorting to harsh measures. The Nazi outrages, by contrast, are perceived as unmitigated evil lacking in any lofty justification and unsupported by an attractive ideology. There is far more physical evidence and information about the Nazi mass murders, and Nazi methods of extermination were highly premeditated and repugnant, whereas many victims of communist systems died because of lethal living conditions in their places of detention. Most of the victims of communism were not killed by advanced industrial techniques.

Never forget! Until you forget.

These observations are not new (see just about everything ever written by Josef Skvorecky, for example), but worth ruminating on nonetheless. One minor irony is that an exception to Hollander's rule was the event that propelled his emigration: The Hungarian uprising of 1956. The events of 53 years ago had a profound influence on the politics of both America and western Europe, helping doom the popularity of domestic communism while rearranging the ideological fights on the right.

From our current issue, please see Michael C. Moynihan's "The Cold War Never Ended," and my column on "The Unknown War."

Thanks to Ray Eckhart for the tip.

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  1. It’s really about TV time.

    While all that stuff was going down, it was mostly secret. By the time the cameras arrived, everything was cleaned up and everyone was old or dead. The Holocaust though, that made it on film.

    The noble intentions myth survives because the Commies were pretty successful in hiding what the did well enough to keep it abstract.

    1. What is really sickening is this (if I’m correct): I would bet that a significant percentage of young people coming out of university would be espousing the surprisingly common view that communism/socialism/collectivism is “good in principle”.

      1. Which is pretty easy to believe when you’re flat broke (actually worse – have large debts most likely) and still have little authority over yourself (making decisions based on what your parents’ want).

  2. I spent a lot of last weekend in front of tv (first time in years) and watched a lot of history channels. They of course had plenty on nazis and wwii, saddam’s tunnels, some roman city in turkey, ghosts, excorcisms, some norweigien king and miscelaneous war tech. But I noticed no commies. It’s not like their is a lack of monsters, drama, not to mention stock film footage, old witnesses and perky history professors to make a few shows about the commies. After three days sick in front of the tv, it is noticable the missing monsters of the 20th century.

    PS: what’s up with John Kerry, Freedom Fighter?

    1. Is that a market opportunity I see? Maybe you should go make a documentary about commies.

  3. The different moral responses to Nazism and communism in the West can be interpreted as a result of the perception of communist atrocities as byproducts of noble intentions that were hard to realize without resorting to harsh measures.

    O Rly?

    1. The perception is wrong, but it exists.
      The different moral responses are due to the fact that the intellectual class in the US never experienced communism directly, and always retained a romanticized vision of it.

  4. The Nazis were capitalists. That’s what makes them evil.

    1. The Nazis weren’t capitalists, but they were anti-Soviet, which is why they were recognized as evil. We do ourselves a disservice by categorizing a system where government wholly controlled business as capitalist.

      1. The Nazis were throughly uncapitalist. Look at Nazi anti-American propaganda for a demonstration.

        Money-making today is the idol, anti-Fascism the ideology of Americans, but neither is an ideal sufficient to build a people upon.

      2. The Nazis were only anti-Soviet after Hitler decided to double cross Stalin and renig on the alliance they had previously created.

        A lot of people seem to forget that the Soviets and Nazis started out as allies.

        1. That doesn’t imply that the Nazis were only anti-Soviet once they broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The Nazis were always anti-bolshevik, but they were willing to bury the hatchet for awhile while they secured their other fronts. The Soviet reasoning for agreeing to the M-R pact generally revolved around fear and a lack of preparedness.

          1. I think it boils down to two equally totaliatarian regimes that each wanted to be the top dog of the world.

            Any nominal differences in the rationalizations each cooked up to justify their totalitarian systems is of secondary importance.

            1. I agree that the reasoning is a moot point. I also agree that the Soviets and Nazis more-or-less sought world domination, but that hardly makes them allies.

        2. Um, no. When the Soviets started out their were no Nazis. When the Nazis started out, they were against two kinds of people: Jews and Bolsheviks (ok, in their minds, one kind of people). Both movements were radical reactions to modernity and the collapse of the European imperial order. Unsurprisingly, both ideologies had special animosity for Jews and Americans, the two most awesomest kind of people in the world.

      3. I think there was an invisible “/sarc” at the end of P Brooks’ comment.

    2. Oh I dunno, I think all the mass murdering and world conquest has something to do with it too.

      Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

      Even though both sides committed evil acts, such as mass murder and oppression, Everyone recognizes the evil of the nazis because they were anti-communist, not because they were capitalist. They don’t recognize the evil of the Soviets because the soviets were communist.

      In other words, both sides were evil because they killed and oppressed people. But one side is not recognized as evil because it was an adherent to a favored philosophy.

  5. I think the propensity of Nazi storylines and Holocaust education is more because there were survivors who came to the US and told the stories, and there is an abundance of Jews in the media and entertainment industries, and that was established before WWII. So, of course we’re going to hear those stories as soon as they’re known more than we’re going to hear about the purges in Russia and China that were still going on for decades against their own people, and as quietly as possible. Add to it that the Nazi’s exclaimed to everyone their intentions of genocide, while the communists were just trying to snuff out dissent. I don’t think it had to do as much with sympathy from the West as it is explained here.

  6. When I visited a concentration camp, I was given the impression that most of the people that died in the concentration camps were because of terrible cramped living conditions and the resulting disease.

    1. That’s my understanding as well. Keep in mind that there were concentration camps (such as Buchenwald) that were essentially forced labor camps and then there were death camps (such as Auschwitz) which were built specifically to facilitate genocide. Assuming you visited the former, it would be true that most died from the subhuman living conditions.

  7. When Soviet dissident Anatoly Marchenko’s My Testimony was smuggled out of the U.S.S.R. and published in the West (earning Marchenko an additional three years in a brutal labor camp after already serving a total of nine), Harrison Salisbury of The New York Times reviewed it thus:

    “[A] melodramatic account of his imprisonment. It is badly written, splotched with purple rhetoric, oozes with self-pity and tries quite vainly to equate Marchenko’s experiences with the blinding terror of Stalin’s days. All Marchenko succeeds in doing is bore us.”
    New York Times Book Review, March 1, 1970

    This is how the West’s liberal intellectuals have typically treated the victims of the Soviet slave state, when they have bothered to notice them at all.

  8. Communism has always succeeded in setting forth a good marketing and PR campaign in the West (ironic as that may be). The touchy-feely “free health care/free eduction/equal pay for all” mantra has warmed hearts to the point where it’s difficult for many to rile against the ideology. Wearing clothes around college campuses featuring a red star, a Che Guevara image or even a hammer n’ sickle is not only viewed as inoffensive, but even trendy, enlightened and ‘edgy’. Hollywood actors and those in academia speak in glowing terms about Castro. You know, their high literacy rate and all…

    As the article states, the old Soviet Union is seen by many as having noble intentions, its reported horrors and complete lack of human rights either minimized or followed up with a “Yeah, but…” qualifier.

    1. I meant well.

      1. I know Joe and I sympathize. After, you can’t make an omelet without…well, you know.

    2. Nazi Germany has a higher standard of living among its citizens between 1933 and 1940 than did the U.S.S.R.

  9. Between Yakov Smirnoff and Alexsandr Solzhinitsyn, which refugee is better-known in the US? Therein lies the problem.

    1. I wouldn’t blame the US for that. Solzhinitsyn lived as a recluse during his time here.

  10. So, like, that Time article is about Al Pacino feeding the hungry that Stalin oppressed?

    1. People little appreciate Al Pacino’s contributions as a freedom fighter.

      1. my name is tony montana… I am a political prisoner from cuba

    2. Reds will live as his most honest work.

  11. The Communists and their philosophy have more sympathizers in America today than ever, especially in mainstream America. This is why you never hear or see anything bad about them in the press.

    Just listen to people like Van Jones and Anita Dunn for crying out loud. For that matter, spend some time at almost any typical university on either coast, and you’ll find that the professoriat is replete with open and avowed Marxists. Many of these people literally cried on the day that the Soviet Union collapsed.

    1. They have a lot in common with neo-Confederates who mourn the defeat of the C.S.A. in 1865.

      I suspect the two groups overlap quite a bit.

  12. Not really on topic, but fun any way.

    If WWII were a MMO game

      1. i read it and giggled the entire time. wife is in kitchen asking me what’s funny. since she has no penis and has never spent a considerable amount of time playing mmos, she cannot understand at all. i continue to laugh.

  13. Nazis also had way better uniforms than Communists making them much better suited to be shown on TV. Also no Soviet propaganda footage ever came close to the stuff from Triumph of the Will and other Riefenstahl works again making communists boring for TV.

    1. No, it has more to do with the fact that there wasn’t anything GOOD to show.

      If they had been like the Kim’s, the Russians would have had teams of dancing peasants at every train station, and Hollywood would have had a field day displaying the happy joyful life under communism.

      They refused to see the negative, and because there was no positive to see, they couldn’t find anything interesting ti display.

  14. “I know that! I know that! There are, like, so many medals in there, dude. This guy was probably, like, King Nazi.”

  15. I know of only one American movie that used the Hungarian revolt in its story. The Journey. Two other movies “The Company” has a long sequence in Budapest. The Australian movie “News Front” used the water polo game at the Melbourne Olympics which is where your picture is from. Only one American movie. Disgraceful!

  16. I hate Illinois Communists.

  17. That’s one of those 50 mph pitches, isn’t it?

  18. Ohh, Communism, after the universal health care you provided, how could we ever stay mad at you, you lovable scoundrel?

  19. I recall ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ covered the Prague Spring in passing.

    1. You know it’s a Czech book. Right?

      1. Yeah, I never read the book. I saw the film version.

      2. nice pun.

  20. I was talking to grizzly, by the way.

  21. More boilerplate grumbling. What a bore.

  22. With many new announcement about the wizard of oz movies in the news, you might want to consider starting to obtain Wizard of Oz books series either as collectible or investment at RareOzBooks.com.

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