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.