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Saturday, March 24. 2012
Many of us have read dozens, hundreds, of books about Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, World War II, the Holocaust. Until now, however, a careful work of sound scholarship has not appeared that pulls it all together as does Bloodlands. I could write thousands of words reviewing the book, but nothing could do justice to reading it yourself. Indeed, if you or someone you know reads nothing else on this era, this is the one book that must be read. Bloodlands, by Yale historian Timothy Snyder, details the – by Snyder’s admission an undercount – 14 million individuals murdered in purposeful killing policies by Stalin and Hitler in the central zone of Eastern Europe, Poland, Belorussia, Ukraine, non-Jews and Jews, between 1930-1945. That doesn't include, and dwarfs, the millions of soldiers who died in combat or the civilians in the path of battles.
In his concluding chapter, “Humanity”, Snyder tells us, “Each record of death suggests, but cannot supply, a unique life. We must be able not only to reckon the number of deaths but to reckon with each victim as an individual.”
Snyder points out: “To dismiss the Nazis or the Soviets as beyond human concern or historical understanding is to fall into their moral trap.” Stalin and Hitler had conscious policies to extract material gain from the people who they thought stood in their way. It was boths’ commonality that had each act so barbarously: “Both the Soviet and Nazi political economies relied upon collectives that controlled social groups and extracted their resources.” Many perpetrators of the horrors, also, had material objectives or just were trying to survive themselves. Snyder says that the millions of deaths tells us as much about the living. “It is not at all obvious that reducing history to morality plays makes anyone moral.” Snyder’s recounting of the murders focuses upon the – to them – practical objectives of Hitler and Stalin: “In colonization, ideology interacts with economics; in administration, it interacts with opportunism and fear.”
The personal vignettes that fill the book, along with the details of the scale of murders, have set every reader back on their heels. No one, no country, is spared the telling of their heroes or devils. Go to Google to see how the learned react to the book. Go to your own soul to see how you react.
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What is truly scary is:
1) Human nature has not changed, and...
2) Now there are computers
So there will be no place to hide when home grown eco-dictator wannabes force America into a world government run by totally corrupt UN kleptocrats and their blue-helmeted rapists and murderers.
We are feeding the beast which fully intends to enslave us, when instead we should starve it of funds, evict it from our shores, and treat it as the absolute mortal enemy that it is.
When 196 countries get to vote on how America's earned wealth must be redistributed, what do you think the outcome will be? There is already an International Criminal Court, with whispers starting that it should be allowed to override Security Council vetoes. And then there's UN Agenda 21, a totalitarian's dream.
The UN is basically no less vicious or evil than Hitler or Stalin. But they do not quite have the necessary power yet, which is a world government with military force, and a U.S. recognized world court. But anyone with common sense can see that is the direction they/we are heading. And they are doing it with American taxpayers' money.
There will be Gulags again. Count on it.
Borrowed it, via inter-library loan, shortly after it came out. Taught me things about a period that I thought I knew well.
I thought well enough of it to buy a copy and send it to my brother in Mexico, along with Steve Pinker's latest.
New too, and I normally buy my own books second hand, lol.
Not the Dark Ages, but in living memory all this happened. Only yesterday, deep into modern times, intellectual urban cultures, the cosmopolitan capitals of the most advanced societies, taken over by organized spree killers costumed, theatrical, all but in drag. No, it's just too weird, it can't have happened.
One of the harshest shocks I ever received was from a co-worker when I was in my early 20s. I made some casual remark about how easy it was for filmmakers to signal "evil" quickly with just a flash of a swastika. He replied, "But you know, Hitler really had to do something about the Jews." No, that beast isn't dead by a long shot.
nope --not as long they stay identifiable and keep respecting education, hard work, achievement, and family tradition.
In South America, I was twice invited into homes in different countries which featured prominent pictures of Adolf Hitler. The householders were not Germanic, but Hispanic.
Not to mention having met a retired professor in a third country who claimed that Che Guevara had met him during his motorcycle trip. This was years before the movie came out. The professor was also gratuitously anti-Semitic.
Read it. A book that was difficult to read (page after page of sheer horror). An important point that is often missed (or deliberately obfuscated these days) is that these were men. Not madmen. Not monsters (well their acts were monstrous), but men....and I don't believe man's basic nature has changed over the past 70 years or so...
Read it for myself and read it in memory of Erwin Mason - a man with a number tattooed on his arm.
Thank you for making such a prominent reference to this fine, and indispensable, book about the real bloodletting in Eastern Europe from the early '30s thru WWII. Anyone, as I did, who thinks they know all about "the Holocaust" before reading this book will be changed profoundly by the story Snyder narrates. I was hooked with the first paragraph of the Preface; a profoundly moving piece of literature all by itself. And the 400+ subsequent pages didn't let up. I second the recommendation. Read it... and weep.
This has been the history of humankind, and specifically in this case, of Asia, up to the present day. The difference is that it exploded out into Europe, where these behaviors had been gradually scaling down for centuries. Not that the scaling down matters much to the individual caught in European atrocities during that time. There were just progressively fewer of them, lasting for shorter periods.
The average Romanian still doesn't know what he thinks about WWII or indeed, much of his history. They were oppressed by both Germans and Soviets, and in turn oppressed internal groups of their own. Small wonder that people revert to tribal thinking, defining everything in terms how it works for their group or clan.
AVI, read Saul Bellow's The Dean's December sometime when you have a chance. The setting is Romanian academic culture in the 80s. An American professor on an extended visit, his expat Romanian wife has lost a relative who was high in the hierarchy and as such the Ami couple has been given an open pass for the month of the funeral. They begin to meet and mingle with their Romanian peers --and the everyday layers of unconscious psychological petite monsterism begin to come into view, radiating profound shock waves visible only to the Americans. Bellow at his best --which is --needless to say --almost too good --for maintaining the comfort of the subtle sanity that is.
We look back at hitler and stalin as all killer and all politics and all brutal.
Nay. Intellectuals and artists they were --both historically and much more significantly, by all accounts, in their own eyes.
recommend esp pertinent to the post topic:
The Implacable Enemy
Confirmation of "the Sequence"
Totalitarianism and the Empty Self
--or, read the whole archive, but with no sharp objects too handy.
Not to be a bore, but Hitler's Jewish policy, as heinous as it was, was not exactly running against the current of contemporary culture. I remind you that many, if not most of the Jews who escaped either had friends, money or influence in other western countries. The others, who Hitler had stripped of wealth and possessions, were turned away from ports like Havana, Miami and London. Nobody was innocent.
I'm sure the book is as good as you say. I wonder though if you would comment on a phenomena I have noticed over the years. I refer to the trend of remolding the past, in reprinted or new books and videos by adjusting numbers, the scope of 'evil' actors or the significance of certain events by the rules of political expediency. Having read many books on WWII, this trend is apparent. And I'm used to the usual prejudices of authors. Just a couple of fast examples. The fire raids on Dresden are now described as causing perhaps 30 to 40k deaths on the reworked BBC videos. Since the city was full of unnumbered refugees from the east at the time, that number has to be way low. Also, more contemporary accounts put the death toll way over 100K and that was considered conservative. Next, the wartime account of Field Marshall Eric Von Manstein originally included letters to and from his son and wife. The reprints do not. I know, it sounds like a minor thing. But it's bad history to exclude information and it's a sin to fudge numbers. Have you guys noticed this, or am I nuts?
I'd love to get in the weeds with you on the numbers you quote for the total deaths caused by the Germans and Russians on the eastern front. But, as it happens, I agree with you. The numbers are underestimated. There is no way we will ever know the true number. Suffice to say it is huge. The German soldiers reported getting physically ill as they watched wave after unending wave of drunk, mostly unarmed Russians get ripped apart by machine guns. The gun barrels got so hot they could see the bullets pass through them and their hands were burned through the gloves as they changed them. By the time the Russians took Berlin, 30 to 40% or more of the front line combat unit personnel were female soldiers. Yes, the Russians lost many, many people. Pick a number, make it big and you won't be far wrong.
I haven't done any homework in a while, but as I recall, the best guess on total German deaths was 6 million. Japanese, 6 million. Russian, 20 to 25 million. Soldiers and civilians included. But, I'm not married to those numbers. The Russian, Hungarian, Romanian, Italian, etc. numbers are the most tenuous. Record keeping you know. OK, I'm done being a bore. Snacks and drinks are available in the lobby.
Oh, I forgot. Can anyone help clarify an interesting and somewhat amusing occurrence I read about some years ago? It seems, I forget the book and author, that towards the end of the war, the SS would steal train loads of prison laborers from Albert Speer's labor organization and that Speer's people would steal train loads of prisoners from the SS. They both needed to feed the need for labor, as you know. Too funny, if true. Would love to see feedback from you more learned folks.
And NO. Human nature isn't going to flipping change in 70 frackin years. If it ever does, it will be a long time a coming.