Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Take and Read

There are some history books that are important but not very readable. Others are quite readable but not very important. When a book comes along that provides both an important contribution to our understanding of the world and is also a page-turner then something special has come our way. Such is the case with Tim Tzouliadis' The Forsaken. It is what historical reportage ought to be. Tzouliadis tackles what is perhaps the greatest human rights tragedy of the 20th century and writes in such a way that the reader becomes absorbed in the stories of individuals whose lives were snuffed out and forgotten.

The broad topic of The Forsaken is the systematic murder of tens of millions under Stalin's USSR in the 1930's and 40's. Some estimates have the number of lives taken exceeding 100 million. The primary focus of the book is on the Americans who fled the U.S. during the depression to find work in the still young Soviet Union. The book also sheds light upon a little known fact that during World War II an unkown number of U.S. servicemen held captive in Axis prison camps were taken captive by the Soviets. When the Red Army would liberate a German POW camp they would take the American soldiers and ship them to distant Gulags in order to extract whatever useful information they could about the U.S. They would be tortured and later executed. There is now evidence that individuals within the U.S. State Department knew about this situation but refused to do anything about it in order to avoid a confrontation with the Soviets.

The Bulk of The Forsaken, however, focuses on those desperate families who emigrated to Russia in the 1930's seeking a better life. Initially welcomed as celebrities the Americans were used as Soviet propaganda. But as Soviet citizens grew increasingly interested in their new American comrades (they wore nice shoes and coats despite the depression back home) Stalin responded by systematically arresting the new arrivals and sending them to the gulags. Many of these camps were located above the Arctic Circle and, for all intents and purposes, were invisible to the rest of the world. There the Americans starved, froze to death, or were sumarily executed and dumped in mass graves along with the millions of Soviet citizens who died with them.

One of the most disturbing facts illuminated in The Forsaken is the complicity in "the big lie" of so many Americans. The American Communist Party, for instance, steadfastly denied the Terror taking place in Stalin's Russia. Journalists like the Pulitzer Prize winning Walter Duranty wrote glowing reports of the new workers paradise in the Soviet Union. It was Duranty's reports that encouraged so many of the hapless American to journey to the Soviet Union in the first place. Even after the evidence was clear that something was desperately wrong in the new socialist promised land Duranty still wrote glowing reports.

Paul Robeson an American socialist and one of the world's most famous singers became a chief means of Soviet propaganda. Even after some of Robeson's own friends were arrested and quickly disappeared into the endless night of the gulags the singer and actor continued to hail the Soviet Union generally and Stalin specifically. Unfortunately Robeson never recanted of his very public adulations for and encouragements to the greatest murderer of the 20th century.

Most disappointing however is the complicity of the State Department and even President Roosevelt in the loss of thousands of American lives to the murderous thirst of Soviet Communism. It has been known for some time that FDR's socialistic sympathies allowed the State Department to be infiltrated not only by Soviet sympathizers but spies as well (e.g. Alger Hiss). Joseph Davies, Roosevelt's completely incompetent ambassador to the Soviet Union turned a willingly blind eye to the many Americans being arrested right under his nose. It was a poorly kept secret that Soviet agents would be stationed outside the American embassy in Moscow. The many Americans turned away from the embassy doors on Davies' orders would be picked up by Soviet secret police within a block of the building never to be seen again. Davies even voiced his approval for the show trials taking place in Moscow. The combination of Joseph Davies' disinterest in being an effective Ambassador and his pro-Communist idealogies cost perhaps thousands of American lives.

The evil of Soviet Russia litterally dwarfs that of Hitler's Third Reich. Yet how many Americans have even the slightest idea how many millions were killed in the vast frozen reaches of the Soviet Union? Are American school children warned against Communism as they are against Fascism? We know the names of Nazi concentration camps (and we should!) but how familiar are the names Rybak or Kolyma? We know about Hitler's S.S. but why do we not know about Russia's NKVD? I am convinced that the left-leaning media and universtiy heirarchy have something of a code of silence regarding the terror of the Soviet Union. It is acknowleged but not really researched. It is given a nod but not a spotlight. It seems that the same idealogies that kept the secret in the 1930's and 40's are still in operation today.

"I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of man. Harry says he's not and that he doesn't want anything but security for his country, and I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask for nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won't try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace."

- Franklin Roosevelt to William Bullit who tried to warn him of Stalin's imperialistic ambitions.


toothdoc said...

Todd I couldn't agree more. This was an absolutely atrocious episode in world history that has been largely ignored and/or misunderstood (probably not unlike what is going on in North Korea today). Another excellent book on this subject that I finished a couple of month ago is "Gulag - a history" by Anne Applebaum.

btw, glad your back from your blogcation. Happy New Year.

Todd Pruitt said...

I saw the book you mentioned. I might have to pick it up.

North Korea is definitely a modern day horror story. We will probably never know the full extent of what has been happening there.

In the later days of the Vietnam War Pol Pot went about killing one third of the population of Cambodia. He rose to power after being indoctrinated in the glories of Marxism during his university days in Europe.