Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On this day in 1918...

...the most devastating conflict that the world had ever seen up to that point, came to a close. Total casualties were just shy of 50 million with deaths from military causes in the neighborhood of ten million or so. The war administered a shock to western civilization from which it has never recovered. But whatever the subsequent political and culturial implications of places like The Somme and Verdun on our collective memory, it worth remembering the very real suffering of the men fought and died there.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lt.-Col. John McCrae (1872 - 1918)

The Red Plague.

How can we understand all this killing by communists? It is the marriage of an absolutist ideology with the absolute power. Communists believed that they knew the truth, absolutely. They believed that they knew through Marxism what would bring about the greatest human welfare and happiness. And they believed that power, the dictatorship of the proletariat, must be used to tear down the old feudal or capitalist order and rebuild society and culture to realize this utopia. Nothing must stand in the way of its achievement. Government--the Communist Party--was thus above any law. All institutions, cultural norms, traditions, and sentiments were expendable. And the people were as though lumber and bricks, to be used in building the new world.

Constructing this utopia was seen as though a war on poverty, exploitation, imperialism, and inequality. And for the greater good, as in a real war, people are killed. And thus, this war for the communist utopia had its necessary enemy casualties, the clergy, bourgeoisie, capitalists, wreckers, counterrevolutionaries, rightists, tyrants, rich, landlords, and noncombatants that unfortunately got caught in the battle. In a war millions may die, but the cause may be well justified, as in the defeat of Hitler and an utterly racist Nazism. And to many communists, the cause of a communist utopia was such as to justify all the deaths.

The irony of this is that communism in practice, even after decades of total control, did not improve the lot of the average person, but usually made their living conditions worse than before the revolution. It is not by chance that the greatest famines have occurred within the Soviet Union (about 5,000,000 dead during 1921-23 and 7,000,000 from 1932-3) and communist China (about 27,000,000 dead from 1959-61, as mentioned). In total almost 55,000,000 people died in various communist famines and associated diseases, a little over 10,000,000 of them from democidal famine. This is as though the total population of Turkey, Iran, or Thailand had been completely wiped out. And understandably, something like 35,000,000 people fled communist countries as refugees. It is as though the countries of Argentina or Columbia had been totally emptied of all their people. This was an unparalleled vote against the utopian pretensions of Marxism.

More here.

Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection)

The Lessons of 1989.

Throughout the 1980s, democratic insurgencies in the Philippines and South Korea, as well as the long resistance of the anti-apartheid forces in South Africa, showed that when the ruled do not want to go on in the old way, all they really need do is to fold their arms. These examples were studied behind the Iron Curtain: Matynia's book on Poland makes a direct comparison case with South Africa, and leading Polish dissident Adam Michnik was a close observer of the gradual but impressive manner in which Spain evolved from a sort of fascistic theocracy into a civil and secular society.

Today, the memory of the "velvet revolution" or the "soft revolution" is very strong in Iran, where arrested intellectuals and activists are accused in so many words by the secret police of having a "velvet" agenda. In Tehran, alas, there are still many in the clerical leadership who believe, as the Communists no longer did, in their own primitive and oppressive ideology, and who are willing—if not, indeed, eager—to kill for it. (And the brutish Iranian mullahs secured the first great-power endorsement of their election theft from Vladimir Putin's Moscow, which, these days, is the seat of an aggressive, chauvinist, militarist, and clerically influenced regime.) So we still have our duties of solidarity with movements of transformation, and we can draw on the memory of a time when civilized peoples, so long forced to hold their tongues and hold their breath, all exhaled at the same moment and blew the old order away without a shot being fired.