Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Poor logic, poor language, poor history

'YES: Stalin killed millions. A Stanford historian answers the question, was it genocide?

Naimark, author of the controversial new book Stalin’s Genocides, argues that we need a much broader definition of genocide, one that includes nations killing social classes and political groups. His case in point: Stalin.

The book’s title is plural for a reason: He argues that the Soviet elimination of a social class, the kulaks (who were higher-income farmers), and the subsequent killer famine among all Ukrainian peasants – as well as the notorious 1937 order No. 00447 that called for the mass execution and exile of “socially harmful elements” as “enemies of the people” – were, in fact, genocide.

Is murdering a class somehow better than murdering a race? Is fomenting class-hatred somehow better than fomenting race-hatred? Why or why not?'

Why does everything have to be one thing?

Like the 'discussion' about whether the campaign in 1915 against the Armenians by the Ottoman government and individual Turks constituted Genocide or not, this 'discussion' about whether Stalins mass-murder was Genocide is sterile.

The accepted definition of Genocide is the attempt to murder all of a particular tribe or people. If a mass-killing is NOT an attempt to murder all of a particular tribe or people, it is inappropriate to use the word, and only distorts the truth.

Why do Stalins murders need the label of Genocide? Are they not evil enough if they are just extra-judicial killing on an enormous scale? Are they not evil enough if they are just the callous deprivation of the means of life to millions of Ukranians? Are they not evil enough if they are the paranoid deportation of millions to a very hostile environment where the attrition rate is staggeringly high?

The need to invoke Genocide constantly is a sign of how debased public discussion of events in the world has become. To some extent this is because rolling news needs a constant stream of superlatives, but also because the general use of language has become very imprecise and simplistic.

Much more important than these label discussions is to understand what happened. Watch 'Burnt by the Sun', the harrowing film about Stalins purge of his army by Mikhalkov. It is very hard, especially for those in the West, to really see these vast murders for what they are- millions upon millions of personal tragedies and betrayals. The utter pointlessness of them. The almost incalculable waste of human talent, spirit and value.

Very few people hate Bolshevism and Communism more than I do. But a coherent and accurate description of the tremendous crimes they committed in the twentieth century does not require the word 'genocide'. Let their panoply of crimes bear the correct description in each case.

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