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December 16, 2010
The Road to HellBy Greyhawk
A very American thing to say. This next bit, not so much.
As to the unquestionably repressive nature of the regime, Mrs Eardley-Wheatsheaf thought that visitors from more civilized countries ought to keep their heads and to see things in proportion. It was true, as she explained at many subsequent lectures, pursing her lips tightly, perhaps a little venomously, that Soviet officials sometimes disappeared (she accentuated the word "disappeared" to give it its full significance); and naturally she deplored such goings-on, just as she deplored the press censorship and the suppression of all opposition opinion. A the same time she had to admit that, given the peculiar conditions prevailing in Russia, administrative disappearances carried with them certain advantages which she for one was not going to overlook.Muggeridge's book was "fiction" - based on his experiences in the Soviet Union under Stalin's rule. The "Mrs Eardley-Wheatsheaf" character was inspired by his aunt (by marriage) - the prominent British "socialist" Beatrice Webb.
Another niece, Katherine Dobbs, married the journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, whose experience reporting from the Soviet Union subsequently made him highly critical of the Webbs' optimistic portrayal of Stalin's rule. Their books, Soviet Communism: A new civilization? (1935) and The Truth About Soviet Russia (1942) have been widely denounced for adopting an uncritical view of Stalin's conduct during periods that witnessed a brutal process of agricultural collectivization as well as extensive purges and the creation of the gulag system.
The Webb's were gifted with that combination of wealth, influence and self-righteous ignorance that can only thrive in a society as advanced (and powerful) as England of the late 19th/early 20th Century - requirements certainly met and exceeded by the United States today.
They may be a conveniently forgotten embarrassment to the left now, but in their lifetimes the Webb's influence on British (which then meant global) politics can't be underestimated. That contribution - denounced now or not - belongs to history, meaning it's the road that brought us to where we are today. (They weren't alone - in America, Walter "you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs" Duranty's praise of the Soviet system as NY Times Moscow chief earned him a Pulitzer Prize.)
As for Muggeridge...
Initially attracted by Communism, Muggeridge and his wife, Kitty, traveled to Moscow in 1932, where he was to be a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian... Increasingly disillusioned by communism, Muggeridge decided to investigate reports of the famine in Ukraine, traveling there and to the Caucasus without the permission of the Soviet authorities.
Only occasionally reprinted, copies of Winter in Moscow are somewhat valuable today.
From a later interview with Muggeridge:
Ultimately the Webbs and their annoying nephew would all do their bit for England during the war (quotes might be appropriate around "for England" in the Webbs' example...). Muggeridge served as an intelligence officer in the army. Meanwhile, though many socialists wised up to the USSR (especially after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact) the Webbs remained steadfast, and following Stalin's abrupt change in status from Nazi ally to enemy they assured fellow Britons that in Joe Stalin they had a true friend. "The USSR is the most inclusive and equalized democracy in the world," Beatrice wrote in 1942 (in the aforementioned The Truth About Soviet Russia), adding that far from being a dictator, Stalin had nothing like "the autocratic power" of Franklin Roosevelt, "who not only selects his Cabinet, subject merely to approval by a simple majority of the Senate, but is also Commander-in-Chief of the American armed forces."
"Finally," she asked...
"...is it right to suggest that Soviet Communism is a new civilization which will, in spite of the crudities and cruelties inherent in violent revolution and fear of foreign aggression, result in maximizing the wealth of the nation and distributing it among all the inhabitants on the principle of from each man according to his faculty and to each man according to his need?"
There can be no doubt what she meant by "crudities and cruelties inherent in violent revolution" - but her answer was still a most enthusiastic yes.
We are fortunate to live in a more modern, enlightened era, where of course we all know Stalin was horrible, but....
As someone who works in academia, I run into my fair share of Marxists. While I disagree with their politics, many of them are decent non-evil people most certainly deserving of respect. There is, to my mind, a big difference between communism and Nazism: it is possible to be a communist with the "good will," i.e. to sincerely wish the best most prosperous future for everyone...
Footnote: "...the opening of the Dnieper dam. There was an American colonel who was running it..." Hugh Lincoln Cooper, biography, obituary in Time, July, 1937. I can find no evidence Cooper was interested in "power" other than the hydroelectric variety. It's possible Muggeridge was trying to be too witty here. (Though the implication that his project was accomplished with slave labor is obvious. See also windmill, and windmill references here. Of related interest to the broader topic of this post , Orwell's original introduction to Animal Farm here.)
Wikipedia entry on the Dnieper dam: "American specialists under the direction of Col H. Cooper took part in the construction. The first five giant power generators were manufactured by General Electric... During World War II, the strategically important dam and plant, then known as the Dniprostoj Hydro Power Plant, was dynamited by retreating Soviet troops in 1941, and then again by the retreating German troops in 1943."
Truman might have chuckled at that.
Posted by Greyhawk / December 16, 2010 4:22 PM | Permalink
Previously: Chapter one: The World Set Free Chapter two: Szilardeinstein's Monster - How Superman would end the warLook magazine, February 17, 1940 Los Alamos ID photo for Klaus FuchsSoviet intelligence had thoroughl... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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