The world as revealed to me last week:
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder
Snyder is a Yale historian of the Holocaust and East Europe. Yesterday I saw this C-SPAN2 Book TV taping of his speech on his new book at the Ukrainian Institute of America in New York City. What an admirably organized and passionate historian! If he is as good a writer as he is a speaker–and all the reviews indicate that he is–this is a must-read book for anyone interested in the tragedy of the 20th century.
It’s hard to imagine such a relatively small area of the Earth witnessing the deliberate murder of more than 12 million civilians in a few years (that’s not counting “collateral damage” or soldiers killed in combat). A tidbit that astonished me: Germany deliberately killed more Russian prisoners of war than Jews. It is agonizing to consider the decisions millions of hapless East Europeans faced as the two dictators’ armed forces closed in: whether to flee to the East or the West–what a horrible choice to have to make. This is a book unsparing of both sides. But because Stalin had so many more apologists in the West, that is where the greatest revelations are confirmed. Fortunately for historians, says Synder, the Soviets were even more meticulous in the recording of their crimes than the Nazis. It just required the collapse of the Soviet Empire for historians to have access to those archives.
“When the historian Robert Conquest was asked to provide a subtitle for a new, post-Cold War edition of his book on Stalin’s purges, he suggested, ‘I told you so, you f—ing fools.’ The fools are now looking even more foolish, thanks to the efforts of indefatigable historians like Snyder.” — Reason
Osama Bin Laden, by Michael Scheuer
From a short interview of Michael Scheuer on Book TV:
Michael Scheuer was head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden desk for years before his retirement. His biography of bin Laden is due out in February, and it promises to be a most revealing read.
Bin Laden is not a raving maniac, says Scheuer, and we don’t do America any good by pretending that he is. He is unsparingly honest about why he is fighting America, and it has nothing to do with disgust of our freedoms and our “way of life.” Can anyone get the idiot Rudy Giuliani to read this book–and Osama bin Laden’s own explanations?
Scheuer says Clinton had 13 opportunities to kill bin Laden, and failed to do so. Bush had one big opportunity, and failed to do so. Scheuer says it is too late now to accomplish that goal or to “win” in Afghanistan; we are hopelessly undermanned for those tasks, even if they were ever possible. We should pull out immediately–it is not worth another American soldier’s life. But don’t pretend otherwise–it will be a significant failure of American military and foreign policy. Oh, our government will lie to Americans about this (so what’s new, pussycat?), but the entire Muslim and Arab world will understand: The two greatest empires of our time were defeated in Afghanistan.
It has been many decades since I have expected anything to be proud of from our presidents and politicians. I have minimal standards today: just don’t give me hives from listening to you. George W. Bush gave me hives. I had to shut off my TV or change channels whenever he appeared on the tube. What a sad commentary on the conservative movement that I was once part of, that they would celebrate stupidity and total inarticulateness–just because he wasn’t a Democrat.
I have made a gallant effort to shove Bush down the memory hole, but I was reminded of him by the visit of China’s President Hu this past week. It was such a relief to see President Obama rather than Dubya interacting with Hu. I don’t expect much from these state visits–and certainly the important work is done behind the scenes–but at least I did not have to be ashamed as an American of my country’s representative. I don’t think President Hu could help but notice that his American counterpart today is probably the smartest and most coherent politician they’ve had to deal with since Richard Nixon. I didn’t say smart–just smartest politician.
Granting that Obama is a front for the Establishment, like all of his predecessors since World War II, at least he has a grasp of the intricacies involved between the world’s two superpowers. He seemed to be studying Hu’s answers and Hu’s face at the press conference, searching for clues rather than looking vapidly into the camera. (Suggestion to Obama: the Chinese are not called “inscrutable” for nothing.) He didn’t try to pin everything on currency manipulation on the one hand or human rights on the other. He understood, unlike Sen. Harry Reid or Rep. John Boehner, that you don’t gain anything at a diplomatic event by being rude and undiplomatic. All of this is a pretty minimal accomplishment, but so much more than I expect from “my” political leaders today.