Phi Beta Cons

From the Gulag to the Killing Fields: That “Irrepressible Lightness”

In a searing 2003 essay, Can There Be An ‘After Socialism?,’” Alan Kors decried that darkest stain on Western intellectuals’ honor: their “pathological” failure to “demand an accounting, an apology, and repentance” for the mass murders and other atrocities committed by Stalin and other communist tyrants.

 

Moreover, as Adam Kirsch writes, some Western intellectuals are so morally obtuse as to continue to this day to cultishly admire such “liberators” as Fidel Castro. How incomprehensible, he remarks, that Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt could wax enthusiastic in their widely acclaimed book, Empire, about “the irrepressible lightness and joy of being communist.”

 

In one fell swoop, Paul Hollander, in his new book, From the Gulag to the Killing Fields: Personal Accounts of Political Violence and Repression, fills this shameful historical void and gives the lie to both gullible and willful deniers of the heinous results of communist ideology. From Hollander’s vast and terrifying tableau Kirsch culls the following examples:

In Cuba, a completely sane 16-year-old student named Jose Alvarado Delgado is committed to a mental hospital, given electroshock therapy, and force-fed psychotropic drugs. In the Soviet Union, Evgenia Ginzburg is interrogated by the secret police for seven days straight, without sleep or food. In Vietnam, Doan Van Toai sees a fellow prisoner commit suicide by biting off his own tongue and choking on it. In Cambodia, Haing Ngor witnesses a Khmer Rouge soldier suffocate a pregnant woman with a plastic bag, then rip out the fetus with a bayonet.

This book should once and for all put to rest the denial and lies that infuse utopian politics. But will it? The irrepressible moral lightness of many intellectuals gives one cause to doubt.   

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