There has to be a name in the theory of formal logic whereby one begins by making an undeniably true, although utterly banal, statement, and then purportedly building on that statement constructs an argument which is utterly at odds with measurable reality. Oliver Stone seems to be a master of the technique, whatever its name may be. Stalin’s got a pretty bad rap in history. Hitler’s a “convenient scapegoat.” So we need “to understand their point of view.”
Years ago I watched his movie on the Kennedy assassination. If you’re willing to suspend disbelief for the duration it makes an intriguing point. If, however, you pay attention to all the information that wasn’t in the movie, or if it was there was soft-pedalled, the movie becomes significantly less . . . aaahhhh . . . compelling. Like the bit about Oswald having attempted to defect to the Soviet Union and having met, while trying (unsuccessfully) to do so, with senior KGB operatives at their embassy in Mexico. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the individuals who met with Oswald were not in the sorts of positions that one would normally expect them to have met with Joe Bloggs who just shows up at the embassy out of the blue. Oswald had already moved to Soviet Union once, and had come back.
Now Ollie has a new movie out, in which he serves up the congealed apologias of eighty years of the Left’s love affair with Stalin. Ron Radosh at The Weekly Standard does an excellent job of dismantling it. The core of Stone’s fallacy? “Failing to distinguish between democracies and totalitarian regimes, Stone consistently portrays the Soviet Union as the victim of American imperialism, while regarding the monster Stalin as a peaceful leader who sought only to gain valid security guarantees on his borders.”
I am not interested in any system of ethics, religion, or morality which cannot distinguish between, on the one hand, a political theory and practice which has very systematically extinguished 100,000,000 or so human lives in the course of less than a century, and one which has not. The Black Book of Communism, written by a group of Marxist scholars in Paris and very quickly translated into English, was the first archival examination of the question just how many people did communism slaughter during the 20th Century. One hundred million was their best estimate, although when you’re talking numbers that large, no one will ever know even reasonably certainly. As Oliver Stone’s idol Joe Stalin observed, when you kill a million people (it might have been “only” a hundred thousand; I haven’t looked up the exact quotation), that’s a “statistic.”
Radosh also provides us a useful reminder of just how shot through the senior U.S. government really was, not only with communists and fellow-travellers, but with actual NKVD operatives. It really is sobering to think how close we came to having a President Wallace appointing agents of a hostile government to central positions of power and influence.
At bottom, the Left insists on seeing a moral equivalency between Western civilization and all forms of collectivism. There is no such equivalence. The reason that Stalin and Hitler have got such a bad press (at least from people other than Oliver Stone) is because they deserved and deserve it. Every last bit of it. The reason that the U.S. was portrayed as the “good guys” in the Cold War is because we were exactly that. This is not to say that the suffering of those populations among whom it was fought out was not genuine. But all wars produce suffering among the innocent. The relevant questions are which wars produce the least suffering among the smallest number of people, and which wars avoid suffering among vastly greater numbers of people. By those measures the Cold War was a tremendously successful enterprise. It devastated populations in very specific areas, but in so doing it headed off a World War III (in which those same populations would also have been involved, by the way; it was their misfortune to be screwed no matter which way the wind blew). Put another way, unless one is willing to say that a direct, general, unlimited military conflict between the Soviet Union and its allies and the U.S. and its allies was to be preferred to the viciousness which raged over much smaller areas of the globe, among populations much more thinly spread than, say, Western Europe, North America, or China, then I don’t see how the West’s fighting of the Cold War can be condemned. Criticized? Certainly. You can always second-guess how a war was fought. But first you must win it.