sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

December 1, 2016

1930’s Revival Ideas — in case Steve Bannon Needs Help Strategizing

Filed under: politics, Soviet Union, the Holocaust, Ukraine — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 11:01 am

Last month (this blog moves veeery slowly) the President-elect’s “Chief Strategist” — or whatever — Steve Bannon rejected the term “white nationalist” opting instead for “economic nationalist” — or whatever:

“Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. [Andrew Breitbart is spinning in his grave– ed.] With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Shipyards, iron works [I hear Trump used to host cocaine parties, — ed.], get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution – conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”

Thanks, in part, to the rather unfortunate 1930’s experience, I am very much an economic internationalist, globalist even.  My biases are no secret.  And as a very biased person I find the claim that the 30’s were “exciting” rather odd. Can we replicate this 80-year-old success story in the 21st century?

1. Ask an average American what comes to his mind when we talk about the “exciting” 30’s, he’ll inevitably mention bread lines.  Being familiar with scarcity economy of the Soviet Union, I can assure you that yes, food lines are a fascinating part of social life.  You never know when a fist-fight will break out, for instance, or who the sales lady is going to berate and why.  I have no idea what it was like in the 1930’s US, however.  Judging by the vintage photos Americans might just be a tad more civilized.

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The length of this 1932 bread line is not unimpressive

How likely are we to witness the emergence of Depression-era bread lines? The federal government had been in the business of subsidizing agriculture since the Great Depression; the size of the hand-outs to America’s farmers is now in the tens of billions. We produce more food than we can consume and historically we’ve been feeding our enemies, like the Soviet Union. We are not going to run out of food, it’s just a matter of passing it on to the plebes. Thanks to Barack Obama we have EBT so that the handouts to individuals can be distributed through privately owned groceries and a with pretense of dignity.

It looks like we are poised for Trumpulus and that the increased federal spending which crippled the US economy over the previous decade is here to stay.  However, the incoming president is unlikely to get rid of federal  programs that masks poverty. So, no, breadlines are not coming back.

2. Most inspirational rallies. Uh, who can forget Nuremberg! Immortalized by Leni Riefenstahl, one of the most celebrated filmmaker of her age, Nuremberg showed adoring, orderly crowds cheering Der Furher at a 1934 mass gathering. Can we see a revival of this type of mass events in the Western world?

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A 1942 close-up of some of the individuals in this picture can be found at the bottom of this post

The Nuremberg rally was attended by 700,000 Nazis and supporters.  By comparison, the biggest rally in the United States is said to be the 2008 Obama event in St Louis that drew 100,000 attendees.   Although the outgoing president once spoke to 200,000 people in Berlin, I have little doubt that the crowd was far less lockstepish than thier great-grandparents.  I highly suspect most of them came to see whatever band was headlining that show, anyway.

Contemporary rallies lack the organization on display in Leni Riefenstahl’s film. Donald Trump rallies, for instance, were frequently marked by violence.  Even when the neoNazis get together, a soccer-inspired street brawl is more probable outcome than an orderly march. Verdict: in contemporary Western world, at least, a replication of Triumph of The Will is unlikely.

3. Impressive parades. While Hollywood adored Leni, it completely ignored her equally talented and arguably just as morally warped Soviet counterparts. Much groundbreaking propaganda photography was produced in the 1930’s USSR.

Every state holiday (and there were many) Joseph Stalin observed parades from the Masoleum tribune. Army units came at the head of the procession, followed by marching athletes, workers, folk dancers children, children athletes– and what have you– from every corner of the vast homeland.

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No, this is not a still from a horror flick. This is a male athlete unit at an 1937 Red Square parade.  It should be a still from a horror flick, though

My town has 4th of July parades.  It’s mostly happy people in vintage cars and Trader Joe’s handing out candy to tots.  Cute.

4. Kristallnacht. Aryan blood was brooding with excitement on November 9, 1938.  On that day, countless Jewish homes and public buildings were ransacked, 1000 synagogues burned and 7000 businesses destroyed by Nazi paramilitary forces and German civilians.  The pogrom left hundreds, if not thousands, of German Jews dead and 30,000 were shipped off to concentration camps.  Kristallnacht marked the beginning of the Holocaust.

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Fire makes for a captivating scene

Unfortunately, race riots happen in the United States with predictable regularity.  However, they are highly unlikely to result in anything like the Final Solution.  Instead, we have young black men with vague feeling of dissatisfaction and wounded pride burning and looting their own neighborhoods.  The rioters might be egged on by powerful individuals who use the rioters’ desperate circumstances for their own political gain, but we don’t have a state apparatus dedicated to annihilating a minority.  Our institutions are too strong and Americans are too good of a people.

5. Holodomor.  Literally translated as starvationdeath from both Ukrainian and Russian, Holodomor was a man-made famine, a function of the Soviet collectivization of agriculture.  In 1932, Stalin stepped up grain confiscation from peasants in the most fertile regions of Ukraine, Don basin, northern Caucasus and Kazakhstan.  The idea was to force farmers into feudal-like collective farms, prop up the cities (USSR sold some of the grain and directed the funds towards industrialization) and to punish the areas that resisted the Bolshevik takeover a decade earlier.  During that year, Ukraine had lost 4 million souls and the population of Kazakhstan had shrunk by 38%, with ethnic Russians soon overtaking the Kazakhs as the largest ethnic group in the “republic”.

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1933. Starved peasants lining up the streets of Kharkov, my native city and then capital of Ukraine

Over the last quarter century, Ukraine made Holodomor raison d’etre of its independence.  Good for them.

No country willing to accept economic aid from the United States will experience a famine today.  Then again, Holodomor was man made, and there’s North Korea.

5. Awe-inspiring labor camps and purges. GULAG is Russian abbreviation for Main Administration of the Camps; it was set up shortly after Bolshevik revolution but the party didn’t really start until the 30’s.  That’s when the Great Purge haunted, in no particular order, Soviet intelligentsia, government and party officials, peasants, military officers, persons with non-Russian sounding names, hapless jokesters and those in a wrong place at a wrong time. Although the exact number of victims is hard to calculate, historians estimate that up to 1.2 million Soviet subjects perished in the 1937-38 Terror and about 14 million went to GULAGS in the period between 1929 and 1953, Both criminals and “enemies of the people”.  Over a million died in the GULAGS.

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This is the mugshot of one of my favorite poets, Osip Mandelshtam.  After witnessing Holodomor in southern Ukraine, Mandelshtam wrote a poem sharply critical of Stalin. He was imprisoned in 1938 and charged with counterrevolutionary activities. Mandelshtam died in a transit camp the same year

GULAGS today? Do we still have an embargo on Cuba?

6. Nothing highlights the geopolitical excitement of the 1930’s like the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which split Europe between German and Russian spheres of influence.  Presented as a “non-aggression pact”, it led to the Nazi-Soviet division of Poland, Soviet occupation of the Baltics, parts of Finland and Romania and German occupation of Czechia.  The arrangement failed to thwart the war between Germany and USSR.

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“To your health!” Said Stalin.  “To Poland!” Exclaimed Ribbentrop

Germany today is contained within NATO and Eastern Europe is now under our nuclear umbrella.  Under this arrangement, a direct Russian attack unlikely. Yet Donald Trump’s surrogate Newt Gingrich opined in July that “Estonia is in the suburbs of St. Petersburg” adding that the Baltic nations need to worry about our commitment to some of the NATO members’ defense.  On the other hand, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Defense general James Mattis Appears to be a fan of the Baltic country, so the future of NATO and Central Europe does not seem to be in jeopardy.

7. If you got an impression that Europeans had all the fun in 30’s, consider the Rape of Nanjing.  Imperial Japanese Army executed up to 300,000 of Chinese civilians and disarmed soldiers, tortured, raped and looted.  Riveting!

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A disarmed Chinese POW about to be beheaded by a Japanese soldier

Given how Japanese birth rates are through the floor, they are not likely to invade and slaughter anyone.  In other parts of the world such things continue to happen: think Aleppo.

Exciting time, as you can see. Some of the excitement ended in 1942 on the shores of Volga.

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Who doesn’t want to crash after a whole decade of excitement?

Historical change can be hard to spot.  In December 2014 my friends in Ukraine could not believe what was happening to their country.  Looking back, of course, it all seems obvious: Ukraine was, and still is, a failed state.  The self-proclaimed Leninist Bannon is wrong, however.  We are not going to party like it’s 1938 any time soon.  We are, in all likelihood, going to have a corrupt, wasteful presidency.  Conservatism might just eviscerate.  Divisions along the racial lines will only get worse.  National debt will soar.  International order will be checked by Trump’s real estate ambitions.  Autocratic regimes will flourish. And so on.  We are not about to experience a totalitarian nightmare on the global scale like that of the 1930’s and 40’s.

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April 20, 2015

A Few of My Favorite Things

Filed under: parenting, politics, Soviet Union, the Holocaust — Tags: , — edge of the sandbox @ 2:01 pm

We recently watched The Sound of Music with our kids, and, dear readers, I’d like to share our observations:

1. The songs, once they got into our head, seem to have permanently settled there, but mostly in a good way.  Even if Do Re Me gets a little annoying, I’m always able to chase it away with A Few of My Favorite Things;

2. Loved the film, but it’s strange, is it not, to march to the altar to a song that declares the bride “a problem”?

3. Loved the film, especially because it featured a lot of kids and the central story was that of a man and a woman meeting, falling in love and getting married, and their lives are better for that.  So quaint.  Contemporary Disney can’t get around princesses who are not ready, get entangled in relationships with trust fund babies or, worse yet, so obviously represent the frigid dead end of feminism.

4. Watching the movie I found it necessary to explain to my children, 7 and 5, about the Nazis.  I don’t think there was ever a time in my life when I had to be explained such a thing.  I just knew.  VE Day, or, in Russian parlance,  Victory Day, was a major national holiday, every family was touched by the War and the media was saturated with War-related materials.

My husband, born and raised in San Fernando Valley, doesn’t remember being explained about Nazis either.  He does remember playing WW2 with his brother, though.  I’m quite certain I played the War a few times as well, even though I was a girly girl — because it was happening on the playground.  I’ve never seen American kids today playing anything violent with a reference to historical fact.

When we talked about Nazis being “the bad guys” my 7-year-old daughter promptly found an analogy: “Or, like they litter”.  Years ago I posted about a Soviet science fiction story where villains litter.  We can find faults with the Soviet story, but it’s my children who are living the life so overprotected, that they are unable to even begin to articulate the nature of evil.  (We shelter them from good, for a good measure, too, see number 3).

I recall, years ago, reading an article in local Jewish paper about teaching kids about the Holocaust.  It recommended waiting until they were 8 to explain that something horrible happened to Jews in Europe.  Perhaps I’ve forgotten some of the detail.  Maybe the conversation didn’t have to be postponed until 8, maybe the experts thought that parents need to wait until 5, but somehow I suspect a generation ago the issue was handled differently.

Granted, I didn’t know about the Holocaust until I was a teenager when my parents taught me about it.  I thought Nazis invaded our country and burnt villages, and my family, having no problem with this narrative, simply added on to it later.  Soviets weren’t big on Jewish issues, albeit there is the frequently played song about Buchenwald performed by Muslim Magomaev, but its subtext was by no means obvious:

My daughter shared her excitement about The Sound of Music with a girlfriend her age.  She told her not to worry, the movie is not that scary, although it has Nazis in it.  “So you get to learn abut the nuns?” inquired her half-Israeli friend.  Each year, Israel commemorated Holocaust remembrance day.

5. DH further researched 60’s musicals and found the following review of My Fair Lady:

No one younger than 50 will remember My Fair Lady. When it came out on stage and in movies it was wonderful. But now it just seemed dated. Radical lesbians will hate the thing.

But we are only interested in what gay men have to say about it!

6. Were The Sound of Music a Soviet film, Captain Von Trapp would be joining the Austrian partisans. Or at least the Italian ones.  And it would be no family fare.  Soviet and Russian WW2 films do not require redemption, are quite excellent, but very very difficult to watch.

January 30, 2015

Where Putin Doesn’t Go (And More About WW2 Ukraine)

When the Cold War was coming to a close, it became customary for both the West and the Eastern block to note how similar we are — we wear blue jeans, fall in love with attractive people, our youths are charmingly decadent — and so on.  Too bad we no longer feel this kinship because similarities still abound.  For instance, the Presidents of our two countries didn’t show up for both the Paris Unity March following Charlie Hebdo terror attack and the ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Unlike our own Leader of the Free World, Putin, who had been run out of Europe, now avoids uncomfortable situations like that G20 summit in Brisbane.  So he sent foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to the Paris Unity March, and Lavrov was put in a back row, while jovial Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko marched in the front.  I guess Poroshenko is now an indispensable in our war against Islamism.

At some point, probably around the time of Pussy Riot affair, Russians decided that a state’s proper functions extend to the protection of subjects’ religious feelings, no matter how shallow they run.  According to a recently released poll, while only a small minority of Russians justifies the terrorists, a majority blame either the cartoonists themselves for provoking the attack or the government for allowing freedom of expression.  So when he ditched the March, Putin didn’t exactly let his countrymen down.

I don’t think he let them down when he skipped the Auschwitz ceremony either.  The Soviet Army liberated the camp seventy years ago, but Putin, who was not personally invited by the Poles, the nation entrusted with preserving the memory of the Holocaust for reasons of geography.  The Russian strongman opted for a Holocaust Remembrance Day in Moscow.  As a descendant of people who worked and fought for the World War Two victory on the Soviet side, I’d rather see him swallow his pride and go to Poland, but I have a feeling that most Russians support their leadership in their decision to stay put, and had those who died liberating the camp been alive, they’d get Putin’s position too.

In the week before the observance Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna produced another triumph of Western diplomacy:

In a radio interview Wednesday, Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna was challenged over what the journalist called the “pettiness” of not inviting Putin, given that he is the inheritor of the Soviet Union and that the Red Army freed Auschwitz.

Schetyna replied that “maybe it’s better to say … that the First Ukrainian Front and Ukrainians liberated (Auschwitz), because Ukrainian soldiers were there, on that January day, and they opened the gates of the camp and they liberated the camp.”

Which gave Mr. Lavrov an opening to lecture the world about Soviet internationalism:

“It’s common knowledge that Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army, in which all nationalities heroically served,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We believe that the mockery of history needs to be stopped.”

The group of forces involved in the liberation of Auschwitz was called the First Ukrainian Front after it pushed the Nazis back across the territory of then-Soviet Ukraine before moving into Poland.

It should be noted, that the war was more or less a stalemate until Soviets pushed back into Ukraine and began conscripting men from the newly liberated lands.  This, however, is Soviet Ukrainian history, the one that New Ukraine turned its back on last year.  In fact Ukraine now celebrates Defender of Fatherland Day once known as Soviet Army Day, on the anniversary of establishment by the Nazi Organization of Ukrainian Nationalist of Ukrainian Insurgent Army.  As I’ve said before, Ukraine has some soul-searching to do, and they have to come up with something better than unfolding of the Ukrainian flag at Auschwitz. Was it in honor of the victims or the guards, by the way?

The man who opened the gates of the concentration camp is said to be major Anatoliy Shapiro.  Goosebumps.  He was a Jew born in a town near Poltava in the Russian Empire’s Pale of Settlement, now Ukraine.  Shapiro, who died in 2005 in Long Island, New York, didn’t learn about the Holocaust until he immigrated to the United States in 1992.  Shortly before his death Shapiro recalled Auschwitz liberation in an interview to Jerusalem Post:

“When I saw the people, it was skin and bones. They had no shoes, and it was freezing. They couldn’t even turn their heads, they stood like dead people.

“I told them, ‘The Russian army liberates you!’ They couldn’t understand. A few who could touched our arms and said, ‘Is it true? Is it real?'”

As a commanding officer, his task was to direct his men. Half his battalion, originally 900 men, had died in battle. But nothing they had endured had prepared them for what they found inside Auschwitz.

His men pleaded with him to let them leave.

“The general told me, ‘Have the soldiers go from barrack to barrack. Let them see what happened to the people,'” he says.

Although this is not how he tells the story, I would expect him to have said “the Soviet Army liberates you”. Anyhow, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseni Yatsenyuk out-clowned himself proclaiming that Ukrainian soldiers from western cities of Lvov and Zhitomir liberated Auschwitz.  Looking on the positive side, Russians and Ukrainians actually talk about the Holocaust in the post-Soviet days.

Everyone is wrong about everything.  The monument on the grave of Anatoliy Shapiro's lists his multiple honors, including the title of Hero of Ukraine.  On top is the title of his book, Sinister marathon, written in Russian

Everyone is wrong about everything. The monument on the grave of Anatoliy Shapiro’s lists his multiple honors, including Hero of Ukraine. On top is the Russian title of his book, Sinister marathon

The kind of gal I am, I’d rather have the West remember the Holocaust as the ultimate evil and stand strong against Islamic expansion.  Russia is an autocracy, no question about it, and yet it’s also our natural ally against Islamism.  Unified pro-Western democratic Ukraine is a pipe dream, but if Russia crumbles, which appears to be our goal as far as I can decipher, Islamists are certain to make gains in Central Asia, the Caucuses and arguably Crimea.

Incidentally, the First Ukrainian Front, composed primarily of ethnic Russians, was marched to Prague after the fall of Berlin.  My high school math teacher, a Jew, was a part of that operation, but that’s a whole other story.

Update: many thanks to Mad Jewess for linking.  Read her timely update on escalation of the conflict between NATO and Russia.

March 17, 2012

Don’t Cry for Me, Pat Buchanan

Filed under: History, the Holocaust — Tags: , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:13 am

John Demjanjuk is dead of natural causes:

Convicted Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk, 91, has died in a retirement home in southern Germany, police said Saturday.

Last year, a German found the retired Ohio autoworker guilty of aiding the murder of 27,900 Jews at Sobibor, a Nazi extermination camp in occupied Poland, over several months of 1943.

Rot in hell.

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