I don't know enough about Eastern-European history to address Snyder's claim that the mass killing of fourteen million pe...moreTimothy Snyder's "Bloodlands"
I don't know enough about Eastern-European history to address Snyder's claim that the mass killing of fourteen million people in Poland, Belarus, the Baltic states and western Russia was "the central event" of modern European history. But that certainly seems like a plausible claim, or rather it seems difficult to imagine an event that could be more significant for the history of the continent. Even an invading army can pass over a land like a wave and leave society and history to continue much as they were before; but the killing of one in every three people in a place cannot. The Nazis and Soviets killed as great a proportion of the population as did the black death, but while the black death was indiscriminate this was targeted: at Jews, Poles, Ukrainians, the communists, the intelligentsia, the bourgeoisie.
To my mind the question about the Holocaust and the other Nazi and Soviet mass killings has always been: how did it happen? I don't mean to ask what motivated or permitted people to kill their friends, neighbors, and countrymen; that part is all too understandable. What I mean is (though to my knowledge Snyder never puts it this way): why did these mass killings happen the way that they did? Why was mass killing organized—why organized the way it was, and why organized at all? To put it another way, if you wanted to kill all the Jews of Europe, why would you not just give your soldiers a standing order to shoot every Jew they met? Or just let them rampage over the countryside? Why would you lock people up in ghettos and then shoot or gas them later? Why not just starve people? Why bother feeding people in camps anything, if you just wanted them to die?
These questions Snyder answers. For a victim of one of these totalitarian regimes, how you died depended not just on who you were but where you lived, who was in control, when they were in control, and whether that state happened to be preoccupied by food shortages, labor shortages, the fear of fifth columns, or some combination of these and sheer hatred. Neither of these regimes was some kind of mindless technocracy, slowly putting into action predetermined plans. What was the mechanism that translated the hatred of Hitler or the paranoia of Stalin into the actual shooting of actual people, or into more complex forms of death like the killing factory at Treblinka and the logistical apparatus that fed it? As Snyder points out, what we now think of as "the Final Solution" was actually only the last in a line of plans to deal with the Jews, who were only killed en masse west of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line after plans to expel them, hand them to the Soviets, ship them to Madagascar and deport them to Soviet Central Asia all failed.
The Jews, obviously, suffered the most in the sense that the Jewish population in the bloodlands was utterly destroyed. Treblinka, once it was running at full efficiency and maximum capacity, is the real horror and centerpiece of the book. Three quarters of a million people were killed there and their bodies disposed of in a manner that can almost be called precise. The only reason we know anything about its innards is that a few dozen of those Jews selected to labor within its walls saw that, once Warsaw's Jews were disposed of and the facility dismantled, their fates would be sealed too, and rebelled and fled. But the real tragedy is the story of Poland as a whole, a vibrant and independent civilization that was intentionally beheaded by the Germans and Soviets after 1939 and drawn and quartered for good measure, whose cities were subject to deliberate obliteration. The survival of Poland and Polish civilization at all seems a complete miracle.
What is the point of this litany of death? Reducing mass killing to its statistics and its sums, Snyder argues, serves us and our base motives, not the dead. And it serves us poorly. The histories of the bloodlands and of the Holocaust are not simple or easy. If we want to do justice to the past, and to really ensure that our present and future do not fall into its shadow, we must remember each person and know how and why they died.(less)
This book is devastating. I read it in two days. I couldn't put it down, and I'm still dreaming about it.
There is the occasional overwrought metaphor...moreThis book is devastating. I read it in two days. I couldn't put it down, and I'm still dreaming about it.
There is the occasional overwrought metaphor but for the most part the writing is clear and crisp. And when he wants to, Marlantes can overwhelm you with fear or sadness or terror.
The acronyms and military jargon and technical terms (PRC-25 and that sort of thing) can seem Tom Clancy-ish but they're not. I think they're meant to convey how a soldier thinks; if an actual soldier wants to correct me, feel free.(less)
Keegan's brilliant at figuring out from limited sources what it was like to be a soldier at Agincourt or Waterloo or the Somme. There are too many mom...moreKeegan's brilliant at figuring out from limited sources what it was like to be a soldier at Agincourt or Waterloo or the Somme. There are too many moments to count of some bit of insight that sticks with you and makes you smile and admire his detective work. The long introduction is worth reading.(less)