"It is strictly forbidden to bury people here." -outskirts of Kharkiv, 1933
This is not the first original volume in English on what is now called the "It is strictly forbidden to bury people here." -outskirts of Kharkiv, 1933
This is not the first original volume in English on what is now called the Holodomor, also called the 'Terror-Famine'. That would be Robert Conquest's study, 'The Harvest of Sorrow', which saved it from sliding down the memory hole. While that first book was seminal in its time, this new study builds on it with archival research, new memoirs, further testimonies, (and the work of a small army of Ukrainian historians), now the third book in Applebaum's series on Soviet atrocities.
The deaths of approximately four million people from 1931 to 1934 were a targeted famine. They were an assault on Ukraine and Ukrainians. It was, in a twisted way, a continuation of the Tsarist policy of Russification towards the Ukrainian territories - forbidding the teaching of their native language, forced resettlement, book banning, etc. The area, while amenable to socialism around the time of the Russian Civil War, bristled at Bolshevism and the outside intervention.
The famine proceeded in stages. The 1920s were a period of temporary relaxation of the Russification policies, and intellectuals were free to write in and teach Ukrainian to a new generation of students. But by 1929, volunteers from the Russian areas of the Soviet Union came to preach the virtues of agricultural collectivization - first by persuasion, then by coercion, or agitation against foreign elements or 'liberalism'.
After this was a campaign against 'kulaks', a broadly defined group which might have implied rich peasants, but instead singled out those with two cows instead of one, or anyone who simply resisted too loudly the previous collectivization campaigns. The records of the secret police show that not everyone went along quietly. The regime would not move a step back, and then neither would the peasants - they hid their grain, or killed their livestock to prevent confiscation. Stalin, remembering the chaos of the Russian Civil War, implemented mass deportations.
The final stage, and the one which was directly responsible for the greatest human suffering, was forced requisitions, often from the poorest segments of the peasantry. As part of a crash industrialization drive, Stalin felt compelled to raise grain exports. The only way to do this, he felt, was the use of terror. Search teams ravaged the fields and the barren shacks, searching for grain stores that never were gathered or sown. They shot at scavengers picking grain from the side of the road, and food theft was made punishable by death or exile to the gulag.
The food was gone by 1933, and starvation followed. Here Applebaum's perspective moves from the political to the personal. I won't go into it too much. They ate grass and tree bark, and the cities were littered with the corpses of those who wandered in from the countryside in search of food. Kyiv and Kharkiv districts, which were the centers of rebellion during the Civil War, were especially targeted. By 1934, whole villages were depopulated, with wolves scavenging in the abandoned huts.
Ukrainian farms were not the only places that experienced poor harvesting conditions - Kazakhstan under the 'anti-nomadic' campaigns and the Northern Caucasus were also heavily affected. But Applebaum demonstrates that Soviet policy was targeted towards exacerbating the food situation in Ukraine.
Then, and now, it was denied. The dead were buried in mass graves under the cover of night. A few Western reporters were able to publish articles, but they were protested by useful idiots or paid agents. Applebaum makes hay of the case of Walter Duranty, a New York Times reporter who tried to seek out 'both sides' of the crisis and coveted access to the Soviet leadership for further articles - sound familiar? Reports filtered to what embassies were left, but other governments kept mum, and others needed allies against Hitler. The cover-up worked as propaganda often works - not in creating an entirely new narrative, but by sowing doubt. Those who spoke out against it were derided as conspiracy theorists or Cold Warriors pushing some agenda.
Applebaum takes a technical approach in her conclusion. While the definition under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide may leave some ambiguity - after all, it was only ratified with Soviet approval - under the original definition of the word 'genocide' proposed by Raphael Lemkin, the result is an unequivocal yes. The Soviet Union, at multiple levels, carried out deliberate policies exacerbating the effects of the ongoing famine with the effect of depopulating Ukraine.
Now, this history is a battlefield. In 2014, demonstrations overthrew the pro-Russian president, Yanukovych, and as a direct result, Putin invaded Crimea and the Donbass. Ukraine is still shorn of its territory, and caught up in an expensive and destabilizing war, and Putin decries all his enemies as fascists and weaves webs of pro-Western conspiracy. Attempts within the UN to publish a statement on the Holodomor were denounced as, incredibly, 'Russophobic'. In this way, the debate over history is a background for ongoing conflict.
Applebaum's history is a powerful, even-handed study of a humanitarian catastrophe that is too often overlooked. It is superb. I recommend it not only as a study of history, but also one of disaster and malice....more
Political and strategic overview of the Chinese-Vietnamese war. He defines it not as a short intensive strike which took place in the first months ofPolitical and strategic overview of the Chinese-Vietnamese war. He defines it not as a short intensive strike which took place in the first months of 1979, but a longer border clash which served to pressure the Vietnamese government, forced them to divert forces away from the occupation of Cambodia, and was partly the manifestation of lingering Sino-Soviet tensions. Zhang writes about the years before and after the war, as well as noting its relatively low profile in the historical record on the mainland.
The author also takes pains to reconstruct the events of the war itself, with troop movements, studies on PLA and PAVN military doctrine, and long-term economic effects. Despite the near-total lack of resources available for studying the top leadership of both China and Vietnam at the time, Zhang is also able to reconstruct orders and strategy from studies of provincial archives, military memoirs, and what few documents are available. That work alone would make this an impressive book....more