Posts tagged “I Was a Slave in Russia”

“One death is a tragedy…”

I believe it was Stalin (or was it Hitler) who is quoted as saying: “One death is a tragedy, a thousand deaths are merely a statistic.”  One can get hardened after being around so much death, I suppose Duranty had reached that point.  As I’ve posted earlier while focusing on Walter Duranty’s book “I Write as I Please” the past week, I’ve been reading John Noble’s book “I was a slave in Russia.”

This American survivor, who was trapped in Dresden at the end of WWII, saw MUCH death during his enslavement.  Naturally he tried to make sense of it and I thought I wouldn’t take any notes from this book because it is so dire but I am anyway.

p. 30 “I knew little about theoretical Marxism at that time, but in this attitude toward death I sensed the gulf that separated these MVD officers from the Christian civilization that man is an animal, no more.  To kill a man is no more significant than to kill a highly trained horse or a cow.  If the beast becomes unmanageable, it is killed.  If the man-beast becomes unmanageable, he is killed.”

p. 31 “In that joking [Red Army and Soviet guards about their political prisoners at Dresden] was summed up a startling different between these guards and the Nazi death squads about which those prisoners who had known both sometimes spoke.  The Nazis, they said, killed viciously, because they were convinced that the people being killed were actually their enemies.  The Russians killed because, almost literally, a number had been drawn from a hat, because some meaningless document in some meaningless proceedings had said to snuff out the candle. No ferocity attended the executions.  The reasons for the killings were as remote and irrelevant to the Russian guards as was the concept of death itself.  Their joking, then, was not forced.  When they patted a prisoner’s shoulder, the action came easily.  Life had to end for certain integers in the sate table of statistics. That’s all, comrade.  Nothing personal, comrade.”

Why do I bring up these quotes?  Because I believe as an educator here in Astana, we need to teach the Kazakh children to know logical fallacies from truth.  There also needs to be a rule of law and respecting of those laws in order for a civil society to flourish in our places of academia, especially here in Astana.  Students need to know that human life is important and that they are not part of the cogwheel that might be spinning uncontrollably at times. They need to be valued as individuals and not made to be a part of a conformist mold.

However, this group of people in Kazakhstan and also in Ukraine have gone through much brutality, which is what Duranty wrote about.  There was a manual written by an ardent communist about how to terrorize people and those under him followed it to the letter of the law.  The following what John Noble wrote is exactly what had been going on in Kazakhstan back in the 1920s and 1930s.  There is a reason why the Ukrainians call their dark period of “Holodomor” as Terror Famine in 1932-33.

“The very system of Communist arrests inevitably led to a system of torture that was as much mental as physical. Arrests were made to terrorize the citizens, in sweeping, indiscriminate raids.  Men were arrested as they walked the streets, as they dined or sat in the homes of friends.  They were arrested anywhere, anytime, without explanation.  Everyone in the city was kept poised on the edge of terror.  There was a plan to it all, and it was remarkably effective even beyond its terrorizing results.  When a load of prisoners newly yanked from home and street were thrown into cells, the first topic of speculation naturally was, “Why was I arrested?”

Tomorrow I will show much happier photos of Kazakh babies and students and my new office.  Things are actually looking UP for me!!!

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“I Write as I Please” 1935 book (Part III)

Back again with more Walter Duranty quotes from his book “I Write as I Please.” I suppose it might be considered arrogant for a writer to have that as his title but as a journalist for the New York Times,  he always had editors that made him write a certain way. (Perhaps he had Stalin’s minions also edit what he wrote, but that’s another issue)  He probably had a very tight internal self editor because I believe he did write well.  However, a hero of mine, Malcolm Muggeridge, another British journalist simply said that Duranty was a “Liar.”  What parts did Duranty write as lies, that is for history to judge. He did admit to embellishing a story to make it more readable.

So, I didn’t think I’d actually ever write this but I am glad Duranty wrote this book published in 1935 because he documents what historian deniers of the Terror Famine would rather have people NOT know about what happened in Kazakhstan and Ukraine and other former Soviet countries. (I’ll include quotes about that tomorrow)

p. 207 “In other words, I had become affected by my environment and was beginning to lose the perspective and critical detachment which every foreign correspondent must retain at all costs.  A reporter who stays too long in Russia at one time is liable either to lose sight of the differences and to accept as natural and normal events as circumstances which are unnatural and abnormal to his readers, or else to find that the difference gets on his nerves to such a degree that he swings over to the other extreme and reports everything from a sour and jaundiced angle.”

Here’s what spurred this book on and who he dedicated this book to, his journalist friend William Ryall Bolitho.  Bolitho gave him some sage advice:

p. 258 “Capitalize your knowledge and experience and capacity for putting words on paper in a way that will interest your readers”

YOUR book, the book that comes from YOU out of YOUR consciousness and is not something that you are writing as you think you ought to write or as someone else wants you to write.  The only books that matter must be written with conviction and must be true to the people who write them.

The reason this stuff gets across is that its true to the people who write it – that’s the basic principle.  Second, a book should be actually true and well written.  A book written with conviction but true and without hokum – the result is bound to be right.

The better you write it and the more interesting the subject, the more right is the result.

Don’t write what they want you to write – write what YOU want to write, as YOU want to write it.”

Today I started reading a book by John Noble titled “I Was a Slave in Russia.”  I keep gravitating to these kinds of books for some reason.

(to be continued)

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