Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Think Again

Timothy Snyder. 
Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. 
Basic Books. 

Ever since arriving here in Kyiv in September 2011 one of the books which people have continually put on my "must read" list has been "Bloodlands". Finally, thanks to a head and now chest cold which took me out of commission over Christmas, I got it read. It is indeed a "must read" for all who wish to not so much understand Eastern Europe, because as I discovered, most folk here are not aware of the book, but I think the book can help any foreigner to contend with Eastern Europe. 

If this big part of the world happens to be your home, Timothy Snyder presents a convincing challenge to your general education and can perhaps provide ammunition for rooting out prejudices. Regardless of your place of origin, reading it just might knock down your house of cards and sober you up for life in a world which even yet today is hardly an "us vs. them" affair. It's not hagiography but it's not nihilism either.

As an American reader from the wide open prairie, that Ted Turner and company wanted/want to clear of population and rename Buffalo Commons, I was struck by Snyder's note that Hitler's idea of clearing Eastern Europe of population and making it the natural resource (farming and mining) for his Aryan land empire was inspired by America's westward expansion at the expense of the Native American Peoples: Manifest Destiny West, in Hitler, became Manifest Destiny East. 

Where, I'd say, Timothy oversteps his bounds slightly, is in maintaining that the Iron Curtain impeded discovery of the magnitude of the Holocaust and of Soviet ethnic cleansing. I'm sure they did somewhat and I am sure that official Soviet propaganda, also indiscriminately consumed by the West did its part as well. But the point is, whether you hold yourself Godless or not, you just don't talk about such, especially when people like Roosevelt and Churchill covered over a reality which was much more tragic than the carnage attributable to the Nazi war machine.

I really hope that this book gets read here in what Snyder defines as the Bloodlands. Maybe a great book like this will help a future generation of Eastern European minorities to deal more respectfully with one another? It is as good a try as any.   

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