Sorry, but the Cold War really was a tale of good and evil. For all the many flaws of the West, we never killed tens of millions of our own citizens, and enslaved multiple nations. The Soviet Union had no redeeming features. They committed multiple genocides and collaborated with the Nazis when it suited them. The USSR (and the Chinese Communists) should be viewed with the same horror that we view the Nazis. The fact that they aren’t is an indelible stain on Western leftism. As someone of Polish decent (who lost relatives to the Gulag), apologia for the Soviets makes me sick.
The Nazis were “of the West”.
6 million Jews
5.7 million Soviet civilians
3 million Soviet prisoners of war starved to death in Nazi camps
1.8 million Polish
Longer list here, https://statista.com/chart/24024/number-of-victims-nazi-regime/
I think this is a bit disingenuous. Surely he’s using the term The West in its cultural sense as short hand for modern liberal democratic systems vs totalitarian systems, which, in recent history, have tended to be of the east.
Of more interest, I looked up deaths under communism some years ago and fairly easily found figures ranging from 120m to 160m. I thought I’d provide a link to this comment so did it again this morning using the search “deaths under communism.”
Top of the page was
“Anti communism and the hundreds of millions of victims of capitalism.”
Then there was “People Ask:”
How many deaths have been caused by capitalism? Answer 150m -all war deaths because apparently wars are entirely caused by capitalism.
How many deaths have been caused by communism? Answer 65m
Next up was “what has killed more people capitalism or communism.” The communism answer had 60 votes, the capitalism answer 66.
I finally got to Wikipedia, which I’m fairly sure is where I got the figures from a few years ago. Eventually you get to some estimates, but only after a lot of equivocation and excuse making. At one point a post socialist gender studies “scholar” is quoted arguing that “the body counting reflects an anti communist point of view.” Well I wonder why?
Having anything at all to do with the grotesque distortions of modern media induces profound depression bordering on despair.
I don’t think it is disingenuous, we reply to comments as they stand, if Snapper AG meant liberal democracies then that is what he should have written. I think we must assume he meant what he said, especially considering he was referring to Stalinist totalitarianism (1922 – 1953). The Nazis came to power in a democracy.
Re the other part of your comment, relying on popular sites like Wikipedia and People Ask is not a good idea. They change with the wind and popular opinion. Stick to reputables sources. Never despair.
As you say lower down, a debate about the meaning of the word Western isn’t particularly interesting or productive.
For me, the way the algorithms provided me with a whole slew of excuses/denials/false comparisons when asked about the evils of communism was much more interesting and depressing.
I do treat Wikipedia and People ask with some scepticism but I’m not sure a late teens student would. And this wasn’t just those two, overwhelming the links were all delivering that “it wasn’t that bad and capitalism is worse” message.
I suppose we’re all aware of the constant background manipulation but when it hits you in the face occasionally it still comes as a shock.
I sympathise, those sites can be depressing. Sorry if my reply to you yesterday was a bit . . .not sure what it was but not ideal.
It is worrying when the young rely on such sources and seem so willing to imagine the worst about their own country. It also does’nt help when our schools focus on WWII and the Nazis and seem to gloss over Stalinism.
If you use “the west” in the Cold War sense, which is likely when writing about the Cold War, then Nazi Germany was not part of the west. With your definition, East Germany was part of the west since all of Germany is.
Except that Snapper AG promptly goes on to refer to historical events, ie, Stalin’s killings, to back up what he is saying. If you do that, as I have already said below, then the argument extends beyond the Cold War. The Nazis were contemporary with Stalinism.
You cannot have one rule for the commenter you prefer, who says things you approve of and a different rule for a commenter you don’t appreciate, sayings things you do not like.
That is utter semantics not to mention utter BS. Nazi Germany was not of “the West.” It repudiated the West, liberal democracy and the rest. And of course he meant liberal democracy. Any other reading is self-serving.
Both the Soviets and the Chinese did better.
I realise you are being ironic, only the totalitarians themselves would think it was “better” to kill 60 million rather than 6 million. But that does raise the moral question as to whether killing 100 people is worse than killing 1. I think men have sat around the fire and debated that one for millenia.
Didn’t good old ‘Uncle’ Joe Stalin have the answer to that?
“One death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic”.
I think the USSR was somehow of “the West” as well – Marxism is after all an offshoot of the Enlightenment – the perfectability of Man via reason and science, gone wrong through arrogance and overconfidence. Similar to the ways the Nazis thought Man could be perfected through eugenics. Both were mutant strains of the Enlightenment.
He could be described as the last of the great economists, but not as stemming from reason. He was very snarky about capitalists, ‘old moneybags’, and the people ,’ the dark masses’ and ludicrously evangelical about the future, ‘crossing the narrow horizons of bourgeois right’, which his followers had no difficulty in doing.
Rubbish! They weren’t “of the West” at all. Their programme was based on Prussian socialism and their ideology was the same Hegelian b-s that inspired Marx. They didn’t kill so many people as the Soviets because they were a simple tribute act – Orthanc imitating Barad-dûr, plain and simple.
This is turning into a battle of definitions of “the West”. Yours is just one more.
The trouble is definitions of “the West” depend on their context and who is talking.
Here is an excellent exposition of the definitions by the American historian William H. McNeill with a very apposite conclusion. https://fpri.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/WH-McNeil-What-We-Mean-By-The-West.pdf
Well worth reading.
Calling the Soviet Union “of the West” strips the term of any meaning whatsoever.
What on earth do the Nazis have to do with the Cold War?
I was responding to your words – “For all the many flaws of the West, we never killed tens of millions of our own citizens and enslaved multiple nations”.
Were you not referring to the horrors of Stalinism? And did not those horrors occur prior to the Cold War ?
During the Cold War Khrushchev did’nt kill millions, neither did Brezhnev.
If you can use retrospective evidence in your argument then so can others, like myself.
Mao did though. So did Pol Pot.
Next she’ll argue that the Nazi extermination of 6 million Jews was just “white-on-white” Western violence.
You could not be more wrong.
From the perspective of France (and countries across the Atlantic) the Nazis were very clearly “of the East”.
‘The West’ usually means Western Civilisation, which generally includes values and ways of life that have developed out of Classical Civilisation (Greece and Rome), Christianity other than Eastern Orthodox and the Enlightenment, including liberal democracy.
Generally assumed to include the UK, US, Western Europe, until recently, Australia and NZ.
Germany has been a democracy since 1919, the Nazis therefore were “of the West” and it is estimated they killed at least 17 million.
Marxism and Socialism are “of the West”.
I am grateful to be British and not Russian, or Ukrainian, there has been trouble in that region for centuries. I don’t know if Russia can ever become a liberal democracy, maybe Ukraine will.
I don’t like Russophobia, hatred of whole countries just means more and more dead people.
Germany has been a democracy since 1919
So your history class skipped just what happened to the Weimar Republic, I guess…
Why was this entire thread removed?
I’ve just sent UnHerd an email asking the same question.
I wonder if it was my euphemism for something revealing itself forcefully above.
I’ve noticed before that if one comment, high in a thread, goes into moderation, the whole thread disappears.
I thought it might be an intolerant commenter flagging comments they did’nt like.
Unlike Germany, Russia has never reckoned with its terrible totalitarian past. Positioned in its national imagination in an epic patriotic landscape where it was both abject victim and glorious victor there is no vantage from which Russians can take in their own wanton global brutality and destructiveness and the prospect that The Great Patriotic War with Germany was a clash between evil and evil.
In his recent history, Stalin’s War, Sean McMeekin observes that Stalin and Hitler bonded around their mutual disdain for the Brits and the Americans.
Seeing the LOTR as a cold war allegory conveniently allows Russians to avoid engagement with their sordid martial past.
Agree, there was never an epuration after 1989, and no new ideology to replace the old, about which people were utterly cynical.
The difference between East and West also hinges on something more fundamental.
Since about 1200, our method of enquiry involves choosing between two or more hypotheses. It isn’t “good vs evil.” It originally was a “disputatio” over which Church authority was more correct. And whichever was supported by the preponderance of evidence was deemed more likely to be correct. It also happens to underly the modern forensics used in every science.
That method, however, never really took on in Russian Orthodoxy–an outlier even in the Orthodox Church. Things were either true or they weren’t. Marx’ closed system of thought made it especially attractive to anyone raised in that culture.
The “genius” of the older method is that one can nearly always engage in whataboutism, something both Trumpists and Putinists do all the time. However bad, there’s always something good in any system.
The simple reply, however, is that the all the evil in the Soviet and Putinist system) still outweighs whatever good they achieved. This doesn’t make the West perfect. Abelard and Occam knew that humans could never be perfect–or create anything perfect.
But it does mean that the West is better, and thus so is Ukraine.
And that’s all that matters.
Thank you for your reply. It gives much to think about and ‘…it does mean that the West is better, and thus so is Ukraine’ says it all. Will investigate ‘disputatio’ to understand more.
Sorry, the Cold War really was a tale of good and evil. For all the flaws of the US and Western Europe (and they are many) we never killed tens of millions of our own citizens and enslaved multiple nations. As an American of Polish decent, I don’t want to hear any apologia for the Soviet Union. They launched multiple genocides, conspired with the Nazis when it suited with them, and brutally oppressed Eastern Europe. There is literally nothing good in the history of the USSR.
The use of LOTR in this war signals to me the importance of myth, not allegory. Especially for Ukraine which needs the founding myth it now has. Although reality can appear muddled, I agree that at base some conflict is between good and evil and must be stated that way. Tolkien’s friend and colleague CS Lewis referred to ‘true myth’, that is, a story that points to something fundamentally true in human history or life. When one state invades another without any genuine justification, trashes its infrastructure, its cities, its way of life, its soldiers acting in the most barbaric manner, then LOTR indeed becomes a ‘true myth’.
Just as an aside, “The Last Ringbearer” (which I read many years ago) really is worth reading, and I speak as a massive Tolkien fan who thinks The Lord of the Rings is the greatest work of fiction in the English language.
Ideas such as “good” and “evil” are just ideological cloaks for the pursuit of national interests;
… says every tyrant in history. Indeed, JK Rowling was on the money when she put similar words into the mouth of the villain Voldemort:
There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it
Except J K Rowling didn’t write that. It’s from Steve Kloves’s screenplay for the 2001 movie.
(Things have come to a pretty pass when even the Harry Potter books are so long and boring that people prefer to quote from the film versions.)
Professor Quirrell (possessed by Voldemort) says it in the book.
Interesting article, thank you.
Ultimately there is no Us and Them, there is only Us. The very concept of Us and Them is evil, beginning with Cain and Abel.
I am not a pacifist, I hope I would be able to fight to the death for my country if I had to. But at the same time I bear in mind the truth of the above, because after the fighting is done we need peace and reconciliation to survive.
after the fighting is done we need peace and reconciliation to survive.
Something that is often difficult, but necessary, and requires forgiveness on all sides, because reconciliation without forgiveness doesn’t seem to last. Magnanimity (great heart/spirit) in victory is also an important virtue to lay the foundations for a peaceful co-existance; something that, I think, the West did try in the aftermath of the Cold War, but did not follow though. However, Russia didn’t make it easy, because the other side of magnanimity in victory is the willingness of the defeated to accept their defeat with dignity.
Was post-1991 Russia a defeated enemy ?
Yes, hook, line and sinker.
Dare I reply in a negative way to you or will that cause more censoring I wonder ?
They were not defeated militarily surely. To me it seemed as if they gave way, ideologically, to Western liberal democratic values, not for long. I cannot agree that the West was victorious as such, but perhaps it felt that way to some.
Reagan & Co bankrupted them. They couldn’t keep up with the Arms Race, nor even attempt ‘Star Wars’ and were badly bogged down in Afghanistan. In a nutshell it was ‘over’, for one of the most dreadful social experiments in history.
Don’t forget Chernobyl.
As Clausewitz said ‘war is the continuation of policy by other means’ – so the Soviet Union was indeed defeated by western policies.
The meltdown at the Chernobyl plant had a lot to do with it too. It was the zenith of Soviet incompetence.
Yes. The Cold War was really WW III, fought in slow motion and without the principals going at each other directly, thanks to nuclear deterrence. Sometimes there were engagements in which both sides acted through proxies (usually in the form of civil wars) sometimes there were engagements where one side fought directly against the other side’s proxies (e.g. Vietnam 1960’s and 70’s, Afghanistan in the 1980’s). We had the strange custom of calling most of the campaigns “wars” as if they were not campaigns in a larger conflict, though some got other names “the Berlin Airlift”, “the Cuban Missile Crisis”, which custom clouded peoples’ strategic thinking, esp. in the West.
One of the decisive moves was the US under Reagan faking the telemetry on the missile defense tests to make them look better to the Soviets than they actually were, another was the absurdly small Grenada campaign which invalidated the Brezhnev Doctrine “what we take we keep”, those, together with the stagnation of the Soviet economy made them turn to Gorbachev, with his dangerous policies of perestroika (absolutely necessary) and glasnost (without which there could be no perestroika — you can’t fix an economy if you punish people for telling you the truth). Once glasnost was in place, it was as over for the Soviet Union as it was for Imperial Germany when their Navy rebelled.
The West should have genuinely befriended post-Soviet Russia the way we befriended our defeated foes in (West) Germany and Japan after WW II. Russia really had been as much a captive nation as Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, the Baltic states or the “stans”. People always forget that Stalin was a Georgian and that Lenin used Latvian shock troops against the Russian peasantry. Continuing to treat Russia as definitionally the enemy once they were no longer intent on speading an inhuman and unworkable social and economic system by force of arms was a grave error, for which the Ukrainians are now paying in blood, and the rest of us in treasure.
That’s very interesting, thank you, much appreciated.
I actually happened to rewatch the two key battle scenes in LOTR recently, and I now see why it is so popular with Ukrainians. Also understand why they call Russians Orcs.
The relief of Kyiv and the recent battles around Kharkiv really do have an eerie resonance.
That the best a Russian could do was ask for “fair play for Orcs” really highlights the issues involved:
Are peoples free to choose their own destinies, or are they just the playthings of Real Politik?
Interesting piece. I thought the author would make some reference to Amazon’s attempts to rewrite LoTR, which seem a pretty obvious parallel to the Soviet efforts, fixing the bits they don’t like.
Yes, the West is in the grip of a zombie ideology, similar in some ways to the last years of Sovietism. While the ideologies may differ somewhat, they were both about a corrupt ruling class clinging desperately to power.
Since Sauron and the orcs are clearly evil in the Amazon series, it can hardly be seen as a parallel to The Last Ringbearer. And while it very much is fanfic (how could it not, with being set in the second), and of lower quality than anything Tolkien himself wrote, it is more of a possible interpretation, different from mine, and surely from your, but still possible from the source material.
Rod Dreher tells a story of a Soviet dissident he interviewed in Live Not By Lies. She read LOTR at least every year to her kids (a bootlegged copy). When Rod asked her why she chose that one, she said “because we knew Mordor was real.”
Perhaps the pen really is mightier than the sword.
There really are “no good guys”. But there are some very good ideas, and the West has been heir to most of them. Let’s not discard them, just because there’s a dearth of “good guys”.
Fascinating. I would add that my Russian friends, all devout environies, thought the film version ‘too capitalistic.’
and ps has anyone looked at the politics of Star Wars, the romantic hereditary monarchy against the technocratic modernists?
Multiple things being true at the same time.
It’s more accurate to say there are no good or bad powers, just powers that do good or bad things. The exception being any power with socialism at it’s foundations because on balance it inevitably swings towards bad things.
Also just because one power is worse does not make the other good with the same being true in reverse.
This is an interresting viewpoint of the cold war but it is dishonest and mainly ignores two things:
Communist Socialism is responsible for the largest civilian body count in all of history and as such the most evil ideology of history no matter how passionately people go on ad nausem about National Socialism.
Communism attempted to ruthlessly spread itself to the whole world and bring down all non-Communist powers…. the fact that the West with Democratic Socialism attempted the same thing does not lessen this.
The best way to ascertain “good” and “bad” guys in the world is to look at the flow of people, which indicates how a country treats its own citizens; by this measure, the Democratic West qualifies as good (but not perfect), whereas Communist states like Russia, the Warsaw Pact countries, China, Vietnam and North Korea were definitely bad, not just my verdict but that of their own citizens, who voted with their feet.
Makes me think of a reinterpretation of “Star Wars” from the Empire’s side: the Rebels are a bunch of malcontents looking to enrich themselves by overrthrowing the Empire that brought peace and prosperity to the galaxy, and force the Empire to use brutal methods to defend itself.
Nobody in “the West” discounts the contribution of the Soviets in bringing down the Nazis. They liberated Auschwitz, ffs.
If anybody is unable to feel proud of a shared victory, I suppose it is probably the Soviets, who turned on their allies the moment the existential threat was removed. People forget the US had a robust leftist movement before the specter of Stalin and his propensity to icepick his rivals made it all too easy to turn Americans away from socialism. But I guess personal liberty + a non-exploitative economic system was too much for the world to handle at that point.
(Also, hilarious that Putin is playing this angle now, and people are falling for it. Putin who believes in nothing, who has more in common with the western oligarchs than he does with a single one of the men he is sending to murder Ukrainians.)