Continue slowly reading Sir Winston Churchill's account of 1915 during the Great War. I'm now into his account of the Battle of the Dardanelles. While that was going on, he was on the Continent and records this startling set of images:
I passed the day of the 18th [of March] in the French trenches among the sand-dunes of the Belgian coast. Here the snarling lines which stretched from Switzerland touched the sea, and the barbed wire ran down the beach into salt water. Corpses entangled in the wire were covered with seaweed and washed by the tides as the mouldered. Others in groups of ten or twelve lay at the foot of the sandhills blasted in their charge, but with the sense and aspect of attack still eloquent in their attitude and order. These dead had lain there for months, and the sand gradually gained upon them, softening their outlines. It was as if Nature was gathering them to herself. The lines were very close together, and in places only a few yards apart. A vigilant silence reigned, broken by occasional guns. The defences in the sand were complicated and novel. They presented features I had not seen on any other part of the front. It was fine weather, and I was thankful to keep my mind from dwelling on events that I knew were taking place on the other sea flank of the hostile line. I returned to England during the night of the 18th in order to receive the account of the action.
I'm reading the book Moscow 1937 by German historian Karl Schlogel. It is about Stalin's purges and the terror unleashed upon Soviet society, which cannabilized those who had participated in the Revolution and were part of creating the new socialist dream. The overall book is demonstrating the irrationality of the terror.
One chapter is on the census of 1937. When the total population figures ended up being below what the government thought they would be -- by around 8 million -- they reacted by arresting and executing the people in charge of the census. The numbers were low because the five year plans, the civil war, and other purges had resulted in millions dead, but rather than face reality, they eliminated those in charge of the census and accused them of being Trotskyist traitors.
Here is a revealing section of Schlogel's analysis:
Since the census was the most ambitious, most complex and expensive attempt to draw up a balance sheet of society and to conduct a process of self-diagnosis twenty years after the Revolution--'The census was a pioneering enterprise intended to provide the fullest possible picture of Soviet life'--the suppression of its findings and the murder of those who organized it was noting less than the obliteration of the capacity for social self-analysis. An authoritarian society, however, that is unable to form an idea of itself, whatever social engineering its leadership may have in mind, is doomed to the blind exercise of state violence. Blindness resulting from the destruction of a society's knowledge of itself inevitably turns into blind terror.
Fifty years ago this June The Christian Century published Martin Luther King Jr.'s The Letter from Birmingham Jail. The April 17 issue focused on this anniversary, reviewing a new book out on the letter and publishing a cover article by Robert Westbrook entitled "MLK's Manifesto." It is a good article, with much good material in it. But I was specifically drawn to its discussion of moderates.
In a Century article on the silence of the southern churches, a quotation from one Alabama Baptist minister acutely summed up the moderates' dilemma: "The problem is how to lead without being appropriated by one or the other extremes which immediately destroys the effectiveness of your leadership. When thus appropriated, you are effective only with the one faction. Neither the opposite one nor the moderate group will listen to you any longer." This politics of appropriation was a pivotal feature of the racial politics of the early 1960s. . . . [King] did set out to convert or, failing that, to pressure or to neutralize white moderates by demolishing their arguments, shaming their consciences, and, not least, threatening their interests.
The letter undertook the task of demolishing the arguments of the moderates. . . . King strikes a number of poses in it, swinging between "diplomatic" and "prophetic" modes of address. But his overriding posture might, I think, be termed one of mock moderation, that is, a stance that put pay to the thinking of moderates by arguing against them in the very "patient and reasonable terms" that they fetishized. Here and there ironic barbs and flashes of overt indignation suggest the difficulties that King had in maintaining his stance. Yet it was one well chosen for the audience he imagined, hoisting them with their own petard.
Oh how the LGBT community has struggled with moderates. Finally in the last couple of years, the moderates do seem to have joined our side mostly. There are now new voices of caution and gradualism -- people who were once opposed to us who now realize they are losing and want to slow things down. How frustrating this class of citizens can be. I liked seeing King's strategy discussed. It was direct and challenging.
In the same way that they usually get Reagan wrong, they get Thatcher wrong as well. A good article from the Washington Post on the real leadership style of Margaret Thatcher -- she compromised as needed. An excerpt:
The party’s allergy to spirited, but civil, disagreement has become a debilitating disease. It also is a disservice to the political legacies of Thatcher and Reagan, who would never have wanted rigidity and thoughtlessness to be hallmarks of the conservatism they championed. “I love argument,” Thatcher once said. “I love debate. I don’t expect anyone to just sit there and agree with me. That’s not their job.”
I also appreciated this Thatcher quote, in the article, from after Sept. 11, 2001:
“Don’t fall into the trap of imagining that the West can remake societies,” Thatcher wrote after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “Anyone who really believes that a ‘new order’ of any kind is going to replace the disorderly conduct of human affairs, particularly the affairs of nations, is likely to be severely disappointed.”
Had Thatcher invoked such sentiments as a Republican senator during Bush’s presidency, she would have lost her primary.