Monday, June 17, 2019

What the Victorians wrought

This is from a book review by Jacob Heilbrunn in Modern Age:

Edward Gibbon, for instance, complacently observed in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that while 'constant and useful labor' maybe the occupation of the vulgar multitude, it was the case that the 'select few, placed by fortune above that necessity, can fill up their time by the pursuits of interest or glory, by the improvement of their estate or of their understanding, by the duties, the pleasures, and even the follies of social life.
Within a few decades Britain and the US saw an explosion of social groups devoted to self-improvement and providing the pleasures of social life even to “the vulgar multitude.’


One of the very first times Abraham Lincoln appears in the public record is as the result of a speech he gave to Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois on January 27, 1838. What interests me here is not the speech but the venue. The first cabin at the place that would become Springfield was built on the Illinois frontier in 1820. In the 1840 census, the town had a population of 2,579. Yet the people of Springfield, the young men of Springfield, were already part of the Lyceum movement.

Victorians at their best

In praise of the Victorians

The distilled essence of everything bad about true crime podcasts

When the SJWs at Crime Writers On agree with the ninjas on Reddit, you know it must be a really awful podcast

To Live and Die In L.A, The Worst True Crime Podcast Of All Time

To Live And Die In LA - NOPE.
They may well be right. It manages to combine the worst faults of the MSM and the worst features of amateur true crime podcasts: Scooby-do LARPing, vulture journalism, fruitless speculation, character assassination, solipsistic narration, and cheesy cliff-hangers. To Live and Die in LA manages to include them all.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Tyrants have always hated history and have sought to control it

The first Emperor of unified China, Qin Shi Huang (221-210 BC) sought to prevent critical comparison with previous rulers by removing all historical and philosophical texts from private hands and placing them in the imperial library
Christopher Andrew, The Secret World: A History of Intelligence

Thursday, June 06, 2019

This is what leadership looks like

As the battle raged on the Normandy beaches on D-Day, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower followed the sporadic and fragmentary reports of the fighting. He was the supreme military commander yet on that day he was largely powerless. He was responsible for the most complex operation ever mounted by any nation or coalition; on the most critical day of the war, he was largely an observer.

All through the Longest Day he carried a document in his pocket. He had written it himself in the hours after he ordered Operation OVERLORD to commence.

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air, and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Credentialed, not educated

From that notorious Trumpkin William James:

Human nature is once for all so childish that every reality becomes a sham somewhere, and in the minds of President and Trustees the Ph. D. degree is in point of fact already looked upon as a mere advertising resource, a manner of throwing dust in the Public's eye.
"The Ph. D. Octopus", (1903)
He goes on to describe the drive to require the Ph. D. for college educators as "a grotesque tendency" driven by "vanity and sham".

He ends with a pointed to question:

Other nations suffer terribly from the Mandarin disease. Are we doomed to suffer like the rest?
Unfortunately, we now know that the answer was "yes".

Saturday, June 01, 2019

A mystery solved

Matt Birkbeck's A Beatuful Child is one of the most haunting true crime books I've ever read. The story that begins with a common enough crime -- a woman is killed by a hit-and-run driver in Oklahoma City in April 1990. But the police investigation soon uncovers other horrific crimes and several enduring mysteries.

The victim, known as "Tonya Hughes" at the time of her death, had lived under a series of false names for over a decade. The man who claimed to be her husband was a federal fugitive. Years earlier he had pretended to be her father when she lived under the name of "Sharon Marshall".

Franklin Delano Floyd had kidnapped her from somewhere. He had abused and exploited her and her son. And, as a final insult, he refused to reveal her real identity. so that her famility could have some closure.

Birkbeck refused to let the story end there. Even after he published A Beautiful Child in 2004 he kept searching for "Sharon Marshall"'s family.

He persisted through years of disappointment. Finally, in 2014, the painstaking work of dozens of professional and amateur investigators uncovered the truth:

"Tonya Hughes"/"Sharon Marshall" was Suzanne Marie Sevakis born in Livonia, Michigan in 1969.

Finding Sharon tells the story of that investigation. Along the way Birkbeck fills in asome of the blanks In Sevakis's short, tragic life.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Rejoice! He is Risen!

Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.

And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.

And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.

And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:

And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?

He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,

Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.

And they remembered his words,

And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.

It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.

Luke 24: 1-12

Friday, April 19, 2019

"Wood, and nails, and colored eggs"

First Posted 22 March 2005

This passage from Martin Bell's remarkable little book The Way of the Wolf: The Gospel in New Images seems especially timely this Easter season.

God raised Jesus from the dead to the end that we should be clear-once and for all-that there is nothing more important than being human. Our lives have eternal significance. And no one-absolutely no one-is expendable.

Colored Eggs

Some human beings are fortunate enough to be able to color eggs on Easter. If you have a pair of hands to hold the eggs, or if you are fortunate enough to be able to see the brilliant colors, then you are twice blessed.

This Easter some of us cannot hold the eggs, others of us cannot see the colors, many of us are unable to move at all-and so it will be necessary to color the eggs in our hearts.

This Easter there is a hydrocephalic child lying very still in a hospital bed nearby with a head the size of his pillow and vacant, unmoving eyes, and he will not be able to color Easter eggs, and he will not be able to color Easter eggs in his heart, and so God will have to color eggs for him.

And God will color eggs for him. You can bet your life and the life of the created universe on that.

At the cross of Calvary God reconsecrated and sanctified wood and nails and absurdity and helplessness to be continuing vehicles of his love. And then he simply raised Jesus from the dead. And they both went home and colored eggs

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Katyn Massacre: Conspiracies and cover-ups

Not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.

Part III

A tacit deal with the devil

In September 1944, at the time of the Warsaw Uprising, George Orwell unleashed a withering blast against British Stalinists and their fellow-travelers:

Their attitude towards Russian foreign policy is not 'Is this policy right or wrong?' but 'This is Russian policy: how can we make it appear right?' And this attitude is defended, if at all, solely on grounds of power.

First of all, a message to English left-wing journalists and intellectuals generally: Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don't imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist for the Soviet regime, or any other other regime, and then suddenly return to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore.
FDR died before the end of the war. Any evaluation of his actions over Katyn must allow that wartime expediency played a large role in his decision-making.

Nonetheless, the choices he made had far-reaching consequences. Key parts of his administration behaved as propagandists for Stalin’s regime. As Orwell warned it would not be easy to put those habits aside or to face up to the moral cost.

We know that people do not change their minds easily. They will fight the evidence in front of their eyes. Most prefer to cling to illusions rather than admit error. When all else fails, people prefer to ignore the matter and pretend that it never happened.

This problem becomes even more acute when an issue becomes grist for political campaigns. Honesty may be the best policy but it can also be a quick way to lose an election.

Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman had no interest in losing elections.

Thus, while the US and Stalin came to be adversaries in the post-war years, the leaders of each country shared certain common objectives. For instance, none of them wanted the whole truth about Poland to come out.

Nor would they want the full story of Soviet penetration of the US government to become public.

  • The NKVD and GRU obviously wanted to avoid a thorough reckoning. They might be able to salvage some of their intelligence and influence assets if the matter remained a shameful secret for the US government.
  • Na├»ve liberals who could not distinguish between fellow liberals and Stalinist feared a witch-hunt. While they trusted communists, they feared the vast majority of the public. Therefore, they preferred to suppress information that might “inflame” public opinion.
  • Clear-eyed functionaries understood that their reputations and claims to power would be damaged if it were revealed that they had permitted Stalin’s agents to roam freely through their departments or that they had helped cover-up Moscow’s crimes.

As Stephen Koch noted the Wise Men, the New Dealers, and the Brain Trusters faced a serious risk if the truth came out:

Any very public housecleaning of the Washington penetrations would have handed the populist right an all-too-powerful blunt instrument for attacking Yalta, containment, and their own position in power.
OK. It is finally time to talk about the narratives of McCarthyism and the importance of Katyn in them

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Katyn Massacre: Conspiracies and cover-ups

Part II

Once FDR and Stalin agreed to keep each other’s secrets, the US government labored to cover-up Soviet atrocities.

OWI: Above and beyond

Most of the government preferred to deal with Katyn by ignoring it and hoping the issue would fade away. On 22 April 1943 (nine days after the graves were revealed to the world) a State Department memo recommended that

on the basis of the various conflicting contentions [concerning Katyn] of all parties concerned, it would appear to be advisable to refrain from taking any definite stand in regard to this question.
Other bureaucrats chose to be more energetic and proactive.

The Office of War Information (OWI) was a key player in deep-sixing the truth. OWI loudly denied that the Soviets were responsible. This government bureau smeared those who raised questions as dupes and worse. In OWI’s eyes to doubt Stalin was to be pro-Nazi. The head of OWI Elmer Davies (remember that name) led the charge. On 3 May 1943, he took to the airwaves to defend Stalin’s honor and followed the Stalinist line that the Germans were responsible.

This is not benign neglect of an inconvenient truth. This is lying to the American public. But Davies and his people went even farther to help FDR and Stalin. The OWI actively worked to silence and censor media outlets that raised questions about Stalin’s role in Katyn.

We now know that Soviet intelligence had placed many assets in OWI. Some of its employees left the US after the war and went to work in Warsaw for the puppet government installed by the Red Army. There they wrote propaganda for Stalin. (Hence, their location changed but not their job duties.)

A sorry tale, more than a little sordid. Sadly, all wars, no matter how noble their aims, have their squalid incidents hidden away in dark corners. Governments lie to the public, especially in wartime. In this case, however, the cover-up forced the government to lie to itself with tragic consequences. Moreover, the lying and cover-ups did not end when the war was finally over.

Willful blindness and self-imposed ignorance

The Katyn cover-up did not simply conceal information from the public (voters). Steps were taken to ensure that the truth was hidden from most of the decision-makers in government. Note, for example, that MG Bissell apparently took no steps to ensure that Van Vliet’s information was shared with those policy-makers who were dealing with Stalin.

Reports came into the War and State Departments that implicated the Soviets. They were buried rather than disseminated. In some cases they were not even archived and ignored they were destroyed so they could never see the light of day.

This destruction was a willful and premeditated rejection of the lessons learned in the intelligence war against Germany and Japan.

At times it did not matter if a report was true or important: if it was perceived as “anti-soviet” it was rejected. People who sent along too many “anti-soviet” reports faced severe consequences to their career and reputation.

FDR actually exiled former Pennsylvania governor George Earle to Samoa after he voiced strong opinions on Stalin’s guilt. Earle was serving as a naval officer and had investigated the massacre while on a diplomatic mission in the Balkans. FDR rejected his assessment and took extreme steps to make sure his view did not become public.

FDR told Earle that he was absolutely certain that the Nazis were guilty. This is not surprising. His closest aide, Harry Hopkins, was completely in the pro-Stalin camp. When the massacre came to light Hopkins followed Moscow's lead in denouncing the Polish government for raising questions and demanding answers. He was happy to impute invidious motives to the ally fighting along side us in the "crusade in Europe".

Indeed, when the Poles exiled in London publicly denounced the Soviets for the massacre, Hopkins responded that they were troublemakers, interested only in preventing their large estates from falling into Russian hands.
David L. Roll, The Hopkins Touch
U.S. policy-makers operated under the illusion that Stalin could be reasoned with -- that he could be a partner to secure the peace and safeguard a free and prosperous Europe. This illusion persisted, in part, because the bureaucracy squelched contrary opinions. Moreover, the arguments of the skeptics were weakened because they and their audiences were denied important information.

Famed diplomat George Kennan is a case in point. He doubted that Stalin could allow any degree of freedom in Poland after the war. As he saw it, the Russians had surely committed atrocities when they occupied Poland in partnership with Hitler. These crimes had to be covered up. The only way for Stalin to ensure that the cover-up would succeed was to install a regime completely servile to Moscow.

Kennan tried to make this case to his colleagues and bosses in State. As he admits his argument was weak because “I had no proof.” Without proof, his astute analysis was no match for officially sanctioned illusions.

He had no proof because key figures in the executive branch worked diligently to bury the evidence of Stalin’s crimes.

So it went for anyone who tried to put US-Soviet relations on a realistic footing. Their voice was muted and their position was weakened because elements inside the government worked overtime to bolster Stalin’s image, hide his perfidy, and punish his critics.


Western opinion was never fully aware, during the war years, of the full monstrosity of what had been done by the soviet police authorities during the Nonaggression Pact period.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Katyn Massacre: Conspiracies and cover-ups

For a half-century after the mass murder of the Polish officers, the US government sought to cover-up and downplay this Stalinist atrocity.

The cover-up had far-reaching repercussions. It had a direct effect on the 1944 presidential election. It influenced our policies on the post-war settlement in Eastern Europe. To this day, it distorts our understanding of the history of WWII and post-war anti-communism.

Part I

Dangerous knowledge

Even before the Germans revealed the mass graves at Katyn, the US government had good reason to believe that something horrific had happened to the Polish officers. The Polish government in exile knew that thousands of POWs were unaccounted for. When pressed on this issue, Stalin was first evasive and then offered excuses that were unpersuasive and even laughable. (Gee, maybe they deserted and went to Manchuria.)

In 1942, Army intelligence (G-2) received reports from an agent in France that the Soviets had murdered Polish prisoners on an industrial scale.

Soon after the graves were discovered the Germans took several allied prisoners to the site in the hopes that they would confirm that the Soviets were responsible for the murders. The POWs refused to cooperate with their captors and balked at helping Goebbels’s propaganda efforts. However, the American prisonersCapt. Donald Stewart and Lt. Col. John Van Vliet were able to send coded messages to Army G-2 expressing their belief that the Soviets were guilty.

[The government hid the fact that they possessed this early evidence of Stalin’s culpability for over a half-century.]

After he was liberated from his POW camp, Lt. Col. Van Vliet made a report directly to Major General Clayton Bissell, head of Army G-2, in May 1945. In this report, he confirmed his assessment of Soviet guilt and expanded on his reasons for believing this. MG Bissell classified the report TOP SECRET and emphasized to Lt. Col. Van Vliet that he was to discuss the matter with no one.

This report was not circulated within the government. The single copy mysteriously went missing soon after it was written.

In 1951, congress created a committee to investigate Katyn. Stewart and Van Vliet were again sworn to secrecy about the coded messages they sent as POWs. Van Vliet was ordered to write a new report to replace the missing one he wrote in 1945. The Defense department eventually provided this report to the committee after a prolonged period of obfuscation and stonewalling.

The Katyn Committee heard testimony from MG Bissell. While he could not (or would not) explain how the 1945 report was lost, he was happy to explain why he failed to give the report wide circulation within the government:

Poland couldn't participate in the war with Japan. The Russians could participate in it. Those were the factors.
Based on realpolitik it is impossible to fault Bissell’s strategic calculus. With the war still raging in the Pacific, maintaining good relations with Stalin made strategic sense.

Guilty knowledge and a conspiracy of silence

Bissell was not alone in his assessment. Throughout the war, US military planners feared that Stalin might make a separate peace with Hitler. This, in turn, would allow Hitler to concentrate on the western allies and cost the lives of untold thousands of soldiers from the US, Britain, and the other nations fighting with them.

Of course, Poland was one of those nations fighting with the Allies in the West. The United States may have had no choice but to placate Stalin. They did have the option to be honest with the ally whose soldiers were fighting beside them. Allied leaders made the morally dubious decision to lie to a faithful partner. Eisenhower did not inform the Poles fighting under him in France that his great crusade would not bring freedom to their families in Poland. Churchill never told the Poles that they were fighting for the glory of the British Empire instead of the independence of their homeland. Instead he assured Gen. Anders "we will not abandon you and Poland will be happy."

Realpolitik was not the only factor at work. On the American side an even more repugnant calculus came into play FDR’s political prospects. At the Tehran Conference in late 1943, Roosevelt acceded to many of Stalin’s demands. But, he explained to the despot, the details of the negotiations must remain secret for a time: 1944 was an election year and he did not want to alienate millions of Polish-Americans whose votes he needed.

Stalin played along. During the campaign FDR told the Polish premier that "A strong and independent Poland will emerge" after the fighting ended. Stalin's silence allowed this lie to pass unchallenged.

The same need for secrecy obviously held true for Katyn. If the truth came out, it would do more than complicate US diplomacy: it would hinder Roosevelt's campaign for a fourth term.

So it was that FDR and Stalin became tacit co-conspirators. They shared an interest in hiding the truth about Poland.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Katyn and the historians

Anthony Daniels:

There is a curious phenomenon in Western intellectual life, namely that of being right at the wrong time. To be right at the wrong time is far, far worse than having been wrong for decades on end. In the estimation of many intellectuals, to be right at the wrong time is the worst possible social faux pas; like telling an off-colour joke at the throning of a bishop. In short, it is in unforgivable bad taste.

There was never a good time, for example, to be anti-communist. Those who early warned of the dangers of bolshevism were regarded as lacking in compassion for the suffering of the masses under tsarism, as well as lacking the necessary imagination to “build” a better world. Then came the phase of denial of the crimes of communism, when to base one’s anti-communism on such phenomena as organised famine and the murder of millions was regarded as the malicious acceptance of ideologically-inspired lies and calumnies. When finally the catastrophic failure of communism could no longer be disguised, and all the supposed lies were acknowledged to have been true, to be anti-communist became tasteless in a different way: it was harping on pointlessly about what everyone had always known to be the case. The only good anti-communist was a mute anti-communist.
The handling of the Katyn massacre by Western historians fits Daniel’s description to a “T”:

The treatment of the Katyn massacre illustrates the determined myopia of revisionists in the decades prior to the collapse of the USSR and the opening of its archives.
Haynes and Klehr, In Denial
As Haynes and Klehr go on to record, the left-wing’s campaign to protect Stalin was fought on several levels and went through several phases. Initially, they tried to promote Stalin’s lie that the Nazis were responsible. Part and parcel of this strategy was a willingness to label those who promoted the truth as Nazi-dupes and proto-fascsts.

As evidence mounted that Katyn was a Stalinist crime Uncle Joe’s Western apologists threw up their hands and pronounced the whole thing a complicated mystery. They adopted an even-handed approachmaybe Nazis, maybe Soviets, who knows?

Of course, those scholars and pundits had no desire to unravel the mystery themselves. Ignorance is bliss when the truth maybe politically damaging.

Without a doubt the primary tactic of Stalin’s left-wing apologists was to simply bury the massacre and ignore it in their writing, e.g. Eric Hobsbawm:

In his book The Age Of Extreme, published in 1994, he quite deliberately underplayed the Soviet Union’s attack on Finland in 1939-40, saying it was merely an attempt to push the Russian border a little further away from Leningrad. He also omits any mention of the massacre of 20,000 Polish soldiers by Russian Secret Police at Katyn.

In the same book, he dismisses the appallingly violent suppression by the Nazis of the Polish resistance in the 1944 Warsaw uprising - when a complacent Soviet army ignored desperate pleas to come to the Poles’ aid - as 'the penalty of a premature uprising'.
Finally, when the evidence is undeniable and they are forced to confront it, they still have ways of minimizing it. Long-hidden information that clears up the mystery can be dismissed as “old news” and minimized as of only “antiquarian interest”. Those scholars who research these questions are painted as “obsessives” and apologists for unsavory causes.

Thus the experts can avoid reckoning with their mistakes, inconvenient questions can be buried, and the essential and all-important narratives can be saved.

All of this happened with the Katyn massacre. It continues to this day. The Left is willing to accept the truth about the crime as long as the damage falls only on Russia and “Stalin’s heir” Putin. But in no way is it acceptable examine Stalin’s apologists in America and the West.

What must be ignored at all costs is what the massacre and its aftermath tells us about the Narratives of “McCarthyism” and the “Red Scare”.

A meaty subject, maybe one deserving its own post.