Daily Archives: December 1, 2005

Mao’s body count, communism, and stupid ideological tricks

At the Democratic Peace blog (hat tip: Ann Althouse, No Speed Bumps) political science professor R. J. Rummel admits that his earlier estimtes of Chairman Mao’s “democide” was too low. After reading two new books — Wild Swans: Two Daughters of China by Jung Chang, and Mao: the Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday — Rummel is now convinced that the China’s Great Famine in 1958-61 was indeed mass murder by starvation, not a result of misguided but well-intentioned policies. Says Rummel:

Now, I have to change all the world democide totals that populate my websites, blogs, and publications. The total for the communist democide before and after Mao took over the mainland is thus 3,446,000 + 35,226,000 + 38,000,000 = 76,692,000, or to round off, 77,000,000 murdered. This is now in line with the 65 million toll estimated for China in the Black Book of Communism, and Chang and Halliday’s estimate of “well over 70 million.”This exceeds the 61,911,000 murdered by the Soviet Union 1917-1987, with Hitler far behind at 20,946,000 wiped out 1933-1945.

(Someone tell John Daly.)

BizzyBlog cites these numbers to skewer The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristoff, whose review of Mao: The Unknown Story in October lapsed into some half-hearted apologetics:

….. Mao emerges from these pages as another Hitler or Stalin.In that regard, I have reservations about the book’s judgments, for my own sense is that Mao, however monstrous, also brought useful changes to China. ….. I agree that Mao was a catastrophic ruler in many, many respects, and this book captures that side better than anything ever written. But Mao’s legacy is not all bad. Land reform in China, like the land reform in Japan and Taiwan, helped lay the groundwork for prosperity today. The emancipation of women and end of child marriages moved China from one of the worst places in the world to be a girl to one where women have more equality than in, say, Japan or Korea.

Kristoff also tries to minimize Mao’s “legacy” of corpses.

BizzyBlog rightly concludes:

1950s and 1960s radicals who lionized Mao owe the world abject apologies. Few have been forthcoming. “Mao wasn’t so bad” revisionists like Kristof need to take the blinders off.

I think that a lot of people on the left, and even a lot of centrist liberals such as Kristoff, have not yet fully come to terms with the fact that, when it comes to communism, Ronald Reagan was right with that evil-empire thing. In 1999, writing in The Nation about The Black Book of Communism, Daniel Singer opined:

If you look at Communism as merely the story of crimes, terror and repression, to borrow the subtitle of the Black Book, you are missing the point. The Soviet Union did not rest on the gulag alone. There was also enthusiasm, construction, the spread of education and social advancement for millions …

… Our aim–let us not be ashamed to say so–is to revive the belief in collective action and in the possibility of radical transformation of our lives. On the other hand, the ambition of many is to take advantage of the circumstances, of the terrible heritage [of Communism], to destroy the Promethean spirit of humankind. You feel it while reading their prose. In his foreword to the Black Book, Martin Malia actually proclaims that “any realistic accounting of Communist crime would effectively shut the door on Utopia.” … To call them scavengers of death would be too Stalinist in style. But it seems fair to describe them as keepers of the cult of TINA–the mindset that There Is No Alternative–preachers of human resignation. Parading as champions of freedom and questers after truth, they are in fact the obedient servants of the established order.

Singer is hardly alone. In 2003, Jonathan Rauch wrote an article for The Atlantic (subscriber-only) expressing shock at the fact that the major demonstrations against the war in Iraq were being coordinated by the pro-communist group International ANSWER; noting communism’s death toll, he argued that its moral status should be comparable to that of Nazism, and that attending a rally organized by a communist group should be as unthinkable to a decent person as going to a Nazi- or Ku Klux Klan-sponsored event. The response was a spate of letters accusing Rauch of McCarthyism and making such comments as:

Millions of people suffered and died under communism, but millions of people also suffered and died under Christianity. I doubt that Rauch would condemn all those who go to mass on Sundays as being responsible for all the sins committed in the name of Christianity.

No matter how perniciously the Communists implemented their vision of the world, communist ideology—unlike racism—is intensely humanistic and premised on helping those oppressed by society.

Unlike Nazism, the communist ideal had nothing whatsoever to do with the suppression or extermination of individuals based on their differences from the “believers.” Communism is a perfect system for perfectly equal individuals, whereas other isms are perfect systems for perfectly unequal individuals. True, the prosecution of the communist ideal led to incredible suppression of individuals; but the evils of communism were in the prosecution, not in the ideal.

The attempt to put Communists on the same moral level as Nazis simply doesn’t fly. Whereas there was only one Nazi Party and one top Nazi, Adolf Hitler, we have encountered many kinds of communism, and many top Communists. In the good and the evil that they did, and in how history judges them, they vary. Joseph Stalin was not the same as Mao, and Mao was not the same as Ho Chi Minh. Fidel Castro is not the same as Kim Jong Il.

Whatever communism’s murderousness … the primary reason the fascists did not win World War II was the effectiveness of Stalin’s Red Army as an ally of the United States and Britain. … Like it or not, therefore, our post-World War II freedom and prosperity in the West are in part a result of the successes of communism. This is not to excuse the wrongs of communism, or to wish for its return, but we must remember our debt to this failed experiment.

“Failed experiment”? How charitable.

Shame on those for whom the reality of mass slaughter is secondary to an ideological agenda.

And, as a footnote: that includes some conservatives as well. The comments on Hummel’s post on Mao’s death count include two posts that try to hijack the discussion for an indictment of environmentalism:

At 10:56 AM, Robert said…
Isn’t my personal favorite Rachel Carson still in the running for mass murder greatness? Her totals must be near 100,000,000 now, considering the toll malaria keeps exacting because of her work in banning DDT baselessly. Perhaps, using the root ideo-, one could call her murders “ideocides”.

At 11:29 AM, Mauk said…
I think Robert may be onto something. Rachel Carson was a key player in banning DDT, which has lead to 30+ million additional deaths from malaria. Similarly, Helen Caldicott and the “green” movement have fought aginst nuclear power, leading to further use of coal and especially biomass which has lead to easily 50 million additional deaths from pulmonary diseases alone.

I’ll admit that I don’t know all the facts about malaria deaths and DDT, but comparing excess deaths from possibly misguided policies to deliberate murder is obscene (and all too similar to left-wing idiocy like comparing communism’s death toll to excess deaths allegedly due to lack of health insurance in the U.S.). Guys, hitch your agenda to something other than genocide.

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FIRE on the Daly case

FIRE, the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education, an admirable organization (co-founded by two admirable people, University of Pennsylvania history professor Alan Charles Kors and civil liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate) that exhibits true non-partisanship in defending free expression in the academy, looks at the John Daly brouhaha at Warren Community College.

A November 22 post on the FIRE blog, The Torch, sided unequivocally with Daly, concluding that his email to conservative student Rebecca Beach was clearly protected speech. Another post, on November 29, returns to the issue, examining some of the questions that came up in my own post about the case and in the comments.

FIRE program manager Robert Shibley writes:

FIRE has received e-mails from individuals who point out that Professor Daly seems hostile to the free exchange of ideas on campus. … As one e-mail correspondent wrote, “Daly is not the victim here. He is clearly an enemy of free speech, and his message indicates that he’s willing to abuse ‘academic freedom’ to advance his own political agenda (he’s an English professor—what business does he have telling his students to boycott a political event?)…. Set aside the offensiveness of his statement about soldiers killing their superiors. He is a state employee threatening to suppress free speech on a college campus. Isn’t this what FIRE is fighting against?”

… [F]rom what I have read, Daly was not threatening to use the apparatus of state power to silence an opposing viewpoint. He was merely expressing his own political convictions in a strong way, and did not appear to be making any physical threats against the student. In fact, what his e-mail (scroll to the bottom to read) actually “threatens” is that he will argue and agitate so successfully for his own political convictions that those who oppose him will be marginalized and embarrassed because so few will agree with them. … All in all, we have seen nothing to indicate that this was not just another vehement political disagreement between politically minded adults in our society. Is it ideal for professors to address students this way? Probably not. But respect for the principle of free speech requires one to tolerate a lot of communication that is far from ideal.

Granted, Daly’s comments don’t really appear to be those of a friend of free inquiry. Yet a principled free speech advocate must be prepared to protect the speech of even those who believe that speech should be silenced and censorship widespread.

While I find Daly’s email utterly reprehensible (not to mention idiotic), I think Shibley is right, and Warren College was wrong. The right answer to Daly’s speech was more speech: expose his lunatic politics until he’s — well, marginalized and embarrassed. Instead, conservatives in this case have chosen to go the censorship route. Too bad, for them and for academic freedom.

Footnote: Here’s an interesting question. Suppose, instead of asking for official sanctions against Daly, Rebecca Beach and her fellow conservatives had begun to agitate for students to boycott Daly’s classes.

If they succeeded to the extent that not enough people would enroll in his classes to justify continuing them, the college would presumably have a right to dismiss him (as an untenured adjunct) because his employment was no longer feasible.

Thus, a student boycott would ultimately have the same effect — albeit a delayed one — of penalizing Daly’s speech as dismissal to punish him directly for his opinions and his manner of expressing them.

What are the implications of this for academic freedom and freedom of speech?

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