]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]       WISHFUL DISBELIEF       [[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[ 

     If you have come from downstairs (layman deciding about yellow 
rain), you met the Nazi innkeeper who did not WANT to believe there 
were any concentration camps. But better people than he had been taken 
in. Before the war, the Nazis opened up selected concentration camps 
to let in selected delegations under well prepared and well controlled 
conditions; the visitors would hope that the "horror stories" were 
untrue, and the Nazis reinforced their wish. The most famous case was 
that of a report by an international delegation which called the camps 
"Zierden der Zivilsation" (ornaments of civilization).
     But there is a case much closer at hand: that of the American 
intellectuals who did not want to believe the "horror stories" about 
Stalin in the 1930s, or even before 1956 (when Khrushchev officially 
confirmed at least some of Stalin's atrocities).
     Eugene Lyons, an American reporter who spent 6 years in Russia 
from 1927 to 1933 as a UP correspondent, wrote that he "watched lite-
rally thousands of my countrymen prostate themselves at the shrines of 
their new inspiration." When he and other foreign correspondents read 
reports by these visitors in "The Nation" or the "New Republic," they 
"read them as though they were comic supplements to the somber Soviet 
     In 1932, while Stalin was deliberately exterminating 8 million 
Ukranians by starvation, G.B. Shaw wrote "I have never eaten as well 
as during my trip to the Soviet Union," and on the eve of his 
departure wrote in the visitor's book at the Moscow Metropolitan 
Hotel, "Tomorrow I leave this land of hope and return to our Western 
countries of despair." Shaw probably did not know what was going on in 
the Ukraine, but New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty did; and 
he quite simply concealed it (see R. Conquest's "Harvest of Despair").
     In 1937 the Big Purge with its show trials took place. Former 
high Soviet party and government officials were sentenced to death 
without evidence or proof -- just on the basis of their confessions 
which they rattled off so intensely into the radio that the chief 
prosecutor (later Foreign Minister Andrey Vishinsky) found it diffi-
cult to get a word in. In the US, the Dewey Commission was formed to 
investigate the charges and to give the chief accused Leon Trotsky 
(then in Mexico) a chance to counter them. It included such prominent 
intellectuals as Norman Thomas, Max Eastman, Edmund Wilson, Lionel 
Trilling, Mary McCarthy and Sidney Hook. Among those who refused their 
help, and found reasons to excuse the Soviets, was Albert Einstein 
(see Hook's "My running debate with Einstein," Commentary, xxx 1982). 
However, this was nothing compared with the assault by an "Open Letter 
to American Liberals" published in "Soviet Russia Today" in March 
1937, warning them against lending support to "Fascist forces which 
are attacking democracy in Spain and throughout the world." The letter 
was signed by Theodore Dreiser, Max Lerner, Louis Fischer, Ring Lard-
ner, Jr. and many more.
     In 1939, a Committee for Cultural Freedom was formed to oppose 
both fascism and Stalinism. It included Sinclair Lewis, Thomas Mann, 
and Ira Gershwin. This led to another Open Letter published by 400 US 
"liberal" writers and artists denouncing the "fantastic falsehood that 
the USSR and the totalitarian states are basically alike." Nine days 
later, The Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed.
     And so it went. When Khrushchev exposed Stalin's reign of terror 
in 1956, his speech was shrugged off. In 1949, Soviet defector Krav-
chenko sued a French journal for calling his reports from the Soviet 
concentration camps a fake, and won his case by witnesses and hard 
evidence. Jean Paul Sartre and many others condemned not the journal, 
but the "slanderers" who would poison the atmosphere.
     The writings by numerous defectors, some formerly in high posi-
tions, are ignored. Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago remains unread 
and "in doubt." His speeches and writings are rarely reprinted, but 
Ivy League professors seek to garner popularity among their colleagues 
by articles like "The Dark Side of Solzhenitsyn." 
     Yellow rain?
     Bees' droppings!
     Ask the Nation, Mother Jones, and the New York Times.

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