Let's not even bother with the Great Terror and the Ukrainian famine and, instead, go straight to something recent. Ask yourself: When was the last time you saw, read, or heard anyone discussing the estimated one million civilians killed during the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan during 1979-89? People old enough to have lived through that aren't reminded of it. And younger ones have almost no opportunity to learn about it. Such acts of forgetting are why the Black Book of Communism was still needed so many years after Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and why the tales it told were greeted as foreign all over again.
Iraq is not an exception. Intellectual imaginations immediately grasp the importance of the widely covered website "Iraq Body Count," tabulating Iraqi civilians reported killed after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam. But the researcher-activists who created that site don't run a similar count of Iraqis killed by Saddam before April 2003, or one of bodies as they emerge from his mass graves, and they can't even be bothered to link to neglected websites publicizing those graves, such as afhr.org and the austerely powerful (and graphic) massgraves.info.
In the same spirit, institutions as diverse as Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, the University of California at Santa Cruz, Bryn Mawr and Amherst colleges, and Florida State University have already offered courses that discuss Abu Ghraib as a place where U.S. soldiers committed abuses, not as a place in which Saddam's secret police tortured thousands to death.
It's no coincidence that the Black Book of Saddam Hussein has been received with what Kutschera describes as a "chill" by the French commentariat, has been ignored by the reviewers in the leading French newspapers - Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Libération - and was reviewed only snidely by Le Monde Diplomatique.
This is the real virtue of the Black Book and other volumes like it. They offer the details that most news media and college classes won't. They memorialize those who otherwise might be forgotten. And they are the raw materials for an alternative storyline, one that takes all peoples seriously enough to say that they are moral agents, both for evil and for good.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Le Livre Noir de Saddam Hussein (The Black Book of Saddam Hussein)
Norm post a link with reviews and this from a lengthy quote by Gerard Alexander on the limits of moral imaginations and agendas, and why such books are needed (I think reading them can put one into a clinical depression).