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Bloodlands : Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin
by Timothy Snyder
Published 2015 by Vintage

Even though I’ve read about WW2 many times previously and, after a point, it felt increasingly important to me to read more about the eastern front. But the reason behind why I wanted that was different – that this was where the greater war was fought and so less was generally available to be read, even though all the numbers that came out were way too huge. After reading this book, and I’ll be honest that I didn’t have the complete idea about what the eastern front actually meant to the war and what exactly happened there, it dawned that, more than the numbers and durations, this was actually the most fated part of the world soaked in blood and tears, a part that has been so out of the world’s folklore that we don’t ‘obviously’ know about it.

Bloodlands made me angry, sad, horrified, but beyond that, a lot more of a humble human being. It’s not a very easy read, obviously. The great number of lives that suffered and the reasons (and the ideas, the regimes, the killers) that made them suffer seemingly endlessly (or sometimes as quick and fast at thousands in a day) is beyond imagination. Every detail, small or big, is overwhelming.

The book generally takes into account the events that unfolded and future that beheld this land (post world war 1 until Stalin’s death), but specifically about a certain very specific period in history (1933-1945) for a certain very specific part of the world (Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltics) for a certain very specific people (people who happened to live in this bloodland and of a certain racial/national distinction to the perpetrators) who still carry that history solely in their lives and deaths.

There are numbers. Numbers so big, as Timothy Snyder notices, that they are too big for simple humans to fathom or understand. The numbers being talked about is of actually human lives and deaths, such as 1 million+ at Leningrad, 780 863 at Treblinka, or 33 761 at Babi Yar, among many other such numbers. Hence, he provided numbers as small, Snyder cautions lest they become a context and implores you to remember them, as 1, such as Tania Savicheva or Dina Pronicheva’s mother, and 2, such as the married couple of Maria Juriewicz and Stanislaw Wyganoswski. The numbers in the middle, talking about the ‘industriousness’ of the perpetrators, such as, killing of 12-15000 jews in a 14hrs nazi workday in Treblinka and 20761 men killed in Moscow by one team of just 12 NKVD men. All kinds of numbers. Two things are certain though – these are the number of the people brutally killed in the bloodlands, and each of these numbers will leave you a little more shattered than before. The numbers are overwhelming but Snyder cautions the reader to not stop at them.

He aims seens to not have these number brushed away and forgotten, like they did until not too long ago (because a major part of these lands were still part of the Soviets – the communists of Soviet and the communists and nationalists of the rest had their own plans and purposes to play with the history for their own goals). He also wants to avoid shaking off the nazis and the stalinists by merely terming them inhuman or savages or anything but humans themselves. The aim of this history, as he points out, has to be avoiding another occurrence of something even resembling that worst part of human history, which can only be achieved when they are treated as humans and what led them doing it. So does he want the dead to remembered as those human beings in particular and their individual lives, rather than just another number part of all the big numbers. 14 millions in total were killed in that part of the Europe, each of them dead were living once. As Snyder says, how could so many of them be brought to such violent end?

He talks about the nations that were made into bloodlands, as well as the nations and its rulers (Hitler and Stalin) who burned these civilisations into ashes. He details the boundaries of these nations and the ideas of the 2 murderous regimes that moved them : both of them fluid and fragmented, in their own ways, so long the period of bloodlands lasted. Sometimes even after that.

Timothy Snyder has written an amazing book, as well as a very important one. A few things that stand out for the author and his book for me –

a) The narrative: that is unlike very many history books and would compel you to read on and on, despite the book detailing one of the most horrendous periods of humanity. As the matter of history books in general goes, a decent length history book with maps and numbers one would finish in a matter of days.

b) The purpose: He seemed to be on a mission and makes sure the reader gets it. I have read a few reviews on this book, which states that some names, numbers, and events are repeated. It does iInitially in the book, which can come across as a little off-putting, but later one knows that it was probably necessary. In the end, he concludes with his points even more precisely and, while doing so, he repeats those names and numbers again. By then, one knows what has he been talking about.

This is a very important book, for a very important and violent part of the history, the numbers and the context, but more for each one of those 14 million fateful normal lives in the bloodlands. Alarming and concerning is how a major part of this history was mostly lost from the world war II narrative for so long. And it remains so yet, for many of it parts.

Snyder aptly says this in his summary note:

Closure is a false harmony, a siren song masquerading as a swan song.

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The Third Mistake

The 3 mistakes of my lifeI received June edition of ‘Book Today’, a monthly newsletter of India Today Book Club, today. The cover picture of the newsletter was of “Amitav Ghosh” who has recently released his new novel, Sea of Poppies, the first in the trilogy of novels. ITBC is offering 10% discount on this book.

The interesting part was that Chetan Bhagat’s latest book “the 3 mistakes of my life” is coming absolutely free with the purchase of Sea of Poppies. This book was released only two months before and the writer, who was the all time bestseller author after release of his first book, is being distributed free with another book. Seems the magic is lost now or was it really a magic ever before?

The reason is not the market, rather it is very much the marketers and the producers themselves. After one book of an author becomes bestseller, the publishers seduce the author with a very hefty sum of money which makes the writer to write anything and everything but the literature. Then, begins the exploitation of author, literature, readers, goodwill, subject matter, and so on. I remember authors of yesteryears used to take gap of 5-13 years in writing and releasing a book. Ayn Rand took 4 years to release Anthem, 5 years to release The Fountainhead, and 14 years to release her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged. For Richard Bach, it was 7 years for “the bridge across forever” and 4 years for “the one”. The gap between the release of “the golden gate” and “the suitable boy” was 7 years. Chetan Bhagat took 2 years to write each of his books. Paulo Coelho is the rockstar, he writes two books every year. It is an urge to exploit the market hence the books are no more a piece of literature these days, but a product to sell. Something like – think about the plot which can be sold and write something on it. If you couldn’t think of writing more pages than the petty plot demanded, write anything bullshit that you have read during your college years and afterwards.

Not only that, the subjects and plots are also being badly exploited. Take two examples – one, IITs or IIMs or any premium college with a bunch of youths; two, stories (mainly, cultural clashes) of Indian diaspora (NRIs). Now, search the market for the books based on one of these subjects and count the number of books available out there. Here, we are bypassing the non-fictions (better say, self-help or so-called management books) which are more bullshits than the fictions. Many of them give you a feel that even you can write such books after reading 8-10 similar kinds of books. But, this is the way it goes. And this is the reason why books of Ayn Rand and Joseph Heller are still bestsellers. Authors like JRR Tolkien and Mario Puzo had created truly fascinating, unique and separate world in their books and characters of authors like Ayn Rand and Albert Camus were so visually elaborated that we created a flawless images of them in our minds. So much that we are not able to accept and enjoy a movie based on those books and characters. Whereas, mostly books of these days are very stereotypical and identical to their peers. Characters are boring and plots are repeated.

Books are written because they have to be written and to be read by the world. Its a pity that most of recently released books lack this reason. They have a plot which has been repeated umpteen times and an idea which could easily be expressed in an article or a blog entry. Writing is no more a passion, but a fashion. This has created a peculiar kind of gap in demand and supply where both are increasing with the same speed.

Image courtesy: Chetan Bhagat, Brain Stuck

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Objective Musings

Howard Roark & Objectivism

I strongly oppose people’s opinions and justifications that the ideas given by the Fountainhead don’t have the balls to do it so people appreciate it. One can never know that whether someone has to do something with it or not. It may be possible that one couldn’t get anything executable from the ideas and idols indicated in the book it doesn’t mean that any other person wouldn’t have received any good out of it. Plus, there is not a single thing exists in the world that can be proven as 100% hypocritical. It all depends on one’s mind and after all, the reasons and the attitudes.

It doesn’t matter that whether you get inspired by the book and the philosophies of AR the point is what you did/are doing in your life and what is the real soul behind all your actions for example, what do think about Steve Jobs? He might be totally unaware of everything said about objectivism, but I observe him as a Roark (for some extent..if u compare him with Roark from FH). Also, nothing is permanent in the universe..neither YOU nor I and nothing can be kept intact and untouched for ever. Everything get customized according to the person and the time if we talk about movement that’s why it’s life it is impossible to act as a virtue.

And in real terms (and as far as I conceived), objectivism has nothing to do with individualism, reason, motive, and self until they are driven by single soul and total consciousness (inability to understand/conceive/interpret (madness also) is not consciousness). You can’t generalize the opinion and the interpretation when it comes to individual’s thought upon a particular thing. The individual also can’t be proven wrong (including you and me) UNTIL the view reflects him/herself only. This is one thing where individualism implies its effect and it not only falls under the doctrine of rationalism, but also under the whole theory of existence.

My personal opinion is that FH has turned my life and I also like this character more than (most of) the real ones but, I have my own interpretation and way of customization and I live with my own philosophies may be, because I don’t like to act under any kind of virtue and, as I think, all those philosophies are wrong who can’t be completely related with the life and the actions of a life. The philosophy is one thing that is 100% practical it can’t just live in thoughts and dreams it is what we do, we live with, we die after anything else is not philosophy. People may not be agree but its true that somewhere in my life and at some extent, the theory of objectivism and reason has changed my life, its functions, and its behavior. I wasn’t the same after I started thinking from this angle. Well, we all carry an amount of individualism and rationalism from our birth but, in my life, it made the difference when I took care of it and started nourishing it. I don’t think that the use of these words have the potential to kick you.

Implementation vs. Representation

It’s all about the implementation we have been talking about. Even the Fountainhead and the story of Howard Roark were the implementations of the whole theory. I would have consulted Ayn Rand (sadly, the year of her death and the year of my birth were the same) about this confusion that given the birth to so many debates. As I think, The Fountainhead was never a representation of objectivism, individualism, and all the related theories. Howard Roark is just an implementation (one of the several possible ones) of those theories. Since it was a fiction, the comprehension of the character was quite fascinating and, for some people, hyper-representation, unreal, and hyper-heroic. That implementation can be falsified by one in the current scene and can’t look like possible one.but still, it is achievable not in the same manner, but it can be achieved. The representation of the character (not the theory) was heroic because AR worshiped the theory and she implemented the theories as the best she could do or she wanted to be happened in her times. If still someone quotes Roark as exact implementation of this philosophy then every worshiper will have to become architect and find Toohey/Gail to show his heroic abilities which looks like amusing. The hero lives reside in ourselves we need to find that person, worshiping one particular implementation and living under the virtue of Howard Roark are not like practicing the theories of objectivism. We can’t think from others mind, similarly, we can’t live according to others life following the behavior of Roark is not individualism, it’s altruism. So, the whole story and real facet is about the one’s own implementation of theories, rather than a complete representation.

The world has always been inhabited by Roarks and Galts they are still herewith you, without you, or within you.scientifically, it has been proved that we don’t represent just one person, rather we are a mixture of plenty of personalities and their traits one of them can be Roark, hidden or may be afraid or may be sick as soon as u find this trait called “Roark” in your several personalities and make a connection for this person to your soul you may get the real meaning of objectivism. objectivism and the reason is not just about the mind, the structure of neurons, and their logic it’s somehow deeply intertwined with the our inner self that provide the guidance to our nervous system to find and choose the real (in real terms),. and that we can call the truth or “the right way” yes, I’m agree that we don’t need the Foutainhead many people don’t know about it, but certainly knew their right way and they lived for it in their entire lives.that’s all.

The Greatness

There is one more thing. Why do we either hate or love Hoard Roark? Why don’t we make such debates about Superman, Batman, Vito Carleone, Adolf Hitler, or other more heroic person than Howard Roark? Why can’t someone ignore this immortal, impractical character? Should I say that there is always a Roark(as a trait, rather than just a person) hidden within our multiple layers of personalities? The one who loves Roark make this trait emerge from within and the one who hates Roark makes this trait suppressed because they don’t want to deal with this kind of revolutionary change within her/himself. The trait always want to emerge from within. Only few times, the story of Howard Roark or the fountainhead or the philosophy of Mrs Rand becomes stimulant for this reaction. What about those individualists and creators who lived before this story came to the world? Aren’t their characteristics and the lives heroic, considering they were also some sort of implementations of the theory of objectivism. What is rationality? The thing u are capable to do is rational and the thing Superman can do is irrational? Court’s way of giving justice is ethical and Vito’s way is unethical? Roark’s ability to struggle with the society is real and Superman’s ability to fly is unreal? Hitler was also loyal for his values (more loyal and dedicated than anyone) and he has had the reasons as well. Who decides the truth and the rationality? Who is right–Rand or Lenin? And why do we always need support or take references from history for our acts and logic?

Well, when Engels died, there were only few dozens people standing behind his coffin. Someone asked to Marx– “You always told Engels a great person. How can he be great when there are only 20-25 people came to assist him in his last journey? You must be mistaken.” Marx answered– ” Friend, I don’t say Engels great after counting number of his followers or admirers. I have a different reason behind my statement. People who know Engels have only two ways either they can be agree with him or they can’t be agree with him.One can never ignore Engels. And that’s why I call Engels a great person.” I think that this story has the potential to answer so many questions.

The practical implementation of any kind of philosophy and the theory again solely depends upon that particular person. As each person has different kind of traits and behaviors, similarly, each implementation of a theory also has different kind of behaviors and facets. For this consequence, the theory shouldn’t be blamed or be considered impractical/unrealistic. And again, it is immaterial that who said this or how did we get to know about this ideology and develop our concerns and thoughts to support this. One can never decide the right or the wrong for another person and s/he can’t judge it as well. If someone does this, it’ll go against the right of existence. Let the person decide for himself that what is right and what is wrong.

The Liberty

Liberty gives details of specific freedoms of action without obligations toward others, but recognizes that obligations may exist. Simply stated, it resembles “freedom from” and “freedom to”, but not the freedom as a whole. One’s liberty is a set of actions(not specified by that particular one) under a set of protocols which depict boundaries of one’s liberty. That means you can think of liberty as the absence of obstacles external to the agent as well as the presence of control on the part of the agent. As obvious, it is strongly connected with the socio-political system, so, it is about going through the right doors for the right reasons. Though you can think of the several possible doors and the reasons behind each way, the right door and the right reason will never be decided by you. As I think, liberty is neither similar to freedom(of someone) nor an instance of freedom(of someone). It may be an application of freedom for a defined society which pretends to resemble freedom of an individual in that society. It remains a liberty for the society until the concepts of the application are based upon free association and voluntary exchange. Afterward, it creates a pseudo-appearance of liberty for the people. On the individual level, you get the capability to make choices for your thoughts (that resembles your freedom), but when it comes to implement the suitable choice decided by you, the freedom converts into liberty under the anarchy.and you choose the second or third-best suited choice which won’t seem to cross the boundaries of protocols. As anarchists say that it is a conscientious decision to honor the freedom to choose without fear of trespass, the exact definition of liberty varies under different social (say political) system. This liberty stops more “bad” but it stops more “good” as well. Again, the “bad” and the “good” are not similar for each individual and then, it defeats the rationalism for an individual. And since, the definition of liberty resides under a political system, it denies any chance of furnishing and improving one’s freedom. Afterward, the liberty becomes a signature of collective-objectivism.

I’m against the social definition of liberty because it’s against the doctrine of freedom. I’ve some counter-points for those people that objectivism inherits the theories of liberty, in the context of The Fountainhead.

  1. Liberty gives details of specific freedoms of action without obligations toward others, but recognizes that obligations may exist. How often Roark tried to recognize the obligation?
  2. Though you can think of the several possible doors and the reasons behind each way, the right door and the right reason will never be decided by you. Do admirers of Roark believe in accepting this protocol that resembles liberty?

  3. One’s liberty is a set of actions under a set of protocols which depict boundaries of one’s liberty.

  4. It remains a liberty for the society until the concepts of the application are based upon free association and voluntary exchange.I think i don’t need to discuss on this, especially “free association and voluntary exchange”.

  5. Liberty resembles freedom, but what if freedom resembles liberty? Taking case of Fountainhead, in the terms of society, liberty resembles freedom and people were living in that pseudo-freedom. But, in the case of particular individuals, wasn’t freedom resembling liberty? If not completely, then a part of it.

And after all, suppose I’m a not an individualist and I exists with all Good and no Bad AND I don’t believe in pseudo-freedom but in TOTAL liberty, then isn’t the philosophy of Liberty infringing my liberty? If you are not agree to suppose anything, then didn’t Roark infringed liberty of the society and people who didn’t believe in things like objectivism? Remember, you can’t prove someone wrong/sinister just because he isn’t objectivist. Being objectivist or being like Roark is not always an ideal situation. There are/may be some exceptions, if looking at other way round.

The Psychology of Virtue

I’d like to state a generic kind of tragedy with all the philosophies including objectivism. I do never understand that why people always make equivalent relation between an object and its instance or, better say, a philosophy and its implementation in one man. Well, what is objectivism? Howard Roark? and what is Buddhism? Gautam Buddha? Absolutely Not. One more instance, who is referred as the most intelligent scientist of this century? May be, Albert Einstein! And everyone want to be an Einstein (remember, not as intelligent or talented as Einstein). So, what do you do? Write a theory about how to make nuclear bomb or e=mc2 in italic or strike through letters!! In 1940s, making nuclear bomb created a history, but in 2000s, destroying nuclear bombs can create a history. You can be an Einstein if you can destroy all the nuclear bombs. So, what makes one intelligent? Relating all the events(instances) from the history with your life isn’t the way of realizing a philosophy or a theory. We keep reading books and histories, making debates, and unconsciously we start living in a virtue, not even a virtue but a virtue made from several stories. All inexperienced and without any understanding. That’s where comes the difference – between intellect and wisdom, collection of thoughts and production of thoughts, awareness of truth and knowing the truth.

Now, I come at the theory of objectivism. As I think, each living person has a seed of objectivism and it can grow any time. And yes, objectivism has never been obsolete or something that has no use in practical life. Almost every achiever (philosopher, inventor, scientist, intellectual, revolutionary) has started his/her journey being an objectivist. I’m certainly not a follower, but I really admire it because I have a reason behind this admiration. And everyone has got a seed of individualism..this is just the matter of realization and nourishing it. That’s where Fountainhead works and that’s where it worked for youand that’s its uniqueness. The Fountainhead, most of the times, works as a catalyst for that trait. If you wouldn’t have a quest for this trait and behavior, it could have been possible that this philosophy wouldn’t have affected you.

I strongly reject the philosophy having no use in LIFE. As fas as Roark and objectivism are concerned, it is all about the relationship between Fountainhead (story of Roark) and objectivism. Roark is adored by words but rejected by life of people (the readers of FH). There are some reasons and contradictions as well. People admired life of Roark and worshiped him, but rejected his way of living his life by saying it impractical and too-much-hyped, and the philosophy of objectivism declared obsolete. I’m against this believe when people equalize Howard Roark and Fountainhead. When I said against making equivalent relation between a philosophy and its implementation in one particular man, I didn’t mean to say that there is no practical implication of one particular philosophy. This is a specialization and you can’t equalize an object and its instance. I again say that Roark is an implementation of Objectivism, not a representation of objectivism. In other words, Roark is a member of the set “objectivists”. I don’t think that it looks like “hypocritical”.

I try to see the other way round. Well, virtues guide people sometimes and help people live and see forward I’m not criticizing this but I criticize when people start living in virtue and they never overcome it. This is against every philosophy and a reason to destroy that. You also don’t need to laugh at “inexperienced and without any understanding” this is what followers do, this is where “living in virtue” leads, this is how “great philosophies” lose their meanings. Dear, innovation lies in questions, more than in answers. The journey(of wisdom/truth/innovation) starts when question arises and ends where solutions arrive. If you start your journey from answer, you’ll not be seeking truth, rather proving some theories based on prior axioms. The “virtue” has its own effects and counter-effects. As soon as u get it, u understand the value of the philosophy.

Story of Life

The word “Philosophy” is arrived from Greece, where it is called “Philosofia”. Philosofia = philo+sofia, that means, story of life. When we say philosophy, we refer to “story of life”. It means “story of my life” which immediately refers to one’s own life, experiences, events, learned things, sought truth, thoughts, actions, and all related stuffs. Why I’m writing it here because my philosophy is all about the things I experienced/learned/felt/discovered from my life. My life is not continued from anyone else’s life, so my philosophy is not followed by any other philosophy. And why I admire some of prior philosophies/people? Because, sometimes in my life, I seemed to be implementing that philosophy or part of it. This time again, the quest arrived earlier and answer came later. It’s not like that I read Fountainhead and when I finished I said that “yes, this thing/answer looks great and now I should implement it somewhere in my life”, without understanding the philosophy, more specifically, its implementation. I can’t stand with those theories/philosophies who can’t be implemented in a life. I found objectivism worthwhile from this point and that’s why I admire it. This is my reason.

Epilogue

You might have got my point that why I referred Roark “an implementation of objectivism”, rather than “a representation of objectivism” and withstand the believe to make equilibrium relation between Roark and Objectivism. Roark is a member of objectivism set, may be the most powerful, and since he was an implementation part, say example, of objectivism, there may exist something that doesn’t resemble like true/practically true objectivism.

I think that the whole idea of Mrs Rand must be conveying the philosophy of objectivism to the world, not the story of Howard Roark. If not, she would have written Fountainhead, part-I, II, III or Howard Roark and Goblet of Fire or something. In her fictions as well, lives/behaviors of Keira, Roark, and Galt may show contradictions, however, they all were objectivists. What does this mean? We got a contradictory philosophy, about which the author herself is confused or if not, the philosophy is all about the thoughts/mind/books rather than the philosophy of life/actions?? I think that she also imparted an idea to her readers that not all the things are absolute in terms of implementations, most of the things are relatives as well. Relative to whom??—the person who adores/implements the philosophy in either way. Remember, Atlas Shrugged has been referred as her greatest melodrama and in fact, she tried to make it so and after that she didn’t write any fiction.

I’ll advise people to stop digging the story of Roark too much, that’s a history (a fictitious history), and take care of the “objectivism”. It may have some use.


Images Courtesy: ishkur.com (1st) & iws.ccccd.edu (3rd)

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