As promised, I am putting in another installment of my very irregular review of movies or books that I think are relevant to politics. In this case, the book is Anne Applebaum’s Iron Curtain, a history of the Stalinist era in Eastern Europe with particular emphasis on Poland, East Germany and Hungary.
Iron Curtain is not as overwhelming as her previous book, Gulag. But it relentless in documenting how the Eastern Bloc and the Iron Curtain were created by the Soviet Union to create a series of puppet states along their border. It is a stinging rebuke to the revisionist historians who have tried desperately to rewrite the history of the Cold War so that the United States is the aggressor. According to these historians, the Iron Curtain was a response to the Western “aggression” of building up its own anti-Soviet bloc. Applebaum shows that the foundations of the Iron Curtain were laid before the war was even over. The Soviets planned every detail of it. They ethnically cleansed the region to put all the Poles in one place and all the Ukranians in another. They destroyed social institutions such as youth groups and replaced them with Communist ones. They took control of the media. And they entrusted the rule of these countries to their puppets: Stalinists who had spent the war in Russia being trained to rule the Communist satellites. Communists who had stayed in their countries, even those who had been imprisoned and tortured by the Nazis, weren’t trusted. Only those under the Soviet thumb were suitable.
It’s true that they had elections after the war. It’s also true the Communists lost those election badly despite having control of social groups, the government and the media. And when those elections went badly, they put communist governments in place anyway, outlawed opposition parties, suppressed political dissent and cancelled future elections. That was all before NATO was created in 1949.
Last week, I referred to Naomi Klein’s new book. One of her earlier books was The Shock Doctrine which alleged, with little evidence to support it, that free market supporters rush into countries that have experienced disasters to impose their vision of capitalism on a frightened populace. But the post-World War II era is the clearest depiction of a shock doctrine you could ever want. Eastern Europe had endured one of the greatest calamities in history: an invasion by both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany; a subsequent back and forth war between the two; the deliberate genocide of millions. This was followed by the Soviets unilaterally redrawing the borders and ethnically cleansing the region (as well as starvation, poverty, rape and chaos). The Soviets had a pre-arranged plan to use that horror to institute Communist governments across every country their soldiers could loot and occupy. And they managed to maintain that regime for decades using oppression, terror and murder. Applebaum backs all of this up with first-hand accounts and original documents.
(Applebaum doesn’t cover this, but these tactics were not unique to post-World War II Europe. Half a world away, the Commies would do the same thing, setting up Marxist regimes in war-ravaged China, Indochina and Korea. And this pattern remained their modus operandi to the end. Until the 1990’s, there was hardly a famine, hardly a civil war, hardly a genocide that didn’t have a bunch of Communists in the middle of it, trying to advance their cause.)
I would not recommend Iron Curtain as much as I would Gulag. But I would recommend it for those interested in the bloody history of Communism. And I commend Applebaum for helping to make sure that hideous chapter in history is not glossed over by pseudo-historians who are still sympathetic to Communist ideas.