So you’re thinking of being a traitor

I was just reading something by Freeman Dyson, a review of a biography of Bruno Pontecorvo.  He explains that technical spies, like Pontecorvo or Klaus Fuchs or Ted Hall, are unimportant because the Soviet Union had plenty of first-rate scientists already, people like Yuri Khariton and Zeldovich and Sakharov, and would have eventually gotten to the same place anyhow.  He thinks that people like Hall only accelerated the Soviet bomb program by two or three years. But tactical spies, people like Aldrich Ames or Kim Philby , who burned fellow agents and got them killed – they’re quite naughty.

So I guess being a atomic spy in the service of the Soviet Union was almost a peccadillo.  Right-thinking people certainly want to think that, since so many of them were sympathetic to Uncle Joe (‘ he rolls the executions on his tongue like berries’ ) and his antics. Of course, right-thinking people are always wrong.

Gee, what happened in those two or three years? Anything bad? Anything that wouldn’t have happened if Stalin was Bombless?  The Korean War, certainly.  Heard of it? Moreover, those technical spies saved the Soviets money as well as time – we explored all the possible approaches to manufacturing fissionables in the Manhattan Project, most of which were expensive failures, but the Soviets didn’t have to.  Their resources were limited: this helped.  Their first bomb was made from Los Alamos engineering blueprints (thanks, Ted Hall !)

Usually,  you have to be careful not to be too hard on public intellectuals, since they’re not very smart and don’t know jack about anything. You really can’t expect anything from them.  Dyson, however, is smart – very smart –  actually knows some things, and has accomplished a lot.  But he’s still utterly full of shit, when it comes to making excuses for ‘his kind of people’.

Let me make a few suggestions for the next crop of foolish scientists considering aiding the next noxious ism. I think there’s a ‘due diligence’ principle – maybe, just maybe, before  changing sides, you really need to check if the guys you’re aiding are tyrants and mass murderers,  And if they are, that’s a bad thing, not a proof of how serious they are. Check before you defect.  Pontecorvo didn’t check: I think he was a a damn fool, worse than stupid.  He came to agree: “The simple explanation is this: I was a cretin,’ he said. ‘The fact that I could be so stupid, and many people close to me should have been quite so stupid . . .’ The sentence was left unfinished. Communism, he went on, was ‘like a religion, a revealed religion . . . with myths or rites to explain it. It was the absolute absence of logic.’ ”

I know that means reading something other than Nature or Phys Rev.  It might even mean listening to the Lithuanians in the neighborhood bar as they complain about their cousins being shot – but I don’t think that’s asking too much.  Parenthetically, why is it that intellectuals feel attracted to monsters like Stalin or Lenin, but hardly ever become agents/disciples of Switzerland or Canada or Uruguay?  Nice countries finish last?

Perhaps nothing can really be done: it may be that a high fraction of the psychological types that produce scientific advances are just silly people, without a bit of common sense.  Born that way.  Maybe we could work hard at making executions more certain, frequent and terrifying:  in a better world, Ted Hall would have shit in his pants at the mere thought of committing treason.

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127 Responses to So you’re thinking of being a traitor

  1. reiner Tor says:

    Canada is not a nice country. Has the Canadian government ever issued a formal apology for Celine Dion? And let us not forget Bryan Adams. Or Justin Bieber.

  2. Howlin' at the Moon says:

    “Parenthetically, why is it that intellectuals feel attracted to monsters like Stalin or Lenin, but hardly ever become agents/disciples of Switzerland or Canada or Uruguay? Nice countries finish last?”

    Intelligent, self-disciplined thinkers can scorn leaders who are obviously lustful, gluttonous, or avaricious (though I can think of more than a few who got a free pass). Wrath, however, probably does something to our chimp brains that activates the “That bloodstained guy with shredded body parts in his teeth is the alpha ape!” instinct. If you’re smart enough to rationalize your bestial admiration for a tyrant, that instinct could be hard to fight.

    There’s also the Alexander Pope effect- people smart enough to know something about complicated and difficult subjects, like theoretical physics, may blithely assume that less rigorous topics, like political theory, economics, philosophy, or history, can be easily understood without the pesky necessity of in-depth study and reflection. (Mr. Cochran, having generally taken the trouble to actually understand subjects outside his specialty before commenting on them publicly, is an exception in this regard). Communism’s doctrines of history and economics were materialistic, explicitly modeled on the natural sciences, purporting to explain history in terms of mechanistic general laws; it’s a convenient way to explain humanity, if you only have an afternoon to devote to mastering the subject. The fact that, unlike real natural science, there was almost no testing or empirical verification to support it wasn’t really a concern for most fellow travelers until 1989 or so. Most other monstrous intellectual systems rest on just such clear but false ideas, which can be easily explained even to your slow-witted alcoholic cousin just in 10 minutes. (I sometimes call Nazism “right-wing political theory for really, really stupid people”, and perhaps unsurprisingly, a bright guy like Frege seems to have admired it).

  3. I have seen a future – and it works.
    These words were not spoken by a scientist.
    Lots of people were fooled.
    Why so angry about ancient history anyway?
    Communism is dead.

    • pyrrhus says:

      There is a psychological effect on many people at the top of narrow disciplines, who come to believe that since they are smart and know a lot about something difficult, they are above the rest of humanity and don’t need to know anything to spout opinions…

      • The quote I refer to was spoken by an investigative reporter. You can google it. Investigative reporter is not a narrow discipline. Spouting half-assed opinions is a universal human failing. Citation: the entire Internet.

    • Leonard says:

      Not sure if I should take such a question seriously. However…

      First, what is “ancient” to you is not to many of us. Those of us who lived during the Cold War, with the fear of nuclear annihilation as a daily reality, still remember it. Get off my lawn.

      Second, “Communism” may be dead in the sense of the Russian Revolution’s particular winning party and their subject states’ parties. But communism is not dead, far from it. The latter is an ideology, not a set of men, and it has never left us. (The current self-label for them is “progressive”.) Communism will evolve in any democracy, inevitably. Since it will ruin any society that attempts it, it is worth watching out for.

      Indeed communism is ruining us now. “Ancient history”? Nope.

      • There is a large difference to living in Sweden and living in Soviet Union.
        Are you recapping Hayek’s argument from the Road to Serfdom?
        It hasn’t been born out by history so far.

        • Ilya says:

          There are two paths for societies that pursue equalitarianism / denial of human nature : they either go towards abusive totalitarism or towards banana republic/Iraq style demographics (Sweden’s poosible future). The latter, luckily, does tend to take a few generations, allowing for enlightened correction.

  4. Tom says:

    Heard of it?

    Well it is called the Forgotten War. And probably quite a few Americans haven’t heard of it or confuse it with the Vietnam War. So how bad or important was it really?

    • Toddy Cat says:

      “So how bad or important was it really?”
      You’re being sarcastic, right? RIGHT?!?
      Death toll of 20th Century Wars” Korean War (1950-53): 3,000,000

      “Why so angry about ancient history anyway?
      Communism is dead.”
      So are somewhere between 60 and 100 million people.

      For God’s sake…

      • Tom says:

        I’m serious. If it was so bad or important, it wouldn’t be known as the Forgotten War. Most of the death toll was from Strategic Air Command bombing of North Koreans, not battles or anything.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Get out of here, moron.

          • Toddy Cat says:

            If Americans voluntarily given top-secret weapons information to the representatives of an ideology that killed tens of millions of people doesn’t make you angry, there’s something wrong with you. For some reason, it’s OK to still be pissed off about slavery (150 years ago) or the Holocaust (70 years ago), but get a little peeved about Communism (which is still with us) and it’s “Oh, that old stuff! Why can’t you Wingnuts get over it?”

            You might almost thing that there was some ideological prejudice here…

        • Abelard Lindsey says:

          It was certainly important for all of the Koreans (both sides) who died in it as well as those in the north who fell under the yoke of communism.

        • Discard says:

          Tom: Most of the deaths were from the disruption of agriculture and food distribution. Fleeing refugees don’t plant crops, and struggling armies feed themselves before they feed the local civilians.

          • gcochran9 says:

            You don’t know what you’re talking about. The place was fought over again and again: there were over a million military KIA. Plenty of massacres. Most of the towns and cities in the North were burned to the ground, and of course the cities that were conquered and re-conquered suffered from artillery and air strike4s. We blew up the irrigation dams in North Korea, near the end.

    • syon says:

      Via Matthew White, estimates on total Korean War deaths:

      TOTAL
      1,333,060 killed + 1,067,740 missing (Nahm93, not including Chinese)
      1,892,000 (S&S, not including civilians)
      2,454,000 (Compton’s)
      2,488,744 (Wallechinsky)
      2,854,000 (Britannica)
      2,889,000 (Eckhardt)
      3,000,000 (D. Smith)
      3,000,000 (B&J)
      3,062,000 (Rummel)
      3,500,000 (Lewy, incl. 2-3M civilians)
      [MEDIAN of TOTALS: ca. 2,950,000] or [TOTAL of MEDIANS: ca. 2,470,000]

      http://necrometrics.com/20c1m.htm#Ko

    • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

      The Chinese captured a bunch of US 105mm howitzers during that war. They didn’t have much use for them so they gave them to Ho Chi Min’s group who pulled them up on top of some hills that the French forgot to protect outside Dien Bien Phu …

      • Cracker1 says:

        They don’t have any big guns. Even if they get big guns they can’t bring them to battle. Even if they bring them to battle our air power will knock them out. Mistakes were made.

  5. Couple of points neither supporting nor contradicting out fearless leader

    1)Spying ain’t what it once was.
    Now we can listen to every mobile phone conversation in a whole damn country and try to filter it down to the important people talking to the important people. That is hard, it takes a whole lotta sharp guys, tens of thousands of cyber spies drawing 100,000 a year pay checks from uncle Sam, to boil it down from an incoherent babble to maybe something. Yea that’s a damned stupid waste of tax dollars but that’s how we do it.

    2)We ain’t got no more technological edge worth hiding
    The boom time Satellite is headed west at an accelerating rate of speed. Yep, it’s over China now so we don’t have to worry about us blabbing they have to worry about their own folks spilling the beans. That is over simplified but the complex truth is nobody is going to keep any technological secrets for very long anymore. It takes a humongous group of scientists to push forward any edge and thanks to out beloved internet a serious leak is just an easy download away.

  6. magusjanus says:

    Great piece. Though I’d add that the vast majority of the US intellectual/cultural/academic/political elite at the time was either hard commie or soft commie (“progressive”), or certainly highly sympathetic to them, so even if the bomb had been delayed a few years I’m not entirely convinced Korea doesn’t happen.

    When the Chinese intervened in Korea and thousands of US casualties piled up why didn’t the US treat that as a war with China, which it obviously was? Compare with WW2 for instance… could you imagine the US fighting the Axis in North Africa yet not bombing/blockading/invading Germany itself? Ludicrous. Yet when it comes to fighting commies in the Korean War, suddenly MacArthur is portrayed as insane for wanting to fight the enemy.

    When fighting the Nazis/Japs the US wages total war with unconditional surrender as a goal. When fighting Korea or Vietnam the US restricts itself completely as to how it’s going to fight, what it will or won’t do, etc. Something as trivial as going into Cambodia to cut off the trail is treated as the “worst thing ever” by the intelligentsia, whereas nothing was off the table when it came to Germany or Japan. Whereas against the Axis every effort was made to expand the conflict against the Chinese every effort was made to limit it.

    Very weird.

    (Heck, the US was mostly complicit in letting China fall to the commies in the first place, to say nothing of letting all E Europe under Stalin in ’45 when US did have the atomic monopoly. Patton saw the light, though perhaps a bit too late…)

    • Tom says:

      That’s not the right analogy. All of the Axis was at war already at that point. Whereas Truman was worried that attacking China directly might invite Soviet intervention and trigger WWIII.

      • magusjanus says:

        the strategic argument for US intervention against Japan and Germany was that they presented potential threats to the US.

        Well if Japan duking it out with China in the 30s was enough to make the US go nutz (and invasion of Indochina leading to embargo aka certainty of war) then it’s very odd indeed that the US not only looks the other way as China goes commie in the 45-49 period (when the US had atomic monopoly!) but in fact US indirectly helps out Mao with ceasefire, etc.

        And if Germany acquiring Poland is somehow a huge threat to Anglo-American interests than how the heck is Russian domination of all Eastern Europe not a threat? And why would US not go to war or threaten to go to war (while it has atomic monopoly) to stop that?

        The best explanation is that US elite was actively sympathetic to global communism (and many were card carrying members).

        Even in Korea (and later Vietnam) after Soviets acquire the bomb it’s still absurd the manner in which the US conducts the war…. tens of thousands of US soldiers come home in bodybags and US insists on “limiting” the war to Korea. A complete 180 of how they fought the Axis.

        Because the US intelligentsia, in a very real sense, really didn’t want to win. More subdued of course during the Korean war, and more explicitly so in Vietnam when they basically side with the commies.

        It’s really quite insane.

        • gcochran9 says:

          But not as insane as you. Your general picture of “elites” is seriously wrong. Let me give you a clue: saying that they must have believed X, because they didn’t support actions that seem obvious to you, is ridiculous. You can find out what people thought by reading their bios, papers, books written at the time, newspapers, magazines, etc: you can’t deduce what they must have thought.

          • magusjanus says:

            You’re right that I was simplifying a bit because the intellectual wasn’t monolithic. To be clear I’m referring to the “right-thinking” people as you call them, who are of course progressives for lack of a better word, some of whom were card carrying members of the Communist party, some spies, some sympathetic “fellow travelers” who viewed communist crimes as just growing pains. We can of course distinguish them from the more old school military folk as well as the “realists” (both of whom were more aligned with average american population), but the former were never really “right thinking people” and the latter only occasionally and even then usually hated like Kissinger.

            Meanwhile in the intelligentsia crowd we have Chomsky on Cambodia: http://jim.com/chomsdis.htm or Harvard Crimson on Cambodia: http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1975/9/19/cambodia-pbsbince-the-us-incursion-into/ or http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1975/9/1/cambodia-and-crimson-politics-pbobne-day/ , heck we have them actively opposing US foreign policy, military goals and the president throughout Vietnam.

            The press itself on Vietnam of course de facto opposed US goals, with NY Times Halberstam taking his cues from a N Vietnamese agent in Xuan An, ditto UPI’s Sheehan, Arnett doing his best to portray the enemy in a positive light, etc. Academia of course broadly opposed the military in general there, and the broad press coverage of Tet was borderline treasonous. Try and compare with coverage of WW2, with Ernie Pyle for instance.

            Same with MacArthur “witchhunt”. Imagine the US fighting a war with Nazism while high ranking State Department members were either members of the Nazi party or highly sympathetic to them and linked personally to members, or Hollywood pumping out movies written/produced by Nazis. Or Eisenhower picking a Nazi party member to write his memoirs. But when they’re communists, well they get a pass or Murrows talks about how denying them a job or even inquiring about is the worst thing ever. To say nothing of press/”right thinking” treatment of Stalin pre-war or Duranty and Holodomor, or Davies’s Mission to Moscow, and so on.

            The universalist progressive program is described quite clearly in Time Magazine of all places: https://nickbsteves.wordpress.com/american-malvern/

            Heck, Dexter White, senior adviser in the Treasury and archictect of post war economic order (IMF, World Bank, Bretton Woods, etc.) was a commie spy. Hopkins who basically ran the White House in the later years was actively sympathetic to Soviet Union throughout. And you of course point out the cost of say sympathy in scientific intellectuals in the Manhattan Project, and the Dyson’s of the world pathetically apologizing for them 70 years later.

            We see the same in Korea. The American people bless heir hearts siding with MacArthur and common sense, but the “right thinking people” as you put were overwhelmingly on the other side, either opposing the war or ok with it under UN mandate as long as it was limited. These of course the same people who basically stood aside as the world’s most populous country went communist while the US had the atomic monopoly and largest share of global GDP in its history.

            I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, so please forgive my long-windedness. But it does seem to me that a reasonable analysis of the period is: “right thinking people” aka progressives running most of academia/media/civil service (judiciary, permanent govt bureaucracy, etc.) and pushing the country (and world) in one direction against resistance from average american people, some populists and hard right military folk like MacArthur, Patton, etc.

            We could even call the former Team Blue and the latter Team Red. And it seems clear Team Blue wiped the floor with Team Red, the occasional populist uprising notwithstanding. And not only on foreign policy in Eastern Europe or China or Korea and Vietnam, but virtually every topic of significance over past 70 years, from abortion to segregation to decolonization to mass immigration to nationalized health care to gay marriage and so on.

            Maybe I’m wrong… but I respectfully don’t think it’s an insane opinion to hold.

          • magusjanus says:

            You’re right, I oversimplified above. The elite opinion is not monolithic, but I do think it’s fair that to roughly divide them into the “right thinking people” as you put it who were basically either communist spies or fellow travelers (progressives, for lack of a better word) and those resisting that aka hard military men, realists, etc. who were more closely aligned with average american opinion. Team Blue and Team Red as it were… and the former generally wiping the floor with the latter, occasional populist uprising not withstanding.

            This is evident in Vietnam for instance, when the Sheehans and Halberstams of the world were actively sabotaging US policy, reporting what North Vietnamese agents said, etc. Tet was completely misreported as a loss, etc. Compare with say Ernie Pyle. Academia/media/intelligentsia/State Department/etc. were actively against the US military policy and even common sense measures like cutting off the trail in Cambodia or blocking the ports were met with howls of outrage, protests, etc. by “right thinking people”. Kissinger of course becoming the world’s worst person evah. Whereas WW2 US allies with Stalin, Vietnam US backs a coup against Diem cuz… he was sufficiently liberal or democratic. I mean really. Try and picture Rita Hayworth climbing a Flakturm for instance… I somehow doubt it.

            The post war world economic order was created by communist spies like White and Currie who set up IMF, World Bank, Bretton Woods, etc.. Hopkins basically ran the White House towards the end and was if not a spy a fellow traveler and highly sympathetic. We have Davies writing Mission to Moscow (later a film by Hollywood, also highly progressive and full of de facto commies), mainstream magazines like Time clearly outlining the goals for the post-war order: https://nickbsteves.wordpress.com/american-malvern/ and so on. To say nothing of pre-war treatment of SU by intellectuals and media, Duranty for instance.

            While the US had the atomic monopoly (and as you discuss above scientific elite were busy passing along vital nuclear secrets to the commies out of sympathy or outright allegiance) the US lets the world’s most populous nation go commie (Lattimore among others) as well as acquiescing in Soviet domination of all Eastern Europe. Anyone who later brings up the high treason going on by high intellectuals, State Department officials, advisers, etc. is attacked and destroyed, as McCarthy would be despite initial overwhelming public support.

            Korea sees bumpkin Truman actually do something for once though of course action is limited and anyone like MacArthur who dares to suggest prosecuting the war normally aka fighting the actual enemy is treated as a lunatic by the “right thinking people”, never mind the overwhelming public support he gets from the hoi polloi. Heck Eisenhower has a communist (Barnes) ghost write his memoirs; I guess there were no non-communists around to do it?

            The Cold War seems best interpreted as an Anglo-Soviet split, akin to the later Sino-Soviet split… but even later we still see the elite as highly sympathetic. Heck the Harvard Crimson is writing positively about the Khmer Rouge even AFTER they find out about all the massacres: http://theden.tv/2013/09/27/khmer-rouge-harvards-favorite-communists/ and Chomsky of course spilling his usual bile http://jim.com/chomsdis.htm Like you said we can go through plenty of magazines, profiles, etc. but it seems fair to say that expressing communist sympathies was A-OK at all the “right thinking” cocktail parties of the time.

            I know most if not all the above facts are not news to you and maybe my interpretation is wrong, but I don’t think it’s insane to suggest that the “right thinking people” of the time (i.e. NOT the Macarthurs or Pattons) were mostly progressive communist sympathizers or outright communists at the time, with severe consequences to the US and the rest of the world.

            • gcochran9 says:

              Not a good model for what was happening. You’re conflating different classes of people, different times, etc etc. You need a “thick” representation, in my opinion. Unfortunately, neither I nor anyone else can put forth that thick model in anything less than a book-length argument.

              But some of your mistakes are simple: People were afraid of escalation into a nuclear war and that wasn’t silly: that shaped every action, every response. Or, people were damned tired of WWII and wanted to go home: no policy of taking out the Russians after WWII would ever have gotten any political support. No votes. The US had an elected government, wasn’t a player in a wargame.

              Anyhow, you’re wrong. Pretty much completely.

          • magusjanus says:

            weird, wrote a reply, prob too long and got rejected. apologies.

          • magusjanus says:

            Thx for recovering. And you’re right, would require a book-length treatment to make the case either way, and you’ve been kind enough to allow me my length as is.

            I would just point out (regarding public opinion) that I find it odd that the pre-WW2 the avg people were very opposed to entering war but the “right thinking” people (progs) did everything in their power including vociferous media campaign/arming ships in Atlantic/embargo/etc. to enter it and upon entry prosecuting it to full intensity. And media campaign was very successful, Hitler’s declaration of war only sped up what would happen by 6 months probably… Pew shows US public favoring war with Germany by that point.

            After the war though in Korea/Vietnam it’s the opposite…the public wants war/aggressive anti-communism, the progs don’t or want it very limited. Media campaign is against our military and goals and eventually succeeds (particularly in Vietnam) in swinging public opinion against it. The war is as I’ve said very limited, etc. Heck in China we simply abandoned or sabotaged the Nationalists who media portrayed as horrible (while dealing very sympathetic treatment to Mao whom intellectuals liked) handing over most populous country.

            You’re right though of course about nuclear worries becoming an issue. Though I’d argue in loss Eastern Europe or China this wasn’t a factor as commies didn’t have the bomb yet (despite best efforts of spies you talk about) and in Korea they’d only recently acquired it and it likely wasn’t too credible a threat (Stalin going to nuclear war over Korea? I doubt it).

            I may be wrong, I’m just saying I think there’s a reasonable case to be made that a significant and mostly driving faction of media/cultural/intellectual elite was highly sympathetic to communism if not actively Communist with a big C.

  7. MawBTS says:

    Maybe we could work hard at making executions more certain, frequent and terrifying: in a better world, Ted Hall would have shit in his pants at the mere thought of committing treason.

    Reminds me of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.

    “I wonder how difficult it would be to just make a list of all the top blood purists and kill them.

    They’d tried exactly that during the French Revolution, more or less – make a list of all the enemies of Progress and remove everything above the neck – and it hadn’t worked out well from what Harry recalled. Maybe he needed to dust off some of those history books his father had bought him, and see if what had gone wrong with the French Revolution was something easy to fix.”

    • gcochran9 says:

      Executing people convicted of espionage is not quite the same as a proscription.

      Now with scientists, it can be tricky. If they’re good enough, you want to wait until just after they’ve done their most valuable work. Then, execute them for their foul deeds.

      • pyrrhus says:

        Yes, Klaus Fuchs was pretty capable, whereas Ted Hall was very expendable…not sure what Oppenheimer was up to, letting him vacation at the Soviet Embassy, but looks bad for Oppie…

      • Most of Stalin’s victims were “convicted of espionage” using accepted Soviet legal procedures. So it was okay that they were executed?

        • gcochran9 says:

          Our system of justice is inefficient, expensive and slow: but it is not usually a tool used to extinguish people that the Feds are irritated at.

          Soviet “justice” was.

          If you didn’t already know this, you should ask for your tuition back.

          • Jim says:

            I sometimes think that if everybody convicted in the Soviet Union in the thirties as being a “German spy” had really been so the payments to them would probably have been the major mainstay of the Soviet economy.

          • If a country starts executing people in bunches, it’s standards of justice will inevitably approach totalitarian ones. Senator McCarthy was a (very mild) example of what happens once the authorities start hunting for traitors. If the country kept going in that direction, it would’ve gotten Stalinesque eventually

          • Erik says:

            I find it quite telling that the star victim, Annie Lee Moss, exemplar of poor persecuted woman suffering from the totalitarian tyranny of the terrible McCarthy, turned out to be a Communist after all. And she lied about it under oath.

            So Bubba, what exactly was wrong with Senator McCarthy hunting for traitors? Are you asserting a general principle that authorities shouldn’t hunt for traitors? Sounds like you want to make life easy for traitors.

        • syon says:

          Well, here’s some insight into “accepted Soviet legal procedures” during the Great Terror of 1937-38:

          “We also know that, as in the early 1930s, the main victims were the peasants, many of them survivors of hunger and of concentration camps. The highest Soviet authorities ordered 386,798 people shot in the “Kulak Operation” of 1937–1938. The other major “enemies” during these years were people belonging to national minorities who could be associated with states bordering the Soviet Union: some 247,157 Soviet citizens were killed by the NKVD in ethnic shooting actions.

          In the largest of these, the “Polish Operation” that began in August 1937, 111,091 people accused of espionage for Poland were shot. In all, 682,691 people were killed during the Great Terror, to which might be added a few hundred thousand more Soviet citizens shot in smaller actions.”

          http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/mar/10/hitler-vs-stalin-who-killed-more/

          In some cases, NKVD operatives simply filled their “Polish spy” kill quota by picking people with Polish names out of phone books…..

          • Toddy Cat says:

            And if anything Timothy Snyder lowballs there figures. Other, Russian sources give higher numbers. Snyder is a pal of J. Arch Getty, who always lowballs the number of Stalin’s victims…

          • syon says:

            Toddy Cat”And if anything Timothy Snyder lowballs there figures. Other, Russian sources give higher numbers. Snyder is a pal of J. Arch Getty, who always lowballs the number of Stalin’s victims…”

            Yeah.Snyder is very conservative when it comes to counting deaths.Of course, that does give his figures a certain value when you have to debate Stalinist apologists.If 682,691 executions in ’37-’38 is the lowest possible estimate ……Well, that’s not a very pretty picture.

  8. Ilya says:

    I respect Freeman Dyson a lot, too.
    However, I recall reading him stating that Japan’s surrender in ’45 was likely mainly not due Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but because of the Soviet invasion in Manchuria and the potential for further occupation of Japan.

    • athEIst says:

      The J military government did a very good job of completely ignoring the conventional firebombing of Japanese cities. But if uncle Joe had gotten one soviet soldier in Japan he would have demanded and gotten Hokkaido.

  9. JayMan says:

    I know that means reading something other than Nature or Phys Rev. It might even mean listening to the Lithuanians in the neighborhood bar as they complain about their cousins being shot – but I don’t think that’s asking too much. Parenthetically, why is it that intellectuals feel attracted to monsters like Stalin or Lenin, but hardly ever become agents/disciples of Switzerland or Canada or Uruguay? Nice countries finish last?

    Perhaps nothing can really be done: it may be that a high fraction of the psychological types that produce scientific advances are just silly people, without a bit of common sense.

    I have an idea why. To be revealed in a future post.

    • reiner Tor says:

      It’s not that Switzerland ever was spotless… I guess American ignoramuses have never heard of DJ Bobo, for example. Stalin might have been bad, but he also moved the world towards utopia. DJ Bobo was also bad, but he never moved the world towards utopia. So it’s obvious intelligent people were attracted to Stalin and the workers’ paradise in the USSR but not to DJ Bobo and Switzerland.

      • Whenever people fantasize about going back in time to push Klara Pölzl down a flight of stairs of whatever, I always interrupt them: “Nein! I’d go back in time and drown DJ Bobo in a bathtub, just before he had his big break.”

        A world without DJ Bobo would be a world worth fighting for…

    • pyrrhus says:

      I’ve already revealed it, JayMan!

  10. Matt says:

    “but hardly ever become agents/disciples of Switzerland or Canada or Uruguay?”

    How often are those sort of countries hiring?

    • gcochran9 says:

      In many cases, people seem to have done this for the sheer joy of licking Satan’s arse, not for the money.

      But sometimes money has mattered, especially in more recent decades. I would think that the Swiss could afford a few agents.

      • reiner Tor says:

        I think Swiss culture is not very conducive of such activities. They are a rather rule-based society, whereas intelligence agencies would require that they constantly broke the rules. They’re just not very good at it. They can neither imagine what they would gain from it, nor do they know how to do that.

        Another problem is that there are three main ethnicities in Switzerland. Intelligence services are probably a bit like mafias in that ethnic organization seems natural to them. It’s easier to trust someone of the same ethnicity, with different ethnicities you also have different languages etc. preventing seamless cooperation.

      • syon says:

        Well, Putin says that Stalin would never have used the atomic bomb to take Berlin in 1945:

        “MOSCOW—President Vladimir Putin said Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, despite being a tyrant, never would have dropped an atomic bomb like the Americans did at the end of World War II.

        “We know Stalin now like never before. He was a dictator and a tyrant, but I very much doubt that in the spring of 1945, if he had been in possession of an atomic bomb, he would have used it against Germany,” Mr. Putin said.

        He said Stalin might have used such a weapon in the early 1940s when it could have been a matter of existence for the Soviet Union, but not later on in the war when that was no longer the case. “But the Americans used it against Japan,” he said.”

        http://blogs.wsj.com/emergingeurope/2013/06/11/putin-highlights-dark-side-of-americas-history-in-tv-interview/

        Clearly, good old Uncle Joe was simply too kind hearted to nuke Berlin:

        “According to Grigoriy Krivosheev’s work based on declassified archival data, Soviet forces sustained 81,116 dead for the entire operation, which included the Battles of Seelow Heights and the Halbe;[122] Another 280,251 were reported wounded or sick during the operational period.[122][h] The operation also cost the Soviets about 2,000 armoured vehicles, though the number of irrevocable losses (write-offs) is not known. Initial Soviet estimates based on kill claims placed German losses at 458,080 killed and 479,298 captured,[i] but German research puts the number of dead at approximately 92,000 – 100,000.[11] The number of civilian casualties is unknown,[123] but 125,000 are estimated to have perished during the entire operation.”

        In case anyone is curious as to how many people died in the Soviet capture of Berlin:

        Soviet Dead: 81,116

        German military dead: 92,000 – 100,000.

        German Civilian Dead:125,000

        Total (using the lower civilian figure of 92,000): 298,116

        And for comparison’s sake,

        Matthew White gives the combined death toll for Hiroshima and Nagasaki as:

        Hiroshima: 120, 000

        Nagasaki: 49,000

        Total: 169,000

        • syon says:

          Total (using the lower German military* figure of 92,000): 298,116

          should have said military, not civilian in the previous post

        • athEIst says:

          We only had two, but if Japan had not surrendered we could manufacture one or two a month…and they would have been used.

        • Toddy Cat says:

          I wonder how Putin justifies that belief, aside from the obvious attempt to tar the U.S. If he means that Stalin didn’t care anything about his soldier’s lives, and so was willing to sacrifice 90,000 of them in order to take Berlin, and keep the secret of the Bomb until it could be “sprung” at the proper time, I suppose that’s believable.

          If he’s implying that Stalin had any humanitarian scruples about the bomb, he’s lying. Of course, the KGB always specialized in that.

        • Sideways says:

          You can’t rape the incinerated

      • Anthony says:

        How do you know they haven’t?

  11. Justin says:

    Along the recent iSteve lines, I’m thinking of that Tony Montana line about killing communists for fun…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuDI-rm48eE

  12. ziel says:

    Why was security so bad, though, that scientists could walk out with blueprints?

    • ursiform says:

      It’s hard to stop a determined insider.

      • ^ This.

        Read one of Feynman’s books about his time working on the bomb (“surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman” is good) about how dumb security always is. Feynman meant it well, but his biting critique makes clear that treason is always possible. Fuchs shared a friendship and occasionally a car with Feynman, but there’s no evidence of Feynman being a traitor, and that’s because Feynman didn’t want to be a traitor. Not for lack of opportunity.

        It’s the loves, fears, and loyalties in the heart and blood of the man that matter; generally full-formed years before you hired the guy. I suspect that Cochran’s phrase “the sheer joy of licking Satan’s arse” probably captures a lot of what often motivates people like Hall.

        • Alice Sand-Allak says:

          Ted Hall is on my short list of people who, when I finally get the last circuit wired up and integrated on my time travel drone, I will flit across…and shoot in the face when he is ten years old.

          Hopefully I’ll get out of there in time, before the law arrives. No one can be expected to understand, thus it will appear to be an act of random existential horrificibilitude. I don’t think I’d much enjoy the methods of incarceration and execution in 1935.

          The thing getting overlooked here is what this rebbe suggests: all those super brainy Jewish atomic spies were working on the side of the angels in helping the Good Guys (TM) in the persona of Stalin beat the Bad Guys (TM) in the persona of Hitler.

          http://www.therarestblue.com/jewish-atomic-spies

          Now that’s what I call applying chachem’s razor.

    • ursiform says:

      In fairness to WWII leadership, they were very focused on defeating an immediate and dangerous threat, and less on the ramifications ten years down the road. They brought in the talent they could find to work on the problem, including people who had some friendly feelings toward one of our allies, who we happened to be arming against a common enemy. You make compromises during an all out war that you wouldn’t make under easier circumstances, and for good reasons.

  13. Cracker1 says:

    We lost in Viet Nam because the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were willing to kill or cause to be killed as many Vietnamese as was necessary to win the war and we were not prepared to do the same.

  14. pyrrhus says:

    Reportedly the Venona interceptions indicate yet another, unknown, agent among the scientists in the Manhattan Project.

    • Mike says:

      Teller? 😉

      • Toddy Cat says:

        Given that the Left has been celebrating him as a victim for over fifty years, odds are it was Oppenheimer. After all, his wife and several of his best friends were Communists, so it wouldn’t have been surprising. As GC put it, “The best people are always wrong…”

        • gcochran9 says:

          Judging from all we know, Venona, and such, not so – even though Oppenheimer himself seems to have been a secret party member for a while.

          • Toddy Cat says:

            You’re probably right, and I was being (semi) sarcastic. But given all the commies surrounding him, you can’t really blame Teller for regarding him as a security risk.

  15. “The dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States yet lands only in Europe.” http://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com/2013/01/revel-to-wolfe-to-volokh.html
    We forget that fascism was also popular among European intellectuals a generation before, and the popularity of communism was sometimes a counter-effort to make sure We Intellectual Few didn’t allow those boobs succeeding in mere trade or capitalist excess to make money/get status. Quelle horreur!

    The tribalism of intellectuals remains an enormous motivator in their politics. I saw it on display today at a presentation that was laden with psychiatrists and psychologists of my generation (born 1953). Their political and social beliefs are frighteningly similar, have changed at about the same rate from what I knew in 1980, and they regularly chirp out inside jokes to keep everyone informed of what the beliefs are supposed to be. They are defined by who they are not; not by who they are. Those who have read Orwell, or Lewis, or Chesterton have seen their like.

    This was today. Again. My career. It is a small northeastern state, but I fancy I could list most of the local exceptions to this groupthink BY NAME.

    Something of what Howlin’ at the Moon writes applies: the desire to know what the great unwashed do not, to be above and separate from the masses, to be in the know, in the Inner Circle, is very strong.

    • Cracker1 says:

      Many years ago I read that some of the best Nazis were formerly communists.

      • People tend to be religious. Communism isn’t “like” a religion, it is one in the sense that it provides an encompassing framework for understanding the world and your role in it. It gives a heaven to strive for, promises inevitable success, and demands complete commitment (but conveniently doesn’t require you to give up pet vices, though maybe other people ought to give up theirs). And everything develops quite logically.

        Naziism was even more explicitly religious–not sure about fascism. I know fascists tended to try claim consistency with existing religion.

        And we know how closely modern environmentalism resembles a religion.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “They are defined by who they are not”

      Yup. The mass believe x so we will believe y.

      • Cracker1 says:

        Thinking that political institutions can be used to the benefit of the peons can cause a person to have silly ideas and do crazy things.

  16. Jason Malloy says:

    “it may be that a high fraction of the psychological types that produce scientific advances are just silly people, without a bit of common sense”

    This quirk of white psychology has already been decoded:

    It’s also critical that you avoid the fatal mistake of getting creative and comparing people you don’t like to other evil dictators, such as Joseph Stalin or Fidel Castro. With few exceptions, white people are actually fond of almost any dictator not named Hitler, and your remark that “this is just like something Mao Zedong would do” will be met with blank stares and possible social alienation. This is because, with the exception of Hitler, oppressive dictators share a passion for many of the things white people love- such as universal health care, conspiracy theories, caring about poor people while being filthy rich, and cool hats. Stick to the script and compare things you don’t like to Hitler, and Hitler alone.

  17. Jim says:

    One exception on the left to attraction to brutal tyrants like Lenin or Stalin was Bertrand Russell. When he personally met with Lenin in a visit to the Soviet Union he was repulsed by Lenin’s cruelty and fanaticism.

  18. Maciano says:

    I’ve also met highly intelligent students at university who display a form of nihilism towards societal progress, genuine accomplishment or horrific violence. Moon landings, pacified Europe, or dictator caused famines don’t really seem to matter much to them. It’s just these images of an utopian egalitarian world that really warms their heart, the large list of tragedies don’t matter much to them.

  19. dearieme says:

    The stupidest leftist I can remember was a student who complained to me in outrage that he’d just discovered what became of the steel manufactured in Brazil. It was used to make motor cars and fridges! He seemed to think that making steel was an end in itself.

    • ursiform says:

      Making steel in Brazil = third world progress (which is good)
      Making motor cars and fridges from steel = materialism (which is bad)

      Very simple, really …

  20. Yudi says:

    “it may be that a high fraction of the psychological types that produce scientific advances are just silly people, without a bit of common sense”

    Razib Khan, in an old GNXP post, has a very good description of this phenomenon: http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2007/04/nerds-are-nuts.php

  21. IC says:

    History is written by survivors who can be honest person or liars. But bias is inevitable since no body want to be remembered as `evil’

    Treat any one’s version of history with grain of salt. Like I said, history for public is propoganda. Only classified secrets or information might have hint of truth in it. Also scientitists with careful research might present history closer to the truth.

    When history was written by `American sniper’ type of guys. You know you are reading fiction.

  22. antimony says:

    The original article is here:
    Scientist, Spy, Genius: Who Was Bruno Pontecorvo?
    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/mar/05/scientist-spy-genius-bruno-pontecorvo/

    and the explanation is not mysterious at all

    “When Filipp died in 1979, the official Soviet newspaper Izvestiya published a glowing obituary, celebrating his achievements and his services to the Soviet people, and not mentioning his foreign ancestry or his undercover activities. So Staros achieved what was denied to Pontecorvo, being acclaimed by his adopted country as a great scientist and not as a chewed-up spy.”

    “Staros and Berg lived openly with their Russian names, and their past history as spies was forgotten. A Communist society gave them some of the opportunities that they and Rosenberg had dreamed of when they were idealistic left-wing students at the City College of New York and Cooper Union in the 1930s. With the help of Nikita Khrushchev, who was then trying to modernize the Soviet Union, Staros and Berg built a high-tech city with the name Zelenograd, intended to be the Soviet equivalent of Silicon Valley. Zelenograd flourished under their leadership and became a center of electronic and computer industries.”

    • gcochran9 says:

      The whole article is nonsense: of course Pontecorvo was a spy, liable to prosecution if caught. Otherwise, why run in a panic? Nor is true that Pontecorvo was a sincere believe in communism for the rest of his life. He got over it to the point of saying that he’d been a cretin to ever believe in it – true enough.

      As for Sarant/Staros and Barr/Berg, they were spies when in the US. In the Soviet Union, they built military computing systems, like radar-guided antiaircraft and the fire-control computer for the Kilo-class submarines. Dyson says ‘It is difficult to weigh the good that they did in providing modern electronic technology to Russia against the evil that they did to the United States by spying. I do not pretend to be unbiased in my judgment. Having known Alfred and Carol personally, I find that the good greatly outweighs the evil in their lives.’

      Dyson is sadly mistaken. Those guys needed killing. The fact that people like Dyson thought of them as “people like us” is why killing them would have been especially useful.

      • Unladen Swallow says:

        One of the ironies of this with Dyson especially is how close to Teller he was, he wrote Teller’s bio for the National Academy of Sciences in 2007 and basically defended Teller and his testimony against Oppenheimer. He basically argued that Oppenheimer’s failure to report his attempted recruitment by the Russians was the reason that Oppenheimer lost his security clearance, and that Oppenheimer was in effect demanding special treatment, that anyone else would have been stripped of clearance without fanfare. I knew Dyson and Teller were friends but given his liberal views and his the fact that most of his friends were on the left I was kind of surprised by Dyson’s very strong support for Teller. Maybe he caught a lot of flack for that, and now is arguing that people like Ted Hall were not so bad to appease them, it is puzzling.

      • antimony77 says:

        Dyson is sadly mistaken. Those guys needed killing. The fact that people like Dyson thought of them as “people like us”

        man is tribal animal, and for scientists, science is their tribe.

        is why killing them would have been especially useful.

        Useful for turning Dyson and anyone else who values science and progress against your side. Turn them and put them into double cross system, arrange an accident if they don’t cooperate, but no public show trials. There is no worse PR than killing scientists.

  23. Mindfuldrone says:

    Fortunately today there is no witless tyrannical ideology that intellectuals make excuses for. Phew!

  24. John Hostetler says:

    Flash forward to today, when our rulers are busy electing themselves a new people, and there’s no such thing as treason. For it has prospered almost beyond daring.

    http://www.vdare.com/posts/jeb-bush-on-electing-a-new-people-to-elect-his-son

  25. antimony77 says:

    magusjanus says:

    Heck, Dexter White, senior adviser in the Treasury and archictect of post war economic order (IMF, World Bank, Bretton Woods, etc.) was a commie spy.

    Thirty years of unprecedented growth and prosperity in the Western world. Communism is good.

    We see the same in Korea. The American people bless heir hearts siding with MacArthur and common sense, but the “right thinking people” as you put were overwhelmingly on the other side, either opposing the war or ok with it under UN mandate as long as it was limited. These of course the same people who basically stood aside as the world’s most populous country went communist while the US had the atomic monopoly and largest share of global GDP in its history.

    In my version of reality, the 1950’s Americans enjoyed big houses, big cars and big families and generally had a good time.
    In your version, the Americans wanted jihad and cleansing the world with nuclear fire? In this case, the brave communists that managed to tame the savage beasts are even more awesome.

    I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, so please forgive my long-windedness. But it does seem to me that a reasonable analysis of the period is: “right thinking people” aka progressives running most of academia/media/civil service (judiciary, permanent govt bureaucracy, etc.) and pushing the country (and world) in one direction against resistance from average american people, some populists and hard right military folk like MacArthur, Patton, etc.

    In my version of reality, the Western elite accurately understood the nature, strength and weakness of USSR and preapared strategy for victory – contain the Soviet bloc, undermine it with propaganda and let it be destroyed by its internal contradictions. In my version of reality, the Western elite followed the strategy till the final victory, without blowing up the world.

    • magusjanus says:

      the point isn’t so much whether it was smart or not the policy as such (and for the record, letting China fall was pretty stupid regardless), but the radical difference in treatment of Japan and Germany versus China/Korea/Vietnam/USSR.

      In some hypothetical parallel universe where US and UK don’t enter WW2 the Germans and Soviets duke it out, maybe with German victory, US keeps growing and doing fine and maybe “contains” the Germans rather as they would the Soviets later, possible leading to a final victory. So why the disparate treatment? Why the seeking out of war with Germany and Japan with such gusto, prosecution of such war with unconditional surrender as goal, then the total flip flop with regards to SU?

      Isn’t it a little weird how many top ranking US officials were outright communists? How many were highly sympathetic? Intellectuals, scientists, academia, media, State Department, you name it…. isn’t that a little… odd? Maybe I’m exaggerating but when most US policy like letting Stalin take all Eastern Europe, letting China fall, the self limiting way the US fought Korea and later Vietnam, etc. were basically favorable to the communists, and when we see many of the men responsible (directly or indirectly) having links to communist party or being outright communists themselves… its not unfair to ask if that influenced policy.

      There was of course opposition to this from both mainstream public as well as men like MacArthur, but the “right thinking” people aka progressives… well, the Cold War to them is best interpreted as an “anlgo soviet” split of like minded travelers on the path to universal “social democracy.”

      • athEIst says:

        UK doesn’t enter WW2
        The UK did not enter WWII. The UK started WWII. It declared war on Germany(the day before France did). Their treaty obligation to Poland was to render all aid(which they didn’t) not to declare war on Germany.

      • antimony says:

        the point isn’t so much whether it was smart or not the policy as such (and for the record, letting China fall was pretty stupid regardless)

        50 years of guerilla war in China would be the smart move. High school and college is a waste of time anyway, 10 years of anti-partisan duty in the rice paddies would make young Americans tough.

        Why the seeking out of war with Germany and Japan with such gusto, prosecution of such war with unconditional surrender as goal, then the total flip flop with regards to SU?

        I understand that in your reality, the west moved against Japan when they stepped into Manchuria in 1932 and against Germany when they took Rhineland in 1936.

        Over here, the west hoped that feeding the wolves will make them into vegetarians. Here is Rhineland, here is Austria. Here is Sudetenland, here is Czechia. Here is Manchuria, here is China, here is all steel and oil you need. Be a nice puppy and don’t bite me!

        Isn’t it a little weird how many top ranking US officials were outright communists? How many were highly sympathetic? Intellectuals, scientists, academia, media, State Department, you name it…. isn’t that a little… odd?

        I understand. US was completely controlled by communists, and the result is that communism is dead and capitalism triumphant all over the world. The most incompetent secret agents ever.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Not very accurate either. Closer to true if you said that we did stuff and survived, even though a lot of that stuff was stupid and/or pointless, even though an increasing fraction of the US and allies didn’t want to resist the Sovs. The Sovs fell apart before we did.

      I once talked to a history prof who was telling me how we ‘managed’ the Soviet Union. I laughed and laughed.

  26. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    OT, but was this writer just careless or is he dumb?

    The Christian myth is agricultural; Christ is killed, buried, and comes to life three days later as the seed emerging from the ground, just as the moon hides for three days behind the sun each month, only to be born again.

    I guess it depends, as Clinton said, what the meaning of behind is.

  27. antimony says:

    magusjanus says:

    of course the UK did not declare war on the SU when it invaded Poland, or Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia or Finland.

    UK guaranteed the western borders off Poland, not the eastern ones. This was no secret at the time. The lands east of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curzon_Line were never recognized as Polish by the western powers.
    Poland itself never declared war on USSR either.

    If statesmanship is preventing avoidable calamities, I think it’s fair to say the UK leaders of the time screwed the pooch.

    All European countries at the time screwed up, except Sweden, Switzerland and Portugal.

    https://shoabloger.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/what-if-poland-joined-the-third-reich-in-1939/

    “Hitler was furious. He shouted that he’d “cook us diabolical cocktail”. The “evil” Poles who thwarted his intricate plans, he hated with the whole soul (of course, if he had a soul). The terrible brutality and ruthlessness of the German occupation was therefore the result of … disappointed love.”

    sorry, but the Polish jokes write themselves ;-(

    More seriously, Poland’s only hope was alliance with Czechoslovakia, these two countries together would be enough to thwart Germany.

    • Frito Pendejo says:

      “Poland’s only hope was alliance with Czechoslovakia, these two countries together would be enough to thwart Germany.”

      Perhaps vaguely within the realm of possibility, but very, very doubtful. Historians love to theorize “What-ifs” about the Czechoslovak army being allowed to fight a real war against the Third Reich, but most likely Czechoslovakia would have folded like a house of cards sooner or later, no matter what the larger strategic situation. In the face of a serious enough German invasion, a not-insignificant number of Czechoslovak infantrymen probably would have deserted en masse, fragging their own officers if necessary- foreign observers’ reports of “high morale” amongst the Czechoslovaks are almost certainly wishful thinking mixed with propaganda from HQ. Most observers who met with the grunts concurred that morale was abysmal.

    • That article has some really ridiculous stuff. “Finland refused to hand over its Jews”. Yeah well we had a few thousand Jews in our distant little country while Poland had millions right next to Germany. That could possibly have had some slight influence on how willing the Germans would have been to ignore a Jewish population.

  28. Sandgroper says:

    No I’m not.

  29. Balthazar says:

    Since Uruguay has legalized marijuana, some progressive intellectuals have begun espousing the nation’s virtue.

  30. Qualitatively, Communism was similar to the other great waves of religious hysteria that our species has experienced from time to time. Unlike earlier religions, it happened to have a secular, earthly God rather than the more familiar kind. As far as the psychology of the true believers is concerned, it didn’t matter. However, as a wise Scotsman named Sir James MacKintosh once said back around 1830, as a secular religion, it had an Achilles heel. It would eventually fail, because, in the end, its God could be fact checked. (And, yes, there were quite mature variants of “Marxism” around at the time, long before anyone had heard of Marx.) We should have listened to Sir James. We could have spared ourselves a lot of grief.

    In any case, Communism developed like the other great religions. As Malcolm Muggeridge put it in his “The Thirties,” at the beginning of the decade it was hard to find a university professor who was a Marxist. At the end of the decade, it was hard to find one who wasn’t. The phenomenon had nothing to do with reason, and scientists and intellectuals were, if anything, more vulnerable to it than “normal” people. Chalk it up as one more demonstration of the fact that our species is only intelligent in relative, not in absolute, terms. Marxism didn’t succeed because it was reasonable, but because it happened to be effective at scratching a psychological itch that some people are apparently more susceptible to than others.

    One sees interesting phenomena in the wake of the collapse of the world’s first great secular religion. “Progressives” of the type who would have belonged to Stalin’s legions of “useful idiots” back in the thirties are now casting longing glances in the direction of the most fanatical Muslim jihadis, while the latter have coopted much of the former Marxist jargon. When it comes to scratching the itch, they are, so to speak, the only game in town, at least for the time being.

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