Bangkok Post

Tale of two butchers


‘This would be a perfect world if human beings didn’t spoil it,” Katharine Hepburn said in a play, getting a chuckle from her audience. I wonder if it occurred to her that tyrants throughout history said the same thing and meant it, at least to an extent.

Animals are culled. Why not people? For the greater good. “Our race is superior. The others are just taking up space, rightfully ours.” So they proceeded to commit genocide. The Indians of the Americas — historians vary to their number — sought to protect the land. How selfish. Away with them.

Wars of religion — “My god is better than your god” — went on for centuries, indeed millennia. Japan incinerate­d its Catholics. England and Spain expelled Jews. Where permitted to remain the Jews were degraded, yet were better educated, and often more talented. Several achieved high positions.

In Germany, why did Hitler make them his bête noire? Perhaps because they turned him down when he applied to the Vienna Art Academy. Or that those in power signed the Versailles Peace Treaty, which blamed his country for starting World War I.

In his extensive research, Yale history professor Timothy Snyder concludes that Hitler believed that “his people”, Aryans, were the master race and that the others, such as the Slavs, not least the Jews, contaminat­ed the purity of the Germans. The Holocaust was the inevitable result.

In Black Earth, the most recent of his history books on the subject, he goes further. That Stalin, if not for the same reasons, was at least as much of a butcher. The Generaliss­imo murdered tens of millions of Russians, Poles and Ukrainians. Professor Snyder gives details.

In their pact to divide Poland between them, the SS played second-fiddle to the NKVD. When Nazi Germany invaded the USSR, more than a few Russians welcomed them as saviours. Russia discrimina­ted against its Jews, but didn’t massacre them. Still, Soviet partisans didn’t welcome them.

The author despairs that in this day and age there are rabid anti-Semites who want to resume the Holocaust where the Third Reich left off. When will they realise that genocide doesn’t cleanse the planet? For those hooked on World War II, Black Earth is for you.

 ??  ?? Black Earth by Timothy Snyder Vintage 462pp
Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 425 baht
Black Earth by Timothy Snyder Vintage 462pp Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 425 baht

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