October 16, 2012

Two men that couldn't have been more different

Some comments on two recent obituaries by Jeff Jacoby, The moral giant and the leftist creep

I REGRET that it was only upon reading his obituary this month that I first learned of Nguyen Chi Thien. He was a courageous Vietnamese dissident who had spent nearly 30 years in prison for his opposition to communist repression, cruelty, and lies. Much of Nguyen's opposition was expressed in poetry, most famously "Flowers from Hell," a collection of poems he memorized behind bars, and only put down on paper after being released from prison in 1977.
By coincidence, the same newspaper page that carried Nguyen's obituary also ran a much longer story about Eric Hobsbawm, the famous British historian who died on Oct. 1 of pneumonia at age 95. The two men could hardly have been less alike.

Nguyen defied communist totalitarianism, sacrificing his freedom in defense of the truth. He refused to pretend that there could be anything noble or uplifting – let alone ideal – about a revolutionary movement that pursued its ends through mass slaughter and enslavement. Like so many other dissidents, from Andrei Sakharov to Liu Xiaobo, he was a champion of liberty, sustaining hope and keeping conscience alive in the teeth of regime that persecutes decent men for their decency.

Hobsbawm, on the other hand, was a lifelong Marxist, a card-carrying member of the Communist Party from his teens until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Long after it was evident to even true believers that the Bolshevik Revolution had unleashed a nightmare of blood, Hobsbawm went on defending, minimizing, and excusing the crimes of communism.

Interviewed on the BBC in 1994 – five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall – he was asked whether he would have shunned the Communist Party had he known in 1934 that Stalin was butchering innocent human beings by the millions. "Probably not," he answered – after all, at the time he believed he was signing up for world revolution. Taken aback by such indifference to carnage, the interviewer pressed the point. Was Hobsbawm saying that if a communist paradise had actually been created, "the loss of 15, 20 million people might have been justified?" Hobsbawm's answer: "Yes."

Yet Hobsbawm was fawned over, lionized in the media, made a tenured professor at a prestigious university, invited to lecture around the world. He was heaped with glories, including the Order of the Companions of Honour – one of Britain's highest civilian awards – and the lucrative Balzan Prize, worth 1 million Swiss francs.
Such adoration is sickening. Unrepentant communists merit repugnance, not reverence. Compared with a true moral giant like Nguyen Chi Thien, Hobsbawm was nothing but a dogmatic leftist creep, and the toadies who worshiped him were worse.
Posted by Jill Fallon at October 16, 2012 7:18 PM | Permalink