Circles of Hell

  • By
  • Lars T. Lih

What was the Gulag? It was a massive prison labor system, erected in the U.S.S.R. during the Stalin years, whose unique characteristic was a strange and volatile combination of punitive hysteria, economic exploitation and heartbreaking waste. During the 25 years or so from its full realization until its dismantling after Stalin’s death in 1953, the Gulag made substantial contributions to the Soviet economy at the cost of the grotesque suffering of millions. Yet ultimately, it was a costly drag on the economy as a whole. Continue reading “Circles of Hell”

Fighting For a Tyrant

Although nearly 10 years have passed since the death of the North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung — father of the current North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Il — the photographs of his people in mourning are still hard to forget. In particular, the television footage of a woman crying in the streets of Pyongyang remains lodged in my memory. Continue reading “Fighting For a Tyrant”

Speech Lessons: What Khrushchev’s famous “secret speech” can tell us about regime change.

  • Khrushchev: The Man and His Era,
    by William Taubman, Norton, 2004, 908 pp.

Because he has already been lauded for his extensive research and his psychological insight, I won’t heap further praise on William Taubman, author of a substantial new biography Khrushchev: the Man and His Era. Suffice it to say that he makes extensive use of newly opened archives, carefully parses the Cuban Missile Crisis, pays due attention to Khrushchev’s role in the terror of the 1930s, and includes a healthy sprinkling of the Soviet leader’s favorite insults (“Your view of Soviet power is from inside a toilet!”). Continue reading “Speech Lessons: What Khrushchev’s famous “secret speech” can tell us about regime change.”

It’s make-your-mind-up time, Prime Minister

When the fog of war eventually lifts, how different will the post-war landscape really be? Baghdad will be transformed, whatever happens. The rest of the Arab world might be altered too. But whether the war lasts six days or six months or six years, the international stalemate – the diplomatic quagmire – will still be there when it is over. Continue reading “It’s make-your-mind-up time, Prime Minister”

George’s big mistake was to listen to Tony

Practically nobody is willing to say it, so let us be as frank as possible: the decision to conduct the invasion of Iraq in consultation with the United Nations – a decision taken by President George W Bush partly to mollify his friend Tony Blair – has been utterly disastrous. Continue reading “George’s big mistake was to listen to Tony”