Jewish World Review Jan 10, 2014/ 9 Shevat, 5774
A purge for the books
By Paul Greenberg
In his latest and most sensational move, the latest Kim in that dynastic line of Communist dictators had his own uncle denounced, stripped of all his titles, arrested and paraded out of a party conference in
There is a protocol in these matters. It was not enough that this once powerful official be executed. Any trace of him in official records had to be extirpated. Officially he is now lumped in with "anti-party elements," his name unmentionable, his image airbrushed out of party annals, TV documentaries, wherever else it might appear in
Comrade Jang Song Thaek, once No. 2 in the regime's power structure, isn't even a face in the crowd any more. To use the newspeak of George Orwell's "1984," he has become an unperson. Not only has he ceased to exist. Officially he never existed. Not just the man but any memory of him must be effaced. No wonder the regime's elite is all a-tremble, not knowing who will be next, let alone why. That's the very purpose of a purge: to terrorize.
A classic purge in a totalitarian society doesn't portend fear and trembling just at home. It can be a sign the Fuehrer, Generalissimo or Outstanding Leader is harrowing his ranks in preparation for war abroad. Just as Hitler's night of the long knives and Stalin's Yezhovshchina presaged the next world war. What better way for Outstanding Leader to ready his country for another strike at the other Korea, whose freedom and prosperity are a constant reproach to his own deluded rule? And this time his nuclear-tipped missiles might actually work.
It's all so familiar. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the totalitarian state and state of mind will recognize what's happening in
The treatment of Nikolai Bukharin in successive editions of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia is instructive. In the first edition, published in 1927, he was described as "an outstanding theoretician of communism, an economist and a sociologist." By the second edition, there was no entry for Bukharin, Nikolai. There was no longer any such person, never had been.
Why these painstaking measures to erase any evidence of Comrade Bukharin and his like? Because the very existence of such people, let alone what they said or did or thought, might give others ideas. And in a totalitarian state, only the omniscient Party is allowed to have ideas. And official history must contain nothing to the contrary. In the not so fictional "1984," poor
What happens when history isn't controlled? People may realize the Party isn't what it says it is, and Big Brother -- or in
All it may take to sow such subversive thoughts is one little detail somebody forget to omit from the official record, one photograph somebody neglected to throw down the memory hole. Which is how
If you think these games with the past are safely confined to totalitarian societies, think again, It can happen here. Back in 1998,
The quotation from the irrepressible Mr. Truman remains a jewel -- a diamond in the rough, just as
It would take another decade before Mr. Bumpers would halfway confess that omitting the quotation from the official record hadn't been the work of some anonymous aide, but that he himself had excised it. Conscience may sleep, and for the longest time, but it can stir back to life, too. Even after years.
The moral of this story: To blue-pencil history is to confuse what isn't important with what is. It's not the party line or the political fate of this or that public figure that matters so much, but the truth. Especially the historical truth. For without it, we are cast into the darkness without a glimmer of light, the kind of light only Clio, muse of history, can provide. We tamper with History at our peril, and our country's. Which is why purging the historical record should not be dismissed as just a harmless little rhetorical device. It is a grave offense. And a continuing danger to a free country. No matter who does it.
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