Join 3,554 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Ahmadinejad is no Hitler - The world's most rash leaders can be contained, and the nuclear-ambitious Iranian president is no exception.
March 13, 2007 4:31 AM   Subscribe

Ahmadinejad is no Hitler (Los Angeles Times) If you think Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes outlandish comments, consider what Mao Tse-tung said to a visiting head of state in 1954: "If someone else can drop an atomic bomb, then I can too. The death of 10 or 20 million people is nothing to be afraid of."

Nonetheless, 15 years later, a nuclear-armed China was not only contained by the world, it opted for normalization of relations with its archenemy, the United States. Today, it is fashionable to equate Ahmadinejad with Hitler, yet the lesson of the 20th century is that rash leaders can, in fact, be deterred. And Iran's president will prove no exception.
posted by hoder (77 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
1 user marked this as a favorite:
hoder March 13, 2007 9:31 PM JST


lol.

That's a nice thesis statement.
Too bad we're not at a masters' defence.
bugmenot to get past the wall?
posted by dreamsign at 4:41 AM on March 13, 2007


Yeah, Mao Tse-Tung was nothing to be afraid of after all. Unless you were Chinese where he killed 44 - 72 million people making his rash statement more a statement of fact than random threat.
posted by extrabox at 4:42 AM on March 13, 2007 [3 favorites]


So, extrabox, we should have invaded China?
posted by Saucy Intruder at 4:45 AM on March 13, 2007


You know who else made single link posts to editorials?
posted by DU at 4:46 AM on March 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


fareed zakaria had a similar op-ed last year ;P

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 4:47 AM on March 13, 2007


I could probably find you some Tibetans who don't think the Chinese are all that innocuous.
posted by pax digita at 4:53 AM on March 13, 2007


You know who else wasn't Hitler? Yep. That's right. Hitler.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:54 AM on March 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


You know who else over-used "You know who else ..."?
posted by Aloysius Bear at 4:58 AM on March 13, 2007


One-link post to op-ed...from the LA Times no less. Bonus: site reg required.

Awesome.
posted by mullingitover at 5:09 AM on March 13, 2007


"Nonetheless, 15 years later, a nuclear-armed China was not only contained by the world, it opted for normalization of relations with its archenemy..."

"Contained by the world"? Nah, there's been no "containing". It's just that China, like France, Israel and other nuke-wielding countries has not seen fit as of yet to use nuclear weapons against anyone. If the powers that be in China feel that the use of a nuke use is necessary, warranted and desirable, then they'll push the button.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:09 AM on March 13, 2007


You know who else wasn't Hitler?

Goldstein.
posted by pompomtom at 5:13 AM on March 13, 2007


Forget "powers that be". If anyone with physical access to a button in China feels like pressing a button, they'll do it. Look at the anti-satellite test from a few months ago, that the civilian leadership apparently didn't know about.
posted by DU at 5:14 AM on March 13, 2007


Seriously, Ahmadinejad -- who comes off mostly as a populist, making statements for shock value -- is about as dangerous as the Speaker of the House in the US. While influential, he isn't the dictator of Iran, and couldn't launch a conventional missile at Israel or the US, much less a nuclear weapon.

Also, it wasn't Hitler -- or Stalin, or Mao -- who used nuclear weapons, it was Truman.
posted by graymouser at 5:14 AM on March 13, 2007 [7 favorites]


This links straight to the article.
posted by scrm at 5:15 AM on March 13, 2007


The longer nuclear weapons are around, the more likely at some point they will be used, intentionally or accidentally. Don't know how well China was contained. The only example I can think of is Taiwan.
And if your talking a expansionist nuclear power there is a better example close to home.
posted by edgeways at 5:18 AM on March 13, 2007


As long as Ahmadinejad et al continue to run Iran's economy into the shitter, I don't think we have too much to worry about in reality unless Bush orders air strikes at the end of his term; Ahmadenijad could be gone by then thanks to the political process.

But the issue has never been Ahmadinejad, he is just a strawman set up by the administration to portray Iran as out of control. It is Grand Ayatollah Khameini that calls the shots on the nuclear program.
posted by chlorus at 5:21 AM on March 13, 2007


it is fashionable to equate Ahmadinejad with Hitler

Is it?
posted by biffa at 5:33 AM on March 13, 2007


"Contained by the world"? Nah, there's been no "containing".

Well... in the sense that China has not yet expanded to the rest of the solar system. Give them time.
posted by dreamsign at 5:33 AM on March 13, 2007


a nuclear-armed China was not only contained by the world

China is like, what, a sixth of the entire planet's population? That's like saying Starbucks is contained because they've run out of places to build shit.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:48 AM on March 13, 2007 [4 favorites]


As long as Ahmadinejad et al continue to run Iran's economy into the shitter, I don't think we have too much to worry about in reality

What? The biggest threat this world faces is impoverished dictatorial nations with nuclear capability because their lack of money and desperate need for it to cling to power will see them selling their weapons to the highest bidder. In Iran's case, that's pretty much any of a dozen terrorist organizations. This is exactly why financial and infrastructure incentives should be offered to countries like Iran and North Korea in exchange for legitimate talks on nuclear regulation.

The reality is that Iran is going to be a nuclear superpower. If not now, in ten years. It's happening. America, and for that matter Israel, really have to start accepting this and realize their negotiations need to look at Iran as similar to their own nations: not a country that should not have nukes (we've passed that point), but a country that should, like them, not want other countries to get them.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:56 AM on March 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Is it?

"States like [Iran], and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world." - Geo. W. Bush, 2002 State of the Union address
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:23 AM on March 13, 2007


The reality is that Iran is going to be a nuclear superpower. If not now, in ten years. It's happening.

That same fatalism about nuclear proliferation was common in the 1950s and 1960s-- every country in Europe will have the bomb well before century's end, it was thought.

Then the NPT stemmed the tide for a generation. It takes leadership-- not just petulent, unilateral threats-- from leading powers to get the rest of the world on board.

Yeah, it's hard, and diplomacy isn't as cool as imagining that we're in The Most Important War of Civilizations Evar. But it's reality.
posted by ibmcginty at 6:25 AM on March 13, 2007


Yeah, Mao Tse-Tung was nothing to be afraid of after all. Unless you were Chinese where he killed 44 - 72 million people making his rash statement more a statement of fact than random threat.

I think that's the point here. Mao was a huge bastard but we still managed to talk to him. Ahmadinejad is a much smaller bastard but we are refusing to deal with him.
posted by octothorpe at 6:33 AM on March 13, 2007


Tayekh has a longer essay along the same lines here and is criticized by Gary Rosen here.

(and I don't believe you have to register for either)
posted by Martin E. at 6:36 AM on March 13, 2007


Blazecock: Not that I'm defending that quote, but that's not really equating Ahmadinejad to Hitler. Ahmadinejad wasn't even president during that address.
posted by the other side at 6:37 AM on March 13, 2007


...the lesson of the 20th century is that rash leaders can, in fact, be deterred.

Okay then, how can we deter Dubya?
posted by Foosnark at 6:37 AM on March 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Blazecock: Not that I'm defending that quote, but that's not really equating Ahmadinejad to Hitler. Ahmadinejad wasn't even president during that address.

It equates Iran with Nazi Germany. And the mainstream media has done Bush's work wrt equating Ahmadinejad with Hitler.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:39 AM on March 13, 2007


the lesson of the 20th century is that rash leaders can, in fact, be deterred

I'm sure the 20th century will provide many fascinating lessons, but I'm also pretty sure this isn't one of them.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 6:47 AM on March 13, 2007


The biggest danger with Ahmadinejad, like with Saddam, is how Bush and company can use his outrageous statements as an excuse for further military action.
posted by caddis at 6:51 AM on March 13, 2007


the lesson of the 20th century is that rash leaders can, in fact, be deterred...unless their name is Hitler.

FTFY.
--
Okay then, how can we deter Dubya?

Elect a Democratic Congress.
posted by wah at 7:00 AM on March 13, 2007


First of all, the US formally normalized relations with the PRC in 1979, which is 25 years after 1954.

The Nixon-Mao talks in the 1970s were an attempt by both sides to try to counter-balance against the Soviet Union. It was real politick, pure and simple, since both sides distrusted the Soviets. Throughout most of the 1970s, the PRC had no intention of opening up; indeed, it was still on the tail end of the Cultural Revolution.

The PRC begin opening up to the world until 1978, after Mao Zedong had died.
posted by alidarbac at 7:28 AM on March 13, 2007


He's not Hitler—
He's Alexander the Great!
posted by Mister_A at 7:35 AM on March 13, 2007


So, extrabox, we should have invaded China?
The question that follows is not "Should we have invaded China?" It is, what are the costs of "containment" or "deterrence", and why can these costs be casually dismissed by an editorial writer as so much "bluster"?

I think that's the point here. Mao was a huge bastard but we still managed to talk to him. Ahmadinejad is a much smaller bastard but we are refusing to deal with him.
That was the point made in the post. My point was that Mao was used as an example of successful containment, when in fact this containment or deterrence did nothing to prevent death and violence to the Chinese people on a scale literally unimagionable to anyone growing up post WWII.

Sometimes containment or deterrence may be the least terrible of terrible choices policy makers face. Sometimes it may not be.

The editorial posted makes no effort to show the costs that are likely to follow from the policy they are advocating. There are always costs.
posted by extrabox at 7:54 AM on March 13, 2007


Today, it is fashionable to equate Ahmadinejad with Hitler...

Maybe it's because I don't watch cable news, but I've never heard that comparison.
posted by cribcage at 7:59 AM on March 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


XQ: Ahmadenijad is far from a despot, his powers are checked by various institutions, and he was elected. If he continues to mismanage domestic issues, he will be drummed out eventually.
posted by chlorus at 8:34 AM on March 13, 2007


What cribcage said.
posted by Jimbob at 8:37 AM on March 13, 2007


"The biggest threat this world faces is impoverished dictatorial nations with nuclear capability because their lack of money and desperate need for it to cling to power will see them selling their weapons to the highest bidder."

Different people would probably have different ideas about the biggest threat faced by the world. How about:

Mass extinction & biodiversity loss
Global Warming
The already existing nuclear arsenal of other countries
Poverty
The conflict over Kashmir
The conflict over Iraq
Stupid/evil/badly advised people in positions of power
Aids

I'm with you on negotiating though XQUZYPHYR :O)
posted by algreer at 8:41 AM on March 13, 2007


The reality is that Iran is going to be a nuclear superpower.

Nah. Iran is going to have a very small number of low-yield fission weapons and a complete and utter lack of any second-strike capability. Enough to make a country think twice about invading them for no good reason, which is probably all they want. Not enough to act as an umbrella over offensive action. And certainly not enough to successfully deter a US that was for real and no-kidding pissed off about something -- that would just start with a counterforce strike, is all.

China's in roughly the same boat. ~20 ICBMs that might well not even have warheads attached and a single SSBN that doesn't work. Works well as a general deterrent against dickheadism, useless otherwise.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:42 AM on March 13, 2007


Oh, worse than Hitler! You wouldn't find Hitler playing jungle music at 3 o'clock in the morning.
posted by veedubya at 8:43 AM on March 13, 2007


As much as I hate editorializing on the front page, I agree with the basic thesis that nuclear weapons, once acquired, have traditionally brought more security. With great big bombs comes greater responsibility and double thinking dramatic foreign policy.

DU: can you provide any sort of citation for that claim that the civilian CCP leadership didn't know about the anti-satellite test?
posted by trinarian at 8:49 AM on March 13, 2007


Yeah, Mao Tse-Tung was nothing to be afraid of after all. Unless you were Chinese where he killed 44 - 72 million people making his rash statement more a statement of fact than random threat.

44 to 72? I was going to ask for a citation. I don't doubt that some random person may have made that claim in the past, but it's certainly a lot higher then any reasonable person would claim. Are you counting the babies not born under the one-child policy or something?

Counting people who died as the result of a failed economic policy is not at all the same as counting the number of people who were deliberately murdered. Mao's policies were never designed to cause mass starvation, and they certainly didn't kill any more then 40 million, under your minimum value.

Many people died of poor nutrition during Mao's rule, due to a major disruption of the agricultural sector. These deaths were dispersed among the population, and didn't die for any political purpose (unlike the deaths caused by Stalin). To say that he murdered 40 million people is like Herbert Hoover killed 10 million people by causing the Great Depression. Is that what you're trying to say? That Herbert Hoover is worse then Hilter?
posted by delmoi at 8:51 AM on March 13, 2007


That was the point made in the post. My point was that Mao was used as an example of successful containment, when in fact this containment or deterrence did nothing to prevent death and violence to the Chinese people on a scale literally unimagionable to anyone growing up post WWII.

Death and Violence? People died, yes, but what Violence are you talking about? You are completely misrepresenting history.
posted by delmoi at 8:56 AM on March 13, 2007


(er, okay I'm not saying there wasn't violence under Mao, but there was not anything like the deliberate killing of the Holocaust under Mao)
posted by delmoi at 9:05 AM on March 13, 2007


The Hitler-Ahmadinejad comparison is relatively commonplace on the right-- here's Newt Gingrich saying so, and here's Victor Davis Hanson. It's wise not to watch cable news as far as learning what's actually going on, but unfortunately, you miss out on the disinformation that the Bush administration believes, so you don't get a great grasp of what the US going to do.

And well, delmoi, the disruption of the agricultural sector was brought about by Mao forcibly moving people all over the country to reeducate them, and disrupting alleconomic activity. Then came the Cultural Revolution, when Mao intentionally released political chaos that caused yet more deaths. Mao's barbarism killed many, many millions.

It still isn't obvious that we should have invaded China, though. Were we omnipotent, we should have invaded. But war being a messy business, it's not clear that our invasion, and the reaction to it, would have led to a better situation.

That's the issue for US policymakers-- not whether Ahmadinejad is Thomas Jefferson, but whether we need to spread Invincible Dick Cheney Thought into Iran by killing people.
posted by ibmcginty at 9:18 AM on March 13, 2007


It still isn't obvious that we should have invaded China, though. Were we omnipotent, we should have invaded. But war being a messy business, it's not clear that our invasion, and the reaction to it, would have led to a better situation.

Not clear? Pardon my French and forgive the hyperbole... but are you fucking insane?

There is no WAY we could have "invaded" China with any measure of success. Not with out adopting the Japanese method of relentlessly slaughtering millions of people our selves. And remember the logistics for the Japanese were certainly much more simple being right next door.

Dude. We can't occupy a country of less than 24 million people NOW with out getting our asses kicked by their teenagers let alone a country of 600-800 million.

We lost a war with Vietnam even AFTER killing 2.5 million people.

Unclear if we should have invaded China? No way. Ever.

And BTW... it is a virtual certainty that Iran will have the bomb with in a decade or so. The comparison to European proliferation does not hold. Europe didn't NEED the bomb - we had it. Iran 'needs" the bomb. It has now 2 hostile neighbors that posses it. US. in Iraq. Israel. And another potential hostile - Pakistan. Bush, through his outrageous invasion of Iraq, has pushed the Iranians into committing to getting a bomb and so far there is simply no compelling incentive for NOT having one. Though economic sanctions have hurt them NOT having a bomb will hurt them more as long as there are US troops on either side of them.
posted by tkchrist at 9:48 AM on March 13, 2007


Counting people who died as the result of a failed economic policy is not at all the same as counting the number of people who were deliberately murdered.

Yeah, murder's not the right word, but manslaughter doesn't quite cut it either. Leaders commit an unfamiliar class of "crime" which standard criminal law is ill-equipped to describe. If someone tells you that your policy will lead to the deaths of millions, but you proceed anyway, what is that? Recklessness?
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 10:04 AM on March 13, 2007


It bears pointing out:

The first and only country in the history of this planet to use nuclear weapons was the United States, incinerating 250,000 civilians in Japan in 1945.

It is the United States that has since sent its troops to invade other countries dozens of times.

And on the ridiculous comparison between Mao and Ahmadinejad, here's what Iranian Maoists are saying about the issue:
"With the false swagger of champion puppets, the heads of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) have announced that they have joined the nuclear powers club. Their posturing is even shallower and more hated than that of the ex-shah who used to inject phony “national pride” into his veins and the veins of the people by parading the F16 fighter planes he acquired from the U.S. and the tanks purchased from the UK.

At the Friday prayers, with lots of noise but without any shame, the ayatollahs proclaimed that Iran’s new status as a “nuclear power” should be celebrated as a patriotic holiday and demanded that the people’s hearts be filled with “national pride.” However, the majority of the people who have suffered under a medieval religious regime for 27 years are not inspired to feel any national pride by this. In fact, now their pride has been trampled upon even more by the reactionary mullahs. This posturing was more comic than that of Pakistan’s generals. The people make fun of the mullahs and Western nuclear analysts ridicule them.....
Link to Full Text of the Statement by the Communist Party of Iran

It's well worth reading this...
posted by sen0rjon3s at 10:39 AM on March 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


extrabox: My point was that Mao was used as an example of successful containment, when in fact this containment or deterrence did nothing to prevent death and violence to the Chinese people on a scale literally unimaginable to anyone growing up post WWII.

With all due respect: so what?

The US government is responsible for the security and well-being of its own citizens. It is not responsible for the well-being of everyone, everywhere.

Moreover, it's not like China was a serene paradise before Mao took over (Taiping rebellion, Opium wars, unequal treaties, Sino-Japanese war, Japanese invasion, civil war). It was so weak, chaotic, and violent that an awful lot of Chinese people believe Mao was a major improvement. Bad government is better than no government.

The point of the op-ed is that from the US point of view, Communist China was a deeply scary place in the 1950s and 1960s--a human anthill. But containment worked.

For a more theoretical argument on why nuclear deterrence works, see Kenneth Waltz, More May Be Better. In one important way nuclear weapons do change the relations of nations. Adversary states that acquire them are thereby made more cautious in their dealings with each other
posted by russilwvong at 11:06 AM on March 13, 2007


Russilwvong wins.
posted by tkchrist at 11:18 AM on March 13, 2007


We already tried fighting China (to a draw).
posted by kirkaracha at 11:20 AM on March 13, 2007


Dems abandon war authority provision
posted by homunculus at 11:53 AM on March 13, 2007


And well, delmoi, the disruption of the agricultural sector was brought about by Mao forcibly moving people all over the country to reeducate them, and disrupting alleconomic activity. Then came the Cultural Revolution, when Mao intentionally released political chaos that caused yet more deaths. Mao's barbarism killed many, many millions.

No, Mao didn't move any people anywhere. In fact, Mao's CCP specifically kept people from moving from the country to the city - migration around the country was not legal. Some people were moved to be "re-educated" - but a small number, and they were largely urban elites. The vast majority of the country were peasant farmers who stayed exactly where they were. And the Cultural Revolution, while highly disruptive, was not a mass massacre in the Chinese context. The vast majority of people - again rural, uneducated - were only minorly affected; we hear about the Cultural Revolution from educated, urban people, whose lives were highly disrupted and thousands of whom were killed (by gangs of Red Guards) or moved to reeducation camps (by the government). It was serious, but in the Chinese context thousands are a small minority, even among the urban population. (If you would like to read more, I highly reccomend Jonathan Unger's Education under Mao and Chan, Madson & Unger - Chen Village).

What killed millions of people during the famines of c1959-1961 was the El Nino effect - a massive drought, the same as those which killed tens of millions in India in the late nineteenth century. Mao's Great Leap Forward policy certainly exascerbated the problem, as did Lord Lytton's policy as head of the colonial government in India in the 1870s. If you feel like engaging in rather dark humour, you could reflect on the irony of how Mao was a dogmatic communist and Lytton a dogmatic capitalist/laissez faire follower, and yet their policies had such similar effects. (For more details, please see Mike Davis's Late Victorian Holocausts, also a review.)

following up on russilwvong's point - living conditions in China actually improved substantially in the first years of communist rule (1950s). Things rapidly went downhill during the great famine, which is one of the reasons Mao was sidelined within the government for much of the early 1960s by the faction which Mao denounced as "capitalist roaders", including Deng Xiaoping. Mao didn't come back into power until the Cultural Revolution - which, if I remember correctly, he didn't really begin, but kind of rode like a wave. It's confusing - the Cultural Revolution is one of the most complex bits of history I've ever tried to study (makes the Thirty Years war seem almost straight forward), with several movements happening at once, and spurring each other on, but actually having different driving forces.

Mao was a dictator who ruled (particularily in the last ten years of his life) through a very powerful personality cult. He was personally responsible for jailing many, silencing more. He and his government were also responsible for bringing people out of terrible starvation during the Civil War into years of peace and relative prosperity in the first years of the PRC, and in bringing some equality to the majority of Chinese women for the first time - they were educated, became engineers and doctors. After his death, women faced more barriers and sexism than had been allowed during his life. Horrible things were done in his name - but also some great things. After his death, the CCP declared a 70-30 rule on his life - 70% right, 30% wrong. I might be inclined to reverse the numbers - but I would say that anyone who would condemn him should at least understand the history and what actually happened, not the inaccurate and ideologically driven popular stories that masquerade as history.
posted by jb at 12:21 PM on March 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


(To add a bit more about the Cultural Revolution - if you read Chen Village, about a rural village in Guangdong, you would see the the actual Cultural Revolution was significant, but not devastating to them. Some of the sent-down youth returned to the city, lots of posters went up and some walls were painted red. But the clean-up and reprisals that followed it were very disruptive, because they got wrapped up into local disputes and politics. At least, that's how I remember it. It's been about 6 or 7 years since I read it - but it's a very good book.)
posted by jb at 12:27 PM on March 13, 2007


Containment of Mao cost us 36K US soldiers and 200K+ Chinese ones in head to head combat in Korea. Lets not kid ourselves. Containment of the Soviets worked because neither side wanted to repeat the WWII obliteration of most of Europe. Containment of the Chinese worked because we fought a long bloody draw in Korea; and we don't want to repeat it. Containment of Saddam was working because he realized that any attempt to break it would result in war; but it didn't work for us because we knew we could beat him at any time. Ultimatly the pressure built within the US to fight. Just as ultimatly it will build either from the US or Iranian side to make war as long as a signifigant portion of the leadership believes they can acheive their ends via that course of action.
posted by humanfont at 12:35 PM on March 13, 2007


Mao's Great Leap Forward policy certainly exascerbated the problem

Wasn't Mao facing the same problem that Lenin faced? Opposition of the peasant farmer "the petty bourgeoisie" who did not want his plot of land collectivised by the state? And did he not - in Mao's unimaginative way - solve this problem in a similar fashion as Lenin? Through an agricultural policy that demanded greater production for nothing in return? He knew what he was doing, El Nino just made the task easier.

No, Mao was a tough old bastard just like Lenin and Stalin. Those guys were nothing if not pragmatists. They could do the math. And even if it cost ten million dead, they were prepared to go all they way. Hitler had that going for him too, but he was a little less pragmatic.

The Iranian President is not in that league. Just look at him. He's got no cult of personality going for him. Nada. He's like Dan Quayle.
posted by three blind mice at 2:40 PM on March 13, 2007


Metafilter: Invincible Dick Cheney Thought
posted by symbioid at 3:00 PM on March 13, 2007


Some historical analysis on the Great Leap Forward, by Raymond Lotta, an economist:

"Were there problems? Were there famine deaths? Yes. But the difficulties of those years was a complex phenomenon.

There was a sharp decline in food production in 1959. China had suffered the worst climatic disasters in a century. Floods and drought affected over half of China's agricultural land.

The ideological struggle between revolutionary China and the Soviet Union had been intensifying. Mao denounced the Soviet leadership as revisionist--analyzing that it had gone off the socialist road and was selling out the interests of the world revolution to U.S. imperialism. In response, the Soviets sought to punish China by withdrawing advisors, halting aid, walking off with blueprints to unfinished industrial installations, and leaving the country with a debt burden that had to be repaid. This created additional strains on the economy.

There were also certain policy mistakes by the Maoists. One problem was that in many rural areas too much peasant labor time was spent on nonagricultural projects. This hurt food production. In the euphoric spirit of the times, output levels and capabilities were often exaggerated by local officials. This made it hard to know how much grain there really was and to plan accurately.

Chang and Halliday charge that Mao didn't care about the hardships and suffering and willfully suppressed knowledge of deaths. In fact, investigations were conducted and adjustments were made. The communes were reduced in size, eventually stabilizing at about 15,000 to 25,000 people. The amount of grain to be delivered to the state was lowered. Certain nonagricultural projects were scaled back, so that people could spend more time on food production. Grain was rationed countrywide and emergency grain supplies were sent to regions in distress.

As for the accusation of 30 million deaths--this is an absurd and sensationalistic estimate. It is based on unreliable statistics. It is based on outrageous calculations that compare projected population size with actual population size. In other words, people who weren't even born are added to a total death count.

And the main point is this: By 1970, China was for the first time in its history able to solve its food problem. The new society was able to provide for a minimal diet and food security. This had everything to do with the Great Leap Forward and the formation of communes. It had everything to do with the collective mobilization of people to build irrigation and flood works, to reclaim and improve land, to master new agricultural techniques, and to establish small industries in the countryside. It had everything to do with the spirit of working for the common good promoted by socialist revolution."
posted by sen0rjon3s at 3:05 PM on March 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


sen0rjon3s: Some historical analysis on the Great Leap Forward, by Raymond Lotta, an economist:

First: Welcome to MetaFilter.

Second: Give me a break. We're not idiots who've never heard of Google. Lotta's a Maoist, a leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party (USA). See this Stalinist review. This isn't "historical analysis", it's Maoist propaganda.

Lotta: As for the accusation of 30 million deaths--this is an absurd and sensationalistic estimate.

Afraid not. Maurice Meisner (Mao's China and After) is sympathetic to the Chinese Communist government, but he regards the estimates of 15-30 million deaths during the Great Leap Forward as being realistic. See the commentary by Matthew White that extrabox linked earlier. According to China, 16 million died.

Besides the deaths during the Great Leap Forward, White estimates 2 million dead during the initial Communist takeover (the "smashing" of landlords, rich peasants, and KMT supporters), and 1 million during the Cultural Revolution.

jb: Mao didn't come back into power until the Cultural Revolution - which, if I remember correctly, he didn't really begin, but kind of rode like a wave.

I don't think this is correct. Mao launched the Cultural Revolution in 1966 in order to destroy his enemies within the party. (Liu Shaoqi died in prison; Deng Xiaoping was exiled to the countryside, his son was tortured and crippled.)

three blind mice: And did he not - in Mao's unimaginative way - solve this problem in a similar fashion as Lenin?

Not as far as I can tell. The Great Leap Forward was an exercise in delusion, not a deliberate attempt to starve the rural population.
posted by russilwvong at 4:32 PM on March 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


And well, delmoi, the disruption of the agricultural sector was brought about by Mao forcibly moving people all over the country to reeducate them, and disrupting alleconomic activity. Then came the Cultural Revolution, when Mao intentionally released political chaos that caused yet more deaths. Mao's barbarism killed many, many millions. -- ibmcginty

You skipped the 20 year gap between the two. And while he forcibly moved some people from the cities to reeducation camps during the cultural revolution, the bulk of the economic problems were not caused by relocation. And besides, forcibly relocating someone is not an act of violence. Even if there had been mass human transit it still couldn't count as having killed people with his own hands. The point of the program was not to kill people or even hurt them. The result was a famine, and as I said, it would be like blaming Herbert Hoover for all the deaths by malnutrition during the great depression.

Again, your grasp of Chinese history is laughable.

There is no WAY we could have "invaded" China with any measure of success. Not with out adopting the Japanese method of relentlessly slaughtering millions of people our selves. And remember the logistics for the Japanese were certainly much more simple being right next door. --tkchrist

Interestingly Chang Kai-Sheck ordered surrendered Japanese Troops to attack the communists. We would have had to recruited the Japanese army itself to fight the war. With our supply of Oil, they could have kept the renewed colonial war going. Would have been seriously fucked up, and unlikely to succeed without even higher levels of violence. Certainly more people would have died then under any Mao's programs.

If someone tells you that your policy will lead to the deaths of millions, but you proceed anyway, what is that? Recklessness? -- hoverboards don't work on water

Not that there is any evidence that anyone told this to Mao, there is not evidence that he was trying to kill anyone, and no targed ethnic or geographic groups. This is contrast to Stalin, who used food supply restriction to kill people.
posted by delmoi at 6:42 PM on March 13, 2007


russilwvong:

First: Thanks.

Second: The jury is still out on the idiot thing, but congratulations on figuring out the google stuff.

As far as as Lotta is concerned (or the Iranian Communists I quoted earlier) - yes, they are prominent Maoists. And neither they, nor I, attempt to conceal this.

I think in any debate of Mao, it would be useful to consider the ardent supporters of Maoist ideology, as well as the ardent detractors (of which many have been quoted here already, several by you).

To simply dismiss anyone who upholds Mao's contribution to the advancement of the chinese people, and people the world over as "propagandists" is silly.

And to dismiss Lotta statement, and then counter with "facts" from a book entitled "The Black Life of Communism" is not exactly the high-road either.

For every scholar you can "google" supporting some numbers, there are many others who refute them.

Nothing has been said here about the essence of the Chinese Revolution, the value of Mao's contribution to the revolution, and especially not to the crimes the U.S. Imperialists have committed against the people of China, are committing against the people of Iraq today, and are preparing to perpetrate against the people of Iran.

And no, I am no fan of the Mullahs and the Islamic Republic either.
posted by sen0rjon3s at 6:45 PM on March 13, 2007


The Iranian President is not in that league. Just look at him. He's got no cult of personality going for him. Nada. He's like Dan Quayle.

Yeah, I bet he spells it "potatoes", too.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:49 PM on March 13, 2007


sen0rjon3s: yes, they are prominent Maoists. And neither they, nor I, attempt to conceal this.

Excuse me: you described Lotta as "an economist." If you'd described him as "a prominent Maoist", I wouldn't have had a problem.

I think in any debate of Mao, it would be useful to consider the ardent supporters of Maoist ideology--

To me, it's interesting to read their perspectives, but not useful when you're trying to establish historical facts. To them, truth is subservient to politics, and so I have no reason to trust what they say about Mao. (This isn't a phenomenon limited to Maoists, of course; Orwell provides a good description of this sort of indifference to reality in his essay Notes on Nationalism.)

When trying to figure out what actually happened, I don't just average out different opinions; I look for observers who place truth above politics, who aren't going to shade their interpretation based on their political ideology, and put more weight on their views. I reject the cynical idea that there are no such observers, that everyone's grasp of reality is determined by their class interests or political ideology or whatever. In particular, I would suggest that Maurice Meisner and Matthew White are hardly "ardent detractors" of Maoist ideology. White's providing estimates from a number of different sources, not just the "Black Book of Communism". As he says:
Some of these sources inspire more confidence than others. Often the least authoritative sources (such as dilettantes like me or partisan propagandists) are the most accessible, while the most authoritative (serious scholars with no vested interest) are the most obscure, but I have generally accorded all sources equal weight. My intention here is not to dictate that you believe one chosen number; instead, I'm more interested in letting you see the limits of the debate -- the upper and lower estimates and the spectrum that runs between them. A useful rule of thumb is that if you are faced with a wide spread of differing estimates, it's safer to believe one from the cluster in the middle than one alone at the upper or lower edge.
posted by russilwvong at 11:16 PM on March 13, 2007


The Seymour Hersh Mystery: A Journalist Writing Bloody Murder… And No One Notices
posted by homunculus at 11:32 PM on March 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


I agree homunculus.
posted by caddis at 11:48 PM on March 13, 2007


Completely different context. After a couple hundred years of colonialism where countries randomly imposed rules/laws and policies on China, when mao took over - his goal was to prevent that from happening again - and if it meant saying some crazy shit - so be it - he wanted the Western powers to shy away from even thinking about taking him on from Taiwan or from Korea ... that's not to say mao didn't eventually go crazy from absolute power (corrupts, etc, etc ...) but there is a context and a reason for him to imply he will risk total annilation because it's just numbers to him and in some senses, it worked. The current Iranian president is simply a crackpot with his shouts of annilation of Isreal, blah, blah, blah - if he was in control of his own mouth, he could have then claimed some legitimacy for his "we need elecrity generation" line but he pretty much blew that by shouting who he intended to bomb & blow away ... and the question now is whether he can cash the checks his mouth is writing politically or militarily ...
posted by jbelkin at 11:51 PM on March 13, 2007


Yeah, I bet he spells it "potatoes", too.

Being as that's how its spelt.
posted by biffa at 1:34 AM on March 14, 2007


Being as that's how its spelt

Oops, my mistake on the plural... Of course you know what I'm referring to.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:27 AM on March 14, 2007


And please, no wisecracks about how I'm as dumb as Dan Quayle. I just couldn't take that...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:42 AM on March 14, 2007


hee hee
posted by caddis at 4:47 AM on March 14, 2007


Love you madly, caddis.

Hey, didja go see Joe M.?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:49 AM on March 14, 2007


I couldn't make it myself, but my son and wife went for both shows. The review - smokin'! Sorry I wasn't there to pass along your greetings to Joe.
posted by caddis at 5:00 AM on March 14, 2007


Yeah, I bet he spells it "potatoes", too.

سیب زمینی ها
posted by Martin E. at 7:30 AM on March 14, 2007


I don't think this is correct. Mao launched the Cultural Revolution in 1966 in order to destroy his enemies within the party. (Liu Shaoqi died in prison; Deng Xiaoping was exiled to the countryside, his son was tortured and crippled.)

Oh, he definitely used the CR to destroy his political enemies. But as far as I knew, it sort of began with a series of related but distinct movements, some in universities like Beijing University (between younger and older professors) and some in high schools (student vs student and student vs teacher). And then there was the movement in the arts, which Mao's wife (what was her name again? The initials J and Q seem to fit) was definitely involved with.

But from what I've read, I'm skeptical of how much Mao could have orchestrated or directed the movement, though he definitely influenced it - so much of the time in 1966-1968 the Red Guards seems to have been under no one's direct control. I remember reading in Unger's book on education in Canton (which concentrates on the high school experience, coming out of exam tensions) that two entirely different groups of Red Guards were claiming to be the true representatives of Mao and to be the most "red" while beating each other up. (Unger lays it down on class and university acceptance issues between the children of party members, and the children of the non-red middle classes.)

---------

As for the Great Leap forward - I think it would be wrong to underestimate the deaths and population effect. It is true that these numbers were arrived at by comparing an estimate of what the population should have been with what it was, but lack of fertlity is itself a sign of starvation.

Aside from this, Lotta's analysis fits with everything I have ever heard in lecture or read in academic history from professors and scholars who were most definitely not communists. Lotta may be a Maoist, but if he is an academic he also must answer to many other scholars who are not Maoists. That's the strength of peer-review - ideology may sometimes drive the questions (especially in economics, though usually the opposite ideology), but not your answers. Both economists and historians agree with themselves about as often as cats with personality problems - if one of their colleagues says anything that he cannot demonstrate with good evidence (especially something controversial), they like to tear them down and have a feeding frenzy. (Less so in cultural history, but in economics and economic history, it's brutal.)

(and before anyone brings up the Sokol affair as an example of poor peer-review, I will point out that the journal in question was not peer-reviewed.)
posted by jb at 8:45 AM on March 14, 2007


jb: Lotta may be a Maoist, but if he is an academic he also must answer to many other scholars who are not Maoists. That's the strength of peer-review -

No doubt, but Lotta's not an academic. sen0rjon3s' description of him as "an economist" was very misleading.

Regarding the Cultural Revolution, it appears that Mao planned and initiated it, but lost control of it. See this September 2006 NYRB article by Jonathan Spence reviewing Mao's Last Revolution, by Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals. Also available here (PDF, HTML-ized by Google).
posted by russilwvong at 11:15 AM on March 14, 2007


Getting back to the main topic (thanks for posting this, hoder):

Ray Tayekh has a longer article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs.
If it hopes to tame Iran, the United States must rethink its strategy from the ground up. The Islamic Republic is not going away anytime soon, and its growing regional influence cannot be limited. Washington must eschew superficially appealing military options, the prospect of conditional talks, and its policy of containing Iran in favor of a new policy of détente. In particular, it should offer pragmatists in Tehran a chance to resume diplomatic and economic relations. Thus armed with the prospect of a new relationship with the United States, the pragmatists would be in a position to sideline the radicals in Tehran and try to tip the balance of power in their own favor. The sooner Washington recognizes these truths and finally normalizes relations with its most enduring Middle Eastern foe, the better.
And:
When discussing Iran, President George W. Bush commonly insists that "all options are on the table" -- a not-so-subtle reminder that Washington might use force against Tehran if all else fails. This threat overlooks the fact that the United States has no realistic military option against Iran. To protect its nuclear facilities from possible U.S. strikes, Iran has dispersed them throughout the country and placed them deep underground. Any U.S. attack would thus have to overcome both intelligence-related challenges (how to find the sites) and thorny logistical ones (how to hit them). (As the Iraq debacle has shown, U.S. intelligence is not always as reliable as it should be.) And even a successful military attack would not end the mullahs' nuclear ambitions; it would only motivate them to rebuild the destroyed facilities, and to do so with even less regard for Iran's treaty obligations.
posted by russilwvong at 11:18 AM on March 14, 2007


I did a little more digging in the NYRB archives for information on the famines caused by the Great Leap Forward. Jonathan Mirsky cites Jasper Becker's Hungry Ghosts ("the most complete survey of the famine"); China Quarterly review by Frederick Tiewes. According to Becker, there was no drought.
posted by russilwvong at 11:45 AM on March 14, 2007


According to Becker, there was no drought.

On second thought, that's a pretty startling claim, so it probably requires further investigation. There's an Amazon review of Becker's book by Brian Turner which gives a number of references and points to Y. Y. Kueh's Agricultural Instability in China: 1931-1991 in particular as providing evidence against Becker's claim that there was no drought. Turner recommends Roderick MacFarquhar, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution Vol. 2: The Great Leap Forward 1958-60 as a scholarly work.

posted by russilwvong at 2:16 PM on March 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


« Older About a week ago...  |  Hearing Voices is the largest ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments