In the winter of 2008-2009, Patrice and I taught English in Moscow to young Russian business people between the ages 25-40. English is the world language of commerce. If you want to get ahead, you speak English. It is how French speak business with Italians, Germans with Turks, Russians with Swiss.

To learn to speak English, you speak English.  The teacher poses questions. The student answers. If you are a writer, and if you want to hear stories about Russians in Russia, this is your moment.   I abused my position with enthusiasm.  I asked them about their families, about the past…ah, in this case, it’s better, I believe, to use the simple past, not the past perfect.

A dear student criticizes Solzhenitsyn because he suggests Russians built the Gulag. “No, it was Communists!”  I introduce the phrase ‘a distinction without a difference.’ Another woman demurs. “I can’t.  When I try, I cry.”

To walk the streets of Moscow is to walk the streets of Kigali, Rwanda or Phnom Penh, Cambodia, or Berlin, Germany, or through the death camps anywhere.  From this corner the Academician Gubkin was taken to the gulag; here the poet Mandelstam was arrested; from this building 830 of 1300 occupants disappeared. None returned.  The land moans beneath ones feet.

Now words exist, a lot of them, to express the horror Communism visited upon the earth. One can read about the nightmare in collections of cool data[1] or in a reminiscence of one family’s agony over the disappearance of a beloved. beautiful and promising daughter.[2]

When Marxists came to power, mass murder followed.  In the 20th century the correlation was one-to-one. Lenin and Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s Red China, Kim il-Sung’s North Korea, Ho Chi Mihn’s Vietnam, Pol Pot’s Cambodia and Ethiopia’s Mengistu and, lest we forget, those imitators who mastered Marxist-Leninist crowd control – Rwanda’s Jean Kambanda,  Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Syria’s Hafez al-Assad.

Moscow is a hard place to live. In October, I was riding the Metro to work, packed among grim-faced Russian commuters staring straight ahead, ready to pour out and stampede to the transfer train. An elderly Russian man—grey haired, stocky, thick eyebrows–was pressed against me, gave my English-language book a hard look, and died.  He had a heart attack and he died.  The car transformed.  Where there had not been space for a sheet of paper, two square meters appeared.  Russian women shouted into his face “Breathe! Live!” Two young men held him under the arms. The train stopped and we carried him to the platform. The platform watch summoned the medics who arrived within minutes. The Russians are not indifferent to one another.

Russia is a hard place to live. From 1917 to 1992 the Russians were helots. The Soviet government spoke of Russians as the US Southern planter aristocracy spoke of Negroes—they were slaves, no matter how generously this apparatchik or that planter sang praises to the worker or darkie.

Russia is a troubled land.  When the Soviet Union first collapsed, the scientists left. And the people followed––800,000 Russians now live in South America.   If Georgetown Professor Murray Feshbach is to be believed, and he is to be believed, the Russians are disappearing from Russia.[3]

Communism has visited upon the Russian people a demographic disaster last seen during the 1382 Tatar invasion[4].  Communist terror killed 20-25 million Russians[5]; WWII killed 27-40 million.[6]  The legacy of Communism is imprinted into the DNA of this unhappy land.

A generation of young Russian businessmen and women now learns the ways of Western business. Dedicated and hard-working, they are the stuff of which America was made and on whom Russia has but a tenuous hold. They watch Vladimir Putin rebuild the police state, see the opposition assassinated in the streets and find time to study English during their 16-hour work days. From time to time they examine on the internet the immigration laws of Australia, Great Britain, Germany and the United States.

But I write neither for the Russians nor my students.  I have neither compliment nor critique for their lives or their land. [7]  I spent much of my life developing and deploying acquisition and targeting systems in order to destroy Soviet Army command and control facilities where the fathers of my students had been Soviet officers.

I do not write for the European intellectuals, students or Marxists (for God’s sake, Marxists still exist?). I look upon them as I looked upon my schizophrenic brother, who babbled senseless things endlessly until a moment of lucidity came upon him, and I would pay attention, but all too soon he’d fall again into insanity and I think of something else.

For whom then do I write?

I write against Americans.  I write to address America’s complicity in genocide in the twentieth century.[8] I write to accuse those among us who stood as apologists for Communism.  I write to attack the American intellectuals, artists and politicians who cheered Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Mihn or Pol Pot as they slaughtered with gusto, or when sycophancy became impolitic, attacked those who opposed these murderous utopian creeds.[9]

I write for past American soldiers who fought, killed and died for what seemed an uncertain cause, who fought with honor, who in their gut knew they were right.  I write for those of us who prepared to die for odd people in strange lands so that they might be free to make their own terrible mistakes.  And we fought those who would make people slaves; we fought that people, grateful or not, would be free.

In the end I write for myself. And my driving creed is uncertainty. We American soldiers of the late 20th century lived and acted upon imperfect knowledge.

Uncertainty?  I know a great deal about state-sponsored deception programs conceived to create uncertainty and thus give pause.  This was no accident, as the Soviets were wont to say.

Marxism-Leninism was one long night terror, which gulled, massaged and managed the dreams of generations of American and European romantics who lived by symbols.

The 20th century is past, the long war is over.

And another has begun.  And uncertainly abounds.

We are disengaging from a battlefield in Iraq begun by an inexperienced president. We are ramping up with a callow president for more war in Afghanistan.

Plagued though I was with my own uncertainty, I had certain ‘ground truths.”[10]   “When communists took power, they committed genocide. It was a ground truth in 1965; the single difference today is this ground truth now has Communist-sourced documentation.

The unbalanced and the unhinged deny the World Trade Center attack, claim the CIA organized it, and attack those who defend.  American cognoscenti and intelligentsia tell us to take our eyes off the working truths – The WTC collapsing, Americans holding hands jumping from the windows, Osama bin Laden like a proud father posing before video camera for the birth of the War of Terror.

There is yet another “truth.” To defend those who are dear, you defend those who are odious.

And yet another.   You only know for certain after the battle. Damn if those odious may not this time be speaking a truth.

And yet even another.  As a Canadian major, executive officer to the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda during the genocide, said to me many years later in a bar in Kigali, “You can’t save them all.”

The novels and essays I write are a journey through another era recently past. I have been an American soldier in the Long War.  I have been witness to genocide.  We fought to prevent genocide.  We didn’t save them all.  We couldn’t.  We still can’t.

I am blessed.  I survived.  I write for those who didn’t.


[1] The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, Harvard University Press, (858 pp.) by Stéphane Courtois (Author), Nicolas Werth (Author), Jean-Louis Panné (Author), Andrzej Paczkowski (Author), Karel Bartosek (Author), Jean-Louis Margolin (Author), Mark Kramer (Editor), Jonathan Murphy (Translator), Stephane Courtois (Author), Jean-Louis Panne (Author)

[2] ( The Whisperers; Life in Stalin’s Russia. I incline towards Russia’s god-awful tragedy; the libraries are stacked with witness to the Communist genocide around the world.

[3] Behind the Bluster, Russia Is Collapsing, Murray Feshbach, Washington Post, Sunday, October 5, 2008; Page B03According to U.N. figures, the average life expectancy for a Russian man is 59 years — putting the country at about 166th place in the world longevity sweepstakes, one notch above Gambia. For women, the picture is somewhat rosier: They can expect to live, on average, 73 years, barely beating out the Moldovans. But there are still some 126 countries where they could expect to live longer.

[4]About half of the Russian population may have died during the Mongol invasion of Rus’. Myriad sources.  For ease of reading, go to

[5] Again, I point you to The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression

[6]Dyadkin, Iosif G., Unnatural deaths in the USSR, 1928-1954 / Iosif G. Dyadkin; translated by Tania Deruguine ; introduction by Nick Eberstadt, Publisher: New Brunswick : Transaction Books, [1983] pp.49-56.   Here is not the place to argue the demographic techniques, equations and minutia, but  Iosif Dyadkin makes the solid case that Russian war loses exceeded 42 million.  I did not come upon Dyadkin’s  Samizdat manuscript until after I had finished my master’s thesis under Murray Feshbach at Georgetown University, but it clarified, to me convincingly, the ‘gaps’ in the data published by the Central Statistical Directorate of the USSR. Soviet war losses remain unclear. Russian Prime Minister Medvedev has reopened the issue (in January 2009), appointed a commission, and all I can say is “Bog s nim.”

[7] No Westerner can pretend to match a Russian for scorching social self-criticism and the best of them is Ms. Tatiana Tolstaya,  (Go to if you only read English. If you read Russian, you already know her). Ms. Tolstaya is my age, whose cutting observations I deeply admire and avidly read. I love her, but doubt I would survive marriage to this formidable and lacerating intellect. Read the following:

Russia’s World, (Мир Русский) an essay in the collection, Day (День)
Tatyana Tolstaya

If they were to promise me that I would live my whole life in Russia and encounter only Russians, I would surely hang myself.

And it is not because I don’t like Russians nor that they are uninteresting―to the contrary.  If there are any people more interesting, paradoxical and contradictory than Russians, I don’t know them.  Russia is one great insane asylum where an enormous warehouse lock hangs on the door, but there are no walls; where the ceiling is low, but beneath your feet yawns the abyss; where the doctors go crazy, but the patients in their own way consider themselves quite normal, but shut themselves up like nut cases   and not because they want to please the doctors [что к чему, но притворяются ненормальными, и не потому, что хотят угодить врачам],  but simply because it is more interesting, convenient and magical; where nightmares and fantasies materialize into full reality, and which upon closer examination becomes illusory, formless:  extend your hand to touch — fog.  To wander through this house, finding your way, hoping to arrive at the spot planned upon, it’s not going to happen.   There is no logic in the Russian universe.  Doors do not open to a key but to an incantation, staircases are only sketched in, the map to the maze changes without warning.  The best guide to Russia would be a Baedeker illustrated by Maurice Escher with signposts provided by Kafka, Beckett and Ionesco. (trans.  Robert E. Townsend, March 2009)

[8] If you can’t read The Black Book of Communism right away (998 pages or so), then read the best review in English I have read, The Price of an Idea by MICHAEL SCAMMELL (The New Republic, 12.20.99). He notes:

There are those who understand how to manage hope, by keeping it at arm’s length and worrying about its abuse. (The fantasy of perfection in the next world is certainly less dangerous than the fantasy of perfection in this world.) But others have a harder time. Hope fills them with impatience, and with certainty; and it looks to them less like a dream and more like a plan. Communism addressed itself most successfully to the pawns of hope. And there still is a certain nostalgia, even among some Western intellectuals, for the confidence and the righteousness of the Communist way, and the “certainties” of Communist ideology, compared with the amoralities and the insecurities of a market-driven society and the ideology of Mammon. It is the requirement that they “shut the door on utopia,” as Malia puts it, that holds so many back from a complete rejection of the outlook that issued in all these catastrophes.

In modern history, the politics of utopia have been largely the politics of the left. It is worth noting that the authors of The Black Book of Communism are liberals; liberals have always been utopia’s most ardent adversaries. The renovation of the left in the West is certainly not a prominent theme of The Black Book, but I do not doubt that it is a part of the authors’ great purpose. Arriving at a proper understanding of our century’s disastrous entanglement in a criminal ideology, and atoning for the colossal cost in human lives and human misery (and for our complicity in it), is a more urgent task for the left than for the right. It is also an essential prerequisite for taking up anew, and with the proper anti-revolutionary modesty, the business of the betterment of the human condition.

[9] Or should I thank Lillian Hellmann and Mary McCarthy and Jane Fonda and Joan Baez and John Reed and FDR’s Vice President Henry Wallace and a world of Lenin/Stalin/Mao/Ho apologists who encouraged these madmen to decimate the populations of these unhappy, but ‘enemy’ lands?

[10] An example of a “ground truth.” Sometime in 1980 I attended a conference in Ramstein, Germany with officers of the Army 32nd Air Defense Division to discuss the complex and compelling, to us Air Force officers at least, issue of Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) and fratricide. In the crowded West German wartime airspace, thousands of Warsaw Pact and NATO aircraft would would be coming, going, swirling, shooting, dropping bombs. The conference objective was to make sense of chaos. Passions rose. Tempers flared.  An Army officer tries a little Army humor. “Shoot’m all down.  We’ll sort them out on the ground.”  There, after the battle, on the ground, is “ground truth” as seen by my brother officers in the US Army.