September 7, 2010

A clap of thunder ricochets down Park Street in the space between the Mosse Humanities Building and Chadbourne Hall. Winds off Lake Mendota drive sheets of cold rain upon students in flip-flops and T-shirts, who screech and laugh, excited this first day of school, energized by lightening and ionized air, unconfined by home or home town. I stand under an overhang as the class of 2014 or so stream home in flowing ankle-high rainwaters. The scene is black and white, like a Jean Luc Goddard movie so popular when I was their age where the actor sees children running across his vision and we know he is seeing himself. So it is this day.
I am auditing History 419, History of the Soviet Union.

Gary N. Naparstek

American Soldier, 19 years old

I had been here before. In 1967 in a lecture in Bascom Hall Professor Michael Petrovich taught a different Soviet History. Five years earlier the Cuban Missile Crisis; two years previous the battle of Ia Drang Valley: in Washington, D.C., a Navy code clerk name John Walker offered Washington, D.C. KGB Station Chief Solomatin US Navy codes; 700,000 US Troops were learning jungle combat in Vietnam.
In 1967 Soviet Foreign Policy 317 could as well have been Martian Astrology 317 so senseless it seemed to me. Much concerned me that year; transportation to my job 20 blocks off campus; eight credits of Russian, my girlfriend had missed her period. My classmates seemed scions of America’s aristocrats, financially secure, La vie san souci. Such unhappiness they suffered was like that neighborhood dog that would dig a hole, then bark in it for hours. So it seemed the anti-Vietnam war movement gave meaning to empty lives.
I now realize that Professor Petrovich, who had seen much, tread carefully when describing the Soviet Union, and never ever used the work ‘genocide’ in a Soviet context. Though the Soviet Union was out of style in 1967, Red China was a ‘miracle of human equality’ as the ‘Cultural Revolution’ unleashed to cleanse ‘bureaucratism,’ a renewal of revolutionary fervor.

Soviet Genocide? Come on! Where is your evidence? Robert Conquest? He’s anti-Communist.

I stood at the edge of some spring demonstration listening as a smarmy activist graduate student spoke: “I am among the growing number of Americans who believe this government must be overthrown.” That worn and tired phrase of tired and worn Communist activists was new and shocking to me. I looked at him and saw the German Kristalnacht student leader smashing the first Berlin window. Soon these students would be smashing windows on State Street.

The evidence in 1967 was unclear. To me, the Soviets confiscated the farmer’s land and put them on collective farms. I loved beyond words the land upon which I grew up. I was anti-communist because the Communists confiscated the land.

I went to Vietnam. Other students, born in another solar system––Queens, New York or Winnetka, Illinois––made pilgrimages to Cuba, wore T-shirts with the image of the recently executed Che Chevarra. On the University of Wisconsin campus, the contending political issues were Maoism vs. Stalinism vs. Trotskyism.

That is in the past. Soviet Genocide? Come on! Where is your evidence?

Now, in the Fall 2010, he Black Book of Communism is probably the most definitive piece. The dead speak. What does one say?