Food for Friend OR Foe

William Pfaff

December 20, 1990|By William Pfaff

PARIS — Paris.---WHY SHOULD the West not tell the hungry Russians: Too bad; you brought all this on yourselves. Take the consequences. It was Russians who imposed Bolshevism on Russia. The leaders of the Soviet nation collectivized its agriculture, turning a food-exporting nation into the one which today asks foreign charity. They bestowed upon it the command economy whose collapse today has brought the U.S.S.R. to its knees. No foreign agency bears responsibility for any of that.

Furthermore, it was not the West that murdered the Soviet Union's elites, debased its intellectual and artistic existence, sent millions to atrocious labor, or to death, in its Arctic camps. Soviet citizens did it -- to other Soviet citizens.

They went on to do the same thing to the people of the once-independent Baltic states, and after the Second World War, to Poles, Bulgarians, Czechoslovaks, Romanians, Hungarians and to as many Germans as the Red Army controlled.

They did their best to do the same thing to Finland, Italy, France, Belgium, the rest of the Germans -- to everyone they had any hope of eventually dominating. They have left the foreign nations they controlled not only in economic and social ruins, but with something like a moral void -- an emptiness only now, with great difficulty and pain, being replenished.

All of this was not a wrong turning, unfortunately taken. It began in idealism, but it was persisted in with fanaticism and gross cruelty. Leninism originated in the ideas of the Enlightenment and employs the vocabulary of humanism. But what the Leninists actually did to those whom they dominated is in no useful way distinguishable from what the Nazis did.

Exterminate a race? Lenin and Stalin caused the systematic destruction of social classes and of specified groups considered obstacles to Soviet power: ''kulaks,'' ''parasites,'' Polish officers Katyn) and leaders of Poland's wartime resistance, ''cosmopolitans'' (i.e., Jews), professionals and intellectuals of the liberal bourgeoisie inside the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe. Stalin transported peoples from their native places when he suspected they might turn on him.

Soviet soldiers who had been wartime prisoners in Germany were murdered because they were thought contaminated by the West. The Communist Party itself, inside the Soviet Union and abroad, was several times lethally ''purged.'' The most loyal and sincere typically went first. Cynicism and treachery were the rewards of party advancement -- even by survival.

So why feed the Soviet Union today, merely because its system has deservedly collapsed? The first part of an answer, I suppose, is that we, in the West, having been fortunate enough not to have gone through the experience the Soviet people have been through. We will feed them and help them because Western society acknowledges, even if it frequently fails to observe, an obligation to help people who need help.

Realpolitik counsels that disorder in the Soviet Union potentially threatens the security of the West. The Soviet Union is a nuclear power in disintegration. There is a further practical reason for aiding Russia in that it is possible to think that something can be accomplished there. Help may make a difference. Russia is a serious nation with a serious history and ought to be able to pull itself together.

However, a further objection must be registered. Why them and not others? Half of Africa is in a worse plight than the Soviet Union. Malnutrition, epidemic or chronic disease, and economic decline mark Africa. What do we owe Russians that we do not owe Africans?

What about the starving in Asia, the laboring and violence-afflicted poor of Central America? By what theory of justice does the U.S. do more for the people of the Soviet Union, whose government spent the last 70 years attempting to smash liberal democracy, than it does for Cambodians, Laotians, Vietnamese, Salvadorans or Nicaraguans, whose present plight is in part the result of blundering efforts by the U.S. to defend against Communism?

The only answer is to be found in the sheer arbitrariness of history, its unfairness. Americans and West Europeans feel an identification with the Soviets because we have been in such a struggle with them, for so long. We are friends-enemies.

There is a cultural justification. Russia has played a serious part in the creation of the Western modern mind and sensibility. It has contributed richly to the artistic patrimony of the modern West. It has a fraternal claim on us.

Objectively, the foundering Haitians, the desperate Ethiopians, the Cambodians threatened by the return of the Khmer Rouge -- the Romanian children -- have far better claims on our charity than the people of what until yesterday claimed to be a global superpower, armed by ''scientific'' socialism, destined to throw us onto history's ash-heap. Subjectively, it is the latter's claim to which we respond.

It is unfair, but there it is. And this is Christmas, season of forgiveness and hope. One wishes as happy a Christmas as possible to our former enemies. One would wish the same thing, if such were imaginable, to our African and Asian brothers and sisters, from whose suffering we turn away.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.