Moscow

Angel Factories
May 21, 2010

Children of the Gulag By Cathy A. Frierson and Semyon S. Vilensky (Yale University Press, 496 pp., $55) Several years ago, a friend who helped me to find my way around the Russian State Archives in Moscow asked if I would like to meet another woman who was also working there. She was not doing research for a book, and she was not a scholar. Instead, she was indulging her curiosity and her nostalgia. Forty years earlier, she had worked as a baby nurse in a children’s home inside one of Stalin’s labor camps.

Trying Political Leaders
May 21, 2010

I. Trying political leaders: I do not mean trying them out, in advance, to see if we are likely to find their leadership disastrous, though that might be a good idea if we could find a way of doing it. In politics, judgment does not have to be, and often cannot be, after the fact. But it is post facto judgment that I wish to discuss: the morality and wisdom of putting political leaders on trial after we have endured their leadership and, perhaps, their crimes.

Trying Political Leaders
May 21, 2010

I. Trying political leaders: I do not mean trying them out, in advance, to see if we are likely to find their leadership disastrous, though that might be a good idea if we could find a way of doing it. In politics, judgment does not have to be, and often cannot be, after the fact. But it is post facto judgment that I wish to discuss: the morality and wisdom of putting political leaders on trial after we have endured their leadership and, perhaps, their crimes.

Turkey Slaps Obama In The Face … Again. And He Takes It.
May 18, 2010

You may remember that during the president’s first trip abroad he spent two days in Turkey. A little much, I thought. After all, a presidential visit is something of a gift to the host country’s government. And why did Ankara deserve such a gift? Well, it didn’t. First of all, in 2003, it had barred American troop movement through Iraq from the north. I don’t know exactly how many U.S. deaths accrued because of this ban. But sober estimates tell us that as many as 500 soldiers may have been killed because of the restriction.

The Prisoner Intellectuals
May 05, 2010

The key to understanding radical Islam and Communism? Prison culture.

Kaboom!
April 21, 2010

The words most often used by the heads of oil companies to describe the boom are “revolution” and “game changer.” Industry historian Daniel Yergin calls it “the shale gale.” Admittedly, serious questions remain as to whether shale gas will pass the ecological test—critics say it can’t be extracted safely in proximity to groundwater, and the EPA is engaged in a two-year study of extraction techniques.

Ghosts
April 17, 2010

In memory of Tomasz Merta (1965–2010) The event known as Katyn began when the Red Army invaded Poland, along with the Wehrmacht, in September 1939. The Soviets took thousands of Polish officers prisoner and held them in the ruins of Orthodox monasteries. When these men were allowed to leave the camps, 70 years ago in April 1940, they expected that they would be returning home. Instead, they were taken to Kharkiv, or Tver, or Katyn. Over the course of a few days, 21,892 of these prisoners were shot in the base of the skull.

One Government Finally Made An Agreement With Obama. Hallelujah!
April 10, 2010

The government was Russia’s. So it shouldn’t be derided entirely. But its importance shouldn’t be exaggerated either. After all, Washington and Moscow are not currently in any world historical conflict—at least not one likely to lead to a nuclear standoff. There were several of these during the Cold War. But I conclude in retrospect that they were mostly bluffs. This is even true of the Soviet threats to Israel in 1956, 1967, and 1973. It is probably true about John F. Kennedy’s warnings to Khrushchev and Fidel Castro, as well.

Crime and Excessive Punishment
April 07, 2010

MOSCOW—Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, has been in court for so long that only the hardy, like the wall-eyed man haunting the courthouse in a Che Guevara-style Khodorkovsky t-shirt and the “Free Khodorkovsky” plastic shopping bag, have dared to follow his case. “I’ve spent seven years this way,” says Marina Khodorkovsky, the ex-tycoon’s mother, a bright-eyed former metals engineer. First, there was the year and a half of legal proceedings after her son’s dramatic October 2003 arrest, when special forces stormed his private jet in Siberia.

Nightmare in Chechnya
April 07, 2010

When it comes to war, it is a natural human tendency to identify good guys and bad guys—and sometimes, it is a sensible one.

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