Thursday, 7 July 2011
'The Human Cost'
Mao's Great Famine, by the Dutch historian Frank Dikotter, has won the Samuel Johnson Prize. On a radio news bulletin last night, the subject of the book - the starving to death of more than 40 million people - was described as 'the human cost of Chairman Mao's reforms'. Isn't this a little like describing the death toll of the Gulag system as 'the human cost of Stalin's reforms', or the killing fields as 'the human cost of Pol Pot's reforms', or indeed the Holocaust as 'the human cost of Hitler's reforms'? Of course it wasn't a considered statement, and was probably caused by over-compression of the news item to fit a short bulletin, but it is perhaps significant that it got through unremarked. I remember the days, back in the late 60s and well into the 70s, when in Leftist circles Mao's 'Little Red Book' was virtually a fashion accessory - though even then a glance at the relevant entry in the Guinness Book of Records would have uncovered the fact that Mao had broken all records for mass murder (Mao's western pals dismissed this as a CIA fabrication at the time, but the figures turn out to have been about right). I fancy there is still a residue of that once-popular mode of thinking that always gave Communist-inclined mass murderers the benefit of the doubt, on the grounds that their intentions were 'good' and you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs (ignoring the fact that you can break eggs ad infinitum without making anything resembling an omelette). The survival of this mode of (double) thinking can be traced in the fact that Maoist or Stalinist memorabilia and iconography remain faintly chic - or at least inoffensive - whereas sporting the Nazi equivalent would be (rightly) considered anything but. Let's hope Dikotter's book opens many more eyes to the true horror of Mao's regime.