Byline: Arnold Beichman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Earlier narratives about the Gulag system, which between 1920 and 1956 swallowed up in its insatiable maw millions of Soviet citizens, were based on personal experiences of its victims or what could be mined from speeches or articles in the Soviet media.
This important volume by Oleg V. Khlevniuk, History of the Gulag: From Collectivization to the Great Terror translated by Vadim A. Staklo, (Yale, $39.95, 418 pages) like an earlier one by Anne Applebaum, is based on now available Soviet archives which have been studied by a highly regarded Russian historian. To read the texts of some of these Soviet documents is to plunge into a man-made hell, which flourished under Stalin and his more than willing underlings.
What distinguishes mankind from other animals is that there is within human consciousness attributes called mercy, charity, pity. For some three decades these attributes ceased to exist in the Soviet Union. Reading these pages as explicated by Mr. Khlevniuk and examining the Gulag photographs you realize Stalin's diabolical genius in making these human horrors possible.
Stalin set up a system which recruited hundreds of thousands of administrators, prison keepers, filing clerks, torturers and engineers to routinize a system by which millions of slave laborers lived and died.
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In the killing fields of Southeast Asia lies Cambodia, an exotic, tropical land. And also a tragic land for the communist Khmer Rouge, like a plague, had between 1975 and 1979 murdered one-sixth, well over one million people, of what had been a population of seven million.
A couple of million people were lucky enough to escape. So from seven million, Cambodia, the land of Angkor Wat, fell to a population of about four million. (After almost three decades of peace, the population is now well above 13 million).
Phillip Short's long biography of the monster, Pol Pot who was responsible for this genocide, is grippingly told. In Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare, (Henry Holt, $30, 544 pages) you read about what seems to be a recluse steeped in Buddhism.
He takes over leadership of Khmer Rouge and decides to purify, as he called it, the Cambodian people no matter what. …