Sunday, October 9, 2011

Edgar Snow, Holocaust Denier

I was able to check up on many of Mao's assertions
            and usually found them to be correct. 
                                                                                        Edgar Snow (Red Star Over China)

Edgar Snow was to Mao what Walter Duranty was to Joseph Stalin. His journalistic writings gave a favorable impression of Mao and Chinese Communism to millions of Western readers. He continued through the years long after Mao Tse Tung was in power to ignore and downplay the human disaster that Maoism brought down upon China similar to the way Duranty continued over the years to soften for his readers the brutal reality of Stalinism.  The difference between Duranty and Snow is that Duranty appeared to be a cynic and a self-promoting opportunist while Snow was a true believer, a Leftist who believed that Socialism would deliver more opportunity and goods than capitalism.  He ended up reporting what he liked to believe rather than what was occurring.
Snow corresponded for the New York Herald-Tribune, the Saturday Evening Post and other publications. Born in Kansas City, he attended the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism and became a highly celebrated journalist who moved in a tumultuous international setting, much like Walter Duranty. Like Duranty, he worked as a foreign journalist in close personal proximity to an emerging Communist dictator in a huge country embarking on a massive, world-altering political revolution about which the West knew little, in a unique and extraordinary position to influence opinion.
Red Star over China was published by Snow in 1937.  It is a famous book and universally regarded as enormously consequential not only in the West where it was the first on-site journalistic account of the Communist resistance to the Kuomintang led by Mao Tse Tung, but in China as well where its highly idealized presentation of Mao and the CCP was quickly translated and greatly contributed to the recruitment of Chinese young people into the Communist party.  
Snow in the Preface to the Revised Edition of Red Star wrote that this work “provided not only for non-Chinese readers, but also for the entire Chinese people – including all but the Communist leaders themselves – the first authentic account of the Chinese Communist Party and the first connected story of their long struggle to carry through the most thorough-going social revolution in China’s three millenniums of history.” [Edgar Snow, Red Star over China, Revised and Enlarged Edition, New York, Grove, 1968, 16, emphasis, mine]   What jumps out at the 21st century reader of this modest self-assessment is the self-congratulatory and tendentious phrase “authentic account”.   This Preface was written some thirty years after the initial publication of Red Star and almost twenty years after Mao and the CCP had taken power in China.  Also, six years had elapsed since the conclusion of the famine produced by Mao’s own Great Leap Forward, a period of mass starvation brought about by an ideologically-driven man whose real character and persona never matched up with the pristine Communists whom Snow had met and idealized for the outside world in the 1930s.
When he returned to China in 1960 at the height of Mao’s famine, Snow would deny that people were starving.   In Red Star Today Snow wrote:  “I diligently searched without success, for starving people or beggars to photograph. Nor did anyone else succeed… I must assert that I saw no starving people in China, nothing that looked like old-time famine and I do not believe that there is famine in China at this writing.” [Jasper Becker, Hungry Ghosts: Mao’s Secret Famine, Henry Holt, New York, 1996, 277]  Snow wrote this while approximately 25 million people were dying of starvation in the worst famine in China in 2000 years, a famine that was caused by Mao’s policies. [Becker, Hungry Ghosts, 177]   It never occurred to Snow that the Chinese government might be trying to shield a prominent western reporter from the evidence of starvation.   Like Duranty, Snow was a real holocaust denier, unlike British historian, David Irving, who dared to cast doubt on the numbers and  and was thrown into an Austrian jail, they were accorded fame, honors and distinction.
  Snow’s false testimony to the absence of Chinese starvation was practiced by other notable Westerners.  Anna Louis Strong, an American journalist, deserves special mention in this regard for services rendered to both Stalin and Mao as a falsifier of the facts of mass starvation. She went to the USSR in the 1930s and wrote to inform the west that it was famine-free.  She then in the 1960s traveled to China and there again lied to readers in the west about another Communist regime that was starving its own people. [Becker, Hungry Ghosts, 45]  
Early in 1961 François Mitterrand toured famine-stricken China. He spent two hours with Mao and emerged to announce to the outside world that “Mao is not a dictator” and in fact was a “humanist, a new type of man…in whom doctrinal rigour was allied with vigilant realism.”  And so, after a three week Potemkin tour and a total of two hours under the spell of the Chairman, the future French Socialist President with no hesitation declared that Mao’s veracity could not be doubted, that “the people of China have never been near famine…I repeat in order to be clearly understood: there is no famine in China.”   [Quoted from Becker, Hungry Ghosts, 293]  With Mitterrand’s coda “I repeat…” etc. we know, of course, that somewhere, somebody was telling the truth about what was happening, hoping, perhaps, to put some international pressure on this “new type of man” and his humanist colleagues who were pell-mell turning the Chinese countryside into a vast cemetery and forcing the Chinese people toward cannibalism.  But the predictably perfidious Mitterrand self-righteously insisted on being “clearly understood.” He was eager to play the role of Gaul’s jester in Mao’s Court and to leave for history the sorry evidence of his own highly developed capacity for aligning “doctrinal vigour with vigilant realism.”
In Red Star Snow related his impressions and experiences as he moved in 1936 through country controlled by the Chinese Communists.  Here he reports on an encounter with some children during a rest stop.

On the last day, we stopped for lunch at a village in a green valley, and here all the children came round to examine the first foreign devil many of them had seen. I decided to catechize them.
‘What is a Communist,’ I asked.
‘He is a citizen who helps the Red Army fight the White bandits and the Japanese,’ one youngster of the nine piped up.
‘What else?’
‘He helps fight the landlords and the capitalists!’
‘But what is a capitalist?’  That silenced one child, but another came forward; ‘A capitalist is a man who does no work, but makes others work for him.’ Oversimplification, perhaps, but I went on:
‘Are there any landlords or capitalists here?’
‘No,’ they all shrieked together. ‘They’ve all run away.’ [FN: Snow, Red Star, 85] 

Snow’s choice of the word “catechize” is quite remarkable. One wonders what he thought he was doing with this homiletic script and what he hoped the readers would take away from it. The reported exchange, sounding more like the stilted boilerplate of a hack propagandist than an observation from a clear eyed investigative journalist, is more revealing of Snow’s ideological mindset than anything that was actually occurring in China. Show uses these children to channel his moralizing message.  These innocent and guileless children, as he presents them, simply and clearly distinguish the good guys from the bad ones, the good Communists who fight the evil landlords and capitalists. The reader cannot but help being impressed with these youngsters, but even more importantly, sympathetic with their perspective.  Snow’s ideological affinity with his attentive hosts is clearly obvious and his insertion of this chirpy exchange illustrates it. What becomes unavoidable to the reader early in this book is the sense that Snow was completely enthralled with the “Red” movement that he was observing. He had surrendered any professional skepticism or reservations that might have help make his account even more “authentic” and had set about to romanticize and idealize every aspect of what he was witnessing.  Of a young Chinese vanguard group that he meets:

“I had never before seen so much personal dignity in any Chinese youngsters.  This first encounter was only the beginning of a series of surprises that the Young Vanguards were to give me, for as I penetrated deeper into the soviet districts I was to discover in these red-cheeked  -- ‘little Red devils’ – cheerful, gay, energetic and loyal – the living spirit of an astonishing crusade of youth.” [Snow, Red Star, 70]   

            Here Snow is positively moonstruck. One can easily see why this book was so successful in drawing the Chinese youth into the Communist party.  Mao himself could not have been more enticing and convincing.   Shortly after this encounter Snow had an opportunity to meet and join up with Mao, spend time with him and get a measure of the man.  Snow’s opportunity was unique and extraordinary.  He was the first Western journalist to gain access to a single individual whose actions would change the fate of a huge country and affect the lives of millions of people.  Snow’s account would be widely read in the West and become highly influential.    
            From his initial encounter Snow came away deeply impressed with Mao, infatuated one might say, an infatuation that was translated into a deeply lasting and widespread impression.  In reading his account one has to wonder how much if any consideration Snow gave to the fact that Mao knew that Snow would be conveying to the rest of the outside world his impressions of him and his revolutionary movement, and that Mao, of course, was investing a great deal of effort in his communications with Snow with the object of having him create an benevolent image, one that would lead to sympathy and support in the West.  
In fact, as we now know, Snow’s time spent with the future dictator was completely and astutely managed by Mao who had selected and approached Snow as a potentially friendly and sympathetic journalist. Mao knew exactly what he wanted out of this Western reporter. Snow was being set up and primed from the beginning of his carefully managed tour.  Mao could even turn on the tears for the impressionable Snow when necessary. “Mao impressed me as a man of considerable depth of feeling.  I remember that his eyes moistened once or twice when he was speaking of dead comrades, or recalling incidents in his youth, during the rice riots and famines of Hunan, when some starving peasants were beheaded in his province for demanding food from the yamen.” [Snow, Red star, 95]
Snow’s interview questions for Mao were given to him in advance and his written account of his time spent with Mao was reviewed and even edited by Mao. Mao was ready and waiting for Mr. Snow to appear. [Keith Windschuttle, “Mao & the Maoists,” The New Criterion, October 2005.] “Mao checked everything Snow wrote and amended and rewrote parts himself.  After Snow left to arrange publication, his wife, Helen, remained in Yenan, mailing him further corrections to the manuscript made by the Communist leadership.” [Windschuttle,  “Mao and the Maoists,” 5] None of this “editing business” is mentioned in Red Star. Its absence is an indication of a fundamental journalistic dishonesty that Snow knew that he was practicing, the broad knowledge of which would lose him credibility with his readers. 
            By the time he sat down to interview Mao in 1936 Snow was already living in a binary moral universe of Fascism (evil) versus anti-Fascism (good) and operating with the doctrine of the superior virtue of the oppressed. Capitalism, the exploiter and oppressor of the working class, had been linked by Communist propagandists since the 1930s to Fascism.  Capitalists thus who would naturally be resistant to the Communist vision of a society free of private property would be anti-Communist and thus Fascist or Fascist sympathizers. Snow saw Communists as well intentioned because they claimed to act on behalf of the exploited working class, and in the case of China, the exploited peasants. Therefore, anyone who opposed the Communists must have been against progress. 
 Snow’s biographer writes that Snow “came to see unrestrained capitalism the way many Chinese intellectuals did, as imperialism – an evil negating positive American values about independence and economic opportunity.” [John Maxwell Hamilton, Edgar Snow, a biography, Indiana University Press, 1988, 287] The sub-text of this comment seems to be an effort to exonerate Snow’s uncritical shortcomings with respect to Chinese Communism with the baseless suggestion being that capitalism in the U.S. was without restraint or regulation. Indeed, Snow was a man of the Left and saw in socialism human escape from poverty.  “Coming of age at a time when fascism loomed as the chief enemy, he saw socialism as a logical answer to poverty and oppression.” [Hamilton, Snow, 289] Mao as a fellow Leftist represented for him the forces of righteousness resisting the Asian agents of reaction.  He was a man who would overthrow the evil and corrupt landlords on behalf of the oppressed peasantry.  From the beginning Snow always viewed Mao as an extraordinary man who would make life better for the Chinese people.  
The observations that Snow makes in Red Star of Mao’s character and personality are astonishing in their blindness and willful self-deception.  Of the man who soon after taking power would be erecting a mindless cult of personality and putting into place policies that would kill millions of Chinese, this was the Mao that Snow captured for his readers. “There seemed to be nothing in him that might be called religious feeling. He was a humanist in a fundamental sense; he believed in man’s ability to solve man’s problems.  I thought that he had probably on the whole had a moderating influence in the Communist movement where life and death were concerned.” [Snow, Red Star, 95]
            Snow offers no specific details to support his view of the “moderate” Mao, but it is difficult to understand how he could not be ashamed and mortified in 1968 to be putting out a new edition of this book containing such ludicrous and grossly perverted observations, particularly given the fact that by this time Mao had obliterated all opposition and made himself into quasi divinity. Eleven years earlier at a world Communist summit in Moscow the delegates got a good sense of Mao’s “moderating influence…where life and death were concerned” as he addressed the issue of potential conflict with the U.S. and the possibilities of nuclear war.

“Let’s contemplate this, how many people would die, if war breaks out. There are 2.7 billion people in the world.  One-third could be lost; or, a little more, it could be half…I say that taking  the extreme situation, half dies, half- lives, but imperialism would be razed to the ground and the whole world would become socialist.” [Chang and Halliday, Mao, the Unknown Story,  Random House, New York, 2005, 403]  

This was shocking even to Mao’s fellow Communist delegates. A group as hard-bitten and cynical as the French Stalinists could hardly believe what they were hearing. [Chang & Halliday, Mao, 403] Whatever the sources were of the “moderation” Mao may have revealed to his interlocutor in the cave in 1936, they were long gone by the time by the time Snow was issuing his revised edition of Red Star.
As for Mao’s “humanism” in a “fundamental”, solving-man’s-problems sense – at the same summit when the topic of poverty came up, Mao’s humanistic, problem-solving response was:

“People say that poverty is bad, but in fact poverty is good.  The poorer people are, the more revolutionary they are.  It is dreadful to imagine a time when everyone will be rich… From a surplus of calories people will have two heads and four legs.” [Chang & Halliday, Mao, 403]

How could anyone react to this and not be aghast.  In this comment there is a disgusting and revealing aspect of psychopathic insanity and amorality.  Mao, of course, did not permit himself the self-improving experience of poverty. As we read today in the accounts of his biographers, always enjoyed the best food, living accommodations that could be found in China.  One can still hardly believe that the revered leader of the world’s most populous country would actually believe much less say something like this.  Mao’s boastful disregard for human life and welfare, and his insistence in seeing his own people driven by poverty toward revolution, make him, like Lenin, an individual who viewed human beings purely as means, as gross, raw material to achieve the ends of his ideological whimsies and fantasies.  Mao was not as the dewy-eyed Snow opined a humanist in any sense whatever; he was in fact an unabashed anti-humanist with contempt for human life, empty of any elemental sense of empathy or compassion.
            Mao, Snow goes on to write, “appeared to be free from symptoms of megalomania, but he had a deep sense of personal dignity, and something about him suggested a power of ruthless decision when he deemed it necessary.” [Snow, Red Star, 94]  Snow was partially right with this observation.  Mao was certainly a ruthless man. However, Mao’s recent biographers and historians now confirm that China’s future when Snow wrote his impressions was to be ruled by one of the most megalomaniacal personalities in all of history. During the Cultural Revolution, occurring at around the time Snow was composing the Preface to the Revised and Enlarged edition of the “first authentic account” of Chinese Communism, Mao was presiding over perhaps the most spectacular cult of personality that has ever come into being, one that reverberates to this day in China.  During this time 1.2 billion portraits of him were printed, 4.8 billion badges of Mao’s head were made, an excess of six for every living soul in China. Every Chinese possessed their own copy of the Little Red Book and everyone was expected to pull it out, waive it around and quote extensively from it in public gatherings.  Failure to do so could be dangerous, branding one as a counter-revolutionary and subject to a myriad of serious reprisals. [Windschuttle, “Mao & the Maoists,” 8] Moreover, Mao gave ample encouragement to the blind, fanatical and at times murderous devotion to him that was so much a feature of the Cultural Revolution.
            The Mao Tse Tung that Snow met and enthused over in 1936 was a disaster for China and the Chinese people. Edgar Snow helped to put him in power and continued to write favorably about him over the decades. Snow, as noted above, blithely denied the reality of the famine in China when he was there in 1961, which makes him a holocaust denier. What makes him even more reprehensible than current day Jewish holocaust deniers like David Irving and Northwestern University’s Professor Arthur Butz is that Snow was actually physically present during the event, and, he was as journalist, supposedly by his profession a man skilled at sorting out the truth, not simply accepting at face value the reports of the elites who were courting him and determined to put a happy face on what was for most Chinese a protracted nightmare.
            But Snow’s reputation remains intact and he still is an admired author and journalist.  The University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, proud of its former student, puts this on its website: “Snow was a person who knew how to break loose from cultural bonds and create a life and work that he defined as meaningful and important.  In that attribute alone he remains a model for young journalists, and certainly at Missouri and Beijing.” This is a curious tribute – so oblique that it invites a parsing that can be flattering neither to Snow nor to how the Journalism School’s publicists view the practice of journalism in a free society.  It is not at all apparent what the “cultural bonds” were that Snow broke loose from and just what it was that this breakage let him achieve in his life and through his work. Moreover, the encomium seems strangely solipsistic with its statement that he created “a life and work that he defined as meaningful and important.”  Exactly what about them was “meaningful and important”? Since when does someone get to define their own public life and professional work apart from its impact and it integrity?  That would seem to be a task for others.
Snow clearly loved China and the Chinese people but he let himself become a tool of Mao and utterly failed to comprehend the horrors that would descend upon them under Mao, even though he had opportunities that few others from the West would have to get a close, critical look at him. Then, after his initial and early encounters he remained impervious to the crimes and depredations.  How then Snow “remains a model for young journalists” is an even more perplexing question, particularly in reference to those aspirant-journalists in Beijing where journalistic output remains to this day under the corrective supervision of the CCP editors – protectors of the Maoist myth, sponging away the nasty truth of his crimes and folly – and where, it might be fair to say, real journalism is not even permitted and even severely punished. 

No comments:

Post a Comment