Monthly Archives: September 2008

Théâtres Sans Frontières

U.S. soldier in Cambodia catches up on all the good news

1970: U.S. soldier in Cambodia catches up on all the good news

In late January, 1984, Soviet-backed Afghan MiGs crossed the border into Pakistan and bombed targets in the village of Angoor Adda, killing 42 people. After another series of cross-border raids in 1987, which reportedly killed 85, State Department spokesman Charles Redman made the following statement:

These deliberate attacks are brutal attempts to force a change in Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy. They will not work. We are confident that Pakistan will continue its courageous and principled search for peace and, at the same time, to continue to offer a haven to almost three million Afghan refugees.

Twenty years later, in early September, 2008, U.S. special forces in Afghanistan crossed the border into Pakistan and raided the village of Angoor Adda, killing 20 people. Since August 20, U.S. drones have launched more than ten missile attacks on Pakistani soil.

Let it never be said that U.S. foreign policy is uninformed by history.

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Filed under Foreign Affairs, History

The surprise of Soviet language policy

"Russian Schoolroom", Norman Rockwell (1967)

It is almost always worth perusing the Times Literary Supplement‘s “In Brief” section, which presents six or seven short reviews of books not quite important enough to have warranted a full-length review, if only because its very high message-to-text ratio means that interesting books are easier to spot. Case in point: the TLS‘s April 11 (yes, I’m behind in my reading) “In Brief” presented a review of a book on the survival and nature of the Budukh language of Daghestan, which is spoken today by only 5,000 people in the Caucasus Mountains. If that comparatively tiny number has you scratching your head and wondering where the “interesting” part of this is, first note that Budukh is a sister-language to Kryts, which is spoken by 8,000 Daghestanis in neighbouring valleys, and second, as the reviewer puts it:

That either of these two languages has survived is the result of the former Soviet national language policy, as set down by Lenin, that nourished all the multitudinous small cultures of the former Soviet Union. This made sure that at least parts of primary education were in the language of the home, and for languages with even as few as 10,000 speakers, that local bureaucratic paperwork was often available in that language.

Frankly, this took me by complete surprise. Continue reading


Filed under Art & literature, Foreign Affairs, History

The worst of the worst: a memorandum

In researching an upcoming post relating to Soviet language policy (oh stop rubbing your hands with such anticipation — it’s distracting), I came across a memo that casts a sadly familiar light on the current U.S. administration’s justifications of the use of torture. I’ll let the memo — and the identity of its author — speak for themselves:

To the Secretaries of oblast and regional party committees,
To the CCs of national Communist parties,
To the people’s commissars of internal affairs, and to the heads of NKVD directorates

It has become known to the VKP CC that the secretaries of oblast and regional party committees, in checking up on employees of NKVD directorates, have laid blame on them for the use of physical pressure against those who have been arrested, treating it as something criminal. The VKP CC affirms that the use of physical pressure in the work of the NKVD has been permitted since 1937 in accordance with a resolution of the VKP CC. This directive indicated that physical pressure was to be used in exceptional cases and only against blatant enemies of the people who, when interrogated by humane methods, defiantly refuse to turn over the names of co-conspirators, and who refuse for months on end to provide any evidence, and who try to thwart the unmasking of co-conspirators who are still at large, and who thereby continue even from prison to wage a struggle against the Soviet regime. Experience has shown that such an arrangement has produced good results and has greatly expedited the unmasking of enemies of the people. True, subsequently in practice the method of physical pressure was abused by Zakovsky, Litvin, Uspensky, and other scoundrels, converting it from an exception into a rule and beginning to apply it against honest people who had been arrested accidentally. For these abuses, they [the scoundrels] have been given due punishment. But this in no way detracts from the value of the method itself when it is properly used. It is known that all bourgeois secret services use physical pressure against representatives of the socialist proletariat and rely on especially savage methods of it. We might therefore ask why a socialist secret service should be any more more humane in relation to inveterate agent of the bourgeoisie and sworn enemies of the working class and collectivized farmers. The VKP CC believes that the use of physical pressure must absolutely be continued from here on in exceptional cases and against blatant and invidious enemies of the people, and that this is a perfectly appropriate and desirable method. The VKP CC demands that the secretaries of oblast and regional party committees and the CCs of national party committees bear in mind this explanation when they check up on the employees of NKVD directorates.

Secretary of the VKP CC
J. Stalin

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Filed under Foreign Affairs, History