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·                 Remember Diana? (September 2007)

·                 Oriana Fallaci: Farewell to a Good European (September 2006)

·                 Sir Alfred Sherman: Witness to a Century (August 2006)                        

·                  Susan Sontag: The Evil of Banality (December 2004)

·                  Diana Mosley: Unrepentant Until the End (August 2003)

·                  Gen. Alexander Lebed: Promise Unfulfilled (May 2002)

·                  Warren Zimmermann: A Bad Diplomat (February 2002)

·                  Cyrus Vance: A Decent American (January 2002)

·                  Lord Aldington: Dead, but Not Resting in Peace (December 2000)

* * * * * * *


Aleksy II, Patriarch of Moscow and head of the Russian Orthodox Church, died of heart failure on December 5, 2008, at the age of 79.

Born in Estonia in 1929 into a pious family of Russian émigrés of German extraction, Aleksei Mikhailovich Ridiger was ordained a priest in 1950, completed his theological studies in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) three years later, and was tonsured in 1961.  His subsequent rise through the ranks of the Russian Orthodox Church—allegedly facilitated by a KGB connection, which he always denied—culminated in his election as Patriarch in 1990.

Aleksy II came to the throne just as the Soviet state was beginning to disintegrate.  The early years of his tenure were dominated by the tremendous task of restoring the moral authority of the Church in a nation devastated by seven decades of lethal anti-Christian rule.

The scale of that devastation defies imagination.  Persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church and other denominations under the communists is one of the greatest crimes in history.  Its death toll was several times greater than that of the holocaust.  It had killed more Christians than all other persecutions in all ages put together, with Islam a distant second.  In 20 interwar years (1918-38), the number of churches that remained open in Russia was reduced from 54,000 to under 500—less than one percent of the pre-Bolshevik total.  Some 600 Orthodox bishops, 40,000 priests, 120,000 monks and nuns, and millions of laymen were murdered.

Even in the late Soviet period the Orthodox Church was at best grudgingly tolerated, hindered from playing any role in a society that was drowning in despair, vodka, and cynicism.  Yet Aleksy II’s considerable diplomatic tact and organizational ability were already evident during the 1980’s, when he secured the Soviet authorities’ acquiescence in the return of Holy Danilov Monastery, which has been restored to its old status as the official headquarters of the patriarchate.  In 1988 he used the celebration of the “Millennium of Faith” in Russia to raise the profile of his Church in a manner unimaginable under Mikhail Gorbachev’s predecessors.

The end of communism enabled the Russian Orthodox Church to assume her old role of moral leader amid the collapse of all secular institutions.  A major test of Aleksy’s political savvy came in the summer of 1991, when old Soviet loyalists tried to stage a coup.  The Patriarch contributed to its failure by sternly condemning the shedding of civil blood: “May God protect you from the terrible sin of fratricide . . . Cease at once!”  The army obeyed.  This remarkable fact was a testimony to Aleksy’s steady cultivation of the military and security apparat well before his rise to the patriarchate.

During the ensuing decade the number of self-identified believers in Russia was to grow threefold, and the number of parishes fiftyfold, to 30,000.  But Aleksy’s greatest accomplishment was his role in the 2007 reunion of the branches of the Russian Church abroad and at home.  The reunification, together with the glorification of the Royal Martyrs Nicholas II and his family, the return to Sarov of the relics of Saint Seraphim, and the veneration of warrior saints such as Aleksandr Nevsky and Prince Dmitry Donsky, “signaled the reconsolidation of what had been ripped apart in 1917,” says foreign-affairs analyst James Jatras.  Jatras notes that its counterpart in the civil sphere is “Putin’s careful and deliberate amalgamation of White and Red symbolism.”  This synthesis lends itself to the vision articulated by the late Gen. Aleksandr Lebed: “The Church strengthens the army; the army defends the Church.  And on this restored spiritual axis—the two pillars of our power—we can begin to feel like Russians again.”

While routinely accused in the West of excessively close links to the secular authorities, Patriarch Aleksy took pains to define what is permissible and what is not in the relationship between Church and state.  He rejected any absolutization of governmental authority and insisted that the temporal powers of the state should be recognized as imperative only to the degree that they are used to support good and limit evil.  Aleksy’s position was codified in 2000 by the Jubilee Council of Bishops.  Its “Basic Social Concept”—drafted with his blessing—stated that, “in everything that concerns the exclusively earthly order of things, the Orthodox Christian is obliged to obey the law.”  However, when compliance

“threatens his eternal salvation and involves an apostasy or commitment of another doubtless sin before God and his neighbor, the Christian is called to perform the feat of confession. . . . If this lawful action is impossible or ineffective, he must take up the position of civil disobedience.  The Church is loyal to the state, but God’s commandment to fulfill the task of salvation in any situation and under any circumstances is above this loyalty. . . . If the authority forces Orthodox believers to apostatise from Christ and His Church and to commit sinful and spiritually harmful actions, the Church should refuse to obey the state . . . [it] must resist evil, immorality and harmful social phenomena and always firmly confess the Truth, and when persecutions commence, to continue to openly witness the faith and be prepared to follow the path of confessors and martyrs for Christ.”

Christians everywhere would be well advised to reflect on the meaning and implications of those words.

Remember Diana?

(Chronicles, September 8, 2007)

I was in London on a brief visit last weekend, which happened to be the tenth anniversary of the accidental death, at the age of 36, of Princess Diana, the divorced wife of the heir-apparent to the British throne. In marked contrast to the outpouring of collective grief back in 1997, the event’s anniversary passed almost unnoticed. The fact that current celebrities’ drug use and fleeting “relationships” attract infinitely more attention of hoi polloi than the memory of the “People’s Princess” proves what we’ve known all along: that “Diana” was a transient popular-culture phenomenon, only as enduring—and therefore as commercially lucrative—as the ongoing spectacle that the living person was capable of providing.

To start with, last weekend Britain did not “come together” to remember and pay tribute to the unfortunate young woman on the tenth anniversary of her untimely death. Those Britons who care about her, one way or another, remain as deeply divided between Diana loyalists and her detractors as they were a decade ago. As the Guardian noted, what should have been a somber occasion for “quiet national recollection” turned into an unseemly public display of personal rivalries with the usual suspects in the Diana “camp” continuing their tirade against anyone not seen to be a fully-paid member of her fan club. The “Dianistas” claimed that the program of remembrances was organized not according to what the Princess would have wanted, but according to what her ex-husband wants. Of course the heir’s current wife, Camilla, eventually decided not to attend the memorial service in the Guards Chapel, even though both her sons, Princes William and Harry, were supposedly in favor of her attending—the latter presumably indifferent to the event’s religious significance in view of his apparent open atheism.

As passions continued to rage, a poll in the Daily Telegraph showed that “respect” for the royal family had fallen to below 50 percent for the first time—a result, the newspaper claimed, of the family’s treatment of Diana. And 43 per cent of Britons still believed that her death was suspicious and not an accident.

The sudden and gruesome death of a woman in her prime, especially mother of adolescent children—William was 15 and Harry 13 at the time—is an inherently sad event. With Princess Diana it had the makings of a real tragedy, in view of her personal unhappiness. Back in 1981 a very young Diana Spencer was nudged into an ultra-visible marriage with an unloving, aloof and eccentric man, 14 years her senior. To make things worse, her husband was infatuated—and adulterously involved—with another woman throughout the marriage. That woman is now his wife.

Condemned to an unsettled private life of loneliness and emotional turmoil, Diana lacked the stamina of her sturdier predecessors who were mistreated by adulterous husbands (notably Alexandra, Princess of Wales, and later Queen of England), or that inner strength which is woven from a strong moral and spiritual fiber.

A decade after her untimely death it is not for us to judge Princess Diana’s private life. But by refraining from comment on her flaws and instances of sometimes very poor judgment one should not condone the decade of automatic sanctification of Diana by the frenzied media pack. Back in 1997, a mythical unity of the global village was conjured through ersatz grief for “the People’s Princess.” Diana’s hurried promotion to pseudo-sainthood was embarrassingly kitschy, and the presence of all the usual suspects on the bandwagon—from Nelson Mandela to Elton John to Michael Jackson—made the banality of the spectacle well-nigh terminal.

Even the blossoming jihadist community in Britain—a state within a state if there ever was one—claimed Diana as one of its own, presumably well primed in her temporal life for Allah’s sensual pastures:

Her loss is only this temporary world’s loss because it is definitely Heaven’s gain. While the world is grieving over her loss, those who know true Islam know that Princess Diana has made it to Heaven at the right time that was destined for her.

Diana’s AIDS related work and anti-land-mine crusade were commendable, of course, but those immune to the collective psychosis knew the truth: had she not been a princess, she would have been nothing; and she became a princess by doing what she must have bitterly regretted doing. Without that fateful “yes” at Westminster Abbey 26 years ago she would have remained a privileged, pampered, unknown nobody. But instead, in the words of a British contemporary, “like over-emotional teen-agers who mourn the break-up of their favorite pop group, we are encouraged to suspend disbelief and join in the false community that weeps and hugs itself in the worship of an icon victimhood.”

The false community of post-modern Britain has moved on, however—to a little girl in Algarve probably murdered by her own eminently middle-class parents, to an 11-year old boy with a Welsh name shot to death, ghetto-style, in Liverpool—with all the horrible teddy bears, plushy hearts, Hallmark cards, and other paraphernalia of a society way past its detox date.

Farewell to a Good European

Oriana Fallaci (1929-2006)

September 15, 2006

She prompted countless howls of rage from coast to coast and from one side of the Atlantic to another, among the degenerates, cowards, masochists, madmen, and villains. (Christopher Hitchens, who is all of the above, has described Fallaci’s work as “a sort of primer in how not to write about Islam.”) They can relax now, and write mean-spirited obituaries of this “controversial author” who’s been “harshly criticized” for “inciting hatred against Islam.” She will be sorely missed by those of us who know what she knew, and who abhor what she abhorred.

Back in the 1960s Oriana Fallaci was a “brave,” leftist, feminist hackette. Her iconoclastic interviews were praised by the chattering classes for bringing the genre to the heights of postmodernism—she was lauded for doing to journalism what Susan Sontag was doing to fiction. But whereas the latter progressed to become an apologist for jihad and died as a self-hating degenerate, Fallaci’s old age brought her wisdom and true grit. She died on September 14 as an outstanding defender of our culture and civilization against the onslaught of barbarity from without and betrayal from within.

For some 20 years starting in the early 1960s Fallaci was famous for her political interviewers with the great and the mighty of that era, including Deng Xiaoping and Henry Kissinger, who later wrote that his 1972 interview with her was “the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press.” On his own admission, he had been flattered into granting it by the company he’d be joining in Fallaci’s “journalistic pantheon,” but realized too late that it was more like a collection of scalps. Her manner of interviewing was deliberately unsettling: “she approached each encounter with studied aggressiveness, made frequent nods to European existentialism… and displayed a sinuous, crafty intelligence.”

Fallaci’s once-famous reportage has not aged well, and on the strength of it alone her death would have attracted scant attention. But in the aftermath of 9/11 she became a fierce critic of jihadism and an outspoken opponent of Muslim immigration into Europe. Her book The Rage and the Pride—a provocative extended essay initially published by Corriere della Sera—caused a sensation. While countless bien-pensants and talking heads from her 1960s and 70s milieu were prompted by 9/11 to explain to the masses the peaceful and tolerant nature of “true Islam,” Fallaci understood what was going on. It is certainly not rock and roll music that the jihadist hates, she wrote, not the usual stereotypes like chewing-gum, hamburgers, Broadway, or Hollywood. Accustomed as the Westerners are to the double-cross, blinded as they are by myopia, they’d better understand that a war of religion is in progress:

A war that they call Jihad. Holy War. A war that might not seek to conquer our territory, but that certainly seeks to conquer our souls. That seeks the disappearance of our freedom and our civilization. That seeks to annihilate our way of living and dying, our way of praying or not praying, our way of eating and drinking and dressing and entertaining and informing ourselves. You don’t understand or don’t want to understand that if we don’t oppose them, if we don’t defend ourselves, if we don’t fight, the Jihad will win. And it will destroy the world that, for better or worse, we’ve managed to build, to change, to improve, to render a little more intelligent, that is to say, less bigoted—or even not bigoted at all. And with that it will destroy our culture, our art, our science, our morals, our values, our pleasures.

Fallaci had no qualms when it came to the comparison of what we have with their culture, their art and their science, not to mention their morals, values, and pleasures. She despised the evaders of the truth about our two civilizations as weaklings, cowards or simple masochists:

It bothers me to even talk about “two of them,” to put them on the same plane as though they were two parallel realities of equal weight and equal measure. Because behind our civilization we have Homer, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Phydias, for God’s sake. We have ancient Greece with its Parthenon and its discovery of Democracy. We have ancient Rome with its greatness, its laws, its concept of Law. Its sculptures, its literature, its architecture. Its buildings, its amphitheaters, its aqueducts, its bridges and its roads. We have a revolutionary, that Christ who died on the cross, who taught us (too bad if we didn’t learn it) the concept of love and of justice.

Yes, I know—the old agnostic went on—there’s also a Church that gave me the Inquisition, the torture and the burning at the stake. But Fallaci, who was granted an audience with Pope Benedict XVI last year, readily recognized the contribution of Christianity to the history of European thought, “the inspiration it gave to Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael, the music of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, to Rossini and Donizetti and Verdi, and to science that cures diseases, and has invented the train, the car, the airplane, the spaceships, and changed the face of this planet with electricity, the radio, the telephone.”

She offered a resolute reply to “the fatal question” of what is behind the Muslim culture: “We can search and search and find only Mohammed with his Kuran and Averroe with his scholarly merits, his second-hand Commentaries on Aristotle”—all quite worthy, but pretty second-rate stuff, really. Well, yes, numbers and math; but even on that, Fallaci pointed out, there’s far less than meets the eye. Unlike the perpetrators of the myth of an Islamic Golden Age, she realized that the Muslim Empire merely inherited the knowledge and skills of the ancient Middle East, of Greece and of Persia, and added to them a few innovations.

The learning curve of Oriana Fallaci on the issue of Islam may be traced back to her famous October 1979 interview with Ayatollah Khomeini, soon after the fall of the Shah, when she took off her chador in the middle of the proceedings. His political and social views were hardly a revelation to her, but his passing comments on the music of the West shook her deeply. The old man declared dryly that it “dulls the mind, because it involves pleasure and ecstasy, similar to drugs,” instead of exalting the spirit as it should. “Even the music of Bach, Beethoven, Verdi?”—Fallaci asked, to which Khomeini curtly replied, “I do not know these names.” He went on to allow for the possibility that if Western music does not dull the mind, it would not be prohibited: “Some of your music is permitted. For example, marches and hymns for marching . . . Yes, your marches are permitted.”

For once she was genuinely horrified. As she told the New Yorker earlier this year, “I am known for a life spent in the struggle for freedom, and freedom includes the freedom of religion. But the struggle for freedom does not include the submission to a religion which, like the Muslim religion, wants to annihilate other religions. Which wants to impose its Mein Kampf, its Koran, on the whole planet. Which has done so for one thousand and four hundred years. That is, since its birth. Which, unlike any other religion, slaughters and decapitates or enslaves all those who live differently.”

As an astute analyst of world affairs in her mature years. Fallaci knew that the Islamic genie, released by the United States thanks to Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “excellent idea” to support Usama bin Laden and his ilk in Afghanistan in 1979, came to haunt us all like a boomerang. She recalled the footage of mujahideen attacking Soviet positions:

Do you remember those bearded men with the gowns and the turbans who, before firing their mortars, shouted “Allah akbar! Allah akbar!” I remember them very well. I used to shiver hearing the word “Allah” coupled with the shot of a mortar . . . Well, the Russians left Afghanistan . . . and from Afghanistan the bearded men . . . arrived in New York with the nineteen kamikaze.

But unlike her beloved New York, European cities would succumb, she feared, because of the Muslim demographic onslaught on the Old World, an invasion unparalleled in human history. This was a key theme of the best-selling sequel to The Rage and the Pride which was published last year, The Force of Reason was another frantic wake-up call. It made Fallaci the subject of several “hate-crime” lawsuits in her native country, where a court in Bergamo indicted her for ‘defaming Islam.’ In her final months, she was gripped by deep pessimism, lamenting the decline of Europe which refuses to confront the “reverse Crusade” by the “sons of Allah.”

Europe is already “Eurabia,” she declared last year, “a colony of Islam, where the Islamic invasion does not proceed only in a physical sense, but also in a mental and cultural sense.” What actually occurred, she wrote four years earlier, “was not an immigration, it was more of an invasion conducted under an emblem of secrecy—a secrecy that’s disturbing because it’s not meek and dolorous but arrogant and protected by the cynicism of politicians who close an eye or maybe even both.” The tolerance level was already surpassed fifteen or twenty years ago, “when the Left let the Muslims disembark on our coasts by the thousands.” Servility to the invaders has poisoned democracy, undermined the freedom of thought and the concept of liberty itself.

The tangible results are as devastating as the moral and spiritual ones. In Venice the invaders have taken over Piazza San Marco. In Genoa the marvelous palazzi that Rubens so admired “have been seized by them and are now perishing like beautiful women who have been raped.” In her native Florence, a huge tent was put up next to the Cathedral to pressure the Italian government to give them “the papers necessary to rove about Europe” and to “let them bring the hordes of their relatives to Italy”:

A tent situated next to the beautiful palazzo of the Archbishop on whose sidewalk they kept the shoes or sandals that are lined up outside the mosques in their countries. And along with the shoes or sandals, the empty bottles of water they’d used to wash their feet before praying. A tent placed in front of the cathedral with Brunelleschi’s cupola and by the side of the Baptistery with Ghiberti–†µ–°– golden doors . . . Thanks to a tape player, the uncouth wailing of a muezzin punctually exhorted the faithful, deafened the infidels, and smothered the sound of the church bells . . . And along with the yellow streaks of urine, the stench of the excrement that blocked the door of San Salvatore al Vescovo: that exquisite Romanesque church (year 1000) that stands at the rear of the Piazza del Duomo and that the sons of Allah transformed into a shithouse.

Of course she prompted countless howls of rage from coast to coast and from one side of the Atlantic to another, among the degenerates, cowards, masochists, madmen, and villains. (Christopher Hitchens, who is all of the above, has described Fallaci’s work as “a sort of primer in how not to write about Islam.”) They can relax now, and write mean-spirited obituaries of this “controversial author” who’s been “harshly criticized” for “inciting hatred against Islam.” She will be sorely missed by those of us who know what she knew, and who abhor what she abhorred.

Sir Alfred Sherman (1919-2006): A Witness to a Century

(August 27, 2006)

Sir Alfred Sherman, my dear friend and long-time political associate who died in London on August 26, started his political life as a Stalinist and ended it as one of the few “paleoconservative” thinkers in today’s Britain. He was a brilliant polymath, a consummate homo politicus, and one of the last true witnesses to the 20th century.

Born in 1919 to recent immigrants from Russia, Sherman joined the Young Communist League in his first year at Chelsea Plytechnic; as he later explained, “to be a Jew in 1930s Britain was to be alienated. The world proletariat offered us a home.” Within months he was a machine gunner with the Major Attlee battalion of the International Brigades in Spain. A gifted linguist, he translated the orders of the battalion’s Red Army instructor into English, French and Spanish. Sherman fought at Ebro in 1938 and spent several months as Franco’s prisoner at San Pedro de Cardenas before being repatriated to Britain.

During the Second World War Sherman served with the British Army as a Field Security Officer in the Middle East, became fluent in Hebrew and Arabic, and embarked on a life-long study of Islam. After the war he continued his studies at the London School of Economics and became president of the Communist Party student cell.

In that capacity he visited Yugoslavia, at that time one of Moscow’s staunchest allies, and upon his return prepared a favorably intoned report. As he was about to deliver it to his comrades in the summer of 1948, news came of Stalin’s break with Tito. The Party asked Sherman to rewrite his report accordingly. He refused and was duly expelled for “Titoist deviationism.” Sherman promptly left for Belgrade and offering his services to Tito’s authorities in their dispute with Moscow. He assumed his talents as an intellectual would be of value, but to his surprise when he arrived he was put to work helping to build a railway in Bosnia. Despite his small stature and obvious unsuitability for physical labour, he never complained. He carried on, learned the language, and developed a long lasting emotional tie to the former Yugoslavia.

In the early 1950s Sherman—by that time an ex-Communist but still a man of the Left—returned to Belgrade as an Observer correspondent. Unlike most of his Western colleagues, then and now, he was fluent in the language known as Serbo-Croatian at that time and possessed an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history, culture and politics of the South Slavs. He developed a strong, life-long affinity for the Serbs, in many ways comparable to that of Dame Rebecca West. That affinity was rekindled in the 1990s when Sherman became a leading critic of the Western policy in the Balkans.

After a few years in Israel, during which time he advised the government on economic affairs, Sherman returned to London. Thoroughly disillusioned in Socialism in all its forms he joined the staff of The Daily Telegraph in 1965, rising to become the Tory flagship’s leader writer (1977-86). In 1974 he co-founded, with the late Sir Keith Joseph, the conservative think-tank, the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), and became its first director. (He was ousted from the CPS in 1984 after he fell out of favour with the Tory leadership.) The CPS was the launching pad for Margaret Thatcher, gradually transforming her from the untried party leader of 1974 into a prime-minister-in-waiting. More than any one man, Sherman provided her with the strategy for capturing the leadership of the Party and winning the historic general election of 1979.

Sherman’s forte was economics but he was acutely aware of the importance of a coherent cultural basis on which the economic superstructure rests. It behove a Jew deeply worried about the condition of our civilization to advocate the revival of Christianity in general, and particularly to stress that British political history was largely that of religion: church and state were inseparable. As Margaret Thatcher argued in a lecture, Dimensions of Conservatism, in 1977, which Sherman wrote for her two years before she became Britain’s Prime Minister,

To describe us as a party of free enterprise as opposed to State ownership would be misleading, although we have good cause to fear the deadening effect of State ownership and control . . . The Tories began as a Church party, concerned with the Church and State in that order, before our concern extended to the economy and many other fields which politics now touches.

Sherman’s star shone briefly after Mrs. Thatcher became prime minister. As the Telegraph’s obituarist has noted, during those years when his star was in the ascendant, Sherman’s breadth and depth of vision and willingness to say the unsayable provided a vital stimulus to “the Leaderin,” giving her the intellectual confidence to proclaim her radical free-market vision in her early years at the helm:

Sherman was arguably the most eccentric, and certainly the most contradictory, figure ever to have been a leading adviser to a senior politician. His early imbibed skill in Marxist dialectic made him a formidable logician; at his best he could be witty, educated and shrewd on economic matters. But he could also be breathtakingly naive, never losing the instinctive fanaticism which put him in the Communist party in the first place.

In her memoirs, Lady Thatcher herself pays tribute to Sherman’s “brilliance,” the “force and clarity of his mind,” his “breadth of reading and his skills as a ruthless polemicist.” She credits him with a central role in her achievements, especially as Leader of the Opposition but also after she became Prime Minister. But his “instinctive fanaticism”—or, more accurately, his unwillingness to make compromises with the establishmentarian consensus—never enabled him to fit into the clubbable world of British politics.

His successor at the helm of The Lord Byron Foundation, Ambassador James Bissett, remembers Sherman as “a man who held strong views and [who] never hesitated to speak out and let his opinions be known.” To wit, he once gave an interview to a Russian journalist in which he was quoted as saying, “As for the lumpen, coloured people and the Irish, let’s face it, the only way to hold them in check is to have enough well armed and properly trained police.” To his shocked critics Sherman dryly replied that the quotation missed the word “proletariat” after “lumpen,” and denied using the phrase “well armed.”

By 1982, the latent strains in his relationship with Mrs. Thatcher became fully apparent. She complained that he was dismissive of the obstacles she was encountering in dismantling the legacy of decades of socialism, while he berated her for betraying the promise of her early years. (In the 90’s he said of her, “Lady Thatcher is great theatre as long as someone else is writing her lines; she hasn’t got a clue.”) After his exclusion from her inner circle she nevertheless continued to regard him with “exasperated affection,” and rewarded him with a knighthood in 1983. In July 2005 they were reunited at a reception marking the publication of Sherman’s last book with a revealing title, Paradoxes of Power: Reflections on the Thatcher Interlude.

In the last decade and a half of his life, Sherman was tireless in exposing the stupidity and malovelence of the Western policy in the Balkans. In 1994 we joined forces to establish The Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies, with the help of Michael Stenton and Ronald Hatchett, as a non-partisan research institute. In Sherman’s words, it was “designed to correct the current trend of public commentary, which tends, systematically, not to understand events but to construct a propagandistic version of Balkan rivalries, designed to facilitate the involvement of outside powers.” He chose the name of a great Western poet who gave his life in the fight to free Balkan peoples from Mohammedan rule, which reflected his belief in “the essential unity of our civilization, of which the Orthodox nations are an inseparable and essential ingredient.” As Michael Stenton wrote when Sherman retired as LBF Chairman in 2001,

Alfred has known Yugoslavia since the days the Muslim ladies were still wearing veils. Long decades before the talk of a ‘clash of civilizations’ he understood the Balkans in this sense. Where the average journalist sees the wars in Yugoslavia through some ‘worst since World War Two’ lens, Alfred sees precise parallels: between the Anglo-French reluctance to recognize Nazi malice and ‘Western’ courtesies and concessions to Islam today; between the fashionable denunciation of the Czechs for their treatment of the Sudeten Germans in 1938 and the recent excoriation of the Serbs in Kosovo and elsewhere. First select your blue-eyed boys, then wait for the atrocities, then believe what your favorites say. He has seen it all before—whether on the winning or the losing side. It inspires him not with cynicism but with stoicism. He is filled with regret but not with bitterness.

As early as 1992, writing in London’s Jewish Chronicle, Sherman warned against the lapse of logic in confusing the present plight of Bosnian Muslims with that of European Jewry under Hitler. “It does us no good to claim a locus standi in every conflict be equating it with the Holocaust,” he wrote, “or when third parties in their own interests take the name of our martyrs in vain; Bosnia is not occupied Europe; the Muslims are not the Jews; the Serbs did not begin the civil war, but are predictably responding to a real threat”:

Some years ago, I, among others, warned that, whatever the logic of establishing Yugoslavia in the first place, any attempt at hurried dismemberment, particularly along Tito’s internal demarcation lines, would lead to armed conflict, self-intensifying bloodshed and floods of refugees . . . Since 1990, the independent Croatian leadership—with its extreme chauvinist and clericalist colouring—and the Bosnian Muslim leadership—seeking, in its Islamic fundamentalist programme, to put the clock back to Ottoman days—have threatened to turn the Serbs back into persecuted minorities… The Serbs cannot forget that, in living memory, the ‘Independent Croatian State,’ set up by Hitler in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, massacred close on half of the Serbian population—which was then the largest of the three communities in Bosnia—and as many Jews as it could  lay hands on . . . If there is any parallel with the Holocaust, it is the martyrdom of the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, who account for a third of the Serbian nation.

Both the Croatian and Muslim leaderships enjoy support and encouragement from Germany, Sherman noted, and from militantly Islamic governments of Iran and Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, though Serbian refugees from Croatia and Bosnia outnumbered Croatian and Muslim refugees combined, the media virtually ignore them:

It reminds one of the late 1930’s, when most of the British press demonised the Czechs at Downing Streets behest, denouncing them as a threat to European peace and for ill-treating their peaceful German Sudetenland minority; ‘Herr’ Hitler, by contrast was held up as a reasonable man . . . It its almost invariably the innocent who suffer in war. But that does not equate them with  victims of the Holocaust, any more than being a Jew automatically qualifies one to pronounce on Yugoslavia. This needs to meet the Serbs’ legitimate claim to self-rule with religious and cultural freedoms, otherwise they will go on fighting even if the whole world is mobilised against them . . . This will not be achieved so long as European Community foreign policy is made in Bonn, whose agenda entails the reversal not only of Versailles, but also of the post-1945 settlement.

By the end of the decade Sherman saw the U.S. policy in the Balkans as inseparable from the drive for global hegemony. At a conference jointly organized by The Lord Byron Foundation and The Rockford Institute in 1997, he noted that the American century began with the Spanish-American War, and that it was ending with American penetration of the Balkans. But in contrast to the Spanish-American war, he argued, U.S. intervention in the Balkans has no clear strategic aim, but is allegedly a moral crusade on behalf of the “international community”:

This begs many questions. First, is there such a thing as “the international community”? Do people in China, which accounts for a fifth of the world’s population, and the Buddhists, who account for another fifth—among others—really want the US and its client states to bomb the Serbs or Iraqis? And who exactly, and when, deputed the US to act on behalf of this “world community”? . . . Secondly, can the blunt weapon of force, of whose use US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright boasted, balance contlicting and competing ethnic, religious, economic and political interactions over this wide and conflictive region? Can the US raise the expectations of the Albanians and Slav Moslems without affronting Macedonians, Greeks, Italians, Bulgars and Croats, as well as Serbs? . . . Thirdly, can force be a substitute for policy? It was a wise German who said that you can do anything with bayonets except sit on them. The same goes for gunships, the modern equivalent of gunboat diplomacy. Bomb and rocket once, and it has an effect. But if the victim survives, the second bout is less effective, because the victim is learning to cope.

Almost a decade ago, well before Iraq and 9-11, Sherman saw that Washington had “set up the cornerstone of a European Islamistan in Bosnia and a Greater Albania, thus paving the way for further three-sided conflict between Moslems, Serbs and Croats in a bellum omnium contra omnes . . . Far from creating a new status quo it has simply intensified instability.” The U.S. may succeed in establishing its hegemony, in the Balkans-Danubia-Carpathia and elsewhere, “but it will also inherit long-standing ethno-religious conflicts and border disputes without the means for settling them.” His 1997 warning could have come from the pages of Chronicles:

At the time of writing, the USA is uniquely powerful. It will not always be so. In the course of time, Russia may gain its potential strength, and there is very little the USA can do about Chinese developments one way or the other . . . A law of history is that power tends to generate countervailing power. It is not for me to trace how this will come about. We can do little more than guard against arrogance and over-extension and minimize the pointless sacrifices they usually entail. I am proud to have taken part in this struggle, the struggle to bring the powerful to their senses before they plunge into reckless, ruthless folly. This struggle carries no guarantee of success, for it is the quest for sanity that epitomizes the struggle of suffering humanity throughout the ages.

His realization that Western intervention in Yugoslavia has come as a result of Western crisis and not of Balkan tragedies, stemmed directly from his key insight that Washington’s “Benevolent Global Hegemony” is based on a new cultural paradigm, materialistic and anti-traditional. This megalomania is a form of madness, he would add, wnd nothing new in world history, but, as he wrote for Chronicleswebsite in May 2000,

The power and prestige of America is in the hands of people who will not resist the temptation to invent new missions, lay down new embargoes, throw new bombs, and fabricate new courts. For the time being, they control the United Nations, the World Bank, most of the world’s high-tech weapons, and the vast majority of the satellites that watch us from every quadrant of the skies. This is the opportunity they sense, and we must ask what ambitions they will declare next . . . Instead of rediscovering the virtues of traditionally defined, enlightened self-interest in the aftermath of its hands down cold war victory, America’s foreign policy elites are more intoxicated than ever by their own concoction of benevolent global hegemony and indispensable power.

The project is coming to grief, as Sherman knew it would, but since his advice often took the form of a recommendation to prefer pain today to disaster tomorrow, he had found few patrons or disciples. As Dr. Stenton has noted, wilting patrons had found the message too clear, and possible disciples had been skeptical of the typical Sherman claim that the wickedness of the world does not much change:

There is nothing seductive about a Sherman political lesson, and it is delivered without the least concession to rank or reputation. An old communist faith in getting the ‘analysis’ right sits on an even older respect for the mission of Reason. Not that men are likely to do what is Reasonable, but they should have the chance.

May he rest in peace.


Her death at 71 was at least four decades overdue

Susan Sontag died of leukaemia in New York on December 29 at the age of 71. The obituarists described her as "one of America's most influential intellectuals, internationally renowned for the passionate engagement and breadth of her critical intelligence and her ardent activism in the cause of human rights." (The Financial Times, Dec. 30) Her essays "expanded the universe of subjects it was 'all right' for intellectuals to take seriously," such as drugs, porn, and pop, ensuring that we'd "get used to these as intellectual topics."

All of which is one way of saying that Ms. Sontag has made a solid contribution to the degrading of our cultural and intellectual standards over the past four decades. But unlike some other purveyors of bad ideas, such as Voltaire, who could present them in eloquent prose, Sontag was unable to write a decent sentence. Take this gem for style and contents:

"The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballet et al., don't redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history. It is the white race and it alone—its ideologies and inventions—which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself" (Partisan Review, winter 1967, p. 57).

A week after the non-whites struck at the cancer's epicenter on September 11, 2001, Ms. Sontag asserted in The New Yorker, that this "monstrous dose of reality" was squarely a consequence of specific American actions, and paid tribute to the courage of those willing to sacrifice their lives in order to kill others: "In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards."

Courage means doing the right thing in the face of fear. Ms. Sontag's standard of "courage," based on an actor's readiness to die in pursuit of his objectives, makes sense only in the universe of an atheistic adorer of the self who cannot face the thought of self-annihilation. On that form she would have to admit that, "whatever may be said of their activities in Eastern Europe, the Waffen SS were not cowards." She was equally unaware that the word "coward" also designates a person who attacks defenseless victims, as in "Bringing the murderous coward to the stake" (Gloucester in King Lear, Act II, Scene 1). Ergo the terrorists were brave and therefore virtuous men, but Sontag's oxymoronic claim that courage is a "morally neutral virtue" was supposed to make that assertion less unpalatable.

More seriously, in the immediate aftermath of 9-11 and thereafter Ms. Sontag was reluctant to address the phenomenon of Islam in general and, in particular, to note the difference between "secular" terrorism—which may be closely correlated to the intended target's "specific actions"—and the Islamic variety of the phenomenon. Her reluctance was understandable: a hater of Western Civilization could not but feel the corresponding urge to justify those attacking it, especially if the attackers can be depicted as victims of the victim. Hence her enthusiastic support for the Muslim side in the Bosnian war. Hence her attempt to remove moral authority from the terrorists' "courage" and at the same time to make their motives understandable strictly through the prism of the target's "specific actions."

That Ms. Sontag felt no sympathy for the victims of 9-11, for those thousands of her fellow citizens on whose tax dollars, philanthropic largesse, and buying habits her own existence had depended for most of her life, or for the city of her birth which she called home, goes without saying. The gap between Ms. Sontag's heart and mind was total, reflecting the soul of a rootless purveyor of self-hate. The leading advocate of "human rights" was not only a hypocrite and a fraud to boot, she was also a moral degenerate terminally devoid of human compassion and common decency.

Ms. Sontag's absence of sympathy for the "wrong" victims of any crime was on full display a generation earlier, two years after the fall of Saigon, when she wrote that "one can only be glad about the victory of the DRV [i.e. the "Democratic Republic of Vietnam"] and the PRG [Viet Cong], but there seems little taste for rejoicing." Such melancholy note was not due to the Communist reign of terror unleashed on South Vietnam, exemplified in tens of thousands of ad-hoc executions, the unspeakable "re-education camps," or the plight of hundreds of thousands of perfectly innocent and ordinary "boat people." No, Ms. Sontag's sole reason for lamentation was the loss of vigor of the anti-war crowd here in the United States: "For while 'they' won, 'we' did not. The 'we' who wanted 'us' to lose had long since been disbanded. The domestic convulsion set off by the Vietnam War had subsided long before the peoples of Indochina were liberated from the American murder machine."

Ms. Sontag's qualities were on full display during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. She supported the Muslim side and was a leading purveyor of the Muslim-fabricated myth of the Serbian "rape camps" where she asserted that "tens of thousands of women" were raped "by military order." Writing in the Nation on Christmas Day 1995 she likened her trips to Sarajevo—comfortable, safe, and well-publicized—to the struggle of the Lincoln Brigade in Spain. Ms. Sontag's a-priori assumptions, that the Serbs were Fascist monsters, the Muslims innocent victims of a brutal aggression, were beyond dispute. Her smug self-depiction as a brave voice of intellectual and moral integrity in a cynical world was laughable.

Ms. Sontag was an enthusiastic supporter of Clinton's war against the Serbs in 1999. She ridiculed the objection that the war is ("wonderful word") illegal" with the usual reductio ad Hitlerum: "Imagine that Nazi Germany had had no expansionist ambitions but had simply made it a policy in the late 1930's and early 1940's to slaughter all the German Jews. Do we think a government has the right to do whatever it wants on its own territory? Maybe the governments of Europe would have said that 60 years ago. But would we approve now of their decision?" Writing in The New York Times in May 1999 she reasserted the lie of the Kosovo genocide, then repeated the already discredited claim that its prevention was the reason for Clinton's war, and finally dehumanized the victims of that war:

"it is grotesque to equate the casualties inflicted by the NATO bombing with the mayhem inflicted on hundreds of thousands of people in the last eight years by the Serb programs of ethnic cleansing. Not all violence is equally reprehensible; not all wars are equally unjust . . . There is radical evil in the world, which is why there are just wars. And this is a just war . . . The Milosevic Government has finally brought on Serbia a small portion of the suffering it has inflicted on neighboring peoples."

Sontag's view of the Balkans provides an apt summary of her opus. As The New York Times obituarist has noted, she championed style over content: "She was concerned, in short, with sensation, in both meanings of the term." In short she was not concerned with the truth. She dabbled in ideas but she could not think. Her lies, dishonesty, absence of moral sense and self-deceptions amounted to a sustained exercise in counter-realism, which is the essence of post-modernism.

In the post-modernist vein Susan Sontag was also a plagiarist who routinely stole words written by other people and presented them as her own. She inserted 12 segments totaling four pages written by others into her 387-page historical novel "In America," and did so without credit or attribution. The New York Times—a sympathetic source that has given Ms. Sontag thousands of column-inches over the years—wrote that "in some passages the language itself is taken almost verbatim from other authors." But Ms. Sontag blithely responded that the historical novel is an evolving new genre that does not require the rigor of footnotes and attributions: "All of us who deal with real characters in history transcribe and adopt original sources in the original domain? I've used these sources and I've completely transformed them? There's a larger argument to be made that all of literature is a series of references and allusions."

It defies belief that someone of Susan Sontag's talent, literacy, integrity, education, moral sense, and beliefs could be taken seriously by any segment of any country's educated public for any period of time. That this was so in America is as sad as the fact that Bernard-Henri Lévy is widely regarded as France's foremost contemporary philosopher. But "BHL" is Sontag's twin brother in almost every field imaginable: a media personality, an "intellectual," a hater of Western civilization, a Christophobe, an "essayist," an enthusiastic promoter of homosexuality, an admirer of Sartre, an outspoken advocate of the Muslim side in the Bosnian war and in Kosovo. In Sontag's and Levy's lunatic account of world affairs the Christians are always at fault and their enemies are always innocent of any wrongdoing. For both of them the "siege" of Sarajevo became a stage for countless self-serving media appearances, as well as the symbol of their decisive move beyond truth and reality and beyond the limits of the aesthetic.

Thanks to Susan Sontag and Bernard-Henri Lévy and their ilk, New York and Paris—until not so long ago two intellectual capitals of the world—have succumbed to the culture of depravity, victimology and self-hate. Financed by George Soros, the MacArthur Foundation & Co., lionized by the likes of the New Yorker and Liberation, they have done the best to destroy the civilization they hate while feeding the minds of future suicide bombers with a political pap that nourishes their hate and legitimizes their rage.

Susan Sontag's death at 71 was at least four decades overdue.


Lady Diana Mosley, Sir Oswald’s widow, died in her comfortable exile in Paris last Tuesday at the age of 93. A strong and beautiful woman (Churchill called her “Dinamite”), a charming hostess and the last of the engaging Mitford sisters, she remained unrepentant of her fascist views, and lovingly supportive of her husband’s memory, until the end. Her death, according to The Daily Telegraph, “brings to an end one of the most curious questions of British upper-class etiquette: How does one deal socially with an unrepentant Nazi?” She was “a steadfast friend to a wide galère (including some Jews); a fine autobiographer and loving mother”; yet also a woman who could—when she was inadvisedly invited to appear on BBC’s Desert Island Discs—describe Adolf Hitler in adoring terms.

All too often a person’s passing is termed “the end of an era.” In this case the phrase is apt: They certainly do not make them like Lady Mosley any more. Diana was born into a recently ennobled bourgeois family on June 17, 1910, at the tail end of a great civilization. (Her father was only the second Baron Redesdale; the family name was actually Freeman-Mitford.) She and her six siblings grew up amidst the opulence of stately homes, races and shoots, the swansong of a dying class that appeared vigorous and melodious in the decade after the catastrophe of 1914-18. Even as a teenager she fascinated men with her beauty, effortless charm, wit and understated sensuality. With her sisters Pam, Nancy, Unity, Deborah and Jessica (known as Decca), she belonged to an eccentric family team than dominated and dazzled the London society between the wars. They were educated at home—or not educated, according to Nancy—and they were all unorthodox to the extreme.

While only 18, Diana married a nondescript Guinness heir, only to desert him for the dashing and dangerous Oswald Mosley—14 years her senior—three years later. Mosley (“Tom” to his friends, “Kit” to her) is one of the few Englishmen who could have made it to No. 10 on behalf of either major party. Tall and very handsome, eloquent and charismatic, a distinguished World War I veteran, he was successively a Conservative, Independent and Labor MP. Deemed a “man of destiny” by many contemporaries, he left the Labour Party in 1931 to lead the British Union of Fascists, thus replicating the evolution of Mussolini from socialism to fascism.

The affair was scandalous. “I think it would be true to say that everyone, without exception, was furious about it,” she remembered much later; “at the beginning every one of my friends and relations deplored my decision, some in sorrow but most, like my parents, in impatient anger.”

Diana was aloof to its “implications,” meaning the scandal’s impact on her sisters’ marriage prospects. It did not stop Deborah from becoming the Duchess of Devonshire, however, by marrying the 11th Duke. It also pushed Nancy (1904-73) along the path of creative writing, making her the most independently successful sister and a respected author of witty, best-selling novels of English upper-class life.

Born into wealth and privilege, Diana was disdainful of the humbug and hypocrisy of her social stratum’s conventions. Many bright young things of her generation and temperament became communists, including Decca—also known as Lucy—who went on to become a naturalized American citizen and a card-carrying Communist Party member, whose muckraking sketches of American life (including the best-selling American Way of Death) made her moderately wealthy and somewhat notorious.

Diana and her younger sister Unity veered in the opposite direction, however, becoming infatuated with the lure of Volksgemeinschaft of the late-1930’s Germany, in which they were frequent and well-received guests. When the war broke out in 1939, Unity—once described as “more Nazi than the Nazis”—could not stand the strain of divided loyalty and shot herself in the head, causing severe brain damage but lingering on for nine miserable years before dying in 1948.

Sir Oswald was inevitably arrested when the war broke out, his appeal to followers for loyal service to the country notwithstanding; as Diana put it, “He knew very well, and so did his companions, that it was a great adventure they had embarked upon; what he did not know, because it had nothing to do with English politics in 1931, was the fatal role Germany was to play in his destiny.” Mosley was an English patriot but also a quintessential fascist, who—according to his wife—“felt the mysterious force within man and within nature was what we must build on in order to survive, let alone to progress.”

MI5 documents released recently showed the security services regarded Diana as the greater threat. One report stated that she is “reported on the best authority, that of her family and intimate circle, to be a public danger at the present time. Is said to be far cleverer and more dangerous than her husband and will stick at nothing to achieve her ambitions.” It was not long before she joined her beloved Kit behind bars, in Holloway, where they spent three years before being released because of Sir Oswald’s illness in 1943. Her interrogation in 1940—the transcripts of which were finally released in 1983—seem to have justified her incarceration, what with the admission (at the height of the Blitz!) that “she would like to see the German system of government in England because of all it had achieved in Germany.”

The Mosleys moved to France in the 50’s, where they were well known as genial hosts, gracious guests, and providers of stylish if not always lavish entertaining. “I still think Paris is the most beautiful city in the world, despite the dreadful rebuilding,” she said. “I’ve always felt truly European and am equally at home in Germany, Italy, France or England.” The British Embassy shunned them but they were never short of visitors to their beautiful home outside Paris, Temple de la Gloire, built in 1800. Sir Oswald died in 1980, bitter at Europe’s descent into barbarity but stoically resigned to his own inability to change the drift. “Kit was never embittered,” Diana wrote a decade later, “but only saddened at the way England came bottom of every league. He knew that the secret of success lay in the Empire, and when we lost that he knew we had lost everything, unless there could be a united Europe.”

As a loving widow (“I miss him desperately,” she kept saying daily) Diana remained in Paris where her eccentric politics were deemed less unacceptable that across the Channel. “Hitler was attractive,” she told an English interviewer, “though not handsome, with great inner dynamism and charm. Charm can mean so many things; I don’t suppose I’ve met anyone quite so charming.” A decade ago she took particular pleasure in the way that Czechoslovakia, which “couldn’t last in its 1938 form,” was disintegrating—just as the Fuehrer had made it do in Munich. This illustrates the fundamental difference between her and other British sympathizers of Hitler’s Germany of the 1930s: that hers was a life-long love affair. As the writer Michael Shelden put it, her stubbornness and aristocratic pride made her reluctant to admit that she may have been wrong.

Many Englishmen will reluctantly concede, today, that her much-maligned husband may have been right on some points, notably immigration and European identity. Back in the 1930’s, he had spoken of the “scenery of decadence,” which aptly describes the seediness of today’s English inner cities. He never imagined that his countrymen were themselves decadent, however; he had perhaps exaggerated faith in their intelligence, inventiveness and character. He simply thought they were badly governed; as Diana remembered,

“He felt certain there would be change with the ebb and flow of history. In his view the present was a transitory phase in the life of a great people . . . He tried to change the course of history, and to save the country he loved from what he regarded as a tragic decline. He failed. But Carlyle’s metaphor comes to mind: ‘When the ship returns to harbour with the hull battered and the rigging torn, before we assess the blame of the pilot, before we award the verdict of posterity, let us pause to enquire whether the voyage has been twice round the world or from Ramsgate to the Isle of Dogs.’”


(May 2002)

When I first met General Lebed, shortly after he was forced to retire from his stellar military career in 1995, he was a crusty soldier with great political ambitions, itching for action but visibly uncomfortable in mufti.  His tie knot was too wide and his parade-ground bass sounded coarse and unmodulated.  His lived-in face, with more than a hint of the Asian steppe, bore the marks of many brawls.  I remember well the moment when Lebed first came to my favorable attention, with his statement of approval for General Augusto Pinochet: "Preserving the army is the basis for preserving the government, and Pinochet was able to revive Chile by putting the army in first place."  By the time of our meeting, however, Lebed realized that the use of military force to maintain Russia's position externally and order internally was no longer an option: "We used military power in Tbilisi, Baku, Vilnius.  Where are they today--Georgia, Azerbaijan, Lithuania?  Everything we tried to keep by force was lost.  Now everything is being done in order to lose Chechnya."  Although Lebed favored the army's active role in Moldova he was extremely critical of the decision to intervene militarily in Chechnya.  As the campaign began he sarcastically offered to lead a regiment into battle if it would be made up of the children and grandchildren of "our glorious government and members of the Duma."  He was despondent about the state of the military: "Russia doesn't have an army anymore.  It has only toy soldiers, formations of boys with no capacity."

Lebed's views on Russia's predicament, mostly grim but stated with simplicity and conviction, were refreshingly clear in a city brimming with "experts" who sought to rationalize their country's economic, political and military collapse.  He furiously attacked President Boris Yeltsin: "nothing but the first secretary of Sverdlovsk, infamous for the destruction of the building where the last Russian tsar and his family were incarcerated before their execution." He favored cooperation with the West to confrontation, but had no illusions about the possibility of "convergence" that were still rampant in the "reformist" circles: "The West is attempting to turn Russia into a cheap supplier of raw materials, a reservoir of free labor, and a huge hazardous waste dump for the industrial world."

Lebed did not oppose capitalism -- "real competition is good, healthy" – but he hated its Mafioso-monopolistic variety rampant in Yeltsin's Russia, and resented the resulting reduction of his countrymen to the status of "beggars."  He accepted the Soviet Union's disintegration but wanted clear guarantees of the rights of millions of Russians stranded in the successor states; his own rise to national prominence was due to his support in 1992 of the Russians' demand for self-rule in Moldova's Trans-Dniester region.  As the commander of the Russian troops he made clear that his sympathies lay on the side of the ethnic Russian population.  Nationalists credited him with preventing a "second Croatia" (i.e., the expulsion of Russians from Moldova.) However, he soon fell out with the local Russians in Moldova after accusing the president of the pro-Russian Dniester Moldovan Republic, Igor Smirnov, and his colleagues of corruption.  He told a press conference at the time that he was "sick and tired of guarding the sleep and safety of crooks."

The news of Lebed's death in a helicopter crash on April 28 did not merit front-page treatment in the West, but at the time of our first encounter he was widely regarded as a man of destiny in Russia and abroad.  Assuming that I was yet another foreign visitor in need of quick assurance about his intentions he claimed to accept "democracy" as the basic framework for Russia's future political discourse.  To his credit he did so without starry-eyed enthusiasm feigned by so many post-communists, and without nurturing any illusions about democracy's magical properties; personally he favored what he called "the dictatorship of the rule of law." Looking back at his notable record as a paratroop commander in the "chaos" of the Afghan war he said he saw "pain and remembrance, but never shame"-shame belonged strictly to politicians, the breed for which Lebed had a healthy disdain.  To him Yeltsin's "democrats" (with whom he sided in the confusion of the 1991 coup attempt) were as self-serving and hypocritical as their Communist predecessors. He condemned them by quoting Plato on the dangers of liberty when oligarchs and demagogues manipulate it. "I couldn't care less for democracy," he famously remarked about his role in the events of August 1991, "but I wasn't ready to kill my fellow Russians." In a programmatic article published in Nezavisimaya gazeta, Lebed rejected democracy as harmful for Russia.  He asserted that the abundance of political parties "has so clouded the brains of the average citizen" that the results are much worse for the country than its addiction to vodka. As a result, the domestic political situation is "out of control" and has significantly reduced the authorities' ability to find social consensus in resolving Russia's economic and political problems.

Lebed was born in the southern city of Novocherkassk in the Cossack country in 1950. His boyhood taught him some of the harsher lessons of Russian politics.  In 1962 he watched Soviet troops gun down hundreds of workers in his home town, bringing a quick end to one of the few labor strikes recorded in Soviet history. Lebed's own father was a former political prisoner, condemned by Joseph Stalin to the Gulag but later reprieved to serve in a military punishment battalion during the Second World War.  Lebed nevertheless chose a military career. After graduating from the paratrooper academy in 1970, he rose swiftly through the ranks.  He was decorated for his service as a battalion commander in Afghanistan in the early 1980s, and in 1990 became one of the Soviet Army's youngest generals.

Five years later Russia seemed ripe for someone like Lebed: patriotic, unlike Yeltsin's "pro-Western" coterie embodied in his foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev and the hated ex-premier Yegor Gaidar; honest, unlike the mega-rich oligarchs in and around the "family" embodied in prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin; reliable, unlike the erratic and embarrassing Vladimir Zhirinovsky; and free from the old apparatchik taint, unlike the Communist opposition leader Gennadi Zyuganov. As the election year of 1996 drew near Lebed seemed more popular than any one of them. A few months after our introductory meeting, in January 1996, I brought half-dozen Western friends (including Tom Fleming) to meet the man then increasingly regarded as Russia's likely next president.

We encountered a self-confident and friendlier Lebed.  His voice sounded smoother and he wisely made pauses before answering questions. Lebed's suite of offices on the Arbat had the appearance of a viable political operation. He spent over an hour speaking mainly on foreign affairs, and his salient theme was the need for Russia's recovery-not only for Russia's own sake, but also because the "void" in place of Moscow's traditional geopolitical role was bad for the rest of the world, America included. In the crucial months that followed Lebed proved out of his depth in the complexities of national politics. He was unapologetically individualistic and driven, and gave off an air of arrogant self-reliance and self-motivation-all qualities prized in the individualist West, but instinctively frowned upon in the post-Soviet collectivist mindset. He nevertheless did very well: he came third in the first round of the presidential contest, winning over 11 million votes (about 15 percent of the ballots cast). Some projections showed him winning in the second round, which scared Yeltsin into cutting a deal, in which Lebed dropped out of the race in return for a high Kremlin post and anointment as the president's chosen successor.

To the boundless chagrin of many of his followers and his party-the Congress of Russian Communities virtually became his vehicle-Lebed made the u-turn and supported Yeltsin in the second round, helping him clinch a victory against Zyuganov.  This was a fateful error: he was rewarded by being appointed Yeltsin's national security advisor, but the damage to his credibility eventually proved irreparable.  In his new capacity Lebed successfully negotiated the ceasefire in Chechnya, but he also created powerful enemies by his unconcealed disgust for the sleaze and graft rampant in the Kremlin.  Lebed's costly and morally ambiguous acceptance of a high position could have been followed by a patient exercise in empire-building, and it is possible that his role of heir-apparent could have been accepted by the oligarchs had he not made them feel threatened. He unwisely chose to make himself feared by the corrupt presidential entourage instead, and ended up with the worst of all worlds. After only four months, in October 1996, he was fired, and there was no power base to go back to. Lebed seemed able to rebuild it when he ran for, and won, the governorship of the huge Siberian province of Krasnoyarsk in 1998 (allegedly with some help from one of the oligarchs), but his victory in retrospect looks like an admission that his goals had shrunk. He took no part in the subsequent political maneuvers that brought Vladimir Putin into the Kremlin as prime minister in 1999, and gave him the presidency in March 2000. He had become a has-been, without ever having "been," while bemoaning the fact that almost a decade of Yeltsinism had reduced Russia to a neocolonial wreck with collapsing birth rates, a moribund industry, an unconsolidated body-politic. He was equally bitter on world affairs: "Our relationship with the United States has long ceased being a partnership," he forlornly declared from his new abode. "It is the relationship between master and dog: the dog is fed, sometimes stroked, sometimes beaten.  However, it can never be an ally, an interlocutor."

It will be forever unknown if Lebed could have prevented Russia's descent. On one occasion in the past half-decade he attracted attention in Washington, when he warned the United States that at least 80 suitcase-sized nuclear devices from the old Soviet Union's weapons arsenal had gone missing.  He first revealed on CBS's 60 Minutes on September 7, 1997 that Russia had built small, portable nuclear bombs called "Special Atomic Demolition Munitions" that were truly "first strike" weapons that could be used at the outbreak of nuclear war by saboteurs.  As he told a delegation of visiting American congressmen, of 132 such devices he could only locate 48.

During NATO's bombing of Serbia Lebed's words elicited no response from Washington, however. "We should announce to the entire world that we will provide military and technical aid to Yugoslavia in order to minimize civilian casualties there," he declared from Krasnoyarsk in March 1999.  "This would allow us to unite our nation and regain our self-respect," he said. Acting on Lebed's advice, the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, approved a non-binding resolution calling on the government to send military aid to Yugoslavia. A week later, in an interview with the Hamburg weekly Der Spiegel on April 5 1999, he rejected the interviewer's suggestion that he wanted Russia towage war on Serbia's behalf: "On the contrary. I want to resist the large-scale war in a civilized manner, because, otherwise, it will spread over the entire world--above all, through terrorism and, above all, against the Americans."

As this prescient quote indicates Lebed was not "clever" but he did have the Russian peasant's natural wisdom, and the enlightened nationalist's capacity to limit his demands for his own people by the need to grant the legitimate demands of others.  Until his last day in this life he remained a political underachiever whose detractors were often more passionate than his followers. May he rest in peace, while his long-suffering nation awaits the appearance of a leader destined to restore it to life and self-respect.



(February 6, 2004)

Warren Zimmermann, the last U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia before its breakup and civil war, died on February 3 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 69. Zimmermann, a career Foreign Service officer, was named ambassador to Yugoslavia in 1989 by the first President Bush. Zimmermann was recalled from Belgrade in 1992 when U.N. sanctions were imposed on what remained of Yugoslavia, and two years later he resigned from the Foreign Service over what he felt was President Clinton’s reluctance to intervene forcefully enough on the Muslim side in the Bosnian war. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Zimmermann ranked among the finest U.S. career ambassadors and described him as an eloquent defender of human rights: “Ambassador Zimmermann's passing is a great loss to American diplomacy and to our State Department family.”

What the obituaries do not state, however, is that in March 1992 Warren Zimmermann materially contributed—probably more than any other single man—to the outbreak of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The facts of the case have been established beyond reasonable doubt and are no longer disputed by experts.

Nine months earlier, in June 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence, a move that triggered off a short war in Slovenia and a sustained conflict in Croatia where the Serbs refused to accept Tudjman’s fait accompli. These events had profound consequences on Bosnia and Herzegovina, that “Yugoslavia in miniature.” The Serbs adamantly opposed the idea of Bosnian independence. The Croats predictably rejected any suggestion that Bosnia and Herzegovina remains within a Serb-dominated rump Yugoslavia. Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim leader, had decided as early as September 1990 he argued that Bosnia-Herzegovina should also declare independence if Slovenia and Croatia secede. On 27 February 1991 he went a step further by declaring in the Assembly: “I would sacrifice peace for a sovereign Bosnia-Herzegovina, but for that peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina I would not sacrifice sovereignty.” The process culminated with the referendum on independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina (29 February 1992). The Serbs duly boycotted it, determined not to become a minority in a Muslim-dominated Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the end just over 62 percent of voters opted for independence, overwhelmingly Muslims and Croats; but even this figure was short of the two-thirds majority required by the constitution. This did not stop the rump government of Izetbegovic from declaring independence on 3 March.

Simultaneously one last attempt was under way to save peace. The Portuguese foreign minister José Cutileiro—Portugal holding at that time the EC Presidency—organized a conference in Lisbon attended by the three communities’ leaders, Izetbegovic, Radovan Karadzic, and the Croat leader Mate Boban. The EU mediators persuaded the three sides that Bosnia-Herzegovina should be independent but internally organized on the basis of ethnic regions or “cantons.”

The breakthrough was due to the Bosnian Serbs’ acceptance of an independent and internationally recognized state, provided that the Muslims give up their ambition of a centralized, unitary one. Izetbegovic appeared to accept that this was the best deal he could make—but soon he was to change his mind, thanks to Warren Zimmermann. When Izetbegovic returned from Lisbon, Zimmermann flew post haste from Belgrade to Sarajevo to tell him that the U.S. did not stand behind the Cutileiro plan. He saw it as a means to “a Serbian power grab” that could be prevented only by internationalizing the problem. When Izetbegovic said that he did not like the Lisbon agreement, Zimmerrmann remembered later, “I told him, if he didn’t like it, why sign it?” A high-ranking State Department official subsequently admitted that the US policy “was to encourage Izetbegovic to break with the partition plan.” The New York Times (August 29, 1993) brought a revealing quote from the key player himself:

“The embassy [in Belgrade] was for recognition of Bosnia and Herzegovina from sometime in February on,” Mr. Zimmermann said of his policy recommendation from Belgrade. “Meaning me.” ... Immediately after Mr. Izetbegovic returned from Lisbon, Mr. Zimmermann called on him in Sarajevo... "He said he didn’t like it; I told him, if he didn’t like it, why sign it?"

After that moment Izetbegovic had no motive to take the ongoing EC-brokered talks seriously. Only had Washington and Brussels jointly insisted on an agreement on the confederal-cantonal blueprint as a precondition for recognition, he could have been induced to support the Cutileiro plan. But after his encounter with Zimmermann Izetbegovic felt authorized to renege on tripartite accord, and he believed that the U.S. administration would come to his assistance to enforce the independence of a unitary Bosnian state.

The motives of Zimmermann and his political bosses in Washington were not rooted in the concern for the Muslims of Bosnia as such, or indeed any higher moral principle. Their policy had no basis in the law of nations, or in the notions of truth or justice. It was the end-result of the interaction of pressure groups within the American power structure: Saudis and other Muslims, neocons, Turks, One-World Nation Builders, Russophobes… all had their field day. Thus the war in the Balkans evolved from a Yugoslav disaster and a European inconvenience into a major test of “U.S. leadership.” This was made possible by a bogus consensus which passed for Europe's Balkan policy. This consensus, amplified in the media, limited the scope for meningful debate. “Europe” was thus unable to resist the new thrust of Bosnian policy coming from Washington.

While Europe resorted to the lowest common denominator in lieu of coherent policy, Zimmermann was giving finishing touches to a virulently anti-Serb, agenda-driven form of Realpolitik that was to dominate America’s Bosnian policy. Just as Germany sought to paint its Maastricht Diktat on Croatia’s recognition in December 1991 as an expression of the “European consensus,” after Zimmermann’s intervention in Sarajevo Washington’s fait accomplis were straightfacedly labeled as “the will of the international community.” Just as the EU has lived with the consequences of its acquiescence to Herr Genscher's fist-banging in Maastricht, Europe has felt the brunt of the new American agenda in foreign policy. It was resentful but helpless when the United States resorted to covert action—with the support of Turkey and Germany—to smuggle arms into Croatia and Bosnia in violation of U.N. resolutions. Zimmermann’s torpedoing of the EU Lisbon formula in 1992 started a trend that frustrated the Europeans, but they were helpless.

Cutileiro was embittered by the US action and accused Izetbegovic of reneging on the agreement. Had the Muslims not done so, he recalled in 1995, “the Bosnian question might have been settled earlier, with less loss of life and land.” Cutileiro also noted that the decision to renege on the signed agreement was not only Izetbegovic’s, as he was encouraged to scupper that deal and to fight for a unitary Bosnian state by foreign mediators.” This was echoed by Ambassador Bissett, who has opined that the United States undermined every peace initiative that might have prevented the killing: “It appeared that the United States was determined to pursue a policy that prevented a resolution of the conflict by other than violent means.”

More than a decade after the event it cannot be denied that Warren Zimmermann’s role in Bosnia’s descent to war was crucial. In early 1992 most Muslims were prepared to accept a compromise that would fall short of full independence—especially if full independence risked war—but he encouraged Izetbegovic to take a leap in the dark.

Zimmermann’s subsequent role as an advocate of a military intervention on the side of the Muslims was seedy but predictable; ditto the lies, half-truths and distortions contained in his book on the Yugoslav conflict (Origins of a Catastrophe: Yugoslavia and its Destroyers). The Washington Times was wrong when it claimed in an otherwise insightful piece that the Lisbon agreement “was scuttled by hapless Mr. Zimmermann, who encouraged [Izetbegovic] … to reverse himself and withdraw.” In reality there was nothing “hapless” about Zimmermann’s action. It was as coldly premeditated, and as tragic in its consequences, as Bismarck’s game with the Ems telegram in 1870, or William Walker’s stage-managed “massacre” at Racak in January 1999, or Albright’s cynical setup at Rambouillet a month later. No doubt when these two “eloquent defenders of human rights” meet their maker the Secretary of State of the day will also assure us that their passing is “a great loss to American diplomacy and to our State Department family."


The news of Cyrus Vance's death on January 12 brought back the memory of a golden autumn afternoon in 1992 we spent discussing the intricacies of the Balkans at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Vance was at that time the U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar's special representative charged with the impossible task of mediating the war in the former Yugoslavia. At that time I advised Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia, who had made Vance's acquaintance some years before, and we were to meet again at the lovely lakeside villa of Daniel Boyer, a joint friend.

Vance was an old-fashioned liberal of impeccable manners, dress, and speech. But for his accent he could have passed for an English squire of a Whiggish bend, tweeds and half-moon glasses and all; his implicit Anglophilia was evident from a few casual references to books, friends, and places. I had been warned that he did not have any original ideas or profound insights, but I was gratified by his quiet modesty. While his performance as Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State was on the whole lackluster (his contribution to the 1978 Camp David deal between Sadat and Begin notwithstanding), his 1980 resignation from that post-in protest at the ill-fated military operation to rescue the hostages from Tehran-befitted that old-fashioned integrity which had once been the hallmark of the East Coast establishment.

When we met Vance was growing weary of the Balkans. A year earlier, in late 1991, he had helped reach a ceasefire in Croatia; but with Bosnia-Herzegovina he faced an impossible task. Unlike the ideologues in Washington and their media cronies, he understood that "Bosnia" was not a real country, much less a nation, but a mini-Yugoslavia devoid of inner cohesion that could not be kept together except by external force. At the same time he could not say so aloud as his brief was clear: square the circle the best you can, but only within the Bosnian framework. Partition would not be allowed.

Vance did not have his heart in it. Having developed a healthy disdain for all parties to the conflict, and an understated awareness of the impossibility of the mission, he was glad to have the burden taken off his shoulders with the arrival of David Owen, a failed British politician full of ambition and adrenalin who was sent by the European Union as Vance's fellow negotiator. Owen did not have a problem with the fact that the settlement had to be based on the illogical and immoral recognition of administrative boundaries between Yugoslavia's former constituent republics as fully-fledged international frontiers. Unlike Vance, Owen joined with gusto in the effort to construe "Bosnia" as a test of Western resolve in the epic struggle of multi-ethnicity (the Muslims) versus atavistic, tribal nationalism (the Serbs).

The resulting absurdity known as the "Vance-Owen Peace Plan" was Owen's doing, and his failure, not Vance's. Ever neurotically hyperactive, Owen hijacked what passed for the Bosnian peace process by hinting that "Cy's past it"-but he hardly stopped to reflect that Vance did not mind in the least having the limelight taken away. He quietly went along with the plan's key objective-to give the Muslims their chief war aim, a single, centralized Bosnian state-knowing that the Clinton Administration would duly torpedo the whole thing anyway, believing the territorial arrangement too generous to the Serbs. The subsequent fiasco was a personal tragedy to Owen, and a matter of no consequence to Vance. His career was over anyway, and his name beyond reproach.

Vance's career had reached its zenith fifteen years earlier when he got the State. His previous career was solid, albeit not exactly distinguished. He was born in 1917 in Clarksburg, WV, got his honors from Yale Law School in 1942, and served as a naval gunnery officer in the Pacific for the rest of the war. After stint as a Wall Street lawyer Vance entered public life at 39 as general counsel to the Senate Space and Aeronautics Committee, where he drafted the legislation establishing the NASA. In 1960 he moved to the Pentagon, and two years later Kennedy appointed him Secretary of the Army. Shortly after Dallas LBJ made him deputy defense secretary under Robert McNamara. Within months Vance had to deal with the escalating Vietnam War, which he supported until the tide of public opinion turned in 1967.

Some of Vance's former colleagues never forgave his abrupt change of heart and subsequent resignation from the government. Nevertheless, when Johnson withdrew from the impending presidential race in March 1968 and offered to discuss peace terms with Hanoi, he made Vance deputy to the chief American negotiator, Averell Harriman. The commentary in Washington, based on Vance's well-established reputation for endless nitpicking, was that Johnson was simply pursuing the war by other means. The job remained unfinished, however: it took five years, and another administration, before the inglorious terms were signed.

During the Nixon years Vance returned to his law practice but was recalled to government by President Carter in 1977. From his earliest days as secretary of state there were clear tensions within the new team. Vance's position was made difficult by the President's lack of strategic objectives, his hesitant nature, and his frustrating proneness to micromanagement. Vance also had to contend with two people he came to detest, with ample reason. One was Andrew Young, the U.N. ambassador, enough said. The other was Carter's national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, the clever demagogue who Vance eventually suspected of pursuing an agenda determined by his ethnic obsessions and atavistic hang-ups. The tone was set within a week of the new Administration's assuming office, when Washington issued an tactlessly worded declaration of support for the dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov, then involved in a row with the Kremlin, which brought an outraged protest from Moscow. Within hours it transpired that the declaration had been made without Vance's knowledge: Zbig had been flexing his muscles.

Brzezinski's disruptive influence surfaced again over the complex negotiations that Vance conducted on the strategic arms limitation treaty (Salt II). Without mentioning anything to Vance Brzezinski persuaded Carter to present at the last minute a completely new set of proposals to the Russians-proposals he knew to be unacceptable, and which were duly dismissed by Moscow as "absurd." He also intervened destructively after the conclusion of the Camp David accords in 1978, in which Vance had played a major role. Brzezinski ignored State Department warnings that the Jordanians and Saudis would take a long time to accept the new situation, and-to upstage Vance-he enraged both nations with ill-disguised briefings in which he claimed they were simply putting up token opposition before joining enlarged talks. This proved to be wrong, and the damage to the peace process proved deep and durable.

This pattern continued across the foreign policy spectrum, culminating in the showdown precipitated by the fall of the Shah. In a frantic bid to resolve the impasse with American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Teheran, further complicated by Carter's inept response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the White House planned a military rescue mission. The final decision to go ahead was taken at a meeting of the National Security Council held while Vance was on holiday. He strongly opposed the plan on his return but his objections were not heeded. Although the news was kept initially secret Vance resigned and went back to the law.

Looking back at that unhappy period over two decades later, compared to his rivals Cyrus Vance comes across as the embodiment of integrity and trustworthiness. Just like with Owen over a decade later, the more they won publicity for their personalities (and their failures), the more respect grew for his quiet modesty. Zbig the Ideologue despised Vance because he did not hate Russia, in addition to abhorring Soviet communism, and because he was not an "intellectual." Indeed he was not, as we can see from of the concluding paragraphs of Vance's book of memoirs (Hard Choices, 1983):

 “In the end, deciding whether and how to act in the cause of human rights requires informed and careful judgment. No mechanistic formula will produce an automatic answer. Predicting the course of future events is difficult. It is unlikely that we will find easy answers to major questions. Our wisdom, imagination, and leadership will be severely tested. We will find increasingly that we must work with other nations to achieve our goals and to coordinate, as never before, our foreign and domestic concerns. We are likely to find that in many areas of foreign policy, our basic frame of reference is shifting, sometimes subtly, sometimes with dramatic force. We must therefore prepare ourselves for what may come by constantly probing for new understanding, by educating ourselves and the coming generation in the realities of the world and our place in it, and by developing the national strength, skills, and relationships with others that can help us meet the future with confidence . . . We can see tomorrow as merely an extension of today and erode our ability to adapt to and influence new circumstances. Or we can see what lies ahead as another opportunity to use our immense strengths and talents to provide better lives both for our own people and for others. The choice is ours, but it must be made early in this decade if we are to play our necessary role in the next.”

This is pedestrian stuff, but on the whole honest and harmless, just like the man himself, and therefore totally unlike Brzezinski and his ilk. In the end the difference boils down to the fact that Cyrus Vance was a good American.

(December 2000) 

A deeply flawed man, disdainful of the suffering of such lesser breeds as Slavs, cynically manipulative and devoid of any capacity for moral distinctions, is beyond human judgment now; but one hopes that a much higher court will take a dim view of his life and times. May his name live in infamy.

Lord Aldington, 86, a former British trade minister and Conservative Party vice chairman who filed one of Britain's most famous libel cases against a man who labeled him a war criminal, died of cancer Dec. 8 at his home in Kent, southern England. In 1989, Lord Aldington was awarded $2.2 million in damages after winning a libel suit against historian Count Nikolai Tolstoy, a distant relative of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, who had written a pamphlet accusing Lord Aldington of war crimes. As a British army officer in Austria at the end of World War II, Lord Aldington — then known by his given name, Toby Low — oversaw the repatriation of thousands of Cossack and Yugoslav refugees. Many were subsequently killed or interned in prison camps. At the libel trial, Lord Aldington agreed that the refugees' fate was "ghastly" but said he had not known that many faced execution if returned to their homelands. (The Washington Post, December 9, 2000)

An obituary sometimes begs a thousand words. Well worth doing in this case, especially since it's been over a decade since we wrote about Aldington, Tolstoy, and one of the greatest untold tragedies of World War II (cf. "Writing in the Tolstoy Tradition" by Sally Wright, Chronicles, April 1989). This is a story of heinous crimes that went unpunished and establishmentarian conspiracies to cover them up, of miscarriage of justice, of one man's quixotic efforts to tell the truth and another's quiet campaign to keep it suppressed.

The story starts at Yalta in February 1945, when the return of all Soviet citizens that may find themselves in the Allied zone was demanded by Stalin — and was duly agreed to by Churchill and FDR. Accordingly, hundreds of thousands of Soviet POWs liberated by the Allies were sent back home, regardless of their wishes, and regardless of what Stalin had in store for them. In addition, in May and June 1945 tens of thousands of refugees from Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union — unarmed civilians escaping communism, as well as anticommunist resistance fighters and assorted collaborationists — were rounded up by the British in Austria, and forcibly delivered to Stalin and Tito. Most of them were summarily executed, sometimes within earshot of the British. Forced repatriations were known as Operation Keelhaul — the "last secret" of World War II, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn called it. Men, women, and children were forced into boxcars headed for the Soviet zone in the east, or for Slovenia in the south.

Non-Soviet and non-Yugoslav citizens and Serbian royalists were supposedly exempt from the deportation order, but key military officials in the British chain of command surreptitiously included them, too. As a result émigré Russians waving French passports and British medals from the World War I were all rounded up and delivered to Stalin.

There was panic in the camps when the inmates realized what was going on. The British lied to some that they were to be taken to Italy, or some other safe haven; if the subterfuge didn't work they used rifle butts and bayonets as prods. Some refugees committed suicide by sawing their throats with barbed wire. Mothers threw their babies from trains into the river.  To its credit one British regiment, the London Irish, refused: they went to war to fight German soldiers, they said, not to club refugee women and children. (Americans proved willing to open the gates of refugee camps and look the other way as the desperate inmates fled.)

In late June 1945 the original policy of screening the would-be deportees was reinstated, but it was too late: most of them were already dead, or in the depths of the Gulag. The tragedy would have remained little known outside obscure émigré circles were it not for British historian Count Nikolai Tolstoy, who has dedicated his life to exposing the truth and identifying those responsible. This great-grand-nephew of Russia's famous novelist — and heir to the senior line of the family — has written three books on forced repatriations, each more revealing than the previous one, as more suppressed information came to light. In 1977 his Victims of Yalta was published, followed by Stalin's Secret War in 1981, and then his most controversial book, The Minister and the Massacres (1986).

In his books Tolstoy argued that refugees not covered by the Yalta agreement — émigré Russians and royalist Yugoslavs — were forcibly repatriated because Harold Macmillan, "minister resident" in the Mediterranean and later prime minister, wanted to advance his political career by appeasing Stalin. He persuaded a British general whose 5th Army Corps occupied southern and eastern Austria to ignore a Foreign Office telegram ordering that "any person who is not (repeat not) a Soviet citizen under British law must not (repeat not) be sent back to the Soviet Union unless he expressly desires."

Enter Lord Aldington, then a politically well-connected 30-year-old brigadier called Toby Low, who was the Fifth Corps chief of staff. He was also an aspiring Tory politician, hopeful of being nominated as a candidate at the forthcoming general election in Britain. Low had no qualms about acting upon Macmillan's suggestions. On May 21, 1945 he issued an order to 5th Corps officers as to how to define Soviet citizenship: "Individual cases will NOT be considered unless particularly pressed ... In all cases of doubt, the individual will be treated as a SOVIET NATIONAL." The émigrés' fate was thus sealed. Tolstoy named Aldington in his last book as the chief executor of the policy of forced repatriation on the ground, the man who went way beyond the call of duty in carrying out Macmillan's instructions, and who did so in contravention of orders.

The charges were serious, by British standards quite scandalous in fact, but Aldington was reluctant to sue Tolstoy over the book. He did sue one Nigel Watts instead, however, an obscure property developer who distributed a pamphlet — written by Tolstoy — in which Aldington was called a war criminal. The pamphlet included the following statements:

As was anticipated by virtually everyone concerned, the overwhelming majority of these defenceless people, who reposed implicit trust in British honour, were either massacred in circumstances of unbelievable horror immediately following their handover, or condemned to a lingering death in Communist gaols and forced labour camps. These operations were achieved by a combination of duplicity and brutality without parallel in British history since the Massacre of Glencoe ... The man who issued every order and arranged every detail of the lying and brutality which resulted in these massacres was Brigadier Toby Low, Chief of Staff to General Keightley's 5 Corps, subsequently ennobled by Harold Macmillan as the 1st Baron Aldington ... The evidence is overwhelming that he arranged the perpetration of a major war crime in the full knowledge that the most barbarous and dishonourable aspects of his operations were throughout disapproved and unauthorised by the higher command, and in the full knowledge that a savage fate awaited those he was repatriating ... a major war criminal, whose activities merit comparison with those of the worst butchers of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.

As the author of the text Tolstoy felt honor-bound to include himself as Watts' co-defendant. At the trial Aldington freely acknowledged signing the repatriation orders, but claimed that there was "no way" he could have known the refugees would be killed: "We were told that international law would be obeyed."

His mission in Austria accomplished, Brigadier Low returned to England on some unknown date in May 1945 to be selected as the Conservative MP for Blackpool — the beginning of the slow rise that would see him ennobled (by Macmillan!) and ushered into the boardrooms and elite gentlemen's clubs of Britain. The exact date of his return is highly significant: Tolstoy argued that Low did not leave Austria until after the key order on indiscriminate deportations was issued, and therefore it was he who — contrary to the orders issuing from Yalta — was personally responsible for the crime.

When the trial came it should have been possible, easy even, to prove the order of events and name the man who had issued the orders. The British are efficient administrators, and the Public Record Office should have contained the answer. Some of the relevant documents Tolstoy had copied when he researched his books, but when he went back he found that the old boy network had done its work. All key documents related to the case had been sent to various government ministries — notably to the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence — and duly "misplaced." When Tolstoy's researcher asked for these documents, including reports and signals relating to Aldington, she was told they were "not available." Only after the trial had started was Tolstoy given a photocopy of the most important of the files, but four-fifths of the contents were missing.

Lord Aldington had no such problem: the files were not only readily available to him, but delivered to his office by government couriers. "Dear George," he wrote to George Younger, the (then) Defence Secretary, on March 8, 1987, "you are a friend who will understand my distress ... if the files can be brought to the Westminster area in a series of bundles, that would be very helpful." "Dear George" duly obliged. Aldington's mind eventually clarified as to the date on which he had finally left Austria — he gave three dates in three interviews — but there were no records by which these could be confirmed.

Heavily influenced by the trial judge, the jury found against Tolstoy and awarded Lord Aldington astronomic damages — a million and a half pounds sterling — in November 1990. Tolstoy, who declared bankruptcy, was denied the right to appeal. Aware that Tolstoy was penniless after the libel verdict, Britain's High Court ruled that he had no right to appeal unless he came up with almost $200,000 in advance to cover Aldington's legal expenses. The court further denied Tolstoy access to a $1m defense fund that had been set up in his name, and to which Alexander Solzhenitsyn and the late Graham Greene had contributed. The British establishment, and in particular the grandees who were friends of Aldinton — the man on first-name terms with ministers in every Tory government since the war — got the desired verdict. As far as they were concerned, a crank — and a foreign crank at that — had received his well-deserved comeuppance.

L'affaire Tolstoy proved yet again that British libel laws are flawed. The machinery of the British government seemed to tilt the scales of justice, and the state apparently interfered in a private court case. The Human Rights Court at Strasbourg ruled in a unanimous judgment that the failure to permit an appeal was "unfitting for a democratic society" and "constituted a violation of the applicant's right ... to freedom of expression."

A recent reminder of the travesty of justice perpetrated under British libel laws concerned two ITN journalists who successfully sued the LM Magazine (see "News & Views," April 20). Free speech was damaged both times, and — in the absence of the First Amendment equivalent — free speech is not so strong in Britain that it can take such damage. But, as Cambridge historian Michael Stenton points out, for as long as the rich have all the legal advantages, the chance of constitutional reform is poor indeed: "When historical truth becomes intensely politicized it is possible to get trapped on the wrong side of the factual fence by sympathies and first impressions. All we can do, and must do, is promise to climb over the fence if the evidence demands it."

Lord Aldington's remarkable claim that he had had absolutely no idea what the fate of these people would be was a lie. Everyone knew, and Aldington's awareness of the draconic nature of his orders was reflected in the official name of the operation — "Keelhaul." Keelhauling was a disciplinary measure on English ships in the old days: a seaman guilty of some grave offence would have a loop of a rope attached under his arms, to be thrown into the water and dragged all the way from the stern to the bow of the ship before being hauled out again. (This had the advantage that some of the barnacles would be scraped from the ship's bottom, but few survived such treatment.)

After Tolstoy's trial his Minister and the Massacres was banned from British libraries and universities. Although the British government would like to silence Tolstoy and any reference to forced repatriation, the issue will never go away. Ever the idealist, Tolstoy hopes that sooner or later it will have to come clean and apologize for the crimes of its agents in occupied Central Europe in that awful spring of 1945. He recalls that Prime Minister Tony Blair recently issued an apology on behalf of Britain for the 19th century potato blight in Ireland, "though many historians and members of the public found it hard to envisage in what way that tragedy could be regarded as a direct responsibility of the government of the day, let alone its late 20th century successor." He also points out that the British government "pressed consistently and successfully" for German and Japanese governments to compensate British victims of their wartime atrocities.

Lord Aldington won his court case thanks to the twisted British libel laws and thanks to the Kafkaesque nature of Britain's power structure, but wherever he is now he may be wondering if it was a victory worth having. That flawed man, disdainful of the suffering of such lesser breeds as Slavs, cynically manipulative and devoid of any capacity for moral distinctions, is beyond human judgment now; but one hopes that a much higher court will take a dim view of his life and times. May his name live in infamy.