None of our civil institutions shows the slightest inclination to talk about the injustices of the last few years, let alone the possibility that those injustices continue their impact today, and could emerge again at any time. All it needs is another ‘crisis’ and the whole sorry saga could start all over again.
Chief among these derelict institutions is the mainstream press. Melbourne’s two daily newspapers are no exception. One masthead regales its subscribers each Friday with an email from the editor trumpeting the stories they’ve covered, and by omission, the stories they haven’t. A recent email listed stories including ‘the most ambitious and expensive transport project in Victoria’s history,’ which uncovered ‘alleged politicisation of the Victorian public service.’ Yawn. The email then goes on, in a breathtakingly proud, unknowingly ironic, and sinister paragraph that one simply couldn’t make up (emphasis added):
Holding governments, businesses and the powerful to account and protecting the public from harm should be the core business of any serious news outlet. That might sound to you like a relatively uncontroversial statement, which is why the fact that [masthead name redacted] and its stablemates are the only publications pursuing this kind of serious and difficult public interest journalism continues to baffle me. Restrictions on press freedom and the prohibitive cost of this work deters many, which is why we are eternally grateful for the support of your subscription.
Holding to account? Protecting from harm? There is one gigantic story that should fit squarely into that mission statement, and this masthead steadfastly refuses to touch it. Think excess deaths and vaccine injury. Think censorship and control. Think crisis manufacture and ready-made solutions. It is either mass cognitive dissonance on the part of the entire editorial staff or deliberate suppression, that The Story is not given a run.
‘Continues to baffle me?’ The word ‘baffled’ does a lot of heavy lifting these days, as in ‘doctors are baffled’ when a fit professional footballer drops dead. What it really means is “I know what caused this, but I will not say the truth.”
And the bit about ‘restrictions on press freedom?’ Such an offhand remark, implying ‘Yeah, those restrictions are a pain in the neck, but totally justified because of the number of conspiracy theory nut jobs out there, who are doing the holding-to-account on a shoestring budget, but we can’t get by unless you continue to pay for a subscription to our government-funded propaganda to keep you looking the wrong way.’
No one will talk about The Story. And they will never talk about it. In Russia, they still haven’t talked properly about the crimes of the Soviet era. What makes us think the West will come to terms with crimes of the Covid era?
David Satter wrote It Was a Long Time Ago and it Never Happened Anyway in 2012. I’ve written here and here about some aspects of his book which resonated with the experience of the years 2020-2023. As we watch that story fade into nothingness from the front page and daily press conferences, there is one grand theme that makes Satter’s book utterly compelling today.
It. Never. Happened.
If it didn’t happen, how can a newspaper run a story about it? If it never happened, how can a court case ever be mounted to seek justice for the injured, the widowed, the orphaned? If it never happened, why compensate those who lost livelihoods, and those whose dreams turned into nightmares?
Satter explores the moral choices under totalitarianism, and explains how a whole people came to rationalise the evil in which they participated. The rationalisation in turn explains why there is nothing to see here, nothing to reconcile, nothing to investigate, nothing to apologise for.
A catechism of excuses, able to be recited on demand, evolved in the aftermath. The same ones are repeated today:
- Everyone was guilty, so none of us is guilty.
In June 1957, a meeting of the Communist Party plenum confronted the leading Stalinists with their crimes. Satter notes:
Confronted with their crimes, the leading Stalinists became inexplicably humble. They depicted themselves as cogs in a machine, helpless functionaries who were incapable of taking responsibility for their actions. The accusations, they argued, constituted a monstrous injustice – not because they were guiltless, but because others were as guilty as they were. (p142)
The last thing they wanted was to go into the past and see how horrible they all were. (p146)
- We had to do it, everyone was doing it.
Even after the Soviet Union collapsed, many difficulties stood in the way of judging the Soviet leaders. The first was that the crimes of the Stalin era had been carried out under conditions of mass terror, and the leadership was as terrorized as anyone else. Khrushchev, for example, lived in daily fear that he would be eliminated. (p146)
In addition, Soviet leaders were committed to a totalitarian ideology….A communist leader who was guided by the ideology was pushed toward compliance and, inevitably, crime. (p146)
…ordinary citizens faced the same pressures themselves. If those who exercised power were schooled in unthinking obedience, ordinary citizens were almost always compromised by the daily need to dissimulate in a monolithic society. (p146)
- Protesting or speaking out would only make my life worse.
Soviet leaders signed death sentences for citizens, sometimes many hundreds of people at a time. One of these leaders was Alexei Kuznetsov, who organised the defense of Leningrad during the war. He was believed to have been secretly opposed to the repressions in which they took part. His son-in-law said
It is necessary to know the historical conditions of 1937-38. The troika was made up of representatives of the party, NKVD, and prosecutor. The main person was the head of the NKVD. The list (of condemned persons) would not have been changed if one member of the troika refused to sign. It would not have saved anyone. The person refusing to sign would only have added his own name to the next list. (p149)
- We didn’t know
Anastas Mikoyan was a politburo member for three decades. He was also believed to be secretly opposed to the repressions, yet he signed execution lists. His son Stepan recounts:
He signed lists with the names of many people….But you either had to sign or kill yourself, in which case you would die an enemy of the people, and all of your family would be shot, and all who worked for you would be arrested. (p152)
Mikoyan later wrote
There were many things that we did not know. We believed in many things, and, in any case, simply could not change anything. (p156)
- We should be forgiven
Stepan Mikoyan again, on his father’s culpability:
We should relate to these people as persons who had no choice. Those who did more than necessary (to save themselves) we should condemn. If a person did what he was forced to do, it is necessary to forgive. If he did more than was necessary, he should be condemned. (p157)
Not everyone bought these excuses for Stalinist atrocities, just as some today don’t buy them in respect of Covid crimes. In the Soviet era, one of these was Alexander Yakovlev, who despite being at one time in charge of propaganda, came to suggest ot Yeltsin and Putin that they make personal statements of repentance (Yakovlev himself was criticized as unwilling to follow his own advice). Satter recounts:
Yakovlev told me in 2003 that people often deny having committed crimes or having anything to repent for. “I say to such a person, ‘You voted?’ He says ‘I voted’. You did not object? ‘I did not object.’ You attended meetings? ‘I attended meetings.’ This means you participated and should repent. In the final analysis, this is the only path to a new future for this tortured country.” (p161)
The upshot is that after reciting the 5 excuses above, there is nowhere else to go but to say that It Never Happened. In the aftermath of the Covid disaster, we seem to be getting to this point. “Everyone was doing it – we all administered the shot. We all did the dance in the empty wards. We all coerced, then shunned, our friends. We all wanted to travel. Everyone demanded a vax pass to get a haircut or a coffee. Don’t blame me! What use would speaking out be? I didn’t know the shots caused myocarditis! Or excess deaths! I’m continually sick myself! I’m actually a victim too! You should forgive me!”
The only place to go after all this, is It Never Happened. Just like Melbourne’s masthead, it is a non-event.
Republished from the author’s Substack
Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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