Thursday, November 27, 2014

Stalin, Father of Ukraine?

Stalin, Father of Ukraine?
By STEPHEN KOTKIN NOV. 27, 2014, New York Times

Eight years ago, on Nov. 28, 2006, the Ukrainian Parliament officially designated the famine of 1931-­33, which killed 5 to 7 million Soviets during Stalin’s rule, a genocide. On Saturday, Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko, accompanied by other officials and by his wife, laid a jar of seeds of grain near the Dnieper River in Kiev to mark the anniversary. Stalin’s rule is rightly associated with two of the most horrific episodes in Ukraine’s history: the famine and the 1937­-38 mass executions of Ukrainian intellectuals and political figures, both of which took place across the Soviet Union. Both tragedies have been invoked regularly in the months since Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, seized Crimea and sent forces into eastern Ukraine.

But there is an underappreciated aspect to this tangled history: Stalin’s rule saw the formation of a land with strong Ukrainian national consciousness. Yes, he was a murderous tyrant, but he was also a father of today’s Ukraine.

Ukraine emerged out of czarist Russia as a separate country as a result of World War I, the revolutions of 1917, German military occupation and the efforts of Ukrainian nationalists. Against the wishes of other early Soviet officials, who wanted to suppress nationalism, Stalin strongly advocated recognizing — and using — it. “Clearly, the Ukrainian nation exists and the development of its culture is a duty of Communists,” Stalin told the 10th Party Congress in March 1921. “One cannot go against history.”

Stalin knew from his Georgian homeland that national sentiment was too strong to suppress. He also knew that the Communists could use it to win loyalty and achieve economic modernization.

Ukraine had remained effectively independent even after being reconquered by the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War of 1918-­1921 and rechristened the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine. Through late 1921, Soviet Ukraine signed a plethora of state-­to­-state treaties — with newly independent Poland, Austria, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia — and maintained diplomatic missions abroad. Ukraine had a diplomatic office in Moscow, too. At the 10th Party Congress, Stalin argued for an integrated Soviet state. But the form of that integrated state would carry fateful consequences.

In 1922, Stalin proposed folding Ukraine, Byelorussia and the Caucasus into Soviet Russia (formally known as the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic) while allowing them to retain substantial autonomy, a proposal that initially elicited Lenin’s support. But Lenin soon changed his mind, and demanded a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, in which Ukraine and
Russia would hold ostensibly equal status.

Lenin’s counterproposal was based not on a commitment to self­-rule but, like Stalin, on tactics. He argued that as other countries underwent socialist revolutions — a Soviet Germany, a Soviet Hungary, a Soviet Finland — they, too, could join the new Soviet Union. Stalin was not so naïve. “These peoples would scarcely agree to enter straight into a federative bond with Soviet Russia” on the Ukrainian model, he told Lenin. Lenin scorned Stalin’s realism, insisting that “we need a centralized world economy, run from a single organ.”

Stalin bowed to Lenin’s authority, and loyally and skillfully implemented the Bolshevik leader’s vision to form the Soviet Union in late 1922. Lenin’s vision amounted to an overconfident bet on world revolution. Stalin also believed in world revolution, but his proposal — annexation into Russia — would have been a hedge on that bet.

In 1991, of course, the Soviet Union dissolved. Ukraine, having avoided absorption into Russia thanks to Lenin, became independent. But the new nation encompassed as much land as it did thanks to Stalin.

When it was first formed, Soviet Ukraine had no natural border in the east with Soviet Russia. The demarcation disappointed all sides — and it is the site of today’s separatist rebellion. In the west, as a result of his 1939 pact with Hitler, Stalin seized eastern Poland and joined it to Ukraine. The city today known as Lviv was then a largely Polish­ and Yiddish­-speaking community, surrounded by a Ukrainian­-speaking countryside; under Stalin and his successors the city would become predominantly Ukrainian-speaking — and the center of western Ukrainian nationalism.

With the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, Stalin annexed Transcarpathia, formerly part of Czechoslovakia, and now the southwest corner of Ukraine. Finally, Crimea, at the time a predominantly ethnic Russian territory, was transferred to Ukraine from Russia in a decision taken under Stalin but implemented only after he had died, in 1954, on the 300th anniversary of the Cossack request for imperial Russia’s protection against the Polish-­Lithuanian commonwealth.

Except for Crimea, today’s nationalist Ukraine is a bequeathal of Stalin. It’s true that he executed countless officials of Ukrainian (and every other) ethnicity. But as the Soviet state expanded, he promoted still more Ukrainians to take their places. Even when he belatedly made study of Russian language a requirement in all Soviet schools, he did not discontinue instruction in national vernacular languages.

Of course, in helping to enlarge and consolidate Soviet Ukraine, Stalin never imagined that the Soviet Union would someday disappear. And so Mr. Putin faces a formidable obstacle.

He is said by diplomats to have told President George W. Bush, at a NATO summit meeting in Bucharest, Romania, in 2008 that “Ukraine is not even a state.” And in claiming territory from Ukraine, Mr. Putin has cited Catherine the Great’s Black Sea conquests and creation of “New Russia” in the late 18th century. But Mr. Putin cannot escape more recent history.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea has rendered Ukraine even more ethnically Ukrainian, and helped elect Ukraine’s first ever pro­-European parliamentary majority. One does not have to take sides over the human tragedy unfolding in eastern Ukraine to grasp that, whether Mr. Putin does or does not have clear strategic goals, he cannot wipe out the fruits of the Soviet period.

Mr. Putin cannot simply swallow Ukraine — it is no longer “New Russia.” And unlike Stalin — indeed, because of Stalin, and because of his regime’s own behavior — Mr. Putin cannot entice Ukraine back into a new “Eurasian” union with Russia either. Ukrainians have little affection for Stalin’s dictatorship, but their struggle for statehood owes much to his legacy — a legacy that, for different reasons, neither they nor Mr. Putin like to think about.

Stephen Kotkin, a professor of history at Princeton, is the author of “Stalin, Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878–1928.”

See also John Brown, The Irony of Current Russian-Ukrainian Relations (Huffington Post, 8/11/2014)

In all the wise commentary on the tragic Russia-Ukraine situation, I have seen few observations (admissions?) that 20th-century Ukraine is essentially a Soviet geopolitical construction, although by now it is common knowledge that Khrushchev made Crimea part of Ukraine in 1954.

I need not repeat summaries of the history of Soviet-created Ukraine; they are available (granted, through various interpretations, on the Internet). As for the immensely talented and cultivated people living in the former Ukraine SSR, they more than ever deserve global admiration for their unique achievements, given the political oppression they have endured for centuries under various empires (vampires?)/regimes. Gogol and Shevchenko didn't come out of nowhere.

History is full of ironies. But it does seem particularly ironic that the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, reportedly nostalgic about the USSR, is -- by questioning the territorial integrity of communist-imagined Ukraine -- further dismantling the now-defunct Soviet Union.
In VVP's pre-Bolshevik, tsarist imperial dreams, Mother Russia should not limit herself to being only one member of that passé geographical expression, the USSR. Granted, Russia SSR was numero uno among the so-called Soviet republics. But that hegemonic position among "equals" is not enough for Tsar Vlad. He aims for nothing less -- I surmise from "news" reports -- than the absorption, by Russia, of "Made in the USSR" Ukraine/sections of what was the Ukraine SSR. In his words, "We need a great Russia." His reasons? Quien sabe.

Allow me to stretch historical irony to an intellectual breaking point. Is Putin, supposedly an admirer of the good old CCCP, who is described by one of his star TV propagandists as "comparable among his predecessors in the twentieth century only with Stalin," not in fact a traitor by Soviet standards? How would Stalin have reacted to a minor ex-KGB agent's efforts to place more nails in the Soviet coffin?

Such ideological misbehavior could of course be done with by "liquidating" VVP by means of an anti-Putin 1930s Moscow-style trial. Or maybe hard-nosed communist admirers of non-ethnically Russian, Georgia native Uncle Joe could offload russkii Volodya on exile to yet another former SSR republic (Georgia), Stalin's birthplace, known among culinary experts for its exceptional food and wine?

But that of course would be too generous by Stalin's standards. Under the mustached Man of Steel, Vladimir Vladimirovich would more likely end up in a Siberian Gulag, where he would keep himself mentally warm (and here I am, of course, adding a scene to the theater of the absurd defining Russian-Ukrainian relations today) by VV praying en cachette for an American visa, all the while keeping his half-frozen fingers

crossed that his daughter would keep on living comfortably in Holland in case papa couldn't make it to Brighton Beach under the excuse of being an anti-Soviet "dissident"...

Top image (flag of Ukraine SSR) from; Shevchenko image from; Putin/daughter image from article under the headline "Dutch furious after Putin's daughter is found living in Holland"

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Via BK

U.S.Department of State

See also (a) “Creel, Lippmann, and the Origins of American Public Diplomacy": A Select Annotated Bibliography" (b) "Creel, Lippmann, and the Origins of American Public Diplomacy: A listing of "Notes and Essays" entries on the subject."

U.S. Department of StateMobile

Media Note
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
November 25, 2014

The Department of State released today Foreign Relations of the United States, Public Diplomacy, 1917–1972, World War I. This is the first chapter in a retrospective volume which will augment the series’ coverage of U.S. public diplomacy. While the series began to document the subject in a sustained and concerted way starting with the second administration of President Richard M. Nixon, previous FRUS coverage of U.S. public diplomacy efforts have been far less consistent. This retrospective volume will fill that gap, which stretches from the First World War to the early 1970s. This compilation covers World War I; subsequent compilations, which will document up to the end of the first Nixon administration, will be published as they are completed. The compilation also features the first inclusion of film in a Foreign Relations of the United States volume.

This compilation focuses on the creation and overseas work of the Committee on Public Information (CPI). While the U.S. Government had engaged in public diplomacy before (such as with the publication of diplomatic correspondence during the Civil War), the CPI’s foreign work constituted a sustained effort to educate a foreign public about the United States, and, in particular, its role in the war effort. Representatives of the CPI were sent around the globe to establish reading rooms, distribute translated copies of President Woodrow Wilson’s speeches, work with local journalists to publish news stories, and show films demonstrating the United States’ readiness to fight. This compilation documents all of these activities. While few planning documents from the time exist, this compilation includes numerous examples of how the CPI executed its work in the field, particularly in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. The compilation also includes examples of the types of information distributed by the CPI.

This compilation was compiled and edited by Aaron W. Marrs. The volume and this press release are available on the Office of the Historian website at For further information, contact

[This is a mobile copy of Release of Foreign Relations of the United States, Public Diplomacy, 1917-1972, World War I]

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To Russia, With Tough Love by Masha Gessen - A must read on Russia

via KD

To Russia, With Tough Love
By MASHA GESSEN, New York Times NOV. 25, 2014

Dear Moscow,

This is a “Dear John” letter. You have had so little interest in the outside world for so long that you probably don’t even know what that is. I will explain.

It begins with love. In my case, it was a desperate kind of love with overtones of a sacred bond and the aftertaste of a false note. It was a bit like Aleksandr Pushkin’s ode to you, which all Russian children memorize in the middle grades, usually oblivious to the fact that it is plucked from “Eugene Onegin”:

Moscow . . . How many strains are fusing
in that one sound, for Russian hearts!
What store of riches it imparts!

This translation by Charles H. Johnston, first published in 1977, unfortunately introduces images absent in the original Russian, which, rather than “fusing” and “strains,” contains “muchness” and “echoing.” An 1881 English translation accurately uses the word “much,” but then:

Moscow! How much is in the phrase
For every loyal Russian breast!
How much is in that word expressed!

Here, “loyal” was absent in the original, though very much present in the way these lines have been crammed down children’s throats. This translator — the first known to complete the work of relaying “Onegin” in English — was one Henry Spalding, a lieutenant colonel in the British military, which may explain the errant “loyal.” A bigger issue with his translation is that its language is stultifyingly 19th­-century British (the work first appeared in 1881 in London), while the language of the original continues to read modern today. Whether this testifies to Pushkin’s genius or to the glacial change of development of Russian language and culture, I do not know.

But if a reader wanted a literal translation of “Onegin,” she would turn to the one executed by Vladimir Nabokov, so worth reading for its footnotes — and for the review Edmund Wilson wrote of it for The New York Review of Books in 1965. Unlike the translation itself, it is full of beautiful phrases, such as: “What we get here, however, from Nabokov is an egregious example of his style at its most perversepedantic impossible.” Nabokov renders the lines as follows:

Moscow! . . . How much within that sound
is blended for the Russian heart!
How much is echoed there!

You might note that for all his literalness Nabokov took liberties with the iambic tetrameter to which Pushkin managed to bend his Russian gently and naturally. Children in Moscow schools used to learn poetry meters and rhyming patterns and could tell an iamb from an anapest, but a couple of years ago the government decided to cut the number of instruction hours devoted to Russian — and the study of feet and beats all but vanished. Context had disappeared so much earlier. When children learned these lines in isolation from the rest of “Onegin,” they had no idea that they were from the chapter in which Tatiana, the novel’s forlorn heroine, is forced to leave her comfortable country home and travel to the “bridal fair” that is Moscow. She is crudely appraised by men and women alike, and ultimately taken by an old general. Moscow in this chapter is a messy, uncouth marketplace, which robs virgins of hope and purity.

All that is shed when the three lines appear alone, as they do, for example, on a giant sheet of bronze on the marble wall of the Pushkinskaya metro station in the very center of the city — as though these lines were meant to celebrate the city. Moscow, you are a liar and a cheat.

At ground level at Pushkinskaya, one will find the Pushkin monument, the poetic heart of the city. It is traditional to schedule dates here. As a child, I swooned over my mother’s stories of making young men wait for hours, clutching bouquets of roses. You will, in fact, still see men in the waiting position if you pass by the Pushkin monument any time of day or night; they may well be waiting for my mother. I had just turned 14 when my family emigrated from the Soviet Union and had not yet had a single date at the Pushkin. After returning to live in the city a dozen years later I had two dates there. One was a bad blind date, and I’d rather not talk about the other one.

What we should talk about, Moscow, are the monuments. When is enough, enough? Walk down the Boulevard Ring, the misnamed three quarters­ of ­a ­circle road that fails to circumscribe central Moscow, and you will see, block by city block: the composer Sergei Rachmaninoff; Vladimir Vysotsky, a 1970s singer­songwriter; Nadezhda Krupskaya, the wife of Lenin; the engineer and inventor Vladimir Shukhov (while the city was erecting this unimaginative likeness of the man himself in bronze, it was letting the 1922 Shukhov Transmission Tower, a masterpiece of hyperboloid construction, fall into disrepair on the other side of town); Alexander Griboyedov, writer, diplomat and suspected revolutionary; the Kazakh poet Abai Kunanbaev (here Russia’s protest culture had its last glorious stand, nine days in May 2012 known as Occupy Abai); and finally, a cast­iron stork planted inside a fountain, sometimes referred to as the monument to a drinking stork. That’s if you start off from Pushkin’s back side. If you walk the so ­called ring in the direction Russia’s greatest poet is facing, you will encounter the poet Sergei Yesenin; Pushkin again, this time dancing with his wife in a gazebo­like structure; the writer Nikolai Gogol; and the writer Mikhail Sholokhov perched unnaturally on the nose of a boat about to capsize, his back turned on a dozen horses about to drown. A casual visitor might conclude from this lineup that Moscow loves its writers. After living with you for decades, though, I know that you love only your bronze and granite figurines, and you collect them like so many tchotchkes — given your druthers, you would add them at the rate of two a month until the city is too cluttered to walk through.

There is something obstinate and deeply uncharming about this commitment to the immobilized human form. Other cities can find room in their hearts for abstract statues, symbolic monuments — but not you, Moscow: You want every single one of them looking like a giant human (stork excepted). I was once briefly involved in an effort to have a monument built to honor the human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov. At its first meeting, the group of distinguished and otherwise reasonable writers, journalists and artists took up the question of anthropomorphism. I found myself a minority of one — the rest of the group believed the population of Europe’s largest city was not ready for a piece of stone that looked like anything other than a man. Then Sakharov’s widow, Elena Bonner, put an end to the process by declaring that the city, and the country for which it stood, did not deserve a monument to the great man. She was an old cantankerous woman who had mastered the art of not compromising, a trait that you, Moscow, find least appealing in people. You demand that residents and visitors mold themselves constantly to your whims and inconveniences large and small, whether the daily four hours of gridlock, the near­ complete absence of left turns in the central part of town, or the distances between public­ transport stops that could be traversed on foot only by one of those granite giants, and only in good weather.

There is, however, a Sakharov Prospect in Moscow, a street so short it is almost a square. By contrast, Andropov Prospect, named for the Soviet leader who had also run the K.G.B., runs about four miles.

I have loved one Moscow monument. It sits near the top of Sparrow Hills, which has the dual distinction of being one of Moscow’s highest elevations and the only (tiny) piece of virtually untouched nature in the city. If one takes a small tumble down the hill from the overlook point, from which on a clear day Moscow looks deceptively like a peaceful well -lit valley, one will find an odd structure with a wooden floor and granite half­-circular half­-wall, plus a granite stele. A scroll­like shape is set into the wall, with the faces of two teenage boys looking tenderly at each other. It memorializes Alexander Herzen and Nikolai Ogarev, who came up here in 1827 to swear to each other, in plain view of all of Moscow, that they would spend their lives fighting for democracy. They were teenagers at the time, and they were telling the truth.

Herzen’s writing still contains some of the most accurate descriptions of Russian habits and thinking, which have apparently remained constant for nearly two centuries. Take this passage from his memoir, “My Past and Thoughts,” in which he describes his first encounter with Western Europe: “In the evening I went to a small, dirty, inferior theater, but came back from it excited, not by the actors but by the audience, which consisted mostly of workmen and young people; in the intervals everyone talked freely and loudly, and all put on their hats (an extremely important thing, as important as the right to wear a beard, etc.). This ease and freedom, this element of greater serenity and liveliness impresses the Russian when he arrives abroad. The Petersburg government is still so coarse and unpolished, so absolutely nothing but despotism, that it positively likes to inspire fear; it wants everything to tremble before it — in short, it desires not only power but the theatrical display of it. To the Petersburg czars the ideal of public order is the anteroom and the barracks.”

In other words, the nature of the Russian regime did not change when Peter the Great made his subjects shave their beards and moved the seat of government from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Nor did it change when Lenin moved it back to Moscow. Nor has it changed since; it still “wants everything to tremble before it.” Herzen himself emigrated west, lived in Italy and in France, tried to constitute his family in a revolutionary manner to disastrous effect, lost his wife to tuberculosis, was joined by Ogarev and his wife, and promptly began an affair with her. All the while, he published revolutionary articles, journals and memoirs. But Russia remained Russia.

This odd monument was constructed in 1979. By the 1990s, it was overgrown by shrubbery, the half-­wall and stele were covered with graffiti and the floor with cigarette butts. This was where I liked to bring my dates in the 1990s: It was practically a secret monument, and the homoeroticism of the image was unmistakable. Then Tom Stoppard wrote “The Coast of Utopia,” a nine­-hour play about Herzen’s revolutionary struggles, both public and private, then it was translated into Russian and staged in Moscow, and when Stoppard came for the premiere, he asked to see the Sparrow Hills monument. He was apparently so taken aback by its condition that money was soon found to clean and repair the structure.

Things went downhill from there. Sparrow Hills has now been subsumed by Gorky Park, which probably means it is about to be landscaped and commercialized. The transformation of your parks, Moscow, is a heartbreaking story all its own. A few years ago, the city government decided it needed to domesticate its young people — the sort who would have worn beards and put on their hats during intermission in Herzen’s time and now, in addition to the hats and the beards, were also wearing very tight jeans. A specially appointed person, Sergei Kapkov, was given the title of the minister of culture in the Moscow government and the task of bringing the hipsters into the fold. He started by cleaning Gorky Park of its antiquated merry-­go-rounds and its rowdy drunks and instituting Wi­Fi, espresso and bike paths. Hipsters swarmed the place and deified Kapkov.

Gorky Park, however, is not just a hipster project: It is first and foremost a Soviet­-nostalgia project. The revamped park’s kiosks, ice cream stands and plaster sculptures create the ambience of a 1950s Soviet movie in which well­-fed laborers strolled along the Volga embankment singing songs of love and a glorious socialist future. I once had a chance to engage Kapkov in a public debate about this, produced by the city’s main hipster magazine. He wanted to know what I thought was wrong with Soviet nostalgia. I tried to explain by pointing across the street, to another park that is part of Kapkov’s domain.

Back in 1991, the place across the Garden Ring from Gorky Park was a vast untended lawn. When a number of monuments to Soviet leaders were dismantled in the wake of the failed hard­-line coup, most of them were brought here and laid on the grass, where they could be stomped upon and drawn upon. There was a Stalin, a Khrushchev, a Dzerzhinsky (the founder of the secret police) and several other giant old Bolsheviks in granite. A majority of Soviet monuments in the city remained untouched and stand proud to this day — including a Lenin­centered composition the size of a small city block just up the street from this lawn.

Soon you, Moscow, seemed to experience remover’s remorse. The monuments were righted, then cleaned up, then replaced to their pedestals, then fenced in to keep the vandals away, and finally given small informational placards that contained dates, the names of the subject and the sculptor, and the cryptic phrase “protected by the state.” In addition, many other figures, most of them in white plaster, were brought and scattered around the lawn, to make it look less like the graveyard of Soviet monuments and more like a garden-­variety sculpture garden; it was now called Muzeon Park of the Arts. Svetlana Boym wrote about visiting the Park of the Arts in her 2001 book “The Future of Nostalgia”:

“If an extraterrestrial or any other well-wishing and not­-so­-well-informed stranger landed in Moscow and took a leisurely walk in the park, he would have had the impression that he is in a stable country that values its historical heritage and has had little experience with upheavals or revolutions. What is erased between the cautious lines of the sign is the history of the coup of August 1991 and the people’s unauthorized assault of the statue. The monument’s material history is erased as well. There are traces of graffiti on the pedestal, but they are unreadable.”

As part of the hipsterization project, the Muzeon Park of the Arts got Wi­Fi, wooden sidewalks and funding for restoring the Dzerzhinsky monument, which had apparently suffered some internal injuries in all the moving. During the debate, Kapkov asked me if I would just like to see all Soviet-­era monuments destroyed — implying that that would destroy much of the city, which is plastered with hammers, sickles and other Soviet symbols encased in many architectural structures. I suggested that restoration presented an opportunity for building in some critical distance.

He asked me who would know what distance is right. If there is no consensus, he seemed to say, there would be no distance between today’s Moscow and the Soviet Union.

Ever since the Dzerzhinsky monument was dismantled, some people have been demanding that it be returned to its original spot in front of the secret police headquarters. The chorus has been growing steadily stronger, and I suspect the move will happen sometime soon. Oddly, this is your thing, Moscow: You like to move your figurines around. I remember, as a child, reading Marina Tsvetaeva’s book on Pushkin and being puzzled by her description of the  Pushkin monument — the one where we started. “Always under snow and ice — oh, I see them now, those shoulders weighed down with snow, all the snow of Russia weighing down and overpowering those African shoulders!” (My translation.)

That’s classic Moscow. The great­-grandson of a black man, the forefather of all of Russian poetry, to you, Moscow, Pushkin is first a black man, even if he has been standing here in stone longer than any Muscovite has been alive. In all the years I spent with you never for a minute did I forget that I was not an ethnic Russian (I was usually correctly identified as Jewish, sometimes mistaken for Armenian or Georgian, but nearly everyone I encountered found a way to acknowledge my ethnic difference). So used was I to the racism that I did not notice it when I read this book as a child, but I did notice something else: Tsvetaeva seemed to describe everything that was behind Pushkin’s back as being in front of him and vice versa. Was she turned around? As it turned out, Pushkin had been. In 1950, 70 years after the monument was placed on one side of what in Soviet times was called Gorky Street, it was moved to the opposite side. There has been a lot of this. I remember going to Pushkin Square as a child to watch a 19th-century building be placed on rails and moved; this risky operation was performed on a number of structures in order to broaden the city’s central avenue. In the last quarter-­century, though, the city has dispensed with such intricacies: Many historic buildings have been razed and later rebuilt asreplicas of their former selves. This process is cheaper and faster than restoration, and allows developers to make cosmetic improvements as they see fit. Moscow, you are a fake and a fraud.

The people of good will in Moscow protest the barbaric destruction of the city’s architecture. But I find their arguments painfully simple. They want everything to stay exactly the way it was — or is now. They have no more critical distance than Kapkov. When I look at this debate in which both sides — the developers and the preservationists — seem so obviously wrong to me, I realize that they love different sides of you, Moscow, while I love a city that exists solely in my imagination.

And yet I thought I would always love you. I loved you desperately as a teenager whose parents had decided to emigrate. While we waited for an exit visa, I spent every day with you as though it were our last — I walked the center of town every afternoon, making sketches. When I returned in the early 1990s, you were alternately welcoming and mean, now gifting me with the kind of friendships Russians have exalted, now hauling me to the police precinct for looking like a teenage boy from the Caucasus. That kind of inconsistency works every time. I loved you more than ever.

Two decades passed. Things got so rough that I knew I had to leave. And yet I thought that after leaving you for New York, I would, like Onegin’s Tatiana, say to you (in Spalding’s translation),

I love you — to what end
deceive? —
But I am now another’s bride —
For ever­-faithful will abide.

Then, one day last summer, I spent a night walking the center the way I used to. Everything was gone, damaged or faked. You had become a stranger. Goodbye, Moscow. I don’t love you anymore.

Masha Gessen is the author of six books, including “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.” A version of this article appears in print on November 30, 2014, on page BR16 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: To Russia, With Tough Love

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Melting Pot: Note for a Lecture, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United"


The following is an excerpt from the new book by Rare Deputy Editor James S. Robbins, Native Americans: Patriotism, Exceptionalism, and the New American Identity.

The Melting Pot

Assimilation, the fertile union of many peoples, has always been a core strength of the country. Each group contributes national characteristics that add to the overall quality of life. An English visitor in 1804 noted the diversity of manners in the United States, derived from “the continual influx of a vast number of foreigners,” such as the “frugality and plainness of the High and Low Dutch, the industry and parsimony of the Scots, the genius, conviviality, and want of economy of the English, the hardiness of the Irish, who are of the lower order, and the frivolity of the French.” Yet “they all, sooner or later, give way to the general mass of American customs, which long usage and republican genius have established.”

In 1814 then-New York City Mayor DeWitt Clinton praised the beneficial effects of the multinational character of America. “Perhaps our mingled descent from various nations may have a benign influence upon genius,” he wrote. “The extraordinary characters which the United States have produced may be, in some measure, ascribed to the mixed blood of so many nations flowing in our veins.”

There was no official assimilation process, no government procedure other than the varied citizenship requirements. Assimilation came largely through immersion, and it worked. People adapted to life in America as a natural consequence of wanting to be here. They did not come as immigrants to remain immigrants, they came to build lives. Ethnic enclaves in cities rose and fell and were replaced by other groups as the earlier waves integrated into the society at large, leaving behind place names and restaurants. Children born in the United States of immigrant parents quickly adopted the culture of the country, because it was in fact their country. Schools that taught in native languages and without government subsidy folded over time because as demand dried up. The same was true of foreign language newspapers that flourished then receded. People wanted to learn English and the culture encouraged them to do so. Coming to America meant making the effort to be an American.

The ideal of assimilation was summed up in the expression “the melting pot.” The term was popularized by a play of the same name by Israel Zangwill, a British writer and son of Jewish immigrants from Latvia and Poland. The play was a rousing dramatization of American immigration, invoking imagery of the fusion of peoples in this country that echoed previous generations’ belief in America as part of the unfolding of a divine plan:

Image from

‘There she lies, the great Melting Pot. Listen! Can’t you hear the roaring and the bubbling? There gapes her mouth— the harbor where a thousand mammoth feeders come from the ends of the world to pour in their human freight. Ah, what a stirring and a seething! Celt and Latin, Slav and Teuton, Greek and Syrian—black and yellow. Yes, East and West, and North and South, the palm and the pine, the pole and the equator, the crescent and the cross—how the great Alchemist melts and fuses them with his purging flame! Here shall they all unite to build the Republic of Man and the kingdom of God. Ah, what is the glory of Rome and Jerusalem where all nations and races come to worship and look back, compared with the glory of America, where all races come to labor and look forward.

The New World was indeed forward-looking, not bound by the petty, timeless irresolvable disputes that wracked the rest of the world. America was a new creation, a clean slate, where people left behind the struggles of the old world. The romantically named hero, David Quixano, who emigrates after his family is killed in a pogrom, declares that “America is God’s crucible.” He addressed the immigrants at Ellis Island, “in your fifty groups, with your fifty languages and your histories and your fifty blood feuds and rivalries.” But they were to abandon the past, because “these are the fires of God! A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians — into the crucible with you all! God is making the American.” And in fact the U.S. has been remarkably free of echoes of the ethnic and national conflicts abroad. The sectarian and national struggles of Europe, Asia and the Mideast were settled at the dinner tables and in the bedrooms of America.

“The Melting Pot” was a popular hit of the 1908-09 theater season, and touring the U.S., was acclaimed as a masterpiece and the great American play, even though – or particularly because – it was written by a British Jew of East European extraction. Not everyone lauded it; a New York Times reviewer opined that “’The Melting Pot’ is sentimental trash masquerading as a human document. That is the sum and substance of it.” But after the opening in Washington D.C. in October 1909, Theodore Roosevelt shouted from his box, “That’s a great play, Mr. Zangwill, that’s a great play.”

Roosevelt, who had left the White House the previous March, was president during the peak years of the late 19th/early 20th Century immigration wave. His record on the issue was mixed – for example he fought to end the segregation in California schools that excluded the Japanese, though had to accept a “gentleman’s agreement” with Japan to restrict future immigration. But he was a believer in the positive value of immigration and the contributions made by people who came to this country seeking to be Americans. In an oft-quoted letter from 1919, he laid down his views on the mutual responsibilities of the immigrant and his adopted country:

In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American…There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag… We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language.. And we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.

In a 1915 speech Roosevelt denounced “hyphenated” Americans, those who held exclusionary allegiances to their places of origin (which included the United States), noting that “Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul,” and anyone “heartily and singly loyal to this Republic, then no matter where he was born, he is just as good an American as any one else.” He warned that “the one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English-Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian-Americans, or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality than with the other citizens of the American Republic.

In Roosevelt’s view the person who clings inordinately to their cultural origins “plays a thoroughly mischievous part in the life of our body politic. He has no place here; and the sooner he returns to the land to which he feels his real heart-allegiance, the better it will be for every good American. There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.”
James S. Robbins is Deputy Editor of Rare and author of Native Americans: Patriotism, Exceptionalism, and the New American Identity. Follow him on Twitter @James_Robbins


Book Review: The New America - A ‘post-ethnic’ international flophouse -- Note for a Lecture, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United"


Book review:
Native Americans
Patriotism, Exceptionalism, and the New American Identity By James S. Robbins
Encounter, 2013
Hardcover, 194 pp., $23.99

Is “American” an ethnic group?
On the surface, at least, the question is absurd. Unlike other nations, the accepted wisdom goes, the United States of America is a unique amalgam — a melting pot, if one will — bound by a tradition of constitutionally protected liberty. Ancestral attachments being thoroughly subordinate to our founding principles, we have enjoyed extraordinary success as a nation.
Yet on a deeper level, the question is not absurd. There are people among us — a minority, yes, but a significant one — who believe, if by their actions, that our country is post-ethnic. The proof is in the pencil. During 1980-2000, the decennial Census of Population long form included “American” as a choice for identifying national origin, a practice that the Census Bureau since has shifted to its ongoing American Community Survey. And for whatever reason, roughly 8 percent of all respondents lately have been filling in that box. This is a development of major significance, notes political scientist James S. Robbins, a senior fellow with the Washington, D.C.-based American Foreign Policy Council, in his new book, Native Americans. Equally to the point, he argues, it is a healthy development. For in severing as many ties as possible to the Old World, we affirm our idealism while thwarting affirmative-action bean counters. Rapid demographic change, though disruptive, can be managed as long as we convey our defining ideals to current and future generations, whether or not born here.
The author is partly right: The fading importance of ancestral heritage in this country is of great significance. To an extent it’s both inevitable and desirable, as it is for any self-governing nation. Yet this process generates new problems as it resolves old ones. For in minimizing the importance of origins, a nation risks traveling toward a destination it will come to regret. The ultimate consequence of our having become an international polyglot of racial, linguistic, and religious groups who can’t or won’t assimilate could be the breakup of the very American polity the author would have us celebrate.
As an overview of the evolution of the American character and its place in the post-9/11 era, Native Americans is lucid and reasonable, at least within the ground rules of classical liberalism and its modern conservative variations. It’s certainly a lot more satisfying than recent mindless authoritarian fist pumps to National Greatness such as David Gelernter’s Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion and the late Tony Blankley’s American Grit: What It Will Take to Survive and Win in the 21st Century. Yet even allowing for the omissions inherent in any book of less than 200 pages, Native Americans imply doesn’t rise to the level of the late Samuel Huntington’s 2004 book, Who Are We?: The Challenges to America’s National Identity, published nearly a decade ago. Indeed, Native Americans can be seen as a polite rebuttal to Huntington.
James Robbins, by background and inclination, is a military historian. Holder of a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, he has taught at (among other places) Marine Corps University and National Defense University. He also has served in government for 10 years and is a recipient of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joint Meritorious Civilian Service Award. His two previous books wereThis Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive and Last in Their Class: Custer, Pickett and the Goats of West Point. All of this shows in Native Americans. Liberty, opportunity, and wanderlust are among our defining traits, but they depend upon military-style stoicism in order to overcome obstacles.
And from our earliest colonial days onward, argues Robbins, American history is a continuing story of overcoming obstacles. The author enlists support from John Winthrop (“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.”), Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, Frederick Jackson Turner, Ronald Reagan, plus Europeans from Tocqueville to Hegel. Especially telling is a quote from Margaret Thatcher in March 1991, only months after her departure as British prime minister: “No other nation has been built upon an idea, the idea of liberty. No other nation has so successfully combined people of different races and nations within a single culture.”
All this makes for a good Fourth of July speech. Not that it’s a bad thing. All nations need to be reminded about their collective sense of purpose. But focusing on propositions and moral character alone tells only a partial story — more partial, at any rate, than the author thinks. While rightly rejecting the left’s ceaseless quest to unearth our litany of injustices in nation-building (especially with “people of color” cast as noble victims), Robbins is convinced that moral-philosophical intangibles alone can sustain us.
Unfortunately, his position is less than convincing. It is a recurring feature throughout history that a nation is born of struggle for territorial dominance by a particular ethnic and/or religious group. Once established, a nation can withstand periodic challenges to its identity, even traumatic challenges, so long as it retains its founding traits. Huntington asks in Who Are We?: “Would America be the America it is today if in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it had been settled not by British Protestants but by French, Spanish, or Portuguese Catholics? The answer is no. It would not be America; it would be Quebec, Mexico, or Brazil.” Robbins, contrarily, implies that America still would be America — and would remain as such regardless of demography. Values ultimately are what count.
The pitfalls of this view are most evident in Chapter Eight, “Coming to America.” Robbins declares in the first sentence: “America is a nation of immigrants.” Already we’re in trouble. This common shibboleth, as always, overlooks the fact that America, like every sovereign entity, began as a nation of settlers. Put another way, immigrants can’t assimilate unless they are aware of what it is they’re supposed to assimilate into. And the settlers mainly responsible for establishing the assimilation template were the English and the Scots, in that order of importance. Yes, the Welsh, the French, the Germans, the Dutch, and others made substantial contributions, as did, more distantly, the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans. But our most recognizable sources of heritage come from England and Scotland. Why be bashful about it? These two nations, despite centuries of (still unresolved) bitter mutual enmity, in their own ways bequeathed to us a system of law, a philosophy, a common language, and a general range of everyday habits. Most importantly, they showed up in far larger numbers than other national groups, and reproduced at high rates. This, more than anything else, made possible our national identity. Even assuming for the sake of argument that we are purely propositional, it would be impossible to deny the role of English and Scots moral philosophers and pamphleteers such as Locke, Trenchard, Gordon, Smith, Hume, Ferguson, and Witherspoon in shaping the propositions. Shouldn’t such a heritage on some level influence how we approach immigration and citizenship issues?
James Robbins apparently thinks it shouldn’t. For him, immigration, in whatever numbers and from whatever sending nations, has been a virtually unmitigated blessing. In rebuking what he calls “nativist sentiment,” he remarks: “There have always been those who wanted to keep immigrants out, to close the golden door after their ancestors were safely inside.” To his credit, he emphasizes the necessity of assimilation, including the need to be fluent in English, approvingly citing Theodore Roosevelt’s oft-quoted 1915 speech in New York before the Knights of Columbus, denouncing “hyphenated Americanism.” But what if large numbers of newcomers insist on remaining hyphenated? And what if their offspring do likewise? Robbins believes such concerns are overblown. Most newcomers, he insists, desire to assimilate. The aggressive strain of ethnic separatism among many immigrants, especially Hispanics, while troubling, is an anomaly, mainly the product of self-serving community leaders, teachers and identity politicians.
But don’t Muslims pose special problems related to assimilation and national security? Robbins is confident that they overwhelmingly desire to live the American dream. “(I)t is better to see Muslims as one of the latest groups to contribute to the melting pot, at least for those willing to assimilate.” He declares:
The United States is a country where Muslims have the freedom to worship in the manner they choose. But it is also a country where, unlike in most of their homelands, they are free to eat pork, marry a Buddhist, and ignore the call to prayer. This is the more important freedom — the freedom to choose, the freedom that for four centuries has brought immigrants to America.
Unfortunately, this statement runs up against an observable reality: The vast majority of Muslims here are choosing not to exercise such freedoms. And more than a few among them have demonstrated a readiness to intimidate and even kill others, especially immediate family members, who do try to exercise them. How would Robbins deal with that? And how would he react if a growing number of “patriotic” Muslims in our military — like the now-convicted (and sentenced to death) U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, murderer of more than a dozen persons at Fort Hood, Texas — having reconnected with their religious roots, decide to exact retribution against impious fellow soldiers? Apparently, Robbins doesn’t see such cases as warranting restriction of entry. Islamic radicals, he argues, are an aberration, unrepresentative of the Muslim mainstream. But the evidence he marshals is rather thin. Robbins at one point glowingly quotes “Mohammed Mohammed,” a Jordanian-born Islamic resident of Alexandria, Louisiana and father of six: “A few years ago I tried to take my family overseas, and we had a difficult time. The customs are different. I realized, then, that I was also different…The next generation will be 100 percent American.” All this is nice. Yet one must ask: If Mohammed Mohammed is so keen on assimilation, how come his name is still “Mohammed Mohammed?”
Chapter Nine, “The Native Americans,” in a real sense, is the heart of the book. Here the author analyzes Census of Population and American Community Survey (ACS) data and reveals, with the aid of county-by-county national maps, the areas of strongest self-identification of “American” ancestry. Robbins doesn’t believe ethnicity is an especially useful marker. “An ethnic identity,” he writes, “could just be a form of personal branding — lacking strong family traditions, one may latch onto the identity from a country one has never visited and knows nothing about.” Actually, it could mean that many people here, assimilated or not, take their ancestry seriously and even attend family reunions. It also could mean that for many people, race and ethnicity are becoming irrelevant. In any event, in 1980, 5.9 percent of all respondents filling out the Census of Population long form (distributed to one in six households) wrote in “American” as their national background. This figure fell to 5.2 percent in 1990, but rose to 7.2 percent in 2000. ACS data since then have indicated responses in the 7 to 9 percent range.
By far the greatest concentrations of these “United States of Americans” are in the upland South and, secondarily, in the Ohio River Valley. These households are overwhelmingly white, and more specifically, disproportionately descended from Scots, Scots-Irish and Border English Protestants arriving in the eighteenth century. Robbins notes:
Looking at the areas with high concentrations of Americans conjures various impressions: The Bible Belt. Rednecks. Flyover country. Hillbillies. NASCAR country. Walmart. Waffle House, Cracker Barrel. Country music. The area below the sweet tea line, or in the “Coke” zone. The stereotypic view would be of a white, rural, lower-middle-class (if not below), less-educated population.
The author isn’t at all being condescending here, mind you. He’s simply acknowledging a cultural reality: Lots of good old boys and gals think of themselves as Americans, first and last. Yet this raises an interesting question: Why are so many Celtic-descended Protestants reluctant to acknowledge their roots on an anonymous Census form? Are they ashamed? They shouldn’t be. Every culture has good and bad. And as the now-classic 2005 book by former Navy Secretary and Virginia Democratic Senator Jim Webb, Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, describes, and with autobiographical passion, there is much good in that world. Perhaps these people are apathetic. Perhaps, alternately, their patriotic American populism is so ingrained that it trumps any sense of origins. Whatever the explanation, this much is certain: Something valuable will have been lost if the Scots-Irish, some 27 million strong, one day were to extinguish their collective identity, whether experienced in America or on the other side of the Atlantic.
The book concludes with a call for national renewal. By understanding Americanism as the full flowering of a noble universal code, Robbins argues, we can reinvigorate our pride, restore our flagging faith in major institutions, and become more mobilized to fight for what is right. He believes the American creed — a hybrid of economic mobility, individual rights, fair play, majority rule, localism, and religious piety — could be the creed of everyone here and in the rest of the world. But is it that simple? Even here, the creed has never enjoyed full acceptance. It certainly wasn’t enough to prevent our great national bloodletting of 1861–65, which was about far more than simply the slavery issue.
Native Americans has its strengths. But at its core, it is a pitch for inviting the world to come to America, as most everyone has it in them, if properly guided, to become good Americans. This assumption reigns at the highest levels of power — witness the passage this June by the Senate of highly misguided immigration amnesty/surge legislation dwarfing anything like it in the past. The last few decades, if nothing else, have rendered it suspect, if not deluded. Even a universal nation has to be particular about who it lets in.

E Pluribus Bonum: Note for a Lecture, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United"

America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century — Why America’s Greatest Days Are Yet to Come, by James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus (Encounter, 264 pp., $25.99), and Native Americans: Patriotism, Exceptionalism, and the New American Identity, by James S. Robbins (Encounter, 250 pp., $23.99) 

The future America 3.0 is described, in a chapter titled “America in 2040,” as a decentralized, networked era of prosperity. Social programs have been stripped from the federal government and sent to the states.
There are 71 states (the larger ones — California, Texas, New York — have subdivided) and some functions are performed by multistate compacts. Cities, counties, and townships have taken on more responsibilities. Decentralization leads to a “big sort,” as families and individuals sort themselves by communities, religions, politics, and lifestyles. With the “big sort” and minimized federal role, “the need for a national consensus on most issues is non-existent.” This also means that (despite the continued existence of the red-blue political split) a decentralized “social settlement” could evolve on the most contentious social issues. Bennett and Lotus foresee more individual freedom and material wellbeing, with the U.S. remaining the world’s leading political and economic power.
To help the country achieve the status of America 3.0, the authors offer a raft of detailed policy prescriptions related to decentralization, including the following: shifting political power to the states; reducing public debt (a “big haircut,” or the equivalent of bankruptcy); abolishing the federal income tax and replacing it with a consumption tax; and creating an alliance for decentralization that would place social issues beyond the power of the federal government and federal courts and into the hands of state legislators and voters. In the end, the authors contend, America 3.0 is possible because its formation would be consistent with America’s deepest cultural roots and institutions. It is an updated version of the best of America 1.0.
Bennett and Lotus have produced a very important evergreen book making a strong case for their myriad arguments. Interest among the conservative intelligentsia should be intense. There have already been endorsements from Glenn Reynolds, Michael Barone, Jonah Goldberg, and John O’Sullivan. Rebuttals from our friends at the Claremont Institute are sure to come: As Straussians rather than Burkeans, they will insist that politics (the Declaration of Independence) trumps culture (the nuclear family).
The other new Encounter book, James Robbins’s Native Americans, is an optimistic celebration of American identity, patriotism, and exceptionalism. Robbins tells us that American identity is fighting a two-front war against multiculturalists and globalists. This reviewer could not agree more. The federally imposed “diversity” project assumes an oppositional posture toward American culture, dividing citizens into antagonistic ethnic boxes. Once in these legal categories, individuals are labeled as members of either a “victim group” or the “oppressor class.”
Robbins rightly rejects all of this. He argues that we need a definition of American ethnicity that is based not on race but on American culture and values. Most of all, this means we should self-identify as Americans. Robbins makes it clear that he disdains the concept of hyphenated Americans: He scorns the idea that he is an “Irish-American” or a “white non-Hispanic” American. “My Americanism,” he declares, “needs no prefix or suffix.”
In 1980, the Census Bureau began asking questions about one’s ancestry, suggesting categories such as German, English, Irish, African-American, etc. Robbins traces how an increasing number of people listed their ancestry simply as “American.” In the 2000 census, over 20 million people identified their ancestry as “American,” making this the fifth-largest ancestry group. Robbins has fun tracking down where these “Americans” live. The highest proportion of “Americans” (over 50 percent) live in southeastern Kentucky. “Americans” are the plurality in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas. The most “Americans” live (in descending order) in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, and California.
Like Bennett and Lotus, and unlike many in America’s contemporary elite, Robbins believes there is a distinct American culture. He cites data from the Bradley Foundation Project on National Identity that indicate that 84 percent of our citizens believe that there is “a unique American national identity based on shared beliefs, values, and culture.” Further, writes Robbins, the American melting pot has formed a single people “rooted in shared language, foundational stories, history, experience, culture, belief systems, national myths, and political culture.”
Robbins doesn’t quote a July 22, 1966 letter from gubernatorial candidate Ronald Reagan to former president Dwight Eisenhower, but — in political terms — the letter is more relevant today than when it was written half a century ago. Reagan wrote to Ike: “I am in complete agreement about dropping the hyphen that presently divides us into minority groups. I’m convinced this ‘hyphenating’ was done by our opponents to create voting blocs for political expediency. Our party should strive to change this — one is not an Irish-American but is instead an American of Irish descent.”
The coercive “diversity” project and a bloated welfare state have only gotten worse in the years since. Bennett, Lotus, and Robbins are pointing out a better direction for our country.
– Mr. Fonte is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and the author of Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or Be Ruled by Others?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

America's first Propaganda Czar and the Jesuits' Propaganda Fide

Note for a Planned Article
"Creel, Lippmann, and the Origins of American Public Diplomacy"
(comments welcome; draft, not for citation)

The Missouri-born George Creel, America's first propaganda czar as Chairman of the Committee on Public Information, 1917-1919, whose father was a Catholic, mentions favorably in his autobiography Rebel at Large (1947, p. 9) the Belgium-born Father Pierre-Jean De Smet (1801-1873), describing him as a "great Jesuit missionary and pathfinder." In a 1941 article, Creel writes:
When Pope Gregory XV, back in 1622, created the Congregatio de propaganda fide, what he had in mind, and all that he had in mind, was the guidance of those sandaled missionaries who went forth from Rome to preach the gospel in foreign fields. The propagation of the faith! The spread of the Christian doctrine! Just that and nothing else. [my italics] Today, however, propaganda retains no trace of its original meanings and here in the United States particularly has come to stand only for evil, deceit, and corruption. (Creel, George [1941]. Propaganda and Morale. American Journal of Sociology, 47 (3), p. 341).
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Note: Putative German atrocities in Belgium were an essential part of anti-German propaganda during WWI.


Pierre-Jean De Smet (text from)

Missionary among the North American Indians, b. at Termonde (Dendermonde), Belgium, 30 Jan., 1801; d. at St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A. 23 May, 1873. He emigrated to the United States in 1821 through a desire for missionary labours, and entered the Jesuit novitiate at Whitemarsh, Maryland. In 1823, however, at the suggestion of the United States Government a new Jesuit establishment was determined on and located at Florissant near St. Louis, Missouri, for work among the Indians. De Smet was among the pioneers and thus became one of the founders of the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus.

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His first missionary tour among the red men was in 1838 when he founded St. Joseph's Mission at Council Bluffs for the Pottawatomies. At this time also he visited the Sioux to arrange a peace between them and the Pottawatomies, the first of his peace missions. What may be called his life work did not begin, however, until 1840 when he set out for the Flathead country in the Far North-west. As early as 1831, some Rocky Mountain Indians, influenced by Iroquois descendants of converts of one hundred and fifty years before, had made a trip to St. Louis begging for a "black-robe". Their request could not be complied with at the time. Curiously enough, the incident excited Protestant missionary enterprise, owing to the wide dissemination of a mythical speech of one of the delegation expressing the disappointment of the Indians at not finding the Bible in St. Louis. Four Indian delegations in succession were dispatched from the Rocky Mountains to St. Louis to beg for "black-robes" and the last one, in 1839, composed of some Iroquois who dwelt among the Flatheads and Nez Percês, was successful. Father De Smet was assigned to the task and found his life-work.

He set out for the Rocky Mountain country in 1840 and his reception by the Flatheads and the Pend d'Oreilles was an augury of the great power over the red men which was to characterize his career. Having imparted instruction, surveyed the field, and promised a permanent mission he returned to St. Louis; he visited the Crows, Gros Ventres, and other tribes on his way back, travelling in all 4814 miles. In the following year he returned to the Flatheads with Father Nicholas Point and established St. Mary's Mission on the Bitterroot river, some thirty miles south of [present-day] Missoula, visiting also the Coeur-d'Alênes. Realizing the magnitude of the task before him, De Smet went to Europe in 1843 to solicit funds and workers, and in 1844 with new labourers for the missions, among them being six Sisters of Notre-Dame de Namur, he returned, rounding Cape Horn and casting anchor in the mouth of the Columbia River at Astoria. Two days after, De Smet went by canoe to Fort Vancouver to confer with Bishop Blanchet, and on his return founded St. Ignatius Mission among the Kalispels of the Bay, who dwelt on Clark's Fork of the Columbia river, forty miles above its mouth. Ten years later the mission was transferred to its present site in Missoula County, Montana [present-day Lake County — Ed.].

As the Blackfeet were a constant menace to other Indians for whom De Smet was labouring, he determined to influence them personally. This he accomplished in 1846 in the Yellowstone valley, where after a battle with the Crows, the Blackfeet respectfully listened to the "black-robe". He accompanied them to Fort Lewis in their own country where he induced them to conclude peace with the other Indians to whom they were hostile, and he left Father Point to found a mission among this formidable tribe. His return to St. Louis after an absence of three years and six months marks the end of his residence among the Indians, not from his own choice but by the arrangement of his religious superiors who deputed him to other work at St. Louis University. He coadjutors in his mission labours, Fathers Point, Mangarini, Nobili, Ravalli, De Bos, Adrian and Christian Hoecken, Joset and others, made De Smet's foundations permanent by dwelling among the converted tribes.

De Smet was now to enter upon a new phase of his career. Thus far his life might be called a private one, though crowded with stirring dangers from man and beast, from mountain and flood, and marked by the successful establishment of numerous stations over the Rocky Mountain region. But his almost inexplicable and seemingly instantaneous ascendancy over every tribe with which he came in contact, and his writings which had made him famous in both hemispheres, caused the United States Government to look to him for help in its difficulties with the red men, and to invest him with a public character. Henceforth he was to aid the Indians by pleading their cause before European nations and by becoming their intermediary at Washington. In 1851 owing to the influx of whites into California and Oregon, the Indians had grown restless and hostile. A general congress of tribes was determined on, and was held in the Creek Valley near Fort Laramie, and the Government requested De Smet's presence as pacificator. He made the long journey and his presence soothed the ten thousand Indians at the council and brought about a satisfactory understanding.

In 1858 he accompanied General Harney as a chaplain in his expedition against the Utah Mormons, at the close of which campaign the Government requested him to accompany the same officer to Oregon and Washington Territories, where, it was feared, an uprising of the Indians would soon take place. Here again his presence had the desired effect, for the Indians loved him and trusted him implicitly. A visit to the Sioux country a the beginning of the Civil War convinced him that a serious situation confronted the Government. The Indians rose in rebellion in August, 1862, and at the request of the government De Smet made a tour of the North-west. When he found that a punitive expedition had been determined on, he refused to lend to it the sanction of his presence. The condition of affairs becoming more critical, the government again appealed to him in 1867 to go to the red men, who were enraged by white men's perfidy and cruelty, and "endeavour to bring them back to peace and submission, and prevent as far as possible the destruction of property and the murder of the whites." Accordingly he set out for the Upper Missouri, interviewing thousands of Indians on his way, and receiving delegations from the most hostile tribes, but before the Peace Commission could deal with them, he was obliged to return to St. Louis, where he was taken seriously ill.

In 1868, however, he again started on what Chittenden calls (Life, Letters and Travels of Pierre Jean De Smet, p. 92), "the most important mission of his whole career." He travelled with the Peace Commissioners for some time, but later determined to penetrate alone into the very camp of the hostile Sioux. General Stanley says (ibid.): "Father De Smet alone of the entire white race could penetrate to these cruel savages and return safe and sound." The missionary crossed the Bad Lands, and reached the main Sioux camp of some five thousand warriors under the leadership of Sitting Bull. He was received with extraordinary enthusiasm. His counsels were at once agreed to, and representatives sent to meet the Peace Commission. A treaty of peace was signed, 2 July, 1868, by all the chiefs. This result has been looked on as the most remarkable event in the history of the Indian wars. Once again, in 1870, he visited the Indians, to arrange for a mission among the Sioux. In such a crowded life allusion can be made only to the principal events. His strange adventures among the red men his conversions and plantings of missions, his explorations and scientific observations may be studied in detail in his writings. On behalf of the Indians he crossed the ocean nineteen times, visiting popes, kings, and presidents, and traversing almost every European land. By actual calculation he travelled 180,000 miles on his errands of charity.

His writings are numerous and vivid in descriptive power, rich in anecdote, and form an important contribution to our knowledge of Indian manners, customs, superstitions, and traditions. The general correctness of their geographical observations is testified to by later explorers, though scientific researches have since modified some minor details. Almost childlike in the cheerful buoyancy of his disposition, he preserved this characteristic to the end, though honoured by statesmen and made Chevalier of the Order of Leopold by the King of the Belgians. That he was not wanting in personal courage is evinced by many events in his wonderful career. Though he had frequent narrow escapes from death in his perilous travels, and often took his life in his hands when penetrating among hostile tribes, he never faltered. But his main title to fame is his extraordinary power over the Indians, a power not other man is said to have equalled. To give a list of the Indian tribes with whom he came in contact, and over whom he acquired an ascendancy, would be to enumerate almost all the tribes west of the Mississippi. Even Protestant writers declare him the sincerest friend the Indians ever had. The effects of his work for them were not permanent to the extent which he had planned, solely because the Indians have been swept away or engulfed by the white settlers of the North-west. If circumstances had allowed it, the reductions of Paraguay would have found a counterpart in North America. The archives of St. Louis University contain all the originals of De Smet's writings known to be extant. Among these is the "Linton Album", containing his itinerary from 1821 to the year of his death, also specimens of various Indian dialects, legends, poems, etc. The principal works of Father De Smet are: "Letters and Sketches, with a Narrative of a Year's Residence among the Indian Tribes of the Rocky Mountains" (Philadelphia, 1843), translated into French, German, Dutch, and Italian; "Oregon Missions and Travels over the Rocky Mountains in 1845-46" (New York, 1847), translated into French and Flemish; "Voyage au grand désert en 1851" (Brussels, 1853); "Western Missions and Missionaries" (New York, 1863), translated into French; "New Indian Sketches" (New York, 1865).


The De Smet Jesuit High School, dedicated in 1968, is located in Creve Coeur, Missouri. "Men for Others" is the unofficial motto of the school, which has an active athletic program.


“In 2003, after some controversy, [De Smet’s] remains and those of the other Jesuits were moved and reinterred at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, the burial site for many Missouri Province Jesuits” (Wikipedia).

Calvary cemetery image from