In the American Conservative, Leon Hadar asks, ‘Is it possible that a homeless and failed artist from Vienna, a paranoid gangster from Georgia, and a paedophile and drug addict from Beijing led to the ruin of millions and millions of lives?’ Hadar is reviewing a book by William Pfaff which he compares to drinking a good French wine. ‘You have to be in the right mood and sip it unhurriedly so as to appreciate the aroma and flavour.’ All I can add is that there’s nothing like a good French wine.
William Pfaff I have never met and know nothing about. I always read his column in the International Herald Tribune, however, because of his nostalgic view of life — one he tries to hide — and because of the disdain he has for those tiny little twerps who have been posing as tough guys these past few years. Namely, America’s neocons, those sofa samurais who talk big but demand that others do the fighting for them. The book’s title is The Bullet’s Song: Romantic Violence and Utopia. Don’t miss it.
How did the creative but sick minds of Stalin, Hitler and Mao manage to turn the 20th century into the bloodiest ever? Apparently, it wasn’t that difficult. The delusions of utopia coupled with the ideology of violence stirred up millions to kill other millions. Pfaff deals with those who carried the sick messages to the masses. Unlike the sofa samurais, these messengers were the real McCoy. They fought on the front lines, boozed, drugged and chased women, and looked like stand-ins for swashbucklers of the silver screen.
A brief parenthesis. One of life’s great mysteries, at least to me, is how people who don’t look the part manage to get others to follow them. If David Frum or John Podhoretz yelled ‘En Avant’ on 18 June 1815, would anyone in their right mind gallop forward towards the English squares? Of course not. But when the bravest of the brave, Ney, ordered it, they all followed. Don’t let me confuse you. Pfaff’s book does not include my childish ravings against cowards who send others to fight. On the contrary. It deals with those inside the ring, such brave men as Willi Munzenberg, who seduced a generation of innocents to support the Soviets, including many useful idiots in the West, but who ended up seeing the folly of his ways and was strangled by Stalin’s agents in a French forest. Arthur Koestler, who served communism as faithfully as Alastair Campbell serves Blair, but turned, like Munzenberg, after seeing the light. T.E. Lawrence, spy, archaeologist, brave leader of the Arab revolt, hero of William Pfaff’s. André Malraux, revolutionary, Lawrence of Arabia wannabe, also writer and man of letters. My favourite, Ernst J