Jul 042008

This is amusing. I don’t have a copy of Anne Applebaum’s “Gulag” with me, so was googling about it for stuff I remembered reading. The amusing part is in this review by a William J. Dobosh, Jr., which complains that all the good historical information in the book risks being tarnished by her apparent political conservatism. It’s so bad, he points out, that some conservative commentators like her book and defend it.

Poor baby. I’m afraid those of us who tend toward conservative liberalism don’t have much sympathy. If we restricted ourselves only to histories written by those who leave out their statist and/or leftist biases, we wouldn’t have much to read. We’ve learned from years of experience how to discount the leftish prejudices of most academic authors and extract the information that gets revealed anyway, whether it’s put there by accident or by honesty.

Dobosh also complains that Applebaum didn’t encourage readers to use her history to analyze the practices of our own government. But he seems to be lacking a few clues himself as to how the lessons can be applied. He writes:

[Stalin] apparently never understood–possibly due to either misinformation from subordinates or his own willful ignorance and denial–that the capacity to work tends to decline when people are cold, starving, poorly housed, and neglected.

That’s an amazing statement. It leaves one wondering if Dobosh thinks the capacity to work is unimpaired when slaves are warm, well-fed, well-housed, and attentively looked after.

Dobosh concludes with this complaint:

Gulag does allow readers to learn historical facts and glimpse the human tragedy of prisoner camp life, but it does not inspire them to use this knowledge for important modern applications. Readers of Gulag, especially those serving as judge advocates, must undertake this analysis on their own.

He’s 100 percent wrong about her book not inspiring readers to apply the knowledge to modern applications. In fact, it was one such application that I was working on when I got sidetracked by this review. I don’t think Dobosh will like getting what he asked for, though.