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"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

December 22, 2007

When We Murder Millions, We Don't Do It Just For Fun! We Have Reasons!

Harper's recently published the transcript of a 1947 conversation between Stalin and Sergei Eisenstein about Eisenstein's two part film Ivan the Terrible. (Part I had already been released three years before, but Stalin's censorship would prevent Part II from being produced until after his death.) Also present were Molotov, the Foreign Minister, and Nikolai Cherkasov, who played Ivan.

STALIN: Have you studied history?

EISENSTEIN: More or less—

STALIN: More or less? I know a thing or two about history...You need to depict historical figures correctly...Ivan the Terrible was very cruel—you can show that—but you have to show why it was essential. One of Ivan's mistakes was that he didn't finish off the five major feudal families. If he had wiped them out, there would never have been a Time of Troubles...

CHERKASOV: Can the killing of Staritsky be left in the screenplay?

STALIN: You can leave it. There were killings.

MOLOTOV: Repressions in general can and should be shown, but it has to be shown why they were committed, in the name of what...

EISENSTEIN: Are there going to be any other special instructions for the movie?

STALIN: I'm not giving you instructions. I'm expressing a viewer's thoughts.

You see here, in distilled form, all the standard tropes displayed by history's greatest monsters. Stalin was an intelligent man and recognized hideous cruelty when he saw it. But the depiction of Ivan reflected on him, so he wanted everyone to know the cruelty wasn't just for fun. Unlike his vicious opponents, who tortured and murdered because they were bad people, Ivan's cruelty was FOR THE GREATER GOOD. Indeed, Ivan's real flaw was that he wasn't cruel enough. If he had been, he could have done even MORE good.

Also notable is Stalin's monumental, monstrous vanity. He's not giving instructions! Why would you possibly think that? No, he's merely expressing his views! It was up to Eisenstein to decide whether to take into consideration the perspective of the dictator who could by moving his pinky have Eisenstein fed alive to alligators.

Joe, this is David Addington. David, this is Joe. I think you two have a lot in common to talk about.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at December 22, 2007 09:17 AM

One doesn't ever give direct instructions, one has to maintain plausible deniability at all times. That's in both Soviet and US constitutions.

Posted by: abb1 at December 22, 2007 11:24 AM

"History's greatest monsters"? Well, I don't see one single mention of Jimmy Carter in this post...

Posted by: Matt Witemyre at December 22, 2007 12:02 PM

I can see Stalin's point. It's hard for a guy with "The Terrible" appended to his name to get a fair shake in the media.

Posted by: SteveB at December 22, 2007 12:07 PM

We murder hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq and claim it is for the greater good, too; in this case, for "democracy." You know, the purple fingers, and the coerced votes?

which makes sense, in a way: the fewer the survivors, the more important will be the survivors' votes...someday...meybe they'll survive to COUNT the votes, and threby become even MORE important...

Posted by: konopelli/wgg at December 22, 2007 12:26 PM

YOU know how is, it gets to feeing so good you just can't stop. WE are certainly getting OUR money's worth when it comes to a rape of decency. For 7 YEARS WE FOLLOWED this crowd down THE HIGHWAY TO HELL, and I do believe the tears have washed all the pity out of my eyes. Keep paying keep winning.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at December 22, 2007 01:31 PM

Has anyone seen the film itself? It's pretty good. Surprised that Eisenstein even managed to sneak in some pretty wrapped criticism of Uncle Joe. Watch out for the scene where the Secret Police puts on a pageant show for Ivan. Brilliant.

Posted by: En Ming Hee at December 22, 2007 02:19 PM

Sounds just like Chomsky on SE Asia and China.

Posted by: Ashley at December 22, 2007 05:21 PM

Dear Nobody,

That's not IOZ.

Your favorite writer,

Posted by: Ashley at December 22, 2007 09:52 PM

Ashley: YOU certainly have a lot more class than I do. Low dog that I am probably words like asshole or even shithead would have shown up, but no, LADY THAT YOU ARE ( I'm assuming of course) YOU have reframed using such ( inadequate, I know)language of the street. I commend YOU. (Isn't Pol Pot dead? If so, who gives a shit who loved the murderous bastard)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at December 22, 2007 10:18 PM

Why Addington in particular?

anon's link is worth reading, even if it's not IOZ. If you visit Ashley's blog, which he periodically links to, you'll see he is in fact a man who is pissed off that people assume people named Ashley are women.

Posted by: StO at December 22, 2007 11:37 PM

StO, I assume you're referring to one of the taglines that shows up in the header. He's not angry. That's an inside joke.

Posted by: Scruggs at December 23, 2007 04:31 AM

It's hard for a guy with "The Terrible" appended to his name to get a fair shake in the media.

Actually, "The Terrible" is just a bad translation. In the original Russian it's more like 'Fearsome' or 'Awesome'. A PR consultant would kill for a nickname like that.

Posted by: abb1 at December 23, 2007 05:00 AM

I don't think it was a header. I thought there was a page somewhere explaining that the name was unisex, but I can't remember anymore; maybe it was even somebody else's site, I don't know.

Thanks, racrecir. I guess I don't have the mental cataloging power to keep up with all the idiotic things these people say, although that one was pretty recent....

Posted by: StO at December 23, 2007 06:01 AM

Actually, "The Terrible" is just a bad translation. In the original Russian it's more like 'Fearsome' or 'Awesome'.

Actually, it's a good translation, since that's pretty much what 'terrible' used to mean, but the English meaning has shifted somewhat since then.

Posted by: Mike at December 23, 2007 06:51 AM

I didn't mean to imply that it was IOZ - the link was just to help you realize that you're full of shit. I just happen to recall you recently bringing up that tired old trope about Chomsky at IOZ's, and he told you it wasn't true. So yes, I could have worded that more clearly, but still, the important fact remains: you apparently will swallow anything that David Horowitz tells you.

Posted by: anon at December 23, 2007 09:22 AM

You know, Vlad the Impaler had a hard time getting his side of the story told, too.

Posted by: SteveB at December 23, 2007 09:28 AM

Not in Romania. He's a Christian hero. Look it up.

Posted by: StO at December 24, 2007 09:08 AM

FORCE CONGRESS TO IMPEACH. Call Nancy Pelosi @1-202-225-0100 and DEMAND IMPEACHMENT.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at December 24, 2007 07:55 PM

Catherine the Great, on the other hand, is a hero almost everywhere but the Vatican.

There is an old saying: "History belongs to the victor."

I dream of a world where, when some politician decides to eulogize or glorify those brave young fools that he's sent into the meatgrinder, someone steps up and breaks his jaw. The only thing worse than responsibility without authority is authority without responsibility.

Posted by: Breakerslion at December 24, 2007 10:53 PM

Breakerslion: EXACTLY

Posted by: Mike Meyer at December 25, 2007 12:07 AM

I am Oz, the great and terrible!

I've learned enough about human nature from this site that I can hardly believe Eisenstein was dumb enough to drop the facade and ask for "instructions." I'm going to use all the psychology Jonathan has taught us to become a first-class toadie one day...

Posted by: Noumenon at December 26, 2007 12:26 PM

Tell me the name of the army which won WW II.

Posted by: peter hofmann at December 27, 2007 02:57 PM