Useful Idiots in Our Time

ssgLiving in the former Soviet Republic of Ukraine, one becomes highly sensitive to public figures who look away from genocidal, government-created famines. The Holodomor or “Extermination By Hunger” was a 1932-33 famine in Stalin-era Ukraine that cost the lives of as many as 7.5 million people. This act of genocide has been officially acknowledged only in the last decade—more than 7 decades later and 15 years after the Soviet state responsible for it ceased to exist.

At the time of the famine, a steady parade of “useful idiots” kept the world from knowing what was really happening in the Ukraine and elsewhere in the USSR. This derogatory label has long been credited to Lenin, shorthand for those westerners who acted as propagandists and apologists for the atrocities of the Soviet government. The poster child for this class of western dilettantes is of course Lincoln Steffens, who returned in 1919 from a newly-created Soviet Union that was mired in civil war, hunger, terror and wholesale executions to declare, “I have seen the future and it works.”

Steffens was reporting on a U.S. mission to provide food aid to a Soviet Union that could not feed itself. He was the first of an ignominious wave of political tourists, like the British-born New York Times reporter Walter Duranty, who gave readers in the West during the 1930s a completely false picture of what was taking place in the USSR, as tens of millions perished from Stalin’s police-state terror.

Bill Richardson, the former New Mexico governor, secretary of Energy and ambassador to the U.N., seems intent on following in the footsteps of Steffens and Duranty. His February 2 op-ed in the Washington Post, “Time For A Reboot With North Korea,” while recognizing that much of what visitors there see is “staged,” nonetheless waxed rhapsodic: ” we saw acclaimed acrobats perform an adaptation of a feudal love story in front of thousands of families in a freezing theater; we saw children playing in the snow in the streets.”

The op-ed piece was part of the fallout from Richardson’s January trip to North Korea with Google Chairman Eric Schmidt. The official version is that Richardson had organised a…

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