Book Review of Bloodlands

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

–Edmund Burke, Irish philosopher and statesman

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Between 1933 and 1945, 14 million people were killed by the Soviet and Nazi regimes. Most of these people were civilians. Bloodlands is about them. Stalin starved millions of Ukrainian people during his push for farm collectivization in 1932 and 1933, for example. Hitler had Poles, Ukrainians and Belarussian people, including Jews, killed because he considered these people subhuman and wanted to take control of their fertile land. Both Stalin and Hitler were evil dictators who were able to carry out these killings of innocent men, women and children, with the support of thousands of other people who actively assisted in the murders or did nothing to stop them from happening.

How were these dictators able to get away with their many crimes? Both countries had one-party systems during this time and crushed all political opposition as well as shut down a free press that could have publicized the atrocities shortly after they occurred. Lying and blaming others for crimes they had committed was commonplace for both men. In this way, they were similar to US president Donald Trump. Luckily not everyone was taken in by Trump and Democratic opposition and a free press helped expose some of his worst dictatorial impulses and helped him lose his re-election campaign. Even so, 70 million American people voted for him in 2020 and that scares me. The US almost became a dictatorship, like Germany and Russia both experienced.

One wonders what magnitude of crimes Trump might have committed if given a second term. Is it such a stretch of imagination to think he would have gone from separating Mexican children from their parents and putting immigrants in cages to actually killing these people for their audacity to search for a better life in the US? Indeed reputable news reports said Trump had wanted to install electrified fences with “spikes that could piece human flesh” on the US-Mexican border but was talked out of it by his advisers. See link for details. In a second term, Trump would not have needed to concern himself about what his advisors thought, and our own bloodlands might have transpired in 21st century America.

Having multiple political parties, a free press and an engaged citizenry that can vote in free and fair elections are key to a free society. Tolerance of people from different ethnic groups is also key to peace in the world. Every person has worth and dignity, not just people who look or act like you. This is an important lesson all children must be taught if we are to avoid future wars.

This book is very informative but also very difficult to read or listen to because it is so upsetting. It’s not a novel but something that actually happened fairly recently. It’s not a book for the faint-of-heart but for those strong enough to look closely at the depravity human beings are capable of given “the right conditions.”

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