Letters From the February 12-19, 2018, Issue

Letters From the February 12-19, 2018, Issue

Letters From the February 12-19, 2018, Issue

Red Famine revisited… Faith in community…


Red Famine Revisited

Further to Sophie Pinkham’s insightful and balanced review of Anne Applebaum’s Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine [Jan. 1/8], it is also relevant that Applebaum asserts that there was a tendency in Western scholarship to avoid serious study of the horrific famine in the USSR from 1932–34, and that this massive and tragic loss of life (especially in Ukraine) went undocumented until the publication of Robert Conquest’s book on the subject in 1986. This is not true. In fact, some of the preeminent American demographers and other social scientists in the immediate post–World War II period, including Frank Lorimer, Ansley Coale, and Dana Dalrymple, did extensive research on Soviet population trends in the 1920s and ’30s. Their estimates of excess mortality in that period were attributed largely to famine and the impact of collectivization (the two being related) and are very close to more recent scholarship on the subject that benefits from archival materials not available then.

Dalrymple in particular called out the Soviet government as being complicit in this calamity and, in an article in one of the leading journals on Soviet studies, decried Western attempts to downplay it. This body of work antedates the Conquest book and is not cited by Applebaum, for whatever reason. Given the implications of relating what befell the population of Ukraine in the 1930s to the current geopolitical crisis involving that country and Russia, it would have been best if Applebaum had brought into the discussion the full range of historical scholarship.

Ralph S. Clem
jacksonville, fla.

Faith in Community

I was pleased to see Liza Featherstone respond to the letter from a politically progressive Christian calling herself “Confused Convert,” who had questions about managing unwanted attention from a fellow parishioner [“Asking for a Friend,” Jan. 1/8]. My one comment is that the reply seems to assume that Confused Convert should see herself as dealing with the situation on her own.

A congregation is a community. This has two implications. First, Confused Convert does not have to feel that she is socially “ostracizing” the man in question. Over time, in any functioning community, individuals have conflicts and resolutions, periods of distancing and approaching, but can still remain within the wider group. My congregation contains at least two divorced couples, with both former partners still attending.

Second, Confused Convert need not act alone. Hannah Arendt, drawing on Georg Simmel, spoke of operating on the web of relations, and a congregation provides this kind of empowerment. Confused Convert could call upon others to help the “socially clueless” fellow get the hint that this acquaintanceship is not going to get very personal. For instance, she could recruit someone to go with them whenever they have coffee.

Better yet, others can sit with her in church, depriving him of his seat next to her. In contemporary churches, it is pretty common to take a “notice but do not pry” attitude about the conduct and relationships of others. This can be very positive for the acceptance of nontraditional relationships, but it also means that, if you sit together all the time, people will increasingly assume a connection. This fellow is subtly trying to take up the social space around Confused Convert. If she establishes that he cannot monopolize her, he could hardly dare to insist.

Scott Corey
quincy, calif.

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