European Diary

Katyn 2

When, in 1934, Stalin had a Leningrad party boss killed—and then wept at the man’s funeral, railing at the enemies of Russia—a uniquely modern phenomenon, which I shall call state vendetta, was born.  State vendetta is somewhere between conventional warfare and mafia violence.  Where the narrow aim of the former is to suppress a specific enemy, and the indiscriminate aim of the latter is to terrorize all rivals, state vendetta is closer to ritual assassination.  Blending secrecy with rumor, death with propaganda, the totalitarian chieftain or oligarchic group aims above all to manipulate public opinion, terrifying the populace into submission.  The elimination of a specific opponent is never the issue.

In this sense the assassination of John F. Kennedy by person or persons unknown was a counterpart to the assassination of Sergei Kirov by the secret police.  In both cases the identity of the victim was not the issue.  In both cases a majority of the population knew that the official version of the crime was untrue, but to say so in the former case was to risk death and to say so in the latter was to risk social ostracism.  More recently, circumstances surrounding the events of September 11, 2001, have been interpreted by a majority of the population in ways that differ markedly from the official version, yet the fear of being branded a conspiracy monger effectively deters the average citizen from delving...

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