Manual Famine: An American Fable

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact of Grant's presidency on Americans in the years after the Civil War in which he, with Lincoln, had led the Union Army to victory.

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His predecessor, Andrew Johnson, was prepared to let the Southern States decide for themselves which rights to allow freed slaves; Grant supported equal rights, and he used troops and Enforcement Acts to defeat the Ku klux Klan which was violently suppressing African Americans. In later years Grant was remembered mainly for the corruption scandals under his terms of office, and for his failure to support or protect Native Americans, but in more recent decades his support for reconstruction has prompted a reassessement. Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the most destructive riots in London's history, which reached their peak on 7th June as troops fired on the crowd outside the Bank of England.

The leader was Lord George Gordon, head of the Protestant Association, who objected to the relaxing of laws against Catholics. At first the protest outside Parliament was peaceful but, when Gordon's petition failed to persuade the Commons, rioting continued for days until the military started to shoot suspects in the street. It came as Britain was losing the war to hold on to colonies in North America. The image above shows a crowd setting fire to Newgate Prison and freeing prisoners by the authority of 'His Majesty, King Mob.

At first he was largely praised for his generosity yet became known for his debauched lifestyle, with allegations he started the Fire of Rome, watching the flames as he played the lyre. Christians saw him as their persecutor, an anti-Christ, and the number of the Beast in the Book of Revelation was thought to indicate Nero. He had confidence in his own artistry, took up acting which then had a very low status and, as revolts in the empire grew, killed himself after the Senate condemned him to die as a slave, on a cross. Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why the potato crop failures in the s had such a catastrophic impact in Ireland.

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It is estimated that one million people died from disease or starvation after the blight and another two million left the country within the decade. There had been famines before, but not on this scale. What was it about the laws, attitudes and responses that made this one so devastating? The poor inhabitants said they would be thankful if the landlord would leave them there, and the Almighty would spare their lives. Its principal tenant is Margaret Vaughan. Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the effective partition of England in the s after a century of Viking raids, invasions and settlements.

Alfred of Wessex, the surviving Anglo-Saxon king and Guthrum, a Danish ruler, had fought each other to a stalemate and came to terms, with Guthrum controlling the land to the east once he had agreed to convert to Christianity.

Putting All Your Potatoes in One Basket

The key strategic advantage the invaders had was the Viking ships which were far superior and enabled them to raid from the sea and up rivers very rapidly. Their Great Army had arrived in the s, conquering the kingdom of Northumbria and occupying York. They defeated the king of Mercia and seized part of his land. They killed the Anglo-Saxon king of East Anglia and gained control of his territory. It was only when a smaller force failed to defeat Wessex that the Danelaw came into being, leaving a lasting impact on the people and customs of that area.

He was both praised and attacked for his flexibility, adapting to the reigns of Protestant and Catholic monarchs and, under Elizabeth, his goal was to make England strong, stable and secure from attack from its neighbours. He sought control over Ireland and persuaded Elizabeth that Mary Queen of Scots must die, yet often counselled peace rather than war in the interests of prosperity.

Pressing every pedal, pulling all the strings, is a Ukrainian nationalist lobby straining to cloak its own history of Nazi collaboration. There was indeed a famine in the Ukraine in the early s. It appears likely that hundreds of thousands, possibly one or two million, Ukrainians died -- the minority from starvation, the majority from related diseases.

By any scale, this is an enormous toll of human suffering. By general consensus, Stalin was partially responsible. By any stretch of an honest imagination, the tragedy still falls short of genocide.

Ancient Origins

In , the Soviet Union was in crisis. The cities had suffered food shortages since Grain was desperately needed for export and foreign capital, both to fuel the first Five-Year Plan and to counter the growing war threat from Germany. In addition, the Communist Party's left wing, led by Stalin, had come to reject the New Economic Plan, which restored market capitalism to the countryside in the s. In this context, collectivization was more than a vehicle for a cheap and steady grain supply to the state.

It was truly a "revolution from above," a drastic move towards socialism, and an epochal change in the mode of production. There were heavy casualties on both sides -- hundreds of thousands of kulaks rich peasants deported to the north, thousands of party activists assassinated. Production superseded politics, and many peasants were coerced rather than won to collective farms. Vast disruption of the harvest ensued and not only in the Ukraine , and many areas were hard-pressed to meet the state's grain requisition quotas.

Again, Stalin and the Politburo played major roles. Such a balanced analysis, however, has never satisfied Ukrainian nationalists in the United States and Canada, for whom the "terror-famine" is an article of faith and communal rallying point. Only of late has it achieved a sort of mainstream credibility -- in Harvest of Despair , shown on PBS and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and at numerous college campuses; in The Harvest of Sorrow , an Oxford University Press account by Robert Conquest; in a "human rights" curriculum, now available to every 10th-grade social studies teacher in New York State; and in the federally-funded Ukraine Famine Commission, now into its second year of "hearings.

After 50 years on the fringe, the Ukraine famine debate is finally front and center. While one-note faminologists may teach us little real history, they reveal how our sense of history is pulled by political fashion until it hardens into the taffy of conventional wisdom. And how you can fool most of the people most of the time -- especially when you tell them what they want to hear.

Harvest of Despair was the brainchild of Marco Carynnyk, a Ukrainian translator and poet who lives in Toronto. In , Carynnyk found a sponsor in St. As chief researcher for the film, Carynnyk had two major functions -- to locate and interview famine survivors, and to find archival photographs. Talking heads would not be enough to make a case for genocide. To gain its intended shock value, the film would have to show what the famine was like. I said this can't be done, that it will leave the film open to criticism My complaints were ignored.

They just didn't think it was important. One problem, Carynnyk said, was that producer Slawko Nowitski faced an impossible five-month deadline to ready the film during the famine's 50th anniversary. In fact, Harvest of Despair would not be completed until late But the researcher believes it was more than mere sloppiness at work. In October , Carynnyk left the project -- "relieved of his duties," according to Nowitsky, "because he did not produce the required material.

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  • The show stopped cold when Doug Tottle, former editor of a Winnipeg labor magazine, stood up and declared that "90 per cent" of the film's archival photographs were plagiarized from the famine. Tottle traced several of the most graphic photos, including that of the starving girl, to famine relief sources of the s.

    Other pictures were lifted from the edition of Human Life in Russia , by Ewald Ammende, an Austrian relief worker in the earlier Volga famine.

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    Ammende attributes them to a "Dr. Dittloff," a German engineer who supposedly took the photos in the summer of The Dittloff pictures have their own bastard pedigrees --three from Geneva-based relief bulletins, others from Nazi publications. Still other Dittloffs were also claimed as original by Robert Green, a phony journalist and escaped convict who provided famine material to the profascist Hearst chain in Green, a convicted forger who used the alias "Thomas Walker," reported that he took the photos in the spring of -- almost a year after the Ukraine famine had ended, and in direct contradiction of Dittloff.

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    Tottle had done his homework. Carynnyk confirmed that "very few" photos in Harvest of Despair could be authenticated, and that none of the famine film footage was from But the Ukrainian Famine Research Committee decided to stonewall. At first they insisted that any photos from the s were used only when the film discussed the Volga famine -- a blatant evasion, since that segment lasts a scant 28 seconds and uses only two still photos, neither especially potent. Committee chairman Wasyl Janischewskyj recently softened that stance: "We have researched further and made discoveries that some photos we thought were from were not We are now having further deep investigations of these pictures.

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    In the main, however, the filmmakers have sought to justify their fraud. Starving children are starving children. His book on the subject, Fraud, Famine, and Fascism, will be published this fall by Toronto's Progressive Books, an outlet for Soviet releases.

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    • Nor have the nationalists refuted Tottle's contention that several "witnesses" in the film were Nazi collaborators, including two German diplomats who served in the Third Reich and an Orthodox Church layman who blessedly rose to bishop while the Third Reich occupied the Ukraine in Just because they're Nazis is no reason to doubt the authenticity of what happened. Soviet sources are rejected out of hand, while Nazi sources or known liars like Walker and Dittloff are accepted unconditionally. Harvest of Despair follows unholy footsteps, and never breaks stride.

      It was heady, hands-on work for a young writer, a chance to slant media coverage of Russia by adding political "spin" to Eastern bloc press releases and funneling them to top reporters. The journalists knew little about the IRD, beyond the names of their mysterious contacts.