And now, for another view of Hitler

Back in 1982, Harper’s ran a hilarious piece by Alexander Cockburn, “The Tedium Twins,” on the silly obsession with balance that was the MacNeil/Lehrer Report. With pitch-perfect dialogue, Cockburn imagined a segment on the question of slavery.

robert macneil (voice over): Should one man own another?


macneil: Good evening. The problem is as old as man himself. Do property rights extend to the absolute ownership of one man by another? Tonight, the slavery problem. Jim?

lehrer: Robin, advocates of the continuing system of slavery argue that the practice has brought unparalleled benefits to the economy. They fear that new regulations being urged by reformers would undercut America’s economic effectiveness abroad. Reformers, on the other hand, call for legally binding standards and even for a phased reduction in the slave force to something like 75 percent of its present size. Charlayne Hunter-Gault is in Charleston. Charlayne?

hunter-gault: Robin and Jim, I have here in Charleston Mr. Ginn, head of the Cottongrowers Association. Robin?

macneil: Mr. Ginn, what are the arguments for unregulated slavery?

ginn: Robin, our economic data show that attempts at regulation of working hours, slave quarters, and so forth would reduce productivity and indeed would be widely resented by the slaves themselves.

macneil: You mean, the slaves would not like new regulations? They would resent them?

ginn: Exactly. Any curbing of the slave trade would offer the Tsar dangerous political opportunities in western Africa, and menace the strategic slave-ship routes.

lehrer: Thank you, Mr. Ginn. Robin?

macneil: Thank you, Mr. Ginn and Jim. The secretary of the Committee for Regulatory Reform in Slavery is Eric Halfmeasure. Mr. Halfmeasure, give us the other side of the story.

And on it went. Reaching for the ne plus ultra of MacNeil/Lehrerism, Cockburn offered this up as the tagline of the show’s almost comical quest for objectivity: “And now, for another view of Hitler…”

Now comes Ari Shapiro, reporting on NPR about a Ukrainian fascist who slaughtered Jews and other undesirables during World War II. “The question is,” says Shapiro, “whether a person who’s involved in the death of tens of thousands of people can also be a political hero.”

Let’s start with the basics: Stepan Bandera was born in 1909 in what is now western Ukraine. In 1959, the Soviet Union’s KGB poisoned Bandera with cyanide and he died in Munich, West Germany.

Between those two dates, black and white quickly fades to gray.

In western Ukraine, many see him as a freedom fighter who battled domination by the Soviet Union and other European powers before and during World War II. They see themselves as the heirs to Bandera’s struggle.

In eastern Ukraine, Bandera has entirely different connotations. Pro-Russian separatists see him as an ally of Hitler, a fascist who was responsible for killing tens of thousands.

So which was he: Freedom fighter or fascist? Hero or villain?

Bandera’s Order of Ukrainian Nationalists also did some violent things in pursuit of sovereignty. Jews and Polish people were massacred.

“The fight was violent. It was killing, gruesome killings, against all the perceived enemies,” says political scientist Gulnaz Sharafutdinova of King’s College London. “There were strong powers around that little part of Ukraine, western Ukraine, so it was a really hard fight.”

Many of these details have only come out recently, since the KGB, the CIA and others have declassified records. The question is whether a person who’s involved in the death of tens of thousands of people can also be a political hero.

In 2010, Ukraine’s government officially recognized Bandera as a national hero, a move that was condemned by the European Parliament among others. The next year, a new government annulled that award after a domestic and international outcry.

Meanwhile, Russia’s propaganda machine has worked for the past half-century to portray Bandera as an unvarnished villain.

Jim? Robin?


  1. billmon May 23, 2014 at 12:04 am | #

    “This program was made possible by a grant from an Obscenely Wealthy Hedge Fund Manager’s Family Foundation, and the support of viewers not at all like you.”

  2. Glenn May 23, 2014 at 12:29 am | #

    Now that the Nazis have found favor (again) in high political places (in the White House and in western Ukraine) a “documentary” reflects the present mood :

    Springtime for Hitler, The Producers

    The Fuhrer is causing a furor!
    He’s got those Russians on the run
    You gotta love that wacky hun!
    The Fuhrer is causing a furor
    They can’t say “no” to his demands
    They’re freaking out in foreign lands
    He’s got the whole world in his hands
    The Fuhrer is causing a furor!

  3. Roquentin May 23, 2014 at 1:08 am | #

    The attempts to ignore the strong presence of neo-Nazis within the group the US government backed during the coup (and it was a coup, make no mistake about that) that now runs Kiev and certainly make for some absurd reading. Other moments of high comedy include comments on Daily Kos trying to pretend Joe Biden’s son ending up on the board of the largest private gas company in Ukraine doesn’t constitute a conflict of interest. That said, when you take into account that between 3-6 million people died during the Holodomor in a single year, it makes it a lot easier to see why many modern Ukrainians would revere such a figure. In Ukraine, as in so much of Eastern Europe, there were really only two dominant political camps: Stalinist communists and national socialists. Those were the options.

    You can still see those forces at work today. While the banner each side flies has changed, the divisions within the culture have maintained roughly the same borders. This conflict has been waiting in the wings since ’89.

    • adsa May 23, 2014 at 1:52 am | #

      Except that West Ukraine was a part of Poland in the early 30’s not the Soviet Union so whatever effect the famine had on them (Banderas followers in Galicia) was not related to the Soviet Union. In fact it was the Donbass region which was one of the hardest hit areas.

      • Roquentin May 23, 2014 at 2:51 pm | #

        While it is true that portions of Western Ukraine, although not Kiev, were lost to Poland in the Polish-Soviet War (I had to look that one up…heh), can you really claim that people with relatives on the other side of the border would have been totally indifferent to their mass starvation? Leaving an area certainly doesn’t separate you from it culturally. A quick walk through 2nd ave in the Lower East Side and the sight of all the Ukrainian flags during this crisis should make that pretty clear.

        I’d agree that the Donbass region would have been harder hit by the famine, and following a certain logic they should have the most hatred for Moscow. Culture wins in the end, apparently, with the East always having been closer to Russia and the West closer to Europe. I brought up the Holodomor primarily to indicate that there was plenty of mass murder and insanity to go around for everyone in the first half of 20th century, and that perhaps you really could take “another view of Hitler” or more specifically National Socialism in Ukraine. One which in no way glorifies a figure like Banderas, but at least makes the ideology a little more understandable.

        In spite of this, I’m well aware of how awful the Ukranian progroms were during the Russian Civil War, well before the Holodomor even occurred. I want to be unequivocal that no level of atrocity suffered at the hands of the Soviet government justifies anti-Semitic massacres.

  4. Joakim May 23, 2014 at 4:26 am | #

    In february Swedens Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, asserted that the present regime in Ukraine (including the fascist Svoboda Party, which praise Bandera) shared “European values”.

  5. Joakim May 23, 2014 at 6:56 am | #

    Not february 2014, but december 2013, Carl Bildt said the Nationalists in Ukraine shared “European values”. Sorry about that.

  6. mindweapon May 23, 2014 at 7:01 am | #

    Reblogged this on Mindweapons in Ragnarok and commented:
    NPR’s Ari Shapiro whitewashes pro-EU Ukrainian Nazis. During the Third Reich era, lots of Jews did business with the Nazis and praised Hitler. Had the Germans won, many Jews would be singing their praises still today. The great “sin” of the Nazis was losing the war.
    We know the mass media has no principles. The USA has far surpassed the Nazis in scale and horror of atrocities. But everybody loves a winner. If or when the USA loses a war, then we’ll hear all about depleted uranium Gitmo CIA dirty regime changes torture rendition and so on. Ari Shapiro will try to claim “he was part of the Resistance all along” LOL.

    • LFC May 24, 2014 at 4:00 pm | #

      I’m not sure what hallucinogen ‘mindweapon’ is on, but aspects of this comment are beyond nutty.

      • Porcupine Eater May 25, 2014 at 8:14 am | #

        That’s because he’s a white supremacist. Just look at his website.

  7. Rob May 23, 2014 at 10:31 am | #

    “The question is whether a person who’s involved in the death of tens of thousands of people can also be a political hero.”
    —Of course s/he can. Ask the Founding Fathers, Alexander the Great, Stalin, or maybe Genghis Khan, while you’re at it. ‘Leaders of men’ are not necessarily kind, decent people; if fact, one might say that in order to be one, it helps *not* to be.

  8. BillR May 24, 2014 at 12:54 pm | #

    Triumph of the Will being reenacted in a country which has 30 times more people than Ukraine? The man flying triumphally into the National capital to become the next Prime Minister was analyzed by an astute Indian political psychiatrist long before he had risen from the level of local politics:

    Modi, it gives me no pleasure to tell the readers, met virtually all the criteria that psychiatrists, psycho-analysts and psychologists had set up after years of empirical work on the authoritarian personality. He had the same mix of puritanical rigidity, narrowing of emotional life, massive use of the ego defence of projection, denial and fear of his own passions combined with fantasies of violence – all set within the matrix of clear paranoid and obsessive personality traits. I still remember the cool, measured tone in which he elaborated a theory of cosmic conspiracy against India that painted every Muslim as a suspected traitor and a potential terrorist. I came out of the interview shaken and told Yagnik that, for the first time, I had met a textbook case of a fascist and a prospective killer, perhaps even a future mass murderer.

    Or, as another eminent writer put it:

    Several hundred million ‘Indians have dreamed collectively, and they have dreamed a man accused of mass murder.’

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