Hugo Chavez has announced that Vice President Nicolas Maduro will take over his duties if he cannot reassume them as he rushes to Cuba for surgery. His cancer seems to have returned.
The president said that tests had shown a return of some cancerous cells and that he would return to Cuba on Sunday for the surgery, his third operation to remove cancerous tissue in about a year and a half.
CNN says Chavez made the announcement in a broadcast from the presidential palace. News that a dictator is in poor health often brings up conflicting emotions. On the one hand some have argued that natural death in general serves the purpose of renewal. Otherwise evil could persist indefinitely. ‘What if dictators could live for thousands of years?’ one website asked. “We can’t always kill them or depose them, so we’ll be outsourcing the assassination to nature.”
When Man can’t solve a problem, we think that maybe God can. But God works in mysterious ways. Many of the 20th century’s most odious leaders lived to a ripe old age and died in their beds. Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Papa Doc Duvalier, Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Idi Amin are a few that come to mind.
Job asked this precise question: “Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power?” Or Jeremiah, “why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?”
There appears to be no correlation between wickedness and longevity; and death when it comes brings no obvious judgment. If the grim reaper comes to renew the earth, then he compasses the brave and the cowardly, the dastardly and fair, the wise and the foolish; the good, the bad and the ugly.
The previous post touched upon the murder of 14 million people by Hitler and Stalin as described in the book Bloodlands. Timothy Snyder begins and ends his book with tight closeups of its victims.
“Now we will live” This is what the hungry boy liked to say, as he walked along the quiet roadside, or through the empty fields. But the food that he saw was only in his imagination. The wheat had all been taken away, in a heartless campaign of requisitions that began Europe’s era of mass killing. It was 1933, and Joseph Stalin was deliberately starving Soviet Ukraine. The little boy died, as did more than three million other people
“I will meet her” said a young Soviet man of his wife, “under the ground.” He was right; he was shot after she was, and they were buried among the seven hundred thousand victims of Stalin’s Great Terror of 1937 and 1938.
“They asked for my wedding ring, which I ….” The Polish officer broke off his diary just before he was executed by the Soviet secret police in 1940. He was one of about two hundred thousand Polish citizens shot by the Soviets or the Germans at the beginning of the Second World War, while Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union jointly occupied his country.
Late in 1941, an eleven-year-old Russian girl in Leningrad finished her own humble diary: “Only Tania is left.” Adolf Hitler had betrayed Stalin; her city was under siege by the Germans, and her family were among the four million Soviet citizens the Germans starved to death.
The following summer, a twelve-year-old Jewish girl in Belarus wrote a last letter to her father: “I am saying good-bye to you before I die. I am so afraid of this death because they throw small children into the mass grave alive.” She was among the more than five million Jews gassed or shot by the Germans.
Each of the living bore a name. The boy who imagined he saw wheat in the fields was Jozef Sobolewsky. He starved to death along with his five other brothers and sisters, in 1933 in a famished Ukraine. The one brother who survived was shot in 1937, in Stalin’s Great Terror. Only his sister Hanna remained to recall him and his hope.
Stalinslaw Wyganowski was the young man who foresaw that he would meet his arrested wife, Maria, “under the ground.” They were both shot by the NKVD in Leningrad in 1937.
The Polish officer who wrote of his wedding ring was Adam Solski. The diary was found on his body when his remains were disinterred in Katyn, where he was shot in 1940. The wedding ring he probably hid; his executioners probably found it.
The eleven-year-old Russian girl who kept a simple diary in besieged and starving Leningrad in 1941 was Tania Savicheva. One of her sisters escaped across the frozen surface of Lake Ladoga; Tania and the rest of her family died.
The twelve-year-old Jewish girl who wrote to her father in Belarus in 1942 of the death pits was Junita Vishniatskaia. Her mother, who wrote alongside her, was named Zlata. They were both killed. “Farewell forever” was the last line of Junita’s letter. “I kiss you. I kiss you.”
The problem of evil consists in whether humanity can show itself worthy of existing. Without man the cosmos would be simple: planets spinning through space and the galaxies glowing in their peacock spectrum. But it is what man beholds in the mirror that makes the complicates the universe and makes it incomplete. The shadow that humanity sees in the glass has the fatal power of choice. It is still unclear how we shall choose for it is not the empty Ukrainian wheat field that we cannot accept, but the possibility that someone should empty it to gratify his sense of power and never be held to account.
Perhaps in the last analysis all questions of belief come down to whether we can accept the Joseph Stalins dying on their beds and getting away with it all. But for now there are no answers to our questions upon the earth: why monsters should pass in pomp and attendance while the children they smote perish of starvation? And whether the man-gods of our own age should be allowed to live forever had we the power to extend their lives?
Or are there some problems who answers we can never see? To that question not even Job had an answer except to say “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”