“Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.”
—General “Buck” Turgidson, as played by George C. Scott.
If anyone wants to know what I mean by the “New Reactionaries,” they should have a look at Nicholas D. Kristof’s review of MAO, The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday in today’s NYTBR. After paying some homage to the biography and condescendingly evincing surprise that the author of a popular book could write such a work (even though her husband is a professional historian), Kristof gets to the crux of his argument:
This is an extraordinary portrait of a monster, who the authors say was responsible for more than 70 million deaths. But how accurate is it?… (some Dowdification on my part here but you can easily check) Take the great famine from 1958 to 1961. The authors declare that “close to 38 million people died,” and in a footnote they cite a Chinese population analysis of mortality figures in those years. Well, maybe. But there have been many expert estimates in scholarly books and journals of the death toll, ranging widely, and in reality no one really knows for sure – and certainly the mortality data are too crude to inspire confidence. The most meticulous estimates by demographers who have researched the famine toll are mostly lower than this book’s: Judith Banister estimated 30 million; Basil Ashton also came up with 30 million; and Xizhe Peng suggested about 23 million. Simply plucking a high-end estimate out of an article and embracing it as the one true estimate worries me; if that is stretched, then what else is?
Okay, so, accepting the lowest estimate of only 23 million dead – roughly three times the population Mr. Kristof’s own New York – what’s his point here really? He’s copacetic with killing only 23 million? Well, evidently he is.
Read the rest, and be sure to follow the link to Bizzy Blog, which adds: