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Red Reading

Posted 3/12/2003

Thank you for running the very informative "Welcome to Stalin World" piece by Van Smith (March 5). Since at least part of its purpose was to present Soviet art in a historical context, I would like to add some explanatory comments.

First, I believe that the first panel on page 16 shows Red Army troops being welcomed by a local population as the liberators they were from the Nazis toward the end of World War II. Second, the panel at the top of page 18 depicts Felix Dzerzhinsky--the creator of the secret police--and V.I. Lenin (whom he may have had murdered on Josef Stalin's orders). The figure of the female soldier with the submachine gun points out a very interesting fact: The Soviets employed females in combat right from the start in World War II, while we in the States are still talking about "women in combat" more than five decades later, despite the fact that we now have female West Point-graduated officers who are generals! When will this military "glass ceiling" be broken? I believe that the bottom panel on page 19 depicts four young Soviet partisans, who fought the enemy behind German lines. The Nazis used the war against them as their first cover in order to exterminate the Jews, prior to the introduction of the gas chambers.

There are some mistakes. "In 1917, when the Russian Revolution brought czarism to its knees . . . " No less an authority than the Bolshevik Leon Trotsky asserted, "We didn't overthrow the monarchy. It fell of its own weight"--and he should know. "Under Hitler, 30,000 to 50,000 Baltic intellectuals, including many artists, were taken to camps in the Urals." Not by the Germans, they weren't, as not one single German soldier ever set foot in the Urals, although Hitler would've dearly liked to have.

Finally, the three decades since 1967 has spawned a treasure trove of Soviet authors' works available in English at your local public library for further reading: Twenty Letters to a Friend by Svetlana Alliluyeva (Stalin's daughter); the two-volume Khrushchev Remembers (by Nikita) and Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower by his son Sergei; Memoirs by Andrei Gromyko; and Molotov Remembers by Felix Chuev. On the military side of the ledger, there is the autobiographical Marshal Zhukov's Greatest Battles and a host of revisionist histories on World War II by author David M. Glantz (University Press of Kansas).

Blaine Taylor
Towson

Van Smith responds: Actually, the fellow depicted with Lenin is not Dzerzhinsky but Lithuanian Communist Party leader Vincas Kapsukas. As for the relocations from the Baltic states to the Urals, you're right, the quote was misleading; they occurred as the Soviets withdrew from the advancing German army. Finally, Trotsky's take on the Russian Revolution is interesting, and such heresy may help explain his 1940 assassination under Stalin's orders. But Lenin clearly saw the revolution as conquering czarism. His take on communist culture vis-à-vis that inherited from the czars, for instance, is telling: "There may be the impression that the vanquished have a high level of culture," he said of czarism at the 1922 Communist Party Congress--the last he ever attended--"but that is not the case at all. Their culture is miserable, insignificant, but it is still at a higher level than ours."

Bumpy Bob

It was refreshing to hear Brian Morton make an effort to clear up the slot machine debate in Annapolis (Political Animal, Feb. 26). Still, in state legislatures, clarity usually has little to do with how issues are resolved. Maryland is infamous for political corruption. Hardly anyone seemed to bat an eye when former Gov. (jailbird) Marvin Mandel was resurrected to step up to the plate for current Gov. Robert Ehrlich. And in spite of our new governor's sterling, Bush-like efforts to turn goodwill into animosity, I worry that logical points concerning the inadvisability of implementing slot machines as the state's revenue-enhancement measure of choice won't make any difference when the final vote is taken.

Yet, I have hope for the future. In later days, once it becomes clear that slots will cost more than they produce and that Pimlico and Laurel will only go from being embarrassing dumps masquerading as thoroughbred racetracks to embarrassing dumps with slot machines, maybe a new generation of politicians will feel bold enough to tell the truth to the electorate about taxes. I mean, after all, once all the lies have been used up and their consequences have crippled governance, truth will be all that is left. That truth is very simple. A large society necessitates government services. Those services cost money. To provide the money to pay for services, governments must tax the citizens. Those taxes must be based on the ability of citizens to pay. If you make a lot, you pay a lot. If you don't like it, that's too bad. Go somewhere else.

Hell, I don't even care if the current batch of dimwits get credit in future histories for creating the impetus that lead to honest tax policies.

Oh, here's one mild criticism for Brian Morton. Ehrlich may be lot of things, but he's about as "smooth" as a Baltimore thoroughfare.

Joe Roman
Baltimore

Charles In Charge

I have seen several articles and letters regarding the effectiveness of the Charles Village Community Benefits District, but I have yet to see one that actually deals with the taxes. As a resident of Charles Village, I pay four taxes: federal, state, city, and CVCBD. For my federal taxes, I get to elect the highest official in the country, the president (we won't go into the fairness of elections, as that's a whole different issue). I also get to elect representatives from my state to Congress. For my state taxes, I get to elect the highest official in the state, the governor. For my city taxes, I get to elect the highest official in the city, the mayor. However, for my CVCBD taxes, I get to elect one person out of a board of 18. Of these 18 people, just four are actually voted for by the people living in Charles Village. The rest are appointed by various associations. If I don't like the way CVCBD is being run, I have no power to vote the people who are running it out of office, as I do in the other three cases. Taxation without representation, anyone?

Laura Carlson
Baltimore

Bad Blood

I am a big supporter of the DIY scene--make your own music, put it out for the masses to hear, and play shows in your basement or however creatively you can do it (Arts & Entertainment, March 5). I say go and see music wherever the music is at--be it a warehouse or clubhouse. But do not get do-it-yourself mixed up in straight-edge politics! The Bloodshed Collective wanted to charge my girlfriend and I $10 to see a $5 gig because we answered "no" to the question they were asking everyone at the door: "Are you vegan?"

All the fliers for the shows say no drugs or alcohol, yet folks in and outside the place are getting sick from big gulps full of beer. You can put on shows with kick-ass bands, take donations, and have a great time, if you just think about what you're trying to do and not wrap up the struggling B-more DIY scene in anti-alcohol, anti-government, anti-brain waves politics. B-more needs more people having shows--straight-edge militias with good intent need not apply.

Brian Gossman
Baltimore

Missionary Position

In his occasionally illuminating article about Mission of Burma, Jon Fine has some of his chronology confused, both about the band's contemporaries and the music world they inhabited (Music, Feb. 19). Hüsker Dü was not a "very post-Burma" band--both groups got started at roughly the same time and both released their first 12-inch vinyl in 1981. Hüsker Dü survived four years longer and altered the rock landscape, making possible such bands as the Pixies and Nirvana.

It might have been before the Internet and, um, MTV, but the underground music world in the early '80s wasn't nearly as desolate as Fine paints it. Punk was still mostly an underground movement on this continent, but the Clash's London Calling LP had clawed its way to No. 27 on the American charts in 1980. And it wasn't "before indie labels" (Bomp! started in '77, SST in '78, Dischord in '80). There actually were more "hipster record stores" around back then (carrying many indie and punk releases), before the big-box stores swallowed most of them.

It's also odd that Fine barely mentions Mission of Burma drummer Peter Prescott. More than guitarist Roger Miller or bassist Clint Conley, Peter helped keep the Mission of Burma sound and legacy alive. After Burma crashed, Prescott became singer/songwriter for the excellent trio Volcano Suns, releasing albums for SST and other labels; the Suns were a very post-Burma band.

Jim Maher
Baltimore

Editor's note: This week, Joe MacLeod's Mr. Wrong column moves to the back of the paper. If you'll turn to page 75, he will explain further. And in case you're keeping score, Anna Ditkoff's Bar Scars column fell victim to a scheduling error this week, but will be back next week.

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