I’ve watched the HBO show Chernobyl and have no difficulty recommending it unreservedly.
Strangely enough I was turned on to the show by the conservative podcast of Dan Bongino. No sooner had he recommended it to his audience, however, than he got into a twitter fight with the writer and producer of the show, Craig Mazin. This concerned a Stephen King tweet that performed the stunning set of intellectual backflips necessary to compare the failures of the Soviet Union’s nuclear industry to ORANGE MAN BAD – TRUMP.
That was answered by Craig Mazin:
Bongino saw in the show clear failures of socialism writ large but Mazin claimed it was a “failure of humans whose loyalty to (or fear of) a broken governing party overruled their sense of decency and rationality”. The spat continued…
I went and listened to the series of Podcasts which Mazin has recorded with a presenter from NPR, Peter Sagal, and there is so much in there to expand on these ideas. In the first podcast Craig Mazin and Peter Sagal kick off discussing the very opening of the show which centres around truth and lies. This is the opening dialogue of the entire show as the central character records a diary:
VALERY LEGASOV: What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies…then we no longer recognize the truth at all. What can we do then?
Almost immediately in the podcast the two of them have this exchange:
CRAIG Stories are sometimes very good ways of conveying interesting truths and facts…but, just as simply, stories can be weaponized against us to teach us and tell us anything. So, of course, I choose narrative to tell an anti-narrative story, but that’s why I think this is relevant now. Maybe more relevant now– In fact, yes. Definitely more relevant now than it was-when I started writing it.
-PETER: Which was – – and I think we should just point this out – – before the 2016 elections.
CRAIG: Yes, it was. I think I started in 2015 on the writing, yeah.
PETER: Yeah, because I will say, speaking for myself, it’s impossible to watch this miniseries with its tale of government malfeasance and lies and bureaucratic… let’s just say, incentives….
PETER: …taking the place of, shall we say, other motives without thinking about what’s going on in America and across the world today.
These two are immediately hinting at Donald Trump #FakeNews and, unfortunately, because this is Hollywood we’re talking about, it’s fairly certain that both of these guys are assuming all the fake news is coming from Trump. They’ve not yet noticed that the Russia Collusion Hoax has collapsed and the tide will soon reverse to uncover the astonishing malfeasance of the Obama/Clinton regime and their combined spying on all and sundry using the US Intelligence systems.
They’re also, and this is a feature of the left I seriously can’t understand, at pains trying not to paint the Soviet Union as the evil empire. They have a discussion about gender roles in the Soviet Union begrudgingly admitting that yes, it was a massively male dominated system. The one exceptions being medicine and science, and of course that is the reason why there is a female nuclear physicist in the story: most of the main characters are real, named, individuals, but this character is a composite of many scientists:
CRAIG: I felt I had to create a composite character. One of– Just, right off the bat, this is played by the incredible Emily Watson. I wanna talk for a second talk about gender.-
PETER: Right. –
CRAIG: The Soviet Union was, in many ways, very regressive in terms of, um, its gender politics. The power structures are almost entirely male, and the show reflects that. There’s… you know, I don’t know, probably 90 percent of the characters are male. That reflects the reality of what happened in the Soviet Union, but one area that they were fairly progressive in was science and medicine. There were probably a higher proportion of female medical doctors in the Soviet Union in 1986 than there were in the United States, and there were quite a few female academicians who worked in programs like nuclear science programs. So, I thought it was an important thing to show where the Soviets actually were kind of progressive in this regard. You’ll see a lot of the doctors in the show…-
PETER: Yeah. –
CRAIG: …are women, because that reflected the reality.
Can it really be that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was not very gender neutral and was in fact a pretty horrible place for female advancement? Oh say it wasn’t so! I seem to remember the rather anti-socialist Margret Thatcher what the Prime Minster of Great Britain when Chernobyl blew up.
There is one correct point they make about the socialist Soviet Union. Only a brutal, authoritarian, centralised system could have solved the problems created by that explosion. Only a system where human beings are devalued to sub-human beasts of burden to be directed without any say in their own futures, could have taken the steps necessary to contain the damage and then prevent further damage. Decades of brainwashing had de-individualised the people such that they could be ordered to perform incredibly dangerous and life shortening tasks without rebellion or argument.
It was, however, that same anti-individualistic, brutal, authoritarian, socialist system which had created the critically unsafe reactor design in the first place, the complete misalignment between incentives and rewards which meant completely the wrong people were in positions of authority all over their economy.
But there is something even more astonishing in the opening of episode 4 which the two men discuss here in their podcast:
CRAIG: Ukraine was where Stalin…I think, visited his worst…crimes in the thirties, Stalin’s forced collectivization, his villainization of what they called kulaks.
PETER: Yes. The liquidation of the kulaks.
CRAIG: The liquidation of the kulaks. What were the terrible kulaks? They were basically…-farmers that were successful. –
CRAIG: So, farmers that were considered too bourgeoisie,too successful, maybe a little too wealthy… they had to be essentially removed from these farms, so that the farms could be more… “collective”?-
PETER: Right. -Quote-unquote.-Made part of the state. –
CRAIG: But really,Stalin just didn’t like the fact that anybody could have any leverage whatsoever on the central position of the Soviet Union. And if you allow some people to control food supply, they’d become powerful. The kulaks weren’t simply removed. A lot of them were put on trial, they were imprisoned or killed. And the result, when you destroy the economic basis of agriculture, the result is a shortage of food. The other issue is that he was taking the food.-
PETER: Right. –
CRAIG: And so, he would force people in Ukraine to work at length on farms to grow food they were not allowed to eat.-
PETER: Right. –
CRAIG: And they began to starve and die in the streets, there were bodies everywhere.This is one of the great genocides that people don’t talk about.
PETER: In fact she uses a word that I had never heard.-
CRAIG: Holodomor. –
PETER: Exactly. And I thought I was pretty up on your history of genocides in the 20th century but it turns out I didn’t know about this one.
CRAIG: No, this is a terrible, terrible story and they estimatesomewhere around three million civilians diedin this forced starvation.
And there you have it: a beautifully succinct telling of the genocidal results of the true horror of socialism / communism, wrapped up in totalitarianism and the state control of everything. These two aspiring new denizens of the left, no doubt fans of Socialists like Alexandra Ocasio Cortez or Bernie Saunders, literally hadn’t heard about (only one) of the genocidal stories of the history of Communism. Diana West’s book, American Betrayal explains why something that should be common knowledge is relatively unknown on the US left.
Even worse: the story of the Holodomor genocide and starvation in Ukraine is intimately tied up with the lies and deceptions told by a man called Walter Duranty in the pages of the New York Times. Lies and deceptions for which the media elites of the 1930’s saw fit to award Duranty and the New York Times a Pulitzer Prize (later withdrawn). The story of Walter Duranty is so awful, and so huge it surprises me to this day that the New York Times survived with its reputation intact.
Whist trying to make a spurious comparison to Trump as the liar in chief and purveyor of #FakeNews they’re actually pointing to one of the worst examples of the elite media covering up an enormous crime. The same New York Times also failed to adequately report on the Nazi Holocaust, usually relegating “unconfirmed” stories of possible atrocities to middle pages and minor coverage.
The Soviet Union was an evil empire. It seems not everybody in the west today understands that, even someone who has spent the last few years researching a gigantic failure of that evil empire and the lies told about the Soviet Union are still affecting the people today in very dangerous ways.
Just a footnote about me: whilst my Physics PhD is in computer simulations of the flow non-Newtonian fluids, I did a significant part of my first Physics degree in medical physics and a very good part of that is dominated by nuclear medicine. Obviously the energy levels between medical physics and nuclear power differ markedly, but there is a vast deal more of the radiation you encounter in dallying living that comes from medicine than nuclear power.
Watching it re-encouraged me to delve a little more deeply into the underlying science and engineering behind the explosion in the fourth of four reactors in the plant near the town of Chernobyl in 1986. I read the dry details of what happened long ago but the show is a tremendous explanation (the final part will air this week). The show is one of the most accurate depictions of any science or engineering based problem I can remember.