Saturday, December 29, 2012

Book: Anne Applebaum's "Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1945"

After my last rather unsatisfying book, I scoured Amazon looking for my next read and came up empty.  I think I was in a funk as nothing sounded interesting at all.  When I got my new toy, I started looking into checking out eBooks from the library.  The selection there was a bit lacking.  Several publishers refuse to allow libraries to lone out their eBooks. Despite this I manage to find some light reading to test if I like reading books on a tablet.  The light reading I checked out was Anne Applebaum's "Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956".

First I want to say that at first I wasn't sure about reading a book on a tablet but about half way through the book I was sold.  The tablet is heavier than most paperback books but this particular book, 600+ pages, in hardcover would have weighed more I think.  I didn't really notice any eyestrain or fatigue reading from the screen - I had the brightness down low and I read with grey letters on a black background which eliminated the flashlight in the face feeling the tablet sometimes has.  I liked the experience.

Now, onto the book.  The book is a history of how the Soviet Union infiltrated and converted the countries it "liberated" from the Nazi during World War II into totalitarian communist countries.  Since most of my school history classes never made it passed World War I, this book helped fill in a hole in my knowledge of history.

Applebaum weaves an interesting tale of how one institution after the other is taken over by the communist parties and used to unsuccessfully indoctrinate the populace.  It seems that no organization is too small for the Soviets to ignore - from the large like the radio and religion to the very small like scouting and women's groups.

In the end the book gave me hope in human nature.  After decades of propaganda and indoctrination the people of Eastern Europe managed to survive and regain their freedom - something few people ever expected to see happen.

I also took away a word of warning.  The take over of Eastern Europe was easy, though you could argue that the war had softened up and prepared the countries for occupation and take over.  There is one paragraph in the book when Applebaum discusses the communist's attempt to pass a referendum using a massive propaganda campaign:
"The referendum was an important turning point, even more so than the parliamentary elections that followed.  For one, it represented the dawning of a realization that would still take many years to sink in: propaganda had its limits.  Not only Polish communists but communists of all kinds would eventually conclude that more did not mean better.  More importantly, Poland's communists now knew they had no chance of a 'clean' electoral victory of any kind" - "Iron Curtain", Chapter 9: Politics, page 17 (eBook version).
When I read this I couldn't stop thinking about all the political commercials and all the super-PAC money spent during the last American presidential election.  It seems a lesson learned by the communists decades ago has still not been learned here in our own country.

I enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it.


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