by David Sisler

"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."

That quote from Edmund Burke in "Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents" has, in general use, come to be delivered as, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Which ever version you prefer, the message is the same: evil will, therefore good must.

One of the most frightening interpretations of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, is the message, Stalin could have been stopped. During the time of the Great Purge, which sent millions of Russians to their graves, people slept with their clothes on, not because they wanted to be ready to escape, but because they expected to be arrested!

Before Stalin, Lenin's Commissar of Justice, Nikolai Krylenko said, "We must execute not only the guilty. Execution of the innocent will impress the masses even more." In 1927, two Chekists tried to arrest a woman on Serpukhov Square in Moscow. It was broad daylight. The woman grabbed hold of a lamp post and began to scream. She refused to submit. When a crowd gathered, her would-be arresters got into their car and drove away. But, incredibly, instead of going directly to the railroad station and attempt to flee, she went home. The police came that night and she was never seen again.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

One woman who survived Kolyma, the Siberian prison camp, the worst of the gulags, said, "My interrogator asked me how to tap on the cell walls, the code which the prisoners used. When I asked, ‘What for?' he answered, ‘I think I may need it.'" She taught him. Not long after he was arrested.

"Defense Counsel Sedov" is a recent Russian movie which reflects on those dark times. The lawyer and his wife are eating dinner. A knock at the door freezes all conversation. The husband looks at his watch, relaxes and then says, reassuringly, "It's only ten o'clock. They come later."

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

It is not a stretch to compare Stalin's Purges and Hitler's Final Solution to the witch hunts in Europe 200 years ago. In a frenzy still unexplained, and largely unexplainable, at least 60,000 died. Historian Hugh Trevorroper suggests that "mass hysteria has momentum. Any outbreak seems quickly to become independent of the causes that trigger it."

A strange thing happened -- more and more people were accused, but less and less "evidence" was gathered. Without proof, the denunciations became even more important. Encouraging denunciations helped draw additional people into the climate of paranoia. Denunciations were a sign of good citizenship. Therefore anyone, even the humblest peasant could help defend society from witches or "enemies of the people." Being politically correct, you see, is nothing new.

To dare doubt that the correct path was being followed, was supreme proof that you, yourself, were guilty of witchcraft, or treason. Grigory Kaminsky, the only top Soviet official who ever questioned the correctness of the Purge trial verdicts in a public speech, was arrested the very same day and was never heard from again.

In January, 1918, Lenin published an essay, "How to Organize the Competition," in which he declared that the united purpose of society was to "purge the Russian land of all kinds of harmful insects." The old legal system then in place, would have made it impossible for the "hygienic purging" to have proceeded. So Lenin established the Cheka, what Solzhenitsyn calls, "the only punitive organ in human history that combined in one set of hands investigation, arrest, interrogation, prosecution, trial and execution of the verdict."

Vladimir Nakoryakov, another Kolyma survivor, says that there was a quota for arrests, just as there was a quota for steel production. A new organization, the NKVD was made responsible for the arrests. "If they arrested fewer [than their quota], it might mean that some NKVD employees would be out of work," Nakoryakov said. "It seems to me that the moment this organization came to life, we were all doomed."

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Witch hunts, the Final Solution, the Great Purge, those are all history, ancient history, you say.


So what's the point for America in 1996?

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 2/17/96

Copyright 1996 by David Sisler

Your comment is welcome. Write to me at: n4so@hotmail.com

Back to David Sisler's Home Page