Coplon v. Conquest

Yesterday we looked at the first wave of denial about the Holodomor, the famine that Stalin engineered in the Ukraine in 1932-33. We saw how New York Times Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty cemented his place in history by denying the reality of a genocide that he knew very well was taking place.

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Jeff Coplon

But denial of the Holodomor has lived on. One example: Jeff Coplon. Born in 1951, he’s spent most of his career working as a sports journalist and hack writer, ghosting autobiographies for the likes of Cher. But he made himself notorious with a 1988 article in the Village Voice, “In Search of a Soviet Holocaust,” in which he spun the Holodomor as a Big Lie served up by the American right to impugn the Soviet Union. The article began with an epigraph from Adolf Hitler, no less: “Something therefore always remains and sticks from the most impudent lies…. The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed.” Coplon went on to sneer at the 1983 documentary, Harvest of Despair, calling the entire history of the Holodomor “a fraud.” Yes, he admitted,

stalin1
Josef Stalin

There was indeed a famine in the Ukraine in the early 1930s. It appears likely that hundreds of thousands, possibly one or two million, Ukrainians died — the minority from starvation, the majority from related diseases. By any scale, this is an enormous toll of human suffering. By general consensus, Stalin was partially responsible.

But….

Stalin, Coplon insisted, hadn’t meant to kill all those people. He just made some really big mistakes. What’s more, other officials, further down in the power structure, were guilty, too. Even some of the starving Ukrainians themselves did things that weren’t in their own interests. In short, it’s one big muddle.

And…..

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Robert Conquest

Those who have pushed the narrative of the Holodomor, Coplon further argued, have had unsavory motives. They’ve been – gasp! – anti-Communists. Coplon dismisses one of them, Robert Conquest, as a know-nothing propagandist with CIA ties and careerist bent. This crude depiction of a truly great historian by a hack sportswriter is breathtaking in its audacity. Coplon does everything he can to discredit Conquest – pointing out, for example, that the research for Conquest’s book on the Holodomor was funded in part by “an $80,000 subsidy from the Ukrainian National Association, a New Jersey-based group with a venerable, hard-right tradition.” As for the book itself, Coplon mocks it as yet another piece of what he sneeringly calls “faminology.” For good measure, he ridicules Conquest as “an ideologue whose serious work is long behind him.” 

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One of Coplon’s masterworks

Alas for Coplon, timing was not on his side. Soon after his article came out, the Iron Curtain fell. The Soviet archives were opened. Conquest was vindicated – and then some. (The author Kingsley Amis, who was a friend of Conquest’s, suggested that his first book after the opening of the archives should be entitled I Told You So, You F***ing Fools.) By the time of his death last August, Conquest had been awarded a Order of the British Empire and named a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature; meanwhile, Coplon went on to co-author such classics as My Story with Sarah, Duchess of York (1996) and My Father’s Daughter with Tina Sinatra (2000).

Never, as far as we know, has Coplon publicly apologized for his reprehensible whitewash of the Holodomor and his inexcusable slander of Robert Conquest.

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