Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
The deepest mystery of the Great Purge remains, in my mind, the eagerness of the victims to confess. What prompted these men to say these things?
“I Kamenev, together with Zinoviev and Trotsky, organised and guided this conspiracy. My motives? I had become convinced that the party’s – Stalin’s policy – was successful and victorious. We, the opposition, had banked on a split in the party, but this hope proved groundless. We could no longer count on any serious domestic difficulties to allow us to overthrow Stalin’s leadership. We were actuated by boundless hatred and by lust of power.”
Gudrun Persson accounts thus for the phenomenon:
There is no doubt that torture was used to force confessions. Though by no means uncommon earlier, torture only became an approved method of examination during the investigations leading up to the first Moscow trial. On 29 July, 1936, an official, albeit secret, document was drawn up, sanctioning the use of “all means” to extract confessions. Krestinsky’s submission was clearly the result of a night of brutal torture. Naturally, psychological torture in the form of threats to relatives and the arrest of family members also played their part in the confessions.
But, important though it was, torture was not the whole explanation. Many of the accused were hardened revolutionaries. Prosecuted and punished by the Czar’s courts, they were themselves advocates of hard methods. Here lies an important part of the explanation: ideological loyalty. …
Bukharin’s statement is interesting in that he denied every particular criminal act he was accused of, among them the charge that he conspired to murder Lenin. Nevertheless he pleaded guilty to the charges:
I plead guilty to being one of the outstanding leaders of this ‘Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites.’ Consequently, I plead guilty to what directly follows from this, the sum total of crimes committed by this counter-revolutionary organization, irrespective of whether or not I knew of, whether or not I took direct part, in any particular act.
In his last plea, he explained:
For three months I refused to say anything. Then I began to testify. Why? Because while in prison I made a revaluation of my entire past. For when you ask yourself: ”If you must die, what are you dying for?” — an absolutely black vacuity suddenly rises before you with startling vividness. There was nothing to die for, if one wanted to die unrepented. And, on the contrary, everything positive that glistens in the Soviet Union acquires new dimensions in a man’s mind. This in the end disarmed me completely and led me to bend my knees before the Party and the country.
Torture, yes; ideology, too. But there is something else. Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria was Stalin’s chief of the Soviet secret police apparatus, the NKVD. It was Beria, infamously, who said, “Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime.” By this I suspect he meant that every man, in his soul, feels guilty. And indeed every man is guilty, or certainly, every man who has been touched by Christian doctrine — even in its most perverted and heretical forms, of which, surely, communism is one — believes it so.
I was thinking of this while reading the story of the downfall of Berkeley astronomer Geoff Marcy:
Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley who admitted to violating the university’s sexual harassment policies has decided to resign. …
Marcy, a world-famous exoplanet astronomer and chair of the university’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence apartment, groped, kissed, touched, and massaged at least four students, according to a university report obtained by Buzzfeed late last week. Despite the report’s findings and an admission of guilt from Marcy, the university opted not to discipline him. Instead, the university said it would have zero-tolerance for any future transgressions.
Note: Never did his accusers file a criminal claim. Indeed, it would not seem that he committed anything like a crime:
One of the women, known as Complainant 3, studied astronomy as a graduate student. She spoke on the condition of anonymity because she did not want her involvement in the matter to affect her current job.
According to her account to Berkeley’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, she was at a post-colloquium dinner with her graduate department at the University of Hawaii when Marcy placed his hand on her leg, slid his hand up her thigh, and grabbed her crotch.
She didn’t register an official complaint until eight years later, by which time she’d left astronomy — in part, she said, because of the sexual harassment she and other female astronomers experienced.
We know nothing else about this incident with Complainant 3. Marcy claims that the accusation is “totally absurd” and “plainly false,” and that he “would never touch the knee of someone I didn’t know.” Well, maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t; I’m inclined to think that if there’s this much smoke, Marcy’s probably creepy and grabby; and if he didn’t grab her knee, he probably grabbed someone’s. So he’s grabby. Women have a range of tools for dealing with grabby guys, ranging from the cold stare of disapprobation to “I don’t date married men,” to “Get your hands off of me or I’ll break them.”
It sounds as if a maladroit astronomer may have had a few too many drinks at a boondoggle conference in Hawaii and made a crude pass at one of his grad students, does it not? Inappropriate, yes, and vulgar, but hardly a terrifying sexual assault. The normal remedy is to say, “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Knock it off.” A sharp slap across his face, perhaps, if his hand truly strayed above her knee. It hardly sounds like grounds for abandoning your professional aspirations entirely and reposing in silent, quivering trauma for eight years before filing a complaint.
The other charges? Massages and kisses, not rape. Distasteful, yes, given that he’s married. But beyond the pale of normal human experience? What exoplanet are these astronomers living on?
Complainant 4, by the way, was not herself harassed. She saw Marcy getting “inappropriately touchy” with an undergraduate during the American Astronomical Society’s 2010 meeting. (We have no idea what the undergraduate in question thought about this.) The mere sight of this “inappropriate touchiness” caused her so much distress that years later, she anonymously dropped a dime on him. And no one’s spoken to Complainant 1, so we have no idea of what she’s complaining.
But the strangest part of this story is Marcy’s public confession:
“Through deep and lengthy consultations, I have reflected carefully on my actions as well as issues of gender inequality, power, and privilege in our society?”
Why did he humiliate himself like this? Surely he must have known, like Zinoviev, that the ritual of confession would be followed by the ritual of liquidation?
“I would like to repeat that I am fully and utterly guilty. I am guilty of having been the organiser, second only to Trotsky, of that block whose chosen task was the killing of Stalin. I was the principal organiser of Kirov’s assassination. The party saw where we were going, and warned us. Stalin warned us scores of times but we did not heed his warnings. We entered into an alliance with Trotsky.”
It’s genuinely a mystery to me. Why not say, To hell with you? You may kill me, but you will not make me grovel?
What followed was predictable. Anyone who wished to join in denouncing Marcy was invited to do so:
The denunciations poured forth from every corner of the world. “What Geoffrey Marcy did was abominable,” wrote UC Berkeley biologist and hysteric Michael Eisen:
… despicable, predatory, destructive and all too typical. … How on Earth can this be true? Does the university not realize they are giving other people in a position of power a license to engage in harassment and abusive behavior? Do they think that the threat of having to say “oops, I won’t do that again” is going to stop anyone? Do they think anyone is going to file complaints about sexual harassment or abuse and go through what everyone described as an awful, awful process, so that their abuser will get a faint slap on the wrist? Do they care at all?… isn’t the fact that this kind of [thing] keeps happening over and over evidence that education is not enough? There HAVE to be consequences – serious consequences – for abusing positions of power.
I fully agree that there should be consequences — serious consequences – for “abusing positions of power.” But when I consider that phrase, I’m put in mind of something like this, not of an awkward astronomer offering a grown woman a backrub.
Last week, Marcy resigned. Only weeks before, he had been rumored to be in the running for the Nobel Prize. He left behind his reputation, his career, nearly $900,000 in grants from NASA and the National Science Foundation, a million-dollar grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation, and a $100-million dollar private research effort to find civilizations beyond the earth. The project had been expected to generate as much data in a day as previous SETI projects had in a year.
goes well beyond expunging people like Marcy from our ranks. It will require a fundamental restructuring of the way we do business, and a reeducation of our field—all of us …
Off to the re-education camps with all of you.
The mob then turned on The New York Times. The newspaper’s crime? Interviewing Marcy’s wife and reporting what she said:
Dr. Marcy’s wife, Susan Kegley, a pesticide researcher, said she supported him, pointing out that he had cooperated fully with the investigation and apologized.
She defended her husband, writing in an email, “Others may interpret Geoff’s empathy and interest as a come-on. I can’t change their perspectives, but I think it is worth all of us examining how quickly one is judged and condemned without knowing all of the facts.”
“The punishment Geoff is receiving here in the court of hysterical public opinion is far out of proportion to what he did and has taken responsibility for in his apology,” Dr. Kegley wrote.
This prompted 276 astronomers and physicists to send a letter of protest:
Re “Astronomer Apologizes for Behavior”, October 11: By emphasizing Geoff Marcy’s apology and his wife’s opinions, this article champions the voice of a sexual predator and minimizes the continued trauma of his targets. Overbye’s piece repeatedly sympathizes with Marcy, portraying him as a misunderstood, empathetic educator who was “condemned without knowing the facts” and given punishment “in the court of hysterical public opinion”. Furthermore, given Overbye’s long history of sourcing Marcy, the piece lacks the objectivity it deserves.
We do know the facts of this case. Berkeley undertook a formal investigation and found Marcy guilty of repeated sexual harassment of students spanning almost a decade. Marcy abused his position of power, betrayed his responsibilities as an educator, and caused profound damage. By overlooking the gravity of Marcy’s predatory behavior, this article discourages women from speaking out and undermines the safety of students.
This story deserves national coverage because it demonstrates an extreme yet persistent problem on college campuses. However, sympathy and support should be given to the survivors, not the perpetrator.
The survivors? Of an unwanted back rub? Since when are women profoundly damaged because a man they didn’t fancy tried to kiss them? You’d think he ravished Tess of the d’Urbervilles. They know the facts of this case? How? From a series of anonymous tipsters, a trial conducted in secret by a body with no legal authorization to conduct a trial, and an article in Buzzfeed?
But The New York Times wasted no time; public editor Margaret Sullivan went straight for the ritual confession:
I also agree with the critics that Mr. Marcy’s wife’s commentary was out of place in this news article; as readers have noted, she’s hardly a credible source here. That was particularly objectionable because Mr. Marcy’s response and his wife’s defense were given priority over the voices of female scientists and even over quotations describing the university’s censure. Meanwhile, the victims’ experiences were given shorter shrift.
In other words, for a number of reasons, the focus in this initial article was off. If The Times continues reporting on the larger topic (a worthy one), there should be no further emphasis on the “troubles” of harassers.
I’m left as baffled by this as I am by the accounts of the Moscow Trials.
Why do they confess?