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March 05, 2003

A Rising Vote of Thanks


Lavrenti P. Beria, top spymaster for Joseph Stalin, was not a nice man. He rose through the ranks of various Soviet secret police agencies by using married women to seduce his bosses, then threatening to expose the illicit relationships. If his bosses didn’t fall for this routine, he killed them, either personally or via his underlings. Having performed many murders for Stalin as well as the ones on his own behalf, he was named head of Soviet intelligence in 1921, and became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in 1934, where he again busied himself with eliminating Stalin’s foes. He carried on his murderous ways through World War II, for example personally ordering the machine-gunning of ten thousand political opponents of the Soviet regime in a detention camp who were at risk of falling into the hands of the invading Nazis.

Despite all this, however, it’s possible that Beria is owed a vote of thanks by citizens of the United States. That’s because he apparently murdered Stalin (hip, hip, hooray) and thereby prevented World War III.

According to a story in the NY Times of March 5, Vladimir P. Naumov, a Russian historian and Johnathan Brent, a Yale University professor will publish a book, “Stalin’s Last Crime” later this month laying out the evidence suggesting that Beria did in fact bump off the leading contender for the much-contested Worst Person of the 20th Century award.

Nikita Krushchev’s memoirs of 1970 recall Beria boasting of having poisoned Stalin on May Day 1953, two months after the tyrant’s death: “I did him in! I saved all of you.” While this account has been disputed for years, it was powerfully reinforced by the official medical report that was only dug out of the Soviet archives recently by Mssrs. Nauman and Brent. This report was obviously doctored, since it reported Stalin’s illness as having begun a full 24-hours after it really did, which would give the impression that doctors had been called immediately. In fact, of course, apparently Beria and several other senior Communists had waited to call doctors until it was too late for medical intervention to have any effect.

And how about the claim that the death of Stalin avoided World War III? Apparently the famous “Doctor’s Plot” that Stalin publicized in January 1953—a non-existent conspiracy (cooked up by the Kremlin) of Jewish doctors, supposedly acting on the orders of the U.S. government, to poison senior Communist leaders—was only the opening round in what Stalin intended as a major political campaign. In February he ordered the construction of huge prison camps in Siberia in preparation for another round of purges, this time aimed at Soviet Jews. And apparently he intended to crank up the accusations (based on a single interrogration of a suspected Russian traitor) of an American plot to destroy Moscow with nuclear weapons and invade Siberia via the Chinese border. (What the Chinese were supposed to be doing while this was going on is an interesting question.) All this might seem like a paranoid fantasy of the aging dictator except that all this was apparently Stalin’s designated prelude to World War III. According to the NY Times story,

Mr. Naumov said in an interview today that the plan, combined with other soviet military preparations in the Russian Far East at the time, strongly suggest that Stalin was preparing for a war along the United States’ Pacific Coast. What remains unclear, he said, is whether [Stalin] planned a [nuclear] first strike or whether the mushrooming conspiracy unfolding in Moscow was to serve as a provocation that would lead both sides to a flash point.

Lavrenti P. Beria (who was to face his own firing squad before the year was out) had oceans of blood on his hands. But in at least one case he had a pretty good excuse, often used as a defense in murder trials: some people just need killin’.



posted by Friedrich at March 5, 2003


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