Questions and Answers

(The Nationalist, 6 July 2001)


On one occasion a man who was greatly impressed by the teaching of Buddha asked him, ‘Are you a god or a magician?’ Buddha answered, ‘I am neither a god nor a magician. I am one who is awake.’

Another famous man of ancient times was Socrates. He kept asking his students questions to draw them into the process of thinking so as to find answers for themselves. This became known as the Socratic method in education.

And yet another questioner was Jesus Christ. In the Gospel Jesus posed over 120 questions. Christians go to the Bible for answers to questions and come away with questions to answer. ‘Who do you say that I am?’ ’Do you love me?’ are examples.

By contrast there were three other men who were very certain they had answers to questions. They had few doubts, lots of certainties. Stalin felt he had the answer to the problems of the Soviet Union. The problems of farming would be met by collectivization. He deliberately created a famine in the Ukraine in the late 1930’s which killed six million small farmers, thereby removing opposition to collectivization. He met opposition to other policies with the penal camps. According to Robert Conquest, Kolyma: the Arctic Death Camps, (Macmillan, London, 1978), there were between 12 and 14 million people in the Gulag in 1952, with an annual death-rate conservatively estimated at about one-third of a million. This was not an unintended by-product but a deliberate policy to keep the numbers of prisoners from getting out of control.

A second man who was sure of his answers was Adolph Hitler. He had The Final Solution to the Jewish Question – kill them. His determination to impose his will on Europe cost about 50 million people their lives, including some 7 million Germans up to 1947, and God alone knows how many more people in the Cold War which followed from it. The Cold War was a hot war in Vietnam and in other parts of the Third World, such as Africa, where the superpowers fought out their rivalries in wars of proxy.

A third person who was sure of his solutions was Chairman Mao Zedong of China. One of his successors, Deng Hsiao Ping, said in an interview with Oriana Fallaci in The Guardian Weekly that Mao was responsible for the deaths of about 30 million Chinese, especially through his industrialization policy known as the Great Leap Forward. When she expressed skepticism at this figure, pointing out that Stalin was blamed for “only” 20 million deaths, Deng reiterated what he had said, insisting that it was correct.

One could add the lesser fry, such as Pol Pot and Mussolini. Two features that the men of definite answers had in common was that they were militantly atheistic, and they thought of people in the mass rather than as individuals. The men who asked questions were theistic and thought of people as individuals.