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Culture: Not so Maovellous: Cameron Diaz in Peru
Sunday, 24 June 2007 Written by Henry Midgley
Cameron Diaz, model and Hollywood superstar, has it appears run into a little bit of trouble over in Peru- by sporting a handbag with a Maoist slogan the actress has irritated Peruvians who have been the victims of a terrorist campaign by the Shining Path Maoist guerrilla group for many years.

Miss Diaz's choice of bag was unwise and she lacked political sensitivity. However its worth stating that she is not alone in doing this- millions of Westerners feel that memorabilia of the Communist regimes is in a different category to that of Nazi regimes, despite the fact that the Communists have a similarly awful record of atrocity. Many have posters of Che Guevara, participate in a cult of Cuban chic, are unafraid to style themselves Maoists and intellectuals like Eric Hobsbaum who deny for years the records of Communist atrocity are allowed to continue in public life whereas a David Irving isn't. One could go further and ask why Sergei Eisenstein is a film maker with zealous admirers whereas Leni Reifenstahl is shunned.

This is not to exonerate those who own collections of Nazi memorabilia- to do so is grossly offensive to those millions of Jews who died in Auschwitz and Dachau, but it is to call into question why the same stigma doesn't exist against Communist regimes. After all no celebrity (outside of the British royal family) would be stupid enough to sport a bag with a Nazi slogan in German upon it, why would Miss Diaz therefore sport a bag with a Maoist slogan upon it when Maoists in China, Nepal, Peru and other places have been responsible for millions of deaths.

The difference in part lies in the history surrounding Nazism and Communism. The Nazis and their allies were (outside of the Iberian peninsular) defeated swiftly in a very intense conflict. The Second World War for citizens of the West was an experience like no other- ordinary men and women were on the front line especially in Europe and the far East in a sense that is scarcely imaginable (outside of Africa) today. Its difficult to have any sympathy for people when they are dropping bombs on you. Furthermore the allies as they went across Europe came across the actual physical camps in almost working order- they rescued Jews, found piles of shoes, found bodies and mass graves, the atrocity was there in front of them and the pictures we have prove that and show to us the gravity of what happened.

Cameron and her bag
In Communist countries no less grave things happened but our confrontation with them was very different. The war with Communism was a longdrawn out affair that remained cold- despite fears the Communist armies never fired shots at NATO forces in Germany, despite fears nuclear holocaust was not achieved. The tension with the Communists was about that last element as well- whereas in 1940 paying any price and bearing any burden was a conceivable cost to defeat Nazi Germany- in the 1960s any war with Communist Russia meant the end of civilisation and quite sensible people argued that that was a price too high to pay no matter what was going on behind the iron curtain.

Nazism's quick death in war furthermore meant that its apologists like Arthur Bryant, the establishment historian, Lord Londonderry, Tory Secretary of State for Air in the 1930s and others swiftly changed their positions. How different would Mussolini's reputation be today had he accepted offers of alliance in the war made by Britain and not Germany? The slow drip of the cold war meant that the ideological neighbours of the communists like Hobsbaum were much less credible traitors- instead of debating against a war with bombs dropping on civilians they were engaged in a debate about a foreign policy strategy. The emotional difference is considerable.

And again the atrocities reached us in different ways. I can give you photo after photo of the Nazi atrocities, thanks to the conquest of Germany we can even delve into the records and bring out names- hence the exhibitions at places like the Holocaust Museum in Washington are possible because if I want to cover walls in names then I have the names to do it with. Communist crimes because in China the regime hasn't fallen and in Russia the regime evolved into another regime have never been as graphically illustrated. A Jewish corpse mangled and found by an allied soldier means so much more emotionally to any of us than the bare recitation that 2 million people died in some province of Russia in 1940.

None of this excuses Miss Diaz's conduct or anyone's conduct who puts on a swastika or salutes Stalin- but it does explain I hope some of the reason why there are such differences in the reputations of the regimes and why the actress made the mistake she made. Ultimately the differing historical reputations reflect the differing historical experiences that we had opposing (in my view rightly) each ideology- an article or book might be the best format to describe the entire history of that opposition and the perceptions derived from it- but I hope to have given some suggestions as to why there is this difference. Communism wasn't nicer than Fascism, but the fight against it was different and hence the description we have adopted of it has been different.

Its a nice case to prove that old canard, that its not reality as much as our contact with reality that ultimately forms our perceptions of it.