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Gareth Jones , 20th-century truth-teller * (Holodomor)

 

                           A Hero of Our Time
                           Gareth Jones, 20th-century truth-teller
                           ANDREW STUTTAFORD

                           The notebooks -- worn, creased, and drab, but haunting nonetheless -- lay
                           carefully set out on a table in the lobby of a New York hotel. Their pages
                           were filled with notes, comments, and calculations, jotted and scribbled in
                           the cursive, spiky script once a hallmark of pre-war Britain's educated
                           classes.

                           Their author had, it seems, wandered through a dying village deep within
                           Stalin's gargoyle empire. "Woman came out and started crying. 'They're
                           killing us. In my village there used to be 300 cows and now we only have
                           30. The horses have died. How can I feed us all?'" It was the Ukraine,
                           March 1933, a land in the throes of a man-made famine, the latest
                           murderous chapter in Soviet social engineering. Five, six, seven million had
                           died, maybe more. As Khrushchev later explained, "No one was
                           counting."

                           But how had these notebooks found their way to a Hilton in Manhattan?
                           Some years ago, in a town in Wales, an old, old lady, older than the
                           century in which she lived, was burgled. As a result, she moved out of her
                           home. When her niece, Siriol, came to clear up whatever was left, she
                           found a brown leather suitcase monogrammed "G.V.R.J." and, lying under
                           a thick layer of dust, a black tin box. Inside them were papers, letters, and,
                           yes, those notebooks ("nothing had been thrown away"), the last records
                           of Gareth Jones -- "G.V.R.J." -- Siriol's "jolly," brilliant Uncle Gareth, a
                           polyglot traveler and journalist. In 1935 he had been killed by bandits in
                           Manchuria, or so it was said. All that was left was grief, his writings, and
                           the memory of a talented man cut down far, far too soon.

                           Seven decades later, as I sat talking to Siriol Colley in that midtown hotel,
                           looking through Jones's papers, his press clippings, even his passport, it
                           was not difficult to get a sense of the uncle she still mourned. Welsh to his
                           core, he was typical of those clever, energetic Celts who did so well in the
                           British Empire, restless (all those visa stamps, Warsaw, Berlin, Riga . . .),
                           ambitious, and enterprising. Despite his youth, Jones seemed to get
                           everywhere, Zelig with a typewriter. On New Year's Day 1935, for
                           instance, he was in San Simeon, Kane's Xanadu itself, side by side with
                           William Randolph Hearst. Earlier, we find him on a plane with Hitler
                           ("looks like a middle-class grocer"), and, why, there he is, smiling on the
                           White House lawn in April 1931, standing just behind a hopeless, hapless
                           Herbert Hoover.

                           Above all, this man who reportedly charmed his captors in Manchuria by
                           singing them hymns, was what the Welsh call "chapel": pious, hardworking,
                           teetotal, a little priggish, and armed with a sense of right and wrong so
                           fierce that it gave him the strength to report the truth of what he saw, at the
                           cost, if need be, of his career and, some would say, his life. Jones's politics
                           were typically chapel too, steeped as they were in the Liberal traditions of
                           Welsh Nonconformism. Ornery, high-minded, pacifist, egalitarian, a touch
                           goofy, a little bit utopian, Jones was just the sort of Westerner who might
                           have been attracted to the Soviet experiment. And so he was -- initially. In
                           a 1933 article for the London Daily Express, Jones recalled how "the
                           idealism of the Bolsheviks impressed me . . . the courage of the Bolsheviks
                           impressed me . . . the internationalism of the Bolsheviks impressed me,"
                           but "then," he added, "I went to Russia."

                           A witness

                           And there, for Jones, everything changed. His accounts of his visits to the
                           USSR (the first was in 1930) are a chronicle of mounting disillusion.
                           Reading them now, particularly the occasional attempts to highlight some
                           Soviet achievement or other, it's easy to see that this young Welsh liberal,
                           this believer, wanted to trust in Moscow's promise of a radiant future, but
                           Communist reality -- dismal, savage, and hopeless -- kept intruding. Unlike
                           many who came to inspect the people's paradise, he reported on its dark
                           side too. For Jones, there was no choice. It was the truth, you see.

                           By the autumn of 1932, Jones was sounding the alarm ("Will There Be
                           Soup?" and "Russia Famished Under the Five-Year Plan") about the
                           catastrophe to come: "The food is not there." Early the next year, he
                           returned to Moscow to check the situation for himself, took a train to the
                           Ukraine, and then walked out into the wrecked, desperate countryside.
                           Once back in the West, he wasted no time, not even waiting to get back
                           home before telling an American journalist in Berlin what he had seen:
                           Millions were dying.

                           Soviet denials were to be expected. That they were supported by the New
                           York Times was not. The newspaper's Moscow correspondent, Walter
                           Duranty, reassured his readers that Jones had been exaggerating. The
                           Welshman was, he condescended, "a man of a keen and active mind . . .
                           but [his] judgment was somewhat hasty . . . It appeared that he had made
                           a forty-mile walk through villages in the neighborhood of Kharkhov and
                           found conditions sad." Sad -- not much of an adjective, really, to describe
                           genocide.

                           The Times's man, who had won a Pulitzer the previous year for "the
                           scholarship, profundity, impartiality, sound judgment and exceptional
                           clarity" of his reporting from the Soviet Union, did not share Jones's sense
                           of "impending doom." Yes, "to put it brutally," omelettes could not be
                           made without breaking eggs, but there had been "no actual starvation or
                           deaths from starvation." Duranty came, he claimed, to this conclusion only
                           after "exhaustive enquiries about this alleged famine situation," but other
                           discussions probably influenced him more. The big story in Moscow in the
                           spring of 1933 -- bigger by far than the death of a few million unfortunate
                           peasants -- was the pending show trial of six British engineers. Courtroom
                           access and other cooperation from Soviet officialdom would be essential
                           for any foreign journalist wanting to satisfy the news desk back home. That
                           would come at a price. The price was Jones.

                           Jones's jottings, circa 1933

                           Eugene Lyons, another American journalist in Moscow at the time, later
                           explained that "throwing down Jones was as unpleasant a chore as fell to
                           any of us in years of juggling facts to please dictatorial regimes -- but throw
                           him down we did, unanimously and in almost identical formulas of
                           equivocation. Poor Gareth Jones must have been the most surprised
                           human being alive when the facts he so painstakingly garnered . . . were
                           snowed under by our denials." According to Lyons (not always,
                           admittedly, the most reliable of witnesses, but the essence of his tale rings
                           true), a deal was struck at a meeting between members of the American
                           press corps and Konstantin Umansky, the chief Soviet censor. "There was
                           much bargaining in a spirit of gentlemanly give-and-take . . . before a
                           formula of denial was worked out. We admitted enough to soothe our
                           consciences, but in round-about phrases that damned Jones as a liar. The
                           filthy business having been disposed of, someone ordered vodka and
                           zakuski." Spinning a famine was, apparently, thirsty work.

                           Undaunted by the attacks on his accuracy, Jones intensified his efforts.
                           There were articles in the Daily Express, the Financial Times, the Western
                           Mail, the London Evening Standard, the Berliner Tageblatt, as well as a
                           lengthy letter to the Manchester Guardian in support of Malcolm
                           Muggeridge, who had, like Jones, told the truth about the famine and, like
                           Jones, been vilified in return (suggestions that there was starvation in the
                           USSR were, said George Bernard Shaw, "offensive and ridiculous"). In a
                           letter published by the New York Times in May 1933, Jones hit back at
                           Walter Duranty. The reports of widespread famine were, he wrote, based
                           not only on what he had seen in the villages of the Ukraine, but also on
                           extensive conversations with other eyewitnesses, diplomats, and
                           journalists. After a few polite remarks about Duranty's "kindness and
                           helpfulness," the tone turned contemptuous. Directly quoting from
                           Duranty's own dispatches, Jones charged that censorship had turned some
                           journalists into "masters of euphemism and understatement . . . [They] give
                           'famine' the polite name of 'food shortage' and 'starving to death' is
                           softened down to read as 'widespread mortality from diseases due to
                           malnutrition.' . . . Mr. Duranty says that I saw in the villages no dead
                           human beings nor animals. That is true, but one does not need a
                           particularly nimble brain to grasp that even in the Russian famine districts
                           the dead are buried . . . [T]he dead animals are devoured."

                           Moscow responded by barring Jones from the USSR. He was cut off for
                           good from the site of the story he had made his own. Duranty received a
                           rather different reward. Some months later he accompanied the Soviet
                           foreign minister on a trip to America, a journey that was to culminate in
                           FDR's decision to extend diplomatic recognition to the Communist regime,
                           a decision that was f?ted, f?ted in that famine year, with a celebration
                           dinner at New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel, at which Duranty was
                           honored with cheers and a standing ovation. On Christmas Day 1933
                           came the greatest prize of all -- an interview with Stalin himself. Well, of
                           course. It was a reward for work well done. Duranty had, said the
                           dictator, "done a good job in . . . reporting the USSR."

                           Into Asia

                           But history had not yet finished with Gareth Jones. The young Welshman
                           possessed, explained David Lloyd George, the former prime minister for
                           whom Jones had, some years before, worked as an aide, "a passion for
                           finding out what was happening in foreign lands wherever there was
                           trouble, and in pursuit of his investigations he shrank from no risk." So, it's
                           no surprise to find him in Japan in early 1935, interviewing, questioning,
                           snooping, and perhaps attracting the sort of attention that could turn out to
                           be fatal. By July that year he was heading through the increasing chaos of
                           northern China toward Japanese-controlled Manchuria (Manchukuo). On
                           July 26, Jones updated the narrative he was writing for the last time. He
                           was, he wrote, "witnessing the changeover of a big district from China to
                           Manchukuo. There are barbed-wire entanglements just outside the hotel.
                           There are two roads . . . [O]ver one 200 Japanese lorries have traveled;
                           the other is infested by bad bandits." Two days later, the bandits struck.
                           Jones was kidnapped. He was murdered two weeks later. It was the eve
                           of his 30th birthday.

                           We will probably never know who was ultimately responsible for Jones's
                           death. There had been a ransom demand, and so, perhaps, this was just a
                           kidnapping that went horribly wrong. There are, however, other
                           possibilities. The Japanese would certainly not have welcomed a
                           Westerner watching the takeover of yet another Chinese province, and
                           there is some evidence that the kidnappers were under their control. It's
                           also intriguing to discover that one of Jones's contacts in those final days
                           was linked to a company now known to have been a front for the NKVD,
                           Stalin's secret police. To Lloyd George, only one thing was clear: "Gareth
                           Jones knew too much."

                           And if he knew too much, the rest of the world understood too little. For
                           decades, like the dead whose story he told, this lost witness to a genocide
                           seemed doomed to be forgotten, a family tragedy, a footnote, but now
                           that's changing. Jones is at last returning to view, thanks in no small part to
                           the efforts of the indefatigable Siriol Colley, the author of a book about her
                           uncle -- and a second is on the way. (Colley's son Nigel has also set up a
                           website: www.colley.co.uk/garethjones/index.html.)

                           One thing, however, has not changed. On December 4 last year, not long
                           after the Pulitzer committee decided that Duranty should retain his prize,
                           Colley wrote to the New York Times asking whether the paper could at
                           least issue a public apology for the way in which its Moscow
                           correspondent had smeared Jones. She's still waiting.



                           Mr. Stuttaford is a contributing editor of National Review Online.