Mo Luo: Turning enemies into people

Turning Enemies into People

by Mo Luo*

Winter, 1944. Twenty thousand German prisoners of war formed ranks and passed through the streets of Moscow. All the streets were jammed with people. Soviet soldiers and police stood on guard between the POWs and the onlookers surrounding them. Most of the onlookers were women. "Every one of them was a victim of the war. Their father, or their husband, or their brother, or their son, had been killed by the German invaders." "Hatred on their lips, the women faced the direction from which the POWs would emerge. When they appeared, the women curled their weary hands into fists as the soldiers and police strove to hold them back." Afraid that they will be unable to control their impulses.

Then one middle-aged woman in a pair of old wartime boots placed a hand on the shoulder of one police officer and asked if she could go over to the POWs. When she reached them, she drew out bundle wrapped in print fabric. Inside was a piece of black bread. Awkwardly, she stuffed the bread into the clothing of an exhausted POW whose legs were barely keeping him standing. Then the atmosphere changed. The women crowded around the POWs, slipping them bread, cigarettes, and other items.

This story comes from Yevgeny Yevtushenko's A Precocious Autobiography. At the story's conclusion, Yetushenko writes these two lines: "The men were no longer the enemy. They had become people..."

These two sentences are key. They speak to the great kindness, the great care for life that can be expressed in the world. When the men had gone out onto the battlefield holding their weapons, they were the enemy. But when they appeared on the street stripped of their arms, they, like everyone else, were people like "me" and "us" who share both an outward appearance and a common human nature. Transforming their identity in our own minds, we immediately allow for the possibility of peace, amity, tolerance, and dignity. If we cling relentlessly to the principle of "treating our comrades with the warmth of spring, treating our enemies as cruely as the wind that blows down the autumn leaves," then so-called world peace is impossible even in theory, much less as a result of our efforts in reality. Whether an individual possesses a rich humanity, and the emotional ability to transcend hatred and enmity, becomes readily apparent.

The Soviet people could turn enemies in the street into people and extend them fraternity and consideration, yet Stalin in his palace turned his colleagues into the enemy and killed them one after another. In addition, many kind and noble intellectuals, gentle and innocent rich peasants, were put to death as enemies. Gorky once cried out in protest at the "State Terror," and Bukharin symbolically compared the State Terror to a killing machine. Before he died, he wrote, "I am helpless before an infernal machine that seems to use medieval methods, yet possesses gigantic power..."* Harrowingly, even at that moment Bukharin did not truly comprehend. As he was cursing the machine, he hailed "the proletarian scythe, which is properly merciless but also chaste." How could a scythe that had killed twenty million innocents remain chaste, why was it that only when it came time for it to kill him did he feel that it was unchaste, and that it was unchaste only because of killing him? It is because all of humanity is as narrow-minded as Bukharin that the basic thread of history for all the peoples of the world is made up of tragedies in which people are turned into an enemy to be wantonly cut to pieces. Ghosts of the wrongly accused multitudes wait in the underworld, their eyes looking for justice, leaving our hearts forever unsettled.

To turn enemies into people, or to turn people into enemies: this presents two possible directions for the human spirit. One direction leads to the angels, the other to the devils. Humanity is such a peculiar group, so noble when they choose to be, but ever so unreasonable when they are vicious and sordid.


  1. 摩罗, 《把敌人变成人》: I was unable to find a publication date for this essay.
  2. From "To a future generation of party leaders," Bukharin's last words, via his wife Anna Larina. Found on Workers ACTION.
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