These things can happen anywhere, anytime. Just ask Peter Vlaming, a Virginia public school teacher who lost his job last year because he refused to call his female student by a male pronoun. Or talk to the researchers drummed out of academia for espousing the merit of intelligent design. Or consider how tech giant Twitter recently told pro-life activist Lila Rose it would continue to ban her ads unless she agreed to stop posting images of ultrasounds.
Yet, as the series illustrates, the initial failures at Chernobyl had little to do with KGB monitoring or retributive state action. The physicists and engineers already had conditioned themselves to subservience and silence regardless of the evidence. Their instinct was to toe the popular party line before anyone asked them to.
One of the few criticisms the show received from a Soviet-born American journalist was particularly illuminating. If the series erred in any degree, Masha Gessen writes in The New Yorker, it was in overplaying the threat of violence: “By and large,” she says, “Soviet people did what they were told without being threatened with guns or any punishment. ... But resignation is a depressing and untelegenic spectacle. So the creators of ‘Chernobyl’ imagine confrontation where confrontation was unthinkable.”
How quickly is confrontation becoming unthinkable in the United States? How immediately do corporations, public figures, or private figures made public by agenda-grinding media grovel and apologize for uttering some impolitic thought?
Chernobyl does contain some rough content. This includes fairly frequent foul language and an ironic but unnecessary scene of brief male nudity when several overheated miners strip down to headlamps because they aren’t allowed to use fans that might stir up radioactive dust. But, conscience permitting, I’d argue that in this case it could be worth suffering through the unnecessary in light of the value of the whole.
Stories can persuade in a way no lecture or essay can. Already The New York Times, Slate, and other outlets are worrying that viewers might take away the wrong lessons. Lessons that might make the fashionable icons of American socialism, such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, suddenly look less attractive. Viewers should recall while watching the show that this was the kinder, gentler socialism under Mikhail Gorbachev. He was the Soviet leader with the supposedly light humanitarian touch. The leader that major American media largely embraced as urbane and dignified.
All that to say, when my own daughters are teenagers, I won’t hesitate to watch Chernobyl with them, despite the bits I wish weren’t there.
At one point the hero of the series, nuclear expert Valery Legasov (a phenomenal Jared Harris) considers the cost of a society that willfully rejects what is unquestionably evident. “When the truth offends,” he says, “we lie and lie until we can no longer remember it is even there. But it is still there. Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid.”
It is a wonder to me how anyone could watch that scene and not have the many insanities of our time and place swim uncomfortably to the forefront of his or her mind. But then I remember that the heart is deceitful above all else (Jeremiah 17:9).
Whatever guise it wears, socialism remains an ideology that parades counterfeit virtue and shouts twisted logic in defiance of the evidence of our eyes. And just like every other argument and pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, it leads its people into death.