Television review: Chernobyl

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, June 7th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Megan Basham with a review of a highly popular, five-part series on the nuclear accident at Chernobyl.

CLIP: What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies then we no longer recognize the truth at all.

MEGAN BASHAM, TELEVISION CRITIC: Romans tells us that God’s invisible qualities are evident in His creation. People have no excuse for failing to know Him. I’ve often thought how the inverse is also true. We, the made things, are likewise without excuse if we fail to see our natures clearly. The evidence is all around us. In that respect, the ideology of a particular storyteller often isn’t terribly important. So long as he strives to tell his tale honestly, the objective realities of God’s world will shine through.

That means you can ignore whatever silly, off-the-cuff political comments the team behind HBO’s new miniseries, Chernobyl, may make on the red carpets or on social media. It’s clear they labored to recount what led up to the world’s worst nuclear disaster truthfully and comprehensively. As such, Chernobyl does what the best stories do. It details the facts of the event within a specific time and place and reveals greater truth about humanity.

From the outset, it’s clear that a catastrophe on Chernobyl’s scale would not have happened outside a political system like Soviet socialism.

CLIP: Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we fall prey to fear. But our faith in Soviet socialism will always be rewarded. Now the State tells us the situation here is not dangerous. Have faith comrades. The State tells us it wants to prevent a panic. Listen well. It’s true, when the people see the police they will be afraid. But it is my experience that when the people ask questions that are not in their own best interest, they should simply be told to keep their minds on their labor and leave matters of the State to the State. We seal off the city. No one leaves. And cut the phone lines. Contain the spread of misinformation.

But the lessons we see are not only extend beyond politics. The of fear culture around the event also sounds ominous warning bells. Scientists who dare question the prevailing narrative are silenced. Those who express opinions not sanctioned by the centers of power have their lives and livelihoods threatened.

CLIP: Comrade Charkov! Valery! My associate was arrested last night. Oh. I mean no disrespect but I was wondering if you could tell me why. I assure you, I don’t know who you’re talking about. She was arrested by the KGB. You are the first deputy chairman of the KGB. I am. That’s why I don’t have to bother with arresting people anymore. But you are bothering with having us followed. Comrade, I know you’ve heard the stories about us. When I hear them even I am shocked. But we are not what people say. Yes, people are following you. People are following those people. You see them? They follow me. The KGB is a circle of accountability. Nothing more.

But these are not things that only happen under socialism. Ask Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cake Shop. Or consider that in only the last few months tech giant Twitter suspended the account of Unplanned, a film that explores the realities of abortion, and told pro-life activist like Lila Rose it would continue to censor her unless she agreed to stop posting images of ultrasounds.

The initial failures of Chernobyl had little to do with KGB monitoring. The physicists and engineers had already conditioned themselves to silence and subservience regardless of the evidence. Their instinct was to toe the State line before anyone asked them to.

Chernobyl does contain some rough content. This includes fairly frequent language and an ironic but unnecessary scene of brief male nudity. A group of overheated miners must strip down to headlamps because they aren’t allowed to use fans that might stir up radioactive dust. But this is one of those rare cases in which it could be worth it to suffer through the unnecessary in light of the value of the whole. Of course that’s only if your conscience allows.

Stories have the ability to persuade in a way no lecture or essay ever can. Already The New York Times, Slate, and other outlets are expressing worry that viewers might take away the wrong lessons. Lessons that might make those fashionable icons of American socialism like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez suddenly look less attractive. When my own daughters are teenagers, I won’t hesitate to watch Chernobyl again with them, despite the bits I wish weren’t there.

CLIP: Professor Legasov, if you mean to suggest the Soviet State is somehow responsible for what happened then I must warn you you’re treading on dangerous ground. I’ve already tread on dangerous ground. We’re on dangerous ground right now because of our because of our secrets and our lies. They’re practically what define us. When the truth offends 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.

Viewers should recall while watching that this was the kinder, gentler socialism under Mikhail Gorbachev. He was the humanitarian Soviet leader with the supposedly light touch. The leader major American media largely embraced as urbane and dignified, especially compared to that embarrassing cowboy Ronald Reagan. Whatever guise it wears, socialism remains an ideology that parades its counterfeit virtue and shouts its twisted logic in defiance of the evidence. Just like every argument and pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. And it leads its people into death.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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