“Shhht! Keep your voice down!” He waved his hand at her sharply.
“Why? Why should I keep my voice down? You always go about doing whatever you want, writing posts here and there as if you’re a real writer, throwing ink on any old page that gives you the briefest of empty spaces, and you’re telling me to keep my voice down?” She defiantly jutted out her chin.
“Shut up, will you.” He hunched over the table and was holding his hands up to either side of his face. The waitress serving the other table kept a professional demeanor. He hated stuff like this.
“Why do you keep saying it’s Hitler? When will this stop? It’s clear that Mao’s worse.” She snorted when she laughed derisively.
“Look, Hitler is responsible for…”
“Responsible?” She raised her eyebrows at him. “What’s so ‘responsible’ about killing by fiat that makes it more nasty than killing by famine?”
“Look, the nature of a totalitarian state is that it…”
“What I object to is that you automatically treat me like an inferior! You know nothing, your reading of history is limited, any use of reliable sources is nowhere to be seen, and every time we try to talk about this, you curl up in a ball and just hope it goes away.” She was yelling. “Is this why you can’t finish your thesis?”
“Hey!” He jolted upright, actually hurt. “Look, reliable statistics about government mass murder are tough to come by.” He curled up again and began to mumble. “Any body of research is going to be biased toward its source material. Hitler is worse because of the quality of the deaths — a war of racial extermination — not the quantity of the deaths.”
“Just ’cause you translated three original primary documents for your thesis doesn’t redeem you for trying to ‘value’ or ‘measure’ a death. I’ve seen the blatant lies you’ve spouted on-air!”
“Hey, you can’t use that Fox interview against me!” He caught himself off balance as his chair tilted backward. “You know my professor got me that. I couldn’t say no. I had to speak. Hitler was responsible for 11 or 12 million noncombatant deaths. All of Stalinism — gulags, Great Terror, famine — killed only 6 or 9 million noncombatants. Mao’s only in the running because of famine, not extermination. If he had been in charge of Cambodia, say, he would have only been a Pol Pot, something like 1.5 to 3 million dead, but because he was in charge of China, his slaughter reigned over about 18 percent of the world. His numbers were easy. Famine’s easy. Hitler, however, is clearly — morally — worse.”
“That’s bull shit.” She banged her fist down on the table. “Mao’s Great Leap Forward killed around 43 million people, all told.”
“And after that it just trails off with the likes of Ceauçescu, Zhivkov, Husák, Marcos, Duvalier, Amin, Mengistu, the Shah or Bokassa. Minor league stuff, they are.” He tried to reassure himself of his correctness.
“You know what? That’s exactly what Hitler would have said!” She yelled at him, pushed away the table and stormed out of the restaurant.
Alone, he sighed sheepishly.