Marc Chagall and His Daughter

Aug. 15 2016

Friday was the 22nd anniversary of the death of Ida Chagall, the artist’s only child. While correcting some of the misinformation about Ida found in biographies of her father, Galya Diment discusses the circumstances of her birth and infanthood, her father’s at first ambivalent attitude toward her, and his paintings of her during her early years:

Ida Chagall was born May 18, [1916] in Petrograd, where her parents had moved from their native Vitebsk in the autumn of 1915, after their summer wedding and honeymoon. . . . The severe restrictions against Jews residing in big cities were relaxed during the war years, making it possible for the Chagalls to live in Petrograd legally. They could not, however, escape the general anti-Jewish violence raging in the country. Many unhappy citizens, soldiers among them, found the customary outlet for their frustration by attacking Jews. Chagall claimed that he himself barely escaped being killed one night in such a pogrom and saw other Jews being murdered: “Gunshots. Bodies falling into the water. I run home.” . . .

[At the time] the food situation in Petrograd—because of the catastrophically deteriorating economy of the war years and the increasing difficulty with transportation to this northwestern corner of the vast country—was becoming grimmer by the day. It caused bread riots, many of which would then erupt into anti-Jewish pogroms. Bella was apparently not producing much breast milk, probably due to her own poor diet, while commercial milk was very hard to come by. . . .

When summer came, the family went to a dacha not far from Vitebsk, around Liozno, where Chagall’s parents were originally from and where his grandparents still lived. They went there to make sure that Ida could have milk, they all could improve their health by eating the fruits and vegetables that still grew there in abundance, and so that Chagall could paint.

And paint he did, often on paper and cardboard because there was not enough canvas. In one of the paintings from that summer we see Bella greedily eating strawberries, gathered from the garden in sufficient quantities to fill three large plates, no doubt trying to compensate for the lack of vitamins suffered in wartime Petrograd. Ida, with her face largely blurred, looks on.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Jewish art, Marc Chagall, Russian Jewry, World War I

Iran’s Defeat May Not Be Immediate, but Effective Containment Is at Hand

Aug. 20 2018

In the 1980s, the U.S. pursued a policy of economic, military, and political pressure on the Soviet Union that led to—or at least hastened—its collapse while avoiding a head-on military confrontation. Some see reasons to hope that a similar strategy might bring about the collapse of the Islamic Republic. Frederick Kagan, however, argues against excessive optimism. Carefully comparing the current situation of Iran to that of the Gorbachev-era USSR, he suggests instead that victory over Tehran can be effectively achieved even if the regime persists, at least for the time being:

What must [an Iran] strategy accomplish in order to advance American national security and vital national interests? Regime change was the only outcome during the cold war that could accomplish those goals, given the conventional and nuclear military power of the Soviet Union. Iran is much weaker by every measure and much more vulnerable to isolation than the Soviets were. . . . Isolating Iran from external resources and forcing the regime to concentrate on controlling its own population would be major accomplishments that would transform the Middle East. . . .

It is vital to note that the strategy toward the Soviet Union included securing Western Europe against the Soviet threat and foreclosing Soviet efforts to pare America’s allies, especially West Germany, away from it while simultaneously supporting (in an appropriately limited fashion) the Solidarity uprising in Poland and the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan. It is not meaningful to speak of a victory strategy against Iran that does not include contesting Iranian control and influence in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq while strengthening and hardening the Arab frontline states (including Oman and Qatar) against Iranian influence.

Syria is Iran’s Afghanistan—it is the theater in which Iranian forces are most vulnerable, where Iranian popular support for the war is wearing thin, and where the U.S. can compel [Iran] to expend its limited resources on a defensive battle. Iraq is Iran’s Poland—the area Iran has come to dominate, but with limitations, and a country Iran’s leaders believe they cannot afford to lose. The U.S. is infinitely better positioned to contest Iran’s control over Iraq than it ever was in Poland (and similarly better positioned in Syria than it was in Afghanistan).

A long-term approach would focus on building a consensus among America’s allies about the need to implement a victory strategy. It would deter the Russians and Chinese from stepping in to keep Iran alive. It would disrupt the supply chain of strategic materials Iran needs to advance its nuclear and conventional military capabilities. And it would force Iran to fight hard for its positions in Iraq and Syria while simultaneously pressing the Iranian economy in every possible way. Such a strategy would almost certainly force the Islamic Republic back in on itself, halt and reverse its movement toward regional hegemony, exacerbate schisms within the Iranian leadership and between the regime and the people, and possibly, over time, and in a uniquely Iranian way, lead to a change in the nature of the regime.

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More about: Cold War, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Soviet Union, U.S. Foreign policy