In Black Dogs, a novel that describes the tenuous hold Westerners have on civilization and the nearness of our more primal selves, Ian McEwan sets a dramatic scene in Berlin; Berlin, of course, has been a setting for much real and fictional drama in the twentieth century and may in the twenty-first. In While Europe Slept, Bruce Bawer describes his anger at the parade of Che shirts as he sat in a Berlin Starbucks. He describes his reaction:
I should have been inured to Che’s ubiquity by now. But it angered me to see his face in Pariser Platz, where his cause had once won a nightmarish, and seemingly irreversible, victoria. Some would ague that his reduction to an image used to sell leisure wear represented a “commodification” of Communism, and therefore a victory for capitalism. But looking at those shirts, I felt no sense of triumph.(129-30)
He explains with the personal as well as political:
My own awareness of the reality of Communism dated back to junior high school. In ninth grade, I was friends with a Cuban boy named Jose. We were the top two students in Spanish, and as graduation approached, our grades were so close that it was unclear which of us would win the school’s Spanish prize. then one day our teacher announced that it would go to me. At the end of the hour, Jose graciously told me, “It’s right that you won. It’s my language, and you did as well as I did, so that means you did better.”
Jose’s language skills were in his blood. His father had been a journalist under Batista. When Castro and Guevara came to power, they arrested Jose’s father, tortured him, and put his eyes out. On the day I met him, in his modest ground-floor apartment, he sat in an upholstered chair in a book-lined room and spoke to me with a courtliness and respect to which I was not accustomed. Ever since then, every time I’ve seen a Che T-shirt on some clueless young person, I’ve thought of Jose’s father sitting in his living room, surrounded by books he could no longer read.
Such cruelties were par for the course for Che and his gang. Jose’s father was lucky–at least he got out alive. Many didn’t. Some were just teenagers when Che–having identified them, often capriciously, as enemies of the Revolution–blew their brains out.
Of course, coming to Bawer from Darkness at Noon, the pattern seems clear. But, then, it still remains unclear to so many – those dots, do they really connect? No, I don’t think so, they respond. With the publication Instapundit notes of Larry Berman’s Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An Time Magazine Reporter and Vietnamese Communist Agent he is reminded of an older essay by Ben Stein and another by Tim Graham. Graham notes bitterly
NPR has dwelled for days on tributes to Halberstam, so emblematic of the Quagmire Corps that made the world safe for communism. Within the same show, Simon delivered a eulogy to Halberstam’s last speech to journalism students and acknowledged that Halberstam was “a mentor and friend to me for more than 25 years.” Simon exclaimed.
Stein complains of a New Yorker profile of Pham Xu An:
In this article, which I would guess to be about 8,000 words or more, there is not one hint, not one whisper, of sympathy for the American soldiers who fought and died or were maimed in Vietnam. Not one sliver of anger at a man who took American money and helped kill Americans. Not a word about the mass murder of civilians during Tet.
Prof. Bass, the perfect modern academic, obviously greatly admires this man, spent days with him, and has not one bad word to say about An’s bosses, who, again, killed civilians without remorse by the thousands, who even sent An to be “re-educated” after the war because he had so much contact with Western ideas.
I doubt any of our readers are surprised by any of this – by the praise of Che, by the valorization of a spy for the other side, by the complicity of the media in undermining the safety of our men in combat, by the casual response to a t-shirt of Che and the passion of those who mindlessly support him. Of course, I’m beating what on this blog is a dead horse, but it isn’t dead; the treatment of Chavez by so many indicates the life still there: it arises again and again and again.
So, I’m throwing this up to remind us that we, too, are likely to become inured to those Che t-shirts, are likely to, in polite conversation, acknowledge the injustice done to American communists in the fifties without noting the context. But the ease with which our society accepts the Che t-shirts led us to more easily accept a more medieval and more sexist if perhaps no more deadly ideology today. It is not an accident that many neocons who first saw the disaster that was communism were some of the first to speak out against another death dealing ideology. Nor is it an accident that communists, so interested in the common man of Saddam’s Iraq and Castro’s Cuba organize anti-war rallies. I’m not saying we need to see a terrorist under every bed – nor that it would have been wise to see a communist there. But not seeing them where they so clearly are, not listening to what they so clearly say, not acknowledging what they so clearly do is a betrayal of not only those who have suffered but the truth itself. How much of history wouldn’t repeat if we were less likely to be quiet, to give the nod that seems assent? We see a remarkable lack of self-consciousness and awareness in many journalists and academics, but how often do we provoke them, how often do we point out their inconsistencies – and how often do they listen?
Fifteen years ago or so, at about the time Winnie Mandela’s bloody leadership of her band of thugs was reported, my quite political daughter came home with a t-shirt lionizing both Mandelas. I gave her a story or two to read. I remarked that, although I knew (and still know) little about Nelson Mandela or South Africa, what I did know and what I had seen in him was a remarkable dignity and certainly a life of real sacrifice, fighting a system clearly unjust. If she wanted to wear a t-shirt praising him, it was fine. But that she would walk around with a picture of Winnie Mandela deeply disturbed me – I thought she was a poor model for my teenager. My daughter read a couple of articles and then painted arrows on her shirt to Nelson; she would say to anyone caring to listen to her (she is quite attractive and was quite strident) that she admired him but was not advocating Winnie’s solutions. She wasn’t praising Mrs. Mandela’s treatment of her loyal followers. Bawer concludes his book with a few suggestions. One of them is useful to keep in mind this long summer:
When visiting Europe, many Americans, to avoid discomfort and court easy praise, take every opportunity to put down their country in terms designed to gratify European sensibilities and reinforce European stereotypes. Those who do this are traitors – not to America, but to the truth, to themselves, and to their interlocutors – and should cut it out. All their lives, Europeans have been fed a severely distorted image of America that has poisoned their minds against the very values that might save them; every conversation between an American and a European is a precious opportunity to challenge that image and give Europeans something to think about, believe in, and act on. (235)
Turning to Instapundit today, I see yet another Thompson link (a Tennessean has a certain advantage in any candidacy, especially one willing to put up a lot of linkable columns and speeches). But whatever virtues or vices Thompson has, I was heartened to see this approach, which clearly recognizes not only that noting these patterns is useful to our side but that not doing so, is, as Bawer would put it, a betrayal.
We’ll never know if Afghanistan might have rejected al Qaeda if America had actively engaged that country as we did those Eastern Europeans. We can’t know if Venezuelans would have chosen liberty over the false security of authoritarianism if they had been challenged to face the issues. I do know, though, that it’s time for a new generation of Americans to stand up for freedom — like others before us. And this time, we’ll have a whole new set of media technologies.
(Sorry about misspelled title – obviously not awake when using the speller.)
Note: Wretchard tells of those who do speak – and it isn’t a pretty picture.