To quote the character of Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner, “I may vomit.”
As I read about and watched the mostly young anti-G20 demonstrators march in London under the blood-soaked banner of Lenin and Stalin, I felt my age creeping up on me. They made me yearn for the demonstrators of the 1960s; many of their women customarily went braless in nice weather, a charming trend that at least had a tendency to compensate for their many grievous philosophical and political errors. But these ignorant fanatics are a new breed. They are humorless and earnest, to be sure, just like their forebears, but their nihilism reaches new depths.
They remind me of a college classmate who scored less than random chance on a multiple-choice poli-sci quiz. The professor was at a loss to explain the occurrence, but he did tell the hapless student that, “Perhaps if you learn a few facts, you will then know nothing.”
It has long since grown tiresome to point out that today’s students learn no history, their curricula being as they are clogged like an overextended commode with social studies and lessons in self-esteem. There being no way to transmit history genetically, and the teaching of it now virtually extinct, what happens? In 1984, Winston Smith’s soul-killing job was to send written history down the flaming memory hole. We’ve done Big Brother one better: in the minds of many, it has never existed in the first place.
I successfully resisted the urge to express amazement when an affable young lawyer asked me, “When did World War II start? About 1950, wasn’t it?” I remained calm and poker-faced when a bright young woman, a recent college graduate who had majored in film, expressed surprise that the movie Patton was “about a real person.”
I accumulated minor concentrations in history and poli sci in college, but their uninspired presentations left me bored. My wife and I were weekending in Paris in 1974 when the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago was published there. I no longer remember what made me resolve to read every work of Solzhenitsyn’s that was available in English but I did, and I have since concluded that there was no better way to learn the unadorned facts of the “low dishonest” century lately ended.
Were those demonstrators aware of what they were promoting? Were they being outrageous children, or were they suggesting that capitalism is “the god that failed?” Milton Friedman rightfully observed that, “The problem with capitalism is capitalists. The problem with socialism is socialism.” Capitalist looters from Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., to the rapacious omnivores of AIG and its ilk have proved the first part of the theorem, and Lady Margaret Thatcher’s statement that “[t]he problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money” establishes the second.
But the secular sacrilege of flying the bloodiest flag in history over economic and climatic problems pales alongside the pure, murderous barbarism of the dedicated practitioners of the black arts that proudly displayed it as their national colors, and those that fly it still. Would it have made a difference to those demonstrators if they knew that the current estimate is that between 90 and 110 million people were murdered under that shameful flag? Forget about the pikers like Hitler, Pol Pot, Castro, Kim Jong-il, and his late father (nicknamed “Menta Li-il” by the irrepressible David Letterman). That’s the current estimate attributed to Lenin, Stalin, and Mao alone. The Holocaust must never be forgotten, but when was the last time anyone mentioned Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror (1968) or Victor Herman’s Coming Out of the Ice (1979)?
Conquest chronicled the killing of 13 to 15 million of Communism’s victims during the 1930s. Victor Herman told just his own story. He was a 15-year-old American Jew from Detroit whose idealistic father brought the family to the Soviet Union in 1931 when he was assigned to help build a Ford factory there. Victor was trapped in the USSR for 45 years, 10 of them in a Gulag hard-labor camp for refusing to renounce his American citizenship. After his release and banishment to perpetual exile in Siberia he, his wife, and their two daughters lived in a cave they had chopped out of ice. He spent most of his life fighting for the right to die in his own country, which he did in 1985, only nine years after he returned home. The movie (1982) plays fast and loose with some facts, but it is riveting. It costars Willie Nelson in a tour de force performance.
Ever hear of it? I didn’t think so.
Do I make too much of children at play? Perhaps so. But I am indebted to Chattanooga Times Free Press columnist Steve Barrett for these words of Hillaire Belloc:
“We sit by and watch the Barbarian, we tolerate him; in the long stretches
of peace we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence, his comic
inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us; we laugh.
But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond; and on these faces there is no smile.”
If one compares the human misery inflicted on millions by sociopathic monsters in the 20th century, the demonstrators would have shown restraint if they had marched under the swastika.