Bill Muehlenberg

Freedom, history and memory

The Spanish philosopher Santayana once famously warned that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. It is in fact remarkable  how quickly we can forget. Recall that it was only just over 20 years between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Second. And bear in mind that it was just 20 years ago the Berlin Wall came crashing down.

But now most of us have forgotten the horrible bloodbath that was Soviet Communism. We have all but forgotten that only just recently a good portion of the world’s population was enslaved under the soul-destroying utopianism of godless Communism.

Today we see other forms of coercive utopianism rearing their ugly heads, and we seem unmoved and unconcerned. This is in part because we have already forgotten the horrors of atheistic Marxism. I suppose I too have been guilty of this. But three events of the last three days have reminded me afresh of why we must never forget, and that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

The three things all refreshed my memory as to the absolute terror and demonic nature of Communism. The first was a testimony of a North Korean woman, the second was by means of watching an old movie, and the third was reading the story of a former Marxist.

The first concerns a defector from North Korea, Young-soon Kim, who recently had her story told in the National Post of Canada. It reminds us again of the wretched life one must endure under Marxist ‘utopias’. Here is how the article explains her ordeal: “Mrs. Kim, her husband, three children and her elderly parents were whisked away to the North Korean gulag. They wound up in the notorious Yodok concentration camp in the mountainous northeast, condemned without charge or trial to a life of hunger and hard labour.

“Her parents died of starvation; she was separated from her husband and never saw him again; one of her sons died, aged nine, trying to cross a river outside the prison camp; and after she was released from prison, another boy was killed by North Korean border guards as he tried to escape into China. In 2000, after 31 years of suspicion and punishment, famine and fear, Mrs. Kim fled to China with her remaining son. She bribed a border guard to look the other way as they walked across a frozen river.”

Now living in South Korea, she says this: “People around the world don’t realize how scary the dictatorship is. Those who haven’t experienced it can’t believe it. But the whole world needs to know.” She describes her stay in the gulag: “Yodok was filled with fear and hunger. People lost their teeth and their gums turned black. Their bones grew weak and they died in rags. I remember there used to be bodies of people lying all over the streets, too weak to walk.

“People died from diarrhea regularly. People died trying to eat live snakes or they would eat wild mushrooms and die. Anything that was green, they would eat it. People used to sort through pig dung, just looking for undigested corn and other seeds. This is the reality of the camps. Whatever flew or crawled, whatever they could catch, they ate … They were dying slowly. This is the reality of the camps.”

The second reminder was a chance viewing of an old film on television. Late the other night I happened upon the screening of Firefox, the 1982 movie starring Clint Eastwood. It is the story of how an American pilot had to sneak into the Soviet Union and steal an advanced fighter aircraft.

The film shows just what a horror the police state known as the Soviet Union was, with ordinary citizens living in perpetual terror, with the secret police on every corner, and the KGB harassing and intimidating everyone. The fear and paranoia experienced by Soviets under the Marxist dictatorship was incredible.

Indeed, I was briefly in the former Soviet Union, so I too experienced this constant pressure, the unceasing surveillance, and the never-ending fear. It was like a heavy cloud hanging over everything. When we left the country it was like feeling a huge burden being lifted off our shoulders.

My third reminder came from a book I read last night. It concerns a person who also lived in the USSR. He lived there for a full two years, and experienced firsthand the miseries of a despotic police state. I refer to Peter Hitchens, whose new book has just appeared, describing his move from atheism to Christianity.

The book, The Rage Against God, is an eye-opening account of a former atheist and Marxist who came to see the reality of godless communism and the need for God. Peter Hitchens’ story is even more telling, because his brother Christopher is the noted misotheist.

He not only describes his time in the Soviet Union, but he takes on his brother who seems oblivious to the atheistic underpinnings of Soviet communism. He spends several chapters reminding us that atheism was an absolutely essential element of Marxist thought and practice.

He documents the atheistic foundation of the Soviet state, recalling that one of the first official actions after the 1917 Russian Revolution was the secularisation of all education, followed by the ban on religious instruction to children. The state-sponsored looting of all Russian churches soon followed, with nearly 10,000 priests, monks and nuns killed in 1922 alone.

He reminds us that despite their differences, both Lenin and Trotsky were ardent anti-theists, as were Stalin and Khrushchev. The entire program of Soviet communism was centred on the suppression of religion and the promulgation of atheism.

Yet another important historical lesson that Hitchens reminds us of is the way in which true-believers will believe any lie to justify their ideology. He reminds us of all the Western intellectuals who absolutely gushed at the Soviet ‘paradise’.

He notes the “materialist intellectual’s gullible open-mouthed willingness to believe anything” including the colossal lie that “Soviet Russia was a new civilization of equality, peace, love, truth, science, and progress”. He reminds us of the Soviet stooge, Walter Duranty, a writer for the New York Tines.

He completely denied the existence of the horrible Ukrainian famine of 1932-33 which resulted in the death of seven million people. Although Duranty in fact knew about this, he lied to his American readers, seeking to glorify the Soviet state.

And there were plenty of other dupes of the Marxists, such as the Fabian socialists Sidney and Beatrice Webb, who totally whitewashed Soviet history, seeking to turn the place into a workers’ paradise. Thus they lied continuously about the reality as found in this dictatorship, seeking to convince people that utopia had arrived on planet earth.

These three events powerfully reminded me that the fall of Communism was not long ago at all, but we have largely forgotten the horrors of what took place for over 70 years. Sure, we had the writings of Soviet dissidents such as Solzhenitsyn, and in 1999 the important work, The Black Book of Communism appeared, detailing and chronicling the diabolical crimes of Communist states.

But we are so prone to forget. So again today we see our liberties disappearing all around us, mainly from secular humanists of the left, and radical Islamists. But we seem to be asleep, unconcerned, and unaware of what is happening. We have forgotten the lessons of history – if indeed we ever learned them in the first place.

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