This edition of Radio Free Acton features an interview with Larry Schweikart – drummer, history professor, and producer of the documentary “Rockin’ The Wall” – on the power of music and the influence of rock and roll in undermining communism in the Soviet empire. When we think about the fall of the Berlin Wall, it’s only natural that names like Reagan, Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II come to mind, but there were other elements involved in the battle against communism that also played important roles in its downfall, including cultural influences. How did western rock and pop music help to undermine Soviet Communism? Schweikart, former drummer for Rampage, explains how it happened.
Yeomni Park is a 21-year-old defector from the nation of North Korea. She and her mother (who was considered a criminal for moving without permission) escaped the brutal North Korean regime. They ended up in China…and things got worse. As we continue to hear more on the “war on women” in America’s political battles, it is good to remember that the terrible suffering of women (and men) in places like North Korea and China.
The News Herald in Ohio has an excellent profile of their story published in 2009. Armonas and her son were part of the Lithuanian deportations by the Soviet Union, at least 70 percent of the deported Lithuanians were women and children. In a farce trial, Armonas was eventually convicted of espionage and sentenced to the maximum 25 years in Soviet labor camps. Armonas, who was not political, published a damning account of collectivism and the socialist Soviet state in Leave Your Tears in Moscow. During Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to the United States in 1959, Armonas’s daughter Donna pleaded to the Soviet Premier for the release of her mother. The encounter gained worldwide attention and eventually led to the release of Armonas and her son to reunite with their family in America. They had been separated for 20 years.
The book, published in 1961, raised awareness of the plight of Lithuanians under Soviet occupation. Below are a few quotes and excerpts from her memoir:
Lord Acton’s famous dictum, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” has been proven true time and time again throughout history, most vividly in totalitarian systems. The worldwide destruction caused by communism is perhaps the prime example.
According to The Black Book of Communism, communist regimes, inspired by Marxist-Leninist ideology, are responsible for nearly 100 million deaths (and counting). However, in contemporary times there seems to be a tendency to ignore this reality. In The Daily Beast article, “Communism’s Victims Deserve a Museum,” James Kirchick highlights a popular sentiment about communism: “Communism is an excellent idea in theory, it just hasn’t worked in practice.”
A turn through the pages of history, however, to the true tyranny of former communist regimes: gulags, executions, forced famines, and destruction of religious freedom, may cause one to question this optimistic and lighthearted view.
In an effort to expose the inhumanity of communism, the Acton Institute will host a lecture event on November 6th featuring Acton’s director of research, Samuel Gregg, and the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art’s education committee chair, Luba Markewycz. The event will place particular focus on the “Holodomor,” the brutal man-made famine imposed on Ukraine by Joseph Stalin’s Communist regime. Markewycz will share her exhibit, “Holodomor Through the Eyes of a Child: The Famine Remembered,” composed of artwork created by contemporary children throughout Ukraine. Gregg will discuss the historical context and the ways in which the Holodomor amounted to an assault on human dignity and basic individual liberties. More details will follow.
[Part 1 is here.]
That most colossal blunder of Marxist experiments, the Soviet Union, collapsed more than twenty years ago, and yet Marxist thinking still penetrates the warp and woof of contemporary culture, so much so that it’s easy even for avowedly anti-Marxist conservatives to think from within the box of Marxism when considering the problem of cultural decay. Breaking out of that box means emphasizing but also stretching beyond such factors as insider cronyism, class envy, and the debilitating effects of the welfare state.
So, for instance, the influential 18th century philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau rejected the doctrines of the trinity, the deity of Christ, miracles, and the idea of original sin, writing that at one point as a young man he suddenly felt very strongly “that man is naturally good” and that it was only from the institutions of civilization “that men become wicked.” Rousseau’s view has had enormous cultural consequences, giving credence to the perennial human impulse to do whatever feels natural, never mind how stupid or destructive.
The English writer and psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple put it this way in an interview he gave for The Truth Project: (more…)
In an age where words like “courage” and “bravery” are often tossed about casually, a new book captures the immense heroism and resolve of 11 American POWs during the war in Vietnam. Alvin Townley closes his new book Defiant with these words, “Together, they overcame more intense hardship over more years than any other group of servicemen and families in American history. We should not forget.” Townley easily makes that case by telling their stories and expanding on previous accounts by including the battle many of their wives waged to draw attention to their plight back home.
Defiant focuses on the Alcatraz 11, captured servicemen who were isolated by the communist North Vietnamese in a prison they nicknamed “Alcatraz.” Like many early POWs, these men were tortured. But they faced unimaginable cruelty with steely resistance. Before they were moved to Alcatraz, they were all pivotal leaders at Hoa Lo Prison, reinforcing the Code of Conduct and communicating through the tap code. At a staged propaganda news conference in 1966, Naval pilot Jeremiah Denton was able to blink out in Morse Code the letters T-O-R-T-U-R-E, allowing the American government to know for the first time the horrific conditions inside the prison. The aviators were beaten with fan belts, kept in stocks and leg irons, tortured with medieval rope devices, and locked away in isolation for years. In his book, When Hell Was in Session, Denton proclaimed, “We can add our testimony to that of great heroes like Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, who have vividly related what Communism is really about.”
Townley’s book does a masterful job of weaving the stories of these men together to portray how their courage and resistance exemplified, to the highest degree, the principles of freedom. James B. Stockdale, the senior officer of the 11, like other tortured prisoners, was permanently crippled by his captors. His defiance continually inspired those imprisoned with him. Stockdale quoted Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim about the men under his command, “A certain readiness to perish is not so very rare, but it is seldom that you meet men whose souls, steeled in the impenetrable armour of resolution, are ready to fight a losing battle to the last.” (more…)
Pete Seeger performing the Woodie Guthrie song “This Land is Your Land” at President Obama’s “We Are One” Inaugural Concert, January 19, 2009.
Environmentalist, agent provocateur, leftist activist, recovering Communist and ardent redistributionist – all apply to the folksinger who died Monday in New York at the age of 94. Pete Seeger, for better or worse, answered to all of the above adjectives but it’s his legacy as a songwriter and performer for which this writer prefers to remember him.
Certainly there’s much with which to disagree with Seeger from an ideological standpoint over the decades of a nearly 70-year career, but taken as a whole his body of work stands out for its calls for equality and societal change for the better. Take for example Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn,” a wonderful song that “sampled” a bit of Ecclesiastes to become a gentle yet powerful anthem akin to Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” With “Turn, Turn, Turn,” the songwriter assisted in the bridge between folk and rock when the song was appropriated by the Byrds’ signature jangle-and-harmony pop. (more…)
Michael J. Totten has a new piece on his travels through Cuba, this one focused on rural Cuba. “Most of the Cuban landscape I saw is already deforested,” he writes. “It’s just not being used. It’s tree-free and fallow ex-farmland. I’ve never seen anything like it, though parts of the Soviet Union may have looked similar.”
Economists refer to this sort of thing as “the tragedy of the commons,” and nobody does it well as the communists.
Parts of the travelogue are surreal:
Castro’s checkpoints are there to ensure nobody has too much or the wrong kind of food.
Police officers pull over cars and search the trunk for meat, lobsters, and shrimp. They also search passenger bags on city busses in Havana. Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote about it sarcastically in her book, Havana Real. “Buses are stopped in the middle of the street and bags inspected to see if we are carrying some cheese, a lobster, or some dangerous shrimp hidden among our personal belongings.”
If they find a side of beef in the trunk, so I’m told, you’ll go to prison for five years if you tell the police where you got it and ten years if you don’t.
No one is allowed to have lobsters in Cuba. You can’t buy them in stores, and they sure as hell aren’t available on anyone’s ration card. They’re strictly reserved for tourist restaurants owned by the state. Kids will sometimes pull them out of the ocean and sell them on the black market, but I was warned in no uncertain terms not to buy one. I stayed in hotels and couldn’t cook my own food anyway. And what was I supposed to do, stash a live lobster in my backpack?
The full essay is here.
I find the new investigative essay by journalist Michael J. Totten about Havana before and under communism poignant and beautiful, a must-read for anyone interested in Cuba, communism and the universal hunger for liberty. The long essay is worth every word, but I’ve excerpted a few of the most arresting passages here:
The rotting surfaces of some of the buildings [in the tourist district] have been restored, but those changes are strictly cosmetic. Look around. There’s still nothing to buy. You’ll find a few nice restaurants and bars here and there, but they’re owned by the state and only foreigners go there. The locals can’t afford to eat or drink out because the state caps their salaries at twenty dollars a month. Restored Old Havana looks and feels no more real than the Las Vegas version of Venice….
Yet the bones of Cuba’s capital are unmatched in our hemisphere. “The Cubans of successive centuries created a harmonious architectural whole almost without equal in the world,” [Theodore] Dalrymple wrote. (more…)
New York magazine’s fascinating interview with Justice Antonin Scalia offers much to enjoy, and as Joe Carter has already pointed out, one of the more striking exchanges centers on the existence of the Devil.
When asked whether he has “seen evidence of the Devil lately,” Scalia offers the following:
You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore…What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.
As my friend Irene Switzer kindly reminded me, Whittaker Chambers set forth a similar hypothesis in an elegantly written essay for Life magazine in 1948. “When the Age of Reason began,” the sub-head begins, “the Devil went ‘underground,'” his strategy being “to make men think he doesn’t exist.”
Setting the scene at a New Year’s party in “Manhattan’s swank Hotel Nineveh & Tyre,” Chambers constructs a fanciful conversation between the Devil and a “pessimist” — a Modern Man what-have-you, who exhibits familiarity with Reinhold Niebuhr and C.S. Lewis (an indication of rejection over ignorance, no doubt). (more…)