I was fortunate to have grown to manhood in a well-traveled family. My father’s profession brought us to other countries to live, and from there, my parents took advantage of the proximity to visit the nations of Europe and some of the Middle East.
As an adult, my own time as a soldier brought me again to Europe, where I spent a great deal of my time living “on the economy,” as we called it when a soldier lived off-post among the citizens of the host country. I recommend such an experience. It is the cultural equivalent of an x-ray, revealing the bones of your core beliefs against the photographic paper of another way of life.
Our time is short on this earth. I know people say that, but don’t really comprehend it fully until they are impacted by the death of someone close to them, or encounter firsthand the horror of man’s mistreatment of the most vulnerable among us. We can no longer avert our eyes from the vulgar and mendacious in our society, as the vulgar and mendacious are emboldened by our indifference.
Owing to my experiences abroad, I’ve developed a long-held interest in the politics and cultural norms that allowed the same societies that produced the immigrants that would become the American people, to also produce Nazism, Communism and Fascism. More specifically, the extreme abuses of humanity endemic to those ideologies.
We are genetically linked, yet in societal terms, we are worlds apart. In WWII we were forced to return to the “old country” to defeat those abominations of collectivism, fighting men with surnames very much like our own. We are genetically no different from the perpetrators of the Holocaust, or those who facilitated the Stalinist purges in Russia, or brought about the horrific loss of life through Mao’s societal tinkering, yet our story during the same period of history is strikingly different.
In the late 50’s and early 60’s, while we were building the greatest economic powerhouse the world has ever seen, the Chinese were pursuing their own ideal of economic success. Mao Zedong, leader of Communist China, saw a need for better agricultural and industrial production, and devised a plan for organizing his nation into communal groups to accomplish specific tasks. A more top-down structure could not have been devised than that of the “Great Leap Forward,” as Mao called his initiative.
He formed communes of roughly 5000 families each, who gave up all individual ownership of tools, land and personal possessions to the commune itself. Schools and nurseries were formed to take care of the children while the parents worked for the commune. “Houses of Happiness” were created to house the elderly so the workers would not be distracted by caring for them. Twelve families formed a “work team,” and twelve work teams formed a “brigade.” Each was given specific tasks to perform by the Party overseers who were responsible for reporting production and growth numbers to their superiors.
Like all centrally planned systems, the command structure of the “Great Leap Forward” proved unable to adapt to circumstances occurring outside of “the plan.” Circumstances beyond the control of the work teams, such as the significant drought of 1959, and the flooding that came in the following year were all the more destructive due to the inability of the top-down bureaucracy to alter course.
Each of those relatively routine events contributed to a catastrophic loss in agricultural production. This resulted in the Maoist model of industrial cities producing mechanized tools for harvest, while agrarian outlands produced food for the cities, would become unsupportable in a very short period of time.
Party apparatchiks, afraid for the loss of their positions and fearful of angering their superiors, continued to report glowing gains in bushels per acre and steel produced, when in reality, people were starving and the steel made was so substandard that anything built with it was structurally unsound at the outset.
The residents of the “Houses of Happiness” were among the first to suffer. While their children were slaving in fields and factories, the elderly were starved, beaten and buried. Surviving family members discovered their loss when they returned from work. With the State having taken care of the burial in a most efficient way already, the families were expected to be back in the fields the following morning, as if nothing had occurred.
Meanwhile, in America we were creating the first integrated circuits, launching the first operable communications satellites, and selling millions of Rock ‘n Roll records. This same time − 1958-1962− in America was a time of tremendous growth and prosperity for the average citizen. Millions of homes were built, families started and grown, college degrees earned and staggering wealth created, all while an estimated 12-30 million Chinese died of starvation alone, with an extra 15 million from beatings and forced labor. A starker contrast between the results of ideologies could not be drawn.
Why then, with all the hard-won experience mankind has gained from collectivist failures, do some yet believe we are only one government program away from utopia? Why do some believe they can live our lives for us, better than we can live them for ourselves? Worse yet, they are so convinced of this, they are willing to use force to bring about the “change” they see as needed.
Why are some people simply incapable of leaving the rest of us alone?
We have been trying to answer this question since the dawn of society, and our efforts have resulted in the evolution of political systems. We have transitioned from a state of nature, with all its “survival of the fittest” brutality, to recognition of the intrinsic value of the individual; subsequently devising rules by which we resolve our disputes and support further voluntary refinements of societal behavior.
Sadly, the veneer of civilization is wearing thin, and the chasm between those who value life individually and those who do not, is perhaps wider than ever before.
This election is yet another battle in that eternal war. Who shall make our decisions? We, for ourselves, complete with the possibility of failure? Or others, for us, creating a safety net, but depriving us of fundamental liberty in the bargain?
We Americans have an advantage over our global counterparts. We have always lived an existence where the individual has reigned supreme. We are unique in this respect, and it is this distinction that leads the collectivist-minded to claw away at the underpinnings of our American exceptionalism, that being, our inviolable rights, and the legal recognition of those rights having been granted by our creator, not our government.
As Mao required absolute power, so does the present-day collectivist, and the prohibitions in the Constitution against anyone possessing that level of power has proven to be the single greatest bulwark against tyranny the world has yet devised.
The choice before us is not Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Our choice is about decisions, and who should be making them; others, or ourselves. Pick your side, and vote accordingly. Because, on this question, there can be no “middle-ground.”
The author writes from Omaha, Nebraska.