Freedom, History and Memory

For both religious and non-religious reasons, history is vitally important, and it is imperative that we do not forget the lessons of history. As the Spanish philosopher Santayana once warned, those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.

And for the believer, we have repeated admonitions in Scripture to remember the past, and not forget what God has done in history. But we all – Christians included – seem to have very short memories, and as a result we find ourselves continuously getting into trouble.

Indeed, it is amazing 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. I review this important book here:

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 Times.

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.

It is as Solzhenitsyn said, “It is because we have forgotten God. That is why all this is happening to us.” We have forgotten God, and allowed coercive utopians to create hell on earth. We should have learned from the failed utopian experiments of Stalin, Hitler, Mao and others.

But we have not, and thus we are opening ourselves up to a new and perhaps more deadly round of tyranny and oppression. When will we learn? Or will we finally come to our senses when it is too late?

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26 Replies to “Freedom, History and Memory”

  1. Another great article Bill, I wish I had your words.
    What bothers me even more is that Australia has the despotic China, worlds largest communist remnant as a major trading partner when we could or should be trading with India, the worlds largest democracy. Can Kevin Rudd learn Hindi as well as Mandarin? We should never forget the evils of communism but China’s arrogance is water of a ducks back to so many.
    God Bless
    Creos Mary Roman

  2. Dear Creos,

    I dare say we are all about to be disabused of Mr Rudd’s ability to lead this country in any sort of righteousness.

    His duplicity in attracting “the Christian vote”, his rapid adoption (or re-adoption) of strongly Marxist economics, and his overturning of so many good measures should be warning enough that he, for one, has not learned the lessons of history.

    John Angelico

  3. Good article Bill. I agree with it.

    It reminds me of something I said to someone asking about the lessons of WW2 and the horrors of the Nazi eugenic’s movement. He had asked what the lesson was that God was teaching us.

    Perhaps we are still in the middle of learning the lesson that utopia is something that cannot not be built and that will always end in blood and fire.

    I hope we are not still in the middle of it, but given that many of these suicidal ideas still have currency among many, it seems we might yet still be only part way through the lesson.

    Jason Rennie

  4. How does a capitalist, liberal free-market democracy (such as Australia, Britain and the US) differ from utopianism?
    That’s a serious question.
    Jereth Kok

  5. Thanks Jereth

    The answer can be found in these two quotes:

    “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” (Reinhold Niebuhr)

    “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” (Sir Winston Churchill)

    The point is, those who try to make heaven on earth are always doomed to fail. In a fallen world what you describe is the best we can hope for. It is not utopia but it is pretty good.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  6. Hi Jereth,

    Australia and the UK aren’t really free market capitalist societies. They are both really socialist nanny states.

    There is some free market principles in operation, but not really. Even in the US the free-market is often strangled under pages of regulation in places.

    Jason Rennie

  7. Bill,

    I’m curious — what makes a particular system of government “utopian”? Why are Marxism and the Third Reich examples of utopia when in fact they are very little alike? (in fact communism and fascism are at opposite ends of the spectrum.)

    What other systems could qualify as utopian? The Indian caste society? The mediaeval feudal system? Imperial Rome? The caliphate?

    I’m trying to figure out exactly what you mean by “utopia”.

    Jereth Kok

  8. Thanks Jereth

    As I said, by utopian I mean the desire to create a perfect place on earth, which simply cannot be done in a fallen world. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. These are fairly basic concepts, certainly concepts which Christians should recognise.

    Both these systems were utopian. In fact, you are incorrect to label them as opposites. They were very much closer than you realise. Both were secular utopian movements, both used the brute power of the state to achieve their aims, and both were in fact socialist. Do you recall what Nazi stands for? If not, look it up.

    Hitler wanted to create an ideal world by getting rid of all non-ideal classes of people: non-Aryans, Jews, gypsies and other defective types. The Marxists wanted to create the New Man, and thought by wiping out whole classes of people (the managers and owners of capital) that they could create their ideal, classless society.

    Both were dead wrong and both unleashed horrendous carnage on planet earth. Both were naive at best and power-hungry at worst, in their attempts to coerce their views on others, and use raw force to do so.

    God created the institution of the state for limited purposes. See for example Romans 13:1-7. He did not create the state to bring about utopia on earth. There is only one ruler who can do that, Christ the King. Nonetheless, the state is of God to maintain justice and punish evil, so we should all work toward having the best state we can in a fallen world. And in such a world, it must be one with a diffusion of powers, checks and balances, and so on, to avoid despotism and tyranny. That is why democratic type systems are about as good as we can get in a sin-soaked world.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  9. Jereth,
    I’m afraid that you are under misapprehensions here. It is one of the popular and persistent myths that Nazism and Communism were at opposite ends of the political pole. This “Right versus Left” stereotype is one that has been peddled by the Left ever since World War II, and Hitler has been painted as “far right”. However, for starters, Mussolini’s Fascism was itself a Marxist heresy; indeed, a variation in turn of the Leninist heresy. In the years prior to World War I, and during that war, Lenin much admired Mussolini, and sang his praises as an authentic Marxist, but in the early 1920s the admiration turned to condemnation because Mussolini re-interpreted Marx to suit a programme of Italian nationalism.

    This divide basically turned on the interpretation of the Marxist term “proletariat”, which Marx never precisely defined. Lenin gave it an economic interpretation, gearing to workers in secondary industry on the factory floor. Meanwhile, he had no time for the peasantry on the land, who were intensely conservative. This became the standard version of the proletariat for C20th Communism as we have experienced it.

    Mussolini, however, gave the term a nationalist interpretation. Like Lenin, he hated the “bourgeoisie” (the old, established ruling and middle classes) and rejected their values. For him the Marxist struggle was not a class struggle as with Lenin, but a struggle for national identity. He too had plans, and sought to build a utopia on socialist and communist lines, but a rather different plan that that of Lenin.

    Then we come to Hitler. He too was every bit as much a revolutionary as the other two, but while he saw his own views as similar to those of Mussolini, he saw the revolution not in class terms (as Lenin), nor in national terms (as in Mussolini), but in racial terms, as the outcome of a struggle between inferior races (i.e. Jews and Gypsies) and the pure Aryan super-race. However, he was certainly a socialist, and a utopian: his plans envisaged remaking the German race into a master race (hence his euthanasia and human experimentation programmes), of building a new Germany with an elaborate capital and immense edifices with domes on a scale never before conceived. He rewrote the manifesto of the original German Workers party to a set of maxims virtually identical with those of today’s left: big government, centralisation of capital and control, ultimate confiscation of private property, etc.

    Hitler and Stalin shared many beliefs. Paul Johnson puts it like this:
    “The accident of race made them opponents, and pitted their regimes against each other. But in essential respects they were fellow-ideologues, pursuing utopias based on a fundamental division between elites and helots.” [Modern Times, p.380] To reinforce this, note how they freely borrowed from each other: concentration camps (borrowed from Stalin’s gulags); secret police (Hitler’s Gestapo and the Russian KGB); social engineering on a massive and utterly ruthless scale, to mention a few.

    I could go on, but that will suffice here. You will find an essay on this very them in the current issue of “Saltshakers”, entitled “Hitler and Today’s Left”. But let the point be clear: Hitler was (a) in no sense a conservative, (b) the narrative of the Third Reich since WW II has largely been written by advocates from the Left who have their own agenda in painting anyone to their right as “Nazi” and smearing them with the “Hitler” label.

    On the contrary, Hitler was a variation on the leftist theme, and the history of the past century was in a very important respect simply differing versions/heresies of Marxism slugging it out between themselves, and multitudes of others getting caught up in these ideological conflicts.

    Murray R. Adamthwaite

  10. Hi Jereth,

    Some political philosophies are inherently utopian, such as Marxism. Others may be utopian, but are not necessarily so. Secular capitalism, for instance, is not inherently utopian, but is sometimes mistakenly viewed as such by some of its misguided proponents such as Ayn Rand. Other political philosophies are inherently anti-utopian. I include here the Biblical view of the state (theonomy) which utilises capitalist economics, not because it will perfect man or society but because it is the best option for restraining evil in a sin soaked world. It is the only mechanism known, for instance, whereby even greedy and selfish motives are forced to work for the public good, by requiring competition with others to better satisfy customers.

    A good introduction to why capitalism is the solution not the problem for Christians is Jay Richards’ book: Money, greed and God.

    Mansel Rogerson

  11. Dr Thomas Sowell, reviewed on this site, is the greatest proponent of classical Burkean conservatism today. A major point is that utopia will never be possible, so all we can hope for is trade-offs rather than solutions. Another related point is that humans are flawed, so we should never trust any one person or group with unbridled power over another.

    Classical conservatism thus distrusts concentration of power. That’s why the American founders instituted a system of checks and balances. Conservatism also favours free markets, where the checks are provided by the desires of millions of consumers and suppliers.

    Leftards distrust checks and balances on political power, and also distrust the free market. Rather, they think utopia on Earth is possible if only the right people had power, both politically and over the exconomy.

    Sowell wouldn’t say so, but this is just what we would predict from the biblical doctrine of Adam’s Fall and God’s curse on the cosmos in response: the former means that all people have a sin nature; the latter implies scarcity so there is never enough to satisfy everyone’s desires.

    Jonathan Sarfati, USA

  12. One thing I have always wondered – and forgive my ignorance if need be – in the case of that reptile from North Korea, why do the western governments appease him??? If you want to talk about human rights violations you could not pick a better example could you? On that basis alone, why do the western nations stand by and let this happen? They would have absolutely no trouble toppling him in a military operation. I am willing to bet that his army would drop their guns and run like scared rabbits if they came up against a real military force and not just a lot of purposely starved and mal treated citizens. I cannot help thinking that God’s judgement will fall on those western leaders who could have done something about this but pandered to all his desires and requests for “concessions”. I think that there is a moral obligation to rescue the people of North Korea from this garbage but nobody will rise to the challenge. How can those western leaders sleep at night knowing this is going on? Also these so called “intellectuals” from the west are the biggest and the most stinking hypocrites around – they will talk up this sort of utopian garbage but will they denounce their western citizenship and actually go and live in it? Not on your life, they know just how damn good they have it here that’s why!!!
    Steve Davis

  13. Thanks Steve

    Yes I certainly think a case can be made for regime change in North Korea. But who would pull it off? The US is the sole superpower left who could do it, but not under Obama’s watch. And if the US did do it, all hell would break lose: ‘More American imperialism’ etc. Look at all the criticism it got in Iraq. Today the forces of PC have made it nearly impossible for any rogue state to be taken out. Much of the world, including much of the West, would argue that the US is just as bad, if not worse, than North Korea if they tried to topple this murderous thug. We live in sad times indeed.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  14. Thanks Bill, now please correct me if I am wrong but I heard somewhere a long time ago that the United Nations had some sort of mandate to use military force to deal with just this type of sordid problem. Is that correct or have I got my wires crossed? I think of the Korean war where you had a multinational force consisting of some 17 nations, I’m not sure of how many were at that time members of the UN but they were all there to support South Korea.
    Steve Davis

  15. Hi Steve,

    I agree there is a moral imperative to topple North Korea. The question is how. Seoul lies within artillery range from the N. Korean border and could be flattened with large loss of life in little time. North Korea is also crazy enough to try and use some of its primitive nuclear weapons if attacked. Given these trade-offs, other techniques such as putting pressure on China to disown them whilst waiting for the country’s inevitable collapse or reform from within are not entirely unreasonable.

    Mansel Rogerson

  16. Thanks Steve

    I am not sure about the particular mandate you refer to. But my general knowledge of the UN would give me cause for concern. This is a body which is often hostile to the US, while supportive of all sorts of rogue states around the globe.

    While the UN might have been better 50 years ago during the Korean War, it is a bit hopeless nowadays. See for example this book review about the UN:

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  17. Thanks Bill. One other thing, that book “The Black Book of Communism”, who was it written by? I ask because I want to get hold of it to read. Thanks,
    Steve Davis

  18. To Mansel – I agree it is certainly a hard thing to debate but I suppose I am thinking of the thousands of other North Koreans who will die before this little turd gets toppled or before China disowns them as you mention. Reform from within, on face value seems hardly likely considering the status quo of the regime, the population are no help, I am sure they are purposely starved and malnourished as to not present any real threat to him, that leaves the armed forces, I think they are the real mystery in this whole affair as not very much appears to be actually known about it and who knows, if given the right encouragement, they might actually turn on their disgusting little master with a fury unseen for goodness know how long. Anyway the only thing people like you and me can do at this very moment is to pray that God will get rid of him sooner rather than later.
    Steve Davis

  19. I’m reminded of Friedrich Hegel’s statement that, “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”
    Geoff Harvey

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