[guest post by JVW]
Credit where it’s due: I came across this thanks to a tweet from the often insufferable Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. This remarkable piece ran in The Harvard Crimson last month and was written by a sophomore majoring in applied mathematics (note: not some grievance-mongering studies discipline).
In 1988, my twenty-six-year-old father jumped off a train in the middle of Hungary with nothing but the clothes on his back. For the next two years, he fled an oppressive Romanian Communist regime that would kill him if they ever laid hands on him again.
My father ran from a government that beat, tortured, and brainwashed its citizens. His childhood friend disappeared after scrawling an insult about the dictator on the school bathroom wall. His neighbors starved to death from food rations designed to combat “obesity.” As the population dwindled, women were sent to the hospital every month to make sure they were getting pregnant.
My father’s escape journey eventually led him to the United States. He moved to the Midwest and married a Romanian woman who had left for America the minute the regime collapsed. Today, my parents are doctors in quiet, suburban Kansas. Both of their daughters go to Harvard. They are the lucky ones.
Those of us of a certain age are likely to forget that today’s college student, likely born sometime between 1995 and 2000, has no direct experience with large-scale communism of the sort practiced in the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries in the latter half of the past century. Their view of communism is skewed by countries like China and Vietnam who have blended some capitalist practices with authoritarian central government to create a system where the government picks and chooses who gets rich and how much they can keep (ironically enough, this is the same system that seems to hold a great deal of appeal to the Barack Obamas and Hillary Clintons of the world). Or else they view communism through the prism of Cuba, a small and poor island nation with catchy rhumba and mambo music and cool classic cars prowling the streets. But the author, Laura Nicolae, is here to set her schoolmates straight:
Roughly 100 million people died at the hands of the ideology my parents escaped. They cannot tell their story. We owe it to them to recognize that this ideology is not a fad, and their deaths are not a joke.
[. . .]
Walk around campus, and you’re likely to spot Ché Guevara on a few shirts and button pins. A sophomore jokes that he’s declared a secondary in “communist ideology and implementation.” The new Leftist Club on campus seeks “a modern perspective” on Marx and Lenin to “alleviate the stigma around the concept of Leftism.” An author laments in these pages that it’s too difficult to meet communists here. For many students, casually endorsing communism is a cool, edgy way to gripe about the world.
After spending four years on a campus saturated with Marxist memes and jokes about communist revolutions, my classmates will graduate with the impression that communism represents a light-hearted critique of the status quo, rather than an empirically violent philosophy that destroyed millions of lives.
I was in college in the very waning days of Soviet communism (the Berlin Wall came down the summer after my freshman year). Back then the campus radicals were circumspect enough not to climb aboard the broken-down Marxist-Leninist bandwagon (well, except for Van Jones who is a whole separate category of nutjob), and most of them gravitated more towards anarchism, which after all, they liked to say, was what Trotsky understood was the real future all along. But today’s college kids, not even old enough to recall very clearly the first stirrings of Islamofascism, now find old Uncle Joe Stalin to be a benign figure, just as clueless fellow travelers did a century earlier. The estimable Ms. Nicolae is having none of it:
Many in my generation have blurred the reality of communism with the illusion of utopia. I never had that luxury. Growing up, my understanding of communism was personalized; I could see its lasting impact in the faces of my family members telling stories of their past. My perspective toward the ideology is radically different because I know the people who survived it; my relatives continue to wonder about their friends who did not.
The stories of survivors paint a more vivid picture of communism than the textbooks my classmates have read. While we may never fully understand all of the atrocities that occurred under communist regimes, we can desperately try to ensure the world never repeats their mistakes. To that end, we must tell the accounts of survivors and fight the trivialization of communism’s bloody past.
There’s more, so do read the whole thing, but it does my grumpy and worried heart a world of good to know that Harvard has at least some sensible students like Laura Nicolae to counter the baneful effects of the Bernie Sanders-worshipping modern campus Marxist.