Monday, November 09, 2009


Lawrence Reed, 2001 (reprinted today):

August marks the anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall that for 28 years thereafter, divided the city of Berlin and closed off the only remaining escape hatch for people in the communist East who wanted freedom in the West. It was a shocking surprise when it happened because no warning was given before East German soldiers and police first stretched barbed wire and then began planting the infamous wall, guard towers, dog runs, and landmines behind it.

By one estimate, a total of 254 people died at the wall during those 28 years�shot by police, ensnared by the barbed wire, mauled by dogs, or blown to bits by land mines as the �Workers� Paradise� sought to keep them imprisoned in a statist hell.


We believers in freedom and free markets are often attacked by socialists as obsessed with self-interest. They like to remind us of every shortcoming or every problem that hasn�t yet been solved, no matter the degree to which freedom has already worked to solve it. But we don�t believe in shooting people because they don�t conform, and that is ultimately what socialism is all about. We don�t plan other people�s lives because we�re too busy at the full-time job of reforming and improving our own. We believe in persuasion, not coercion. We solve problems at penpoint, not gunpoint. Unlike the socialists of the old East, or homespun statists like Sen. Edward Kennedy, we�re never so smugly self-righteous in our beliefs that we�re ready at the drop of a hat to dragoon the rest of society into our schemes.

All this is why so many of us get a rush every time we think of Ronald Reagan standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate in 1987 and boldly declaring, �Mr. Gorbachev, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!� This is why we were brought to tears in the heady days of fall 1989 when thousands of Berliners scaled the wall with their hammers, picks, and fists and pummeled into the dustbin of history that terrible wall and the Marxist vision that fostered it. That was a �Kodak moment� if ever there was one! For today�s young people who have no concept of what it was like for millions to live under socialism behind walls and barbed wire, or who have no appreciation for the blood, sweat, tears, and treasure spent by millions here and abroad to combat it, this anniversary is an opportunity to learn a little history.

It was later established that more that 254 people died there -- the number may have been more than a thousand. I recall a movie I've discussed before here: The Lives of Others. If you can rent it tonight, it would make a good tribute.

Not A Sheep provides a list of the 254.

UPDATE: Anthony Daniels on the role of intellectuals in supporting this monstrosity: "They thought that if nothing great could be built without sacrifice, then so great a sacrifice must be building something great."

UPDATE 2: Pete Boettke -- in a very useful history of the Wall that deserves your reading -- reminds us of the story of Hans Ulrich Lenzlinger, who helped smuggle many out of East Germany:
There also emerged a smuggling business that ran ads in West German newspapers. One such company, Aramco, with headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, gave out press releases referring to their �most modern technical methods.� The company�s prices were not that unreasonable: $10,000 to $12,000 per person, with �quantity discounts� for families, payable into a numbered account in a Swiss bank. If an escape attempt failed, the company refunded most of the money to the person financially sponsoring the breakout.

The East German government issued �wanted� posters on the East Berlin side of Checkpoint Charlie, offering 500,000 German marks for the director of Aramco, Hans Ulrich Lenzlinger. The �wanted� posters negatively referred to him as a �trader in people.� In February 1979, someone collected the bounty on Lenzlinger�s head, after he was shot repeatedly in the chest and killed at his home in Zurich.
They eventually got the Stasi assassin that killed Lenzlinger. (Mitch, that last link will be delicious for you.)

LAST UPDATE: Courtesy Fausta, a story from a blogger in Cuba, where the wall is still intact:
We cried in each others arms in the middle of the sidewalk, thinking about Teo, for God�s sake how am I going to explain all these bruises. How am I going to tell him that we live in a country where this can happen, how will I look at him and tell him that his mother, for writing a blog and putting her opinions in kilobytes, has been beaten up on a public street. How to describe the despotic faces of those who forced us into that car, their enjoyment that I could see as they beat us, their lifting my skirt as they dragged me half naked to the car.
Maybe 254 squared would be better for Cuba.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Not the first to forget history; let's remember 

True, much of Mao's brutality has already emerged over the years, but this biography supplies substantial new information and presents it all in a stylish way that will put it on bedside tables around the world. No wonder the Chinese government has banned not only this book but issues of magazines with reviews of it, for Mao emerges from these pages as another Hitler or Stalin.

In that regard, I have reservations about the book's judgments, for my own sense is that Mao, however monstrous, also brought useful changes to China. And at times the authors seem so eager to destroy him that I wonder if they exclude exculpatory evidence.

...Perhaps the best comparison is with Qinshihuang, the first Qin emperor, who 2,200 years ago unified China, built much of the Great Wall, standardized weights and measures and created a common currency and legal system - but burned books and buried scholars alive. The Qin emperor was as savage and at times as insane as Mao - but his success in integrating and strengthening China laid the groundwork for the next dynasty, the Han, one of the golden eras of Chinese civilization. In the same way, I think, Mao's ruthlessness was a catastrophe at the time, brilliantly captured in this extraordinary book - and yet there's more to the story...

Out of the tens of millions of alleged "counterrevolutionaries" and dissidents who spent long periods of their lives in Mao's system of prison-factories and corrective labor gulags, it's estimated that 20 million died during their "re-education" into collectivism, obedience and communal selflessness.

Additionally, the human cost of Mao's ill-planned and ill-named Great Leap Forward of 1959-1961 might well have reached 40 million deaths from starvation, the result of the largest and most deadly famine in world history.

In 1968, Wei Jingsheng, 18, a Red Guard member, provided a firsthand account of how the Great Leap Forward had driven parents mad with hunger:

"Before my eyes, among the weeds, rose up one of the scenes I had been told about, one of the banquets at which families had swapped children in order to eat them. I could see the worried faces of the families as they chewed the flesh of other people's children."

What's so unusual about Emperor Shih Huang of the Chin Dynasty? He had buried alive 460 scholars only, but we have buried alive 46,000 scholars. In the course of our repression of counter-revolutionary elements, haven't we put to death a number of the counter-revolutionary scholars? I had an argument with the democratic personages. They say we are behaving worse than Emperor Shih Huang of the Chin Dynasty. That's definitely not correct. We are 100 times ahead of Emperor Shih of the Chin Dynasty in repression of counter-revolutionary scholars.
When 900 million are left out of 2.9 billion, several five-year plans can be developed for the total elimination of capitalism and for permanent peace. It is not a bad thing.

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Monday, August 04, 2008


I was in high school when I read The Gulag Archipelago. Having just been part of a Nixon-Ceausescu cultural exchange program, and thus touring Romania for three weeks in August of 1974 (I know, weird, but Nixon had a thing for Romania from the beginning of his presidency) the book was like a shot across my complacency about touring that country, experiencing the queues, the poverty, the restrictions on where you could and could not go. I recall looking at a border installation with the USSR and feeling the isolation.

Over the years the book has become an anachronism, replaced on school reading lists along with most of his novels ("One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" probably remains on some.) Peter Boettke reminds me of the Museum of Communism in Prague, which could be also placed in Bucharest, Tirana, or any other Central European capital. In a year in Kyiv in 1995-96, I saw very little of the nostalgia for the USSR, not because capitalism was helping them live their lives in their minds but because they remembered the Holodomor.

It's worth remembering today that communism killed over 110 million in the 20th century. You can count on one hand the number of people who did more than Solzhenitsyn to bring this to the attention of the West and stand against it. Bryan Caplan laments that there will never be a Nuremberg trial for those deaths. I doubt Solzhenitsyn would have wanted that; he was no liberal democrat but rather a Russian nationalist, as Ilya Somin states correctly. Still, he served admirably in holding up communism as something that even the Left should not stand for (though they do anyway).

This quote, of all the ones I have seen today, is why we should keep Solzhenitsyn's Gulag alive on reading lists:
Oh, Western freedom-loving "left-wing" thinkers! Oh, left-wing labourists! Oh, American, German and French progressive students! All of this is still not enough for you. The whole book has been useless for you. You will understand everything immediately, when you yourself � "hands behind the back" � toddle into our Archipelago.
Hand the book to the next student you see with a Che t-shirt.

Update: Steve Horwitz notes:
For example, every summer I do IHS student seminars, and they often have a large number of central and eastern European students. I�d like the Chicago humanities faculty [who are protesting the creation of the Milton Friedman Institute on their campus --kb] to tell me how I�m supposed to feel when these students ask me why so many US humanities faculty, including some of my colleagues at SLU, still think Marxism and socialism have social value when those ideas were the inspiration, even if wrongly interpreted, for thugs who engaged in the killing of tens of millions of innocent people and the destruction of the economies of billions. I�d like them also to tell me how I�m supposed to feel when a Cuban refugee who risked his life to come to the US asks me why some US college students, including some at SLU, think it�s cool to wear Che Guevara t-shirts, implicitly honoring a murder and torturer.

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