When survivors of totalitarian regimes sound the alarm about political repression in America, it’s always wise to listen. Especially when they’ve been warning us for nearly a half-century.
Forty-three years ago, Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn told an audience at Harvard about what he saw as an encroaching “destruction of the human spirit” through socialism, and the failure of society’s “Elites” to speak against it. “A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage…”
Yuri Bezmenov, another Soviet era survivor, warned decades ago of an “ideological subversion” already at work in America. More recently, Maximo Alvarez, who escaped Cuban Communism under Fidel Castro warned, “The country I was born in is gone, totally destroyed.” “When I watch the news in Seattle and Chicago and Portland, when I see history being rewritten, when I hear the promises—I hear echoes of a former life I never wanted to hear again. I see shadows I thought I had outrun.” Then there’s Natan Sharansky, who spent time in Moscow’s infamous Lefortovo Prison, who sees in America a pervasive condition of “doublethink,” by which is meant Americans thinking one thing but “parroting a party line or simply staying quiet” out of fear of losing their careers or reputations.
We can now add to these portents the winsome, but serious, voice of Yeonmi Park.
Young, intelligent, and a graduate of Columbia University, Ms. Park is today a picture of privilege. But appearances are deceiving. Raised in North Korea under the brutal regime of Kim Jong-il, Ms. Park escaped with her life by crossing the Yalu River into China in 2007 when she was only 13. Shortly thereafter she was trafficked in China as a sex-slave. With the help of some missionaries, she was finally able to escape into Mongolia and eventually to South Korea. You can read her story in “In Order to Live.”
Why Ms. Park is getting attention now centers around her experience at Columbia University in New York. “I expected that I was paying this fortune, all this time and energy, to learn how to think. But they are forcing you to think what they want you to think.” She describes her shock at the display of red flags on campus, having to adopt preferred gender pronouns, being scolded by professors for enjoying classic literature, and her attempted indoctrination into a kind collective guilt from administrators and other students, virtually all of whom have known only privilege and success. “People see things, but they’ve just completely lost the ability to think critically.” “North Koreans, we don’t have Internet, we don’t have access to any of these great thinkers, we don’t know anything. But here, while having everything, people choose to be brainwashed.”
Of course, brainwashing isn’t confined to Columbia, but is today du jour on almost all college campuses. “The Closing of the American Mind” goes back at least to the mid 1980s and is now taking over the primary education system. Columbia is notable, though, as the place where Frankfurt School ideology first took root in the United States, and where John Dewey – Father of Progressive Education – stamped his influence. The line from Herbert Marcuse, to Columbia, to Critical Race Theory and the rewriting of our history books may not be a straight one, but it is traceable. Moreover, this spirit of cultural Marxism is now so deeply entrenched in our elite institutions that we hardly consider it. We know it’s there, we just dismiss it as old news. It takes a soft-voiced survivor of North Korean totalitarianism pulling the fire alarm to shake us out of our malaise, if indeed even then.
Our family has a Disneyland tradition, which is to make “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” our last stop before leaving the Park. Usually after a long day of hurrying from one fast-pass attraction to another, there’s something both inspiring and soothing in hearing Mr. Lincoln in his own words, even if animatronic. The attraction is pure Americana, an anachronism to a bygone age, and Disney has grappled over the years whether to keep it. Will Lincoln survive woke America? The 1619 Project has already cancelled him. But then again, Lincoln may have predicted his own demise.
Near the conclusion of “Great Moments,” Disney has Lincoln reciting a portion of an actual address he gave before the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois in 1838. The Civil War was still twenty-three years in the future, but its rumblings were already starting to surface. Addressing the topic of “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” Lincoln issued a warning about the probable instrument of their destruction:
“At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
Only God knows if and when, as Lincoln warned, America will meet such a fate. But from Solzhenitsyn to Yeonmi Park, the survivors of repressive regimes have been warning Americans about the “approach of danger.” So far, their voices have fallen on deaf ears. Why is this?
Americans suffer from the false conviction that it can’t happen here. For those living today, our only memory is freedom. The Republic’s lasted over two-hundred years. The arc of progress bends upward. Any disturbance to our “domestic tranquility,” we view, as temporary. But history tells a different story. Nation states, from Babylon to Rome, collapse either through conquest or, more often, from internal decay.
Can the promise of America endure? If it does, it will only be because sufficient numbers of her citizens begin taking seriously the now pervasive threats to their freedom, muster the courage to speak up and forcefully reclaim the truth.
 Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, A World Split Apart: https://www.tjed.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/world_split_apart_eng2.pdf