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Twenty Years.

Tuesday, 10 November, 2009
issued August, 2009

issued August, 2009

Have we learned anything? It’s just too easy to demonize and condemn. Where I live, virtue is defined by how readily you express, “Sucks to be you.” Even if not in those exact words.

I ask the question today that I asked exactly twenty years ago tonight: When is our turn?

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6 Comments
  1. Curious Texan permalink
    Wednesday, 11 November, 2009 20:52

    When is our turn for what?

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    • Thursday, 12 November, 2009 4:39

      Sending the pretensions and lies of the present order into the dustbin of history and massively reorganizing. Unlike the Velvet Revolution, we do not have an allegedly better system to which to turn. I do not have any specific proposals, and would be among the last people one should listen to about such things anyway.

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      • Curious Texan permalink
        Thursday, 12 November, 2009 13:22

        You sound like an angry young man (hence the name angrystan, I presume). But it appears that in the ensuing twenty years you’ve learned the lesson that rage at the system without offering a viable alternative is futile.

        There comes a time when one is too old to be an angry young man anymore. My epiphany came at the tender age of 32, when I gave my battalion commander an earful about what was wrong with his unit. The colonel patiently heard me out, and at the end of my vent said, “Pretend for a moment you’re the commander. What would you do to change things?” I was speechless.

        I visited East Berlin twice while it was a divided city, and I can tell you that for all our flaws, western democracy is still far and away preferable to the “Worker’s Paradise.” The proof is in the pudding: we put up fences to keep people out; they put them up to keep people in. Or, as that great philosopher, Alfred E. Newman, once said, “If communism is so great, why don’t they put up a picture window instead of an iron curtain?”

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        • Thursday, 12 November, 2009 18:15

          I adopted the nick “angrystan” in the days in which I blatantly was an angry young man, embodying every stereotype. Time has lead me to becoming a disaffected 40-something who cannot think of a better nick. When the wall went down, and all that other stuff which followed, I knew of many of the flaws of what became of the Communist system (largely through hanging around a Russian-emigrant community in my home town of no consequence filled with informers as I had something of a fetish which drove me to find the real-life Natasha Fatale) but even more tuned to the many flaws of Capitalism.

          Your debriefing may effect your reply, but did you see people bloated with diabetes in East Berlin? How about people removed from the economy due to the abuses of medical care? That they drove little cars or rode trains across town is of little relevance some twenty years out. I am no more a supporter of the hubris-driven Commies than I am of the hubris-driven Capitalists … that is, the guys who go along with “the system” are therefore trustworthy. Not so long after the pictures played on my television, I heard of the UK’s “Third Way” in which I had more than a little hope, but it was as reasonable as the systems it purported to reject. The entire value systems were different. “The West” discounted the idea of effectiveness.

          The old-school lies about the East are no more relevant than the old-school lies about the West. We’ve had a couple of decades to know one another. If the American system was all it was made out to be “walls” would not be required. Of course, the same could be said of what happened instead of Lenin’s interpretation of Communism. You may have heard of an Iron Curtain, but it was at best made of thule; “the Russian Guards” not withstanding.

          All these years out which version of Sandmännchen is played every night? What of Ostalgie? To dismiss one’s concern for one’s fellow man as laziness is something from either News Corporation or Rev. Moon. This ideology does not address the overwhelming number of Americans who are simply “written off”, usually at great public expense.

          We can do better. Some of the allegedly “leftist” ideas are merely a start.

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        • Curious Texan permalink
          Friday, 13 November, 2009 8:50

          Two things: My rather lengthy reply should have been placed here, after angrystan’s reply. I’m not that familiar with the WordPress comment system, which I find a little cumbersome.

          Point Two: This morning, I watched the German news podcast from 11/12/09, which included a report on Russian President Medvedev’s annual Speech to the Nation. It was reported that Medvedev is calling for a sweeping overhaul of the Russian economy and society, which he claimed has not changed much since Soviet times. He also called on the Russians to rely less on the government and exercise more self-initiative.

          Nearly twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the Russians are still experiencing the residual effects of a system that didn’t encourage personal responsibility.

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  2. Curious Texan permalink
    Thursday, 12 November, 2009 22:45

    It’s been said that where you stand depends on where you sit. For a total of nine years between 1974 and 1986, I sat across a desk from a couple hundred refugees and resettlers from Eastern Europe; I was the debriefer, not the debriefee (more than that I really can’t say, even at this late date). Obviously, that experience tends to shape how you see the East-West divide, but Lee Harvey Oswald notwithstanding, I doubt that there were anywhere near as many people resettling in the opposite direction, even though there were considerably less obstacles to do so.

    Although my direct experience with East Berlin wasn’t nearly as extensive (my two visits in 1979 and 1982 totalled no more than a few hours), it didn’t take a trained eye to see that the showcase of the East Bloc was basicly a Potemkin Village. I didn’t wander far beyond Unter den Linden and Alexanderplatz to see what the “Ossis” hoped to hide – the shabby buildings and lack of any substantial progress since World War II.

    After I retired from the Army, I spent a year in Poland (1992-1993)and witnessed first hand the residual effect of more than four decades of communism. Although things were already turning around by the time I left, I’ll never forget meeting the neighbor of one of my Polish friends. This elderly lady was nearly totally deaf and so crippled with arthritis that she had to pee in a pot in her small apartment, because she couldn’t navigate the way down the hallway to the communal commode. Her subsistence consisted of a large bag of potatoes.

    Whether this had been her lot in life “za komuny” (under communism) I don’t know, but her incredibly cheery attitude led me to believe that this was a lifestyle she had grown accustomed to over time and not the result of the heartless capitalist system. And although I don’t know whether she fared better as Poland continued to emerge from the communist yoke, I certainly hope so. But when people decry “poverty” in our country, I think of this courageous lady and wondered how many Americans really know what it means to be truly poor.

    You mention “Lenin’s interpretation of communism” as if the problem with that political philosophy is that it just hasn’t been done right yet. The problem, as I see it, has more to do with what it does to human initiative. When those who work hard are penalized, and those who don’t are rewarded, the result is what the Poles call “kryte bezrobcie” (literally “hidden unemployment”). My understanding of this is that although everyone was guaranteed a job, hardly anyone worked. Drunkenness on the job was rampant, because so many people had been stripped of any hope to advance.

    You also allude to universal health care (“did you see people bloated with diabetes in East Berlin?”). Our health care system certainly leaves much to be desired, but a system that attempts to treat all its patients equally often ends up providing a “lowest common denominator” treatment. I wonder if my prostate cancer would have been diagnosed and treated as effectively if I had been an East German instead of an American of German descent.

    But in a larger sense, a government that provides for of the all needs of its people doesn’t instill a sense of charity and volunteerism among its citizens. As my liberal brother said to me once, “I do my share. I pay my taxes.”

    In order to keep up my German, as well as stay informed about what’s happening in Germany, I subscribe to two daily news podcasts from the ARD television network. A couple of months ago, there was a series promoting more volunteerism, apparently to stretch the dwindling revenues available for the substantial government programs during the recession. We Americans were cited as a people who volunteer considerably more than the Germans.

    What I’ve found from my own experience as a volunteer is that I have a vested interest in helping people to no longer depend on my help. If I were a government employee whose job security depended on how many people I serve, I might be less motiviated to wean them off my particular program. The general welfare is too big for an all-volunteer force, but I think a combination of public and private programs (not normally seen in socialist countries) is a more effective way to meet the needs of the people.

    We can indeed do better. But I think it comes from a change of heart, not a change of political system.

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