Facing the modern KGB: What we can learn from Natan Sharanksy

Fear No Evil, by Natan Sharansky, 1998 edition (Public Affairs)

What would you do if you were arrested as a result of actions you’d taken on behalf of your religious and/or political beliefs, threatened with execution or long imprisonment, but offered leniency if you confessed and testified against your colleagues? Most of us would automatically say we’d resist, but consider the kind of pressure levied by Robert Mueller and his team of investigators against Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, who as a result of being accused of lying to the FBI, lost his job, had his life and that of his family destroyed, and has been facing prison time for two years while Mueller and the boys (there are no girls on that team as far as I know) pressured him into naming names. In other words, he was punished before he was convicted. But this is America, you are probably saying. Nothing like that could happen in America. Wrong.

If Robert Mueller hasn’t personally studied the methods of the KGB, I’ll bet someone on his team has. The KGB was masterful in their methods. Torture, you’re imagining, but would it surprise you to learn that physical torture, such as beatings and waterboarding, were not used in the case of political prisoners like Natan Sharansky, the Jewish refusnik who spent nine years in the Soviet prison system many of them in the Gulag, the Soviet Union’s desolate Siberian territory.

The KBG specialized in psychological torture, such as threats to imprison one’s family and loved ones; isolation in punishment cells where you were not allowed to lie down during the day; promises of better treatment and shorter sentences if you only name names––these methods it turns out were effective on 99% of those sucked into the system. Sharansky was the one percent who successfully resisted.

How you ask? By refusing to cooperate on any level with the KGB. He refused all offers and all threats. He accepted long stays in punishment cells even though he knew he might die as a result. He lost so much body weight that he had severe heart problems that required long prison hospital stays. He went on hunger strikes over principled issues, including demanding his copy of Psalms be returned to him or demanding that his letters home be released to his family. He protested when other prisoners were mistreated even though it meant more stays in punishment or prison cells, but he knew from day one that only by having nothing to do with the KGB could he survive his ordeal without selling out his soul.

What gave him the courage to stand up to the KGB when almost no one else could? A combination of factors, including a sharp mind that he used to become a child chess prodigy, a relationship with the woman he married only days before being arrested in 1977 whose garnered support from thousands including world leaders like France’s Mitterand and the U.S.’s Ronald Reagan, and the fact that his commitment to Judaism allowed him to separate himself from anything and everything that had to do with the Soviet Union.

Anyone wanting to strengthen their own system of belief––religious or secular––can benefit from reading Sharansky’s memoir which was first published two years after he was released in a prisoner exchange in 1986, which brings us back to 2018 and the Mueller investigation.

Hampered by one’s belief that the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice are incorruptible, and that KGB methods would never be applied in this country, good men such as Mike Flynn when arrested by Robert Mueller naively assume they can tell the truth and not be victimized. Of course, I wasn’t present at any of those interviews. So, I must speculate on the basis of what is known, and it is clear that Mueller’s methods of exacting cooperation and confessions out of people whose deeds were not criminal must be modeled on the techniques perfected in the Soviet Union. How else can one explain what has been done to Mike Flynn despite the fact that the FBI agents who interviewed Flynn did so under false pretense while he was still an official of the Trump White House and who did not believe he lied. His failure to understand that others were out to get him and the President at any cost would allow them to undertake such nefarious methods is what led to his downfall. Hence, his recent confession must be understand as that offered by a man who has undergone two years of psychological torture and who has confessed as part of a deal that might keep him out of prison and save his family further suffering.

I doubt Mike Flynn will be writing about his experience with America’s version of the KGB. His plea deal will probably require him to swear he’ll never reveal the details of how they got him to confess. Natan Sharansky withstood nine years of psychological warfare on his character. How long this country must wait for the American KGB to be brought down is anybody’s guess.

What Cost Diversity? A Review of Heather Mac Donald’s The Diversity Delusion

Heather Mac Donald, The Diversity Delusion; How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture. St. Martin’s Press, 2018

What are we to make of today’s university culture where students may not be subjected to spoken or written words that make them feel uncomfortable, where diversity is achieved by abolishing objective standards, not just in the social sciences but in the STEM fields as well, and where the diversity bureaucracy is actively undermining the centuries-old mission of higher education. That is a big subject, but in The Diversity Delusion Heather Mac Donald breaks it down into its constituent parts and exposes the naked underbelly of the attack on Western Civilization that is taking place in our most esteemed universities and colleges.

Citing example after example, statistic after statistic, Mac Donald explains the origins of race and gender pandering and details its destructive impact, both on the production of knowledge and the preparation of young people for adulthood.

One is hard-pressed to select the most egregious example of this destructive environment. Is it preventing conservatives like Mac Donald from speaking to student groups? Is the destroying the reputations and careers of faculty who deviate from the new norm? Is the absurdity of rewarding claims of microaggression by privileged students at Yale, Brown, and Princeton with safe spaces, non-objective grading, and high-paying jobs as diversity counselors and administrators? Is it turning colleges into re-education centers for anyone who might honor color blindness, merit or hard work?

Not Just the Ivies

Mac Donald tells us the problem doesn’t just exist at the Ivies and on California campuses. It has spread to places like Evergreen State College in the state of Washington where a professor was physically attacked when he failed to obey students’ demand that white faculty cancel their classes at the bequest of minority students, and at Middlebury College in Vermont, where students physically assaulted a professor, giving her a concussion. Her “crime?” Having supported the invitation of a conservative to speak on campus.

Mac Donald tackles race and gender diversity pandering separately, then focuses on the bureaucratization of victimhood followed by an overview on the subversion of the mission of higher education.

Enforcing Equality

Affirmative action seemed necessary and logical when it first instituted fifty years ago, but today it has grown into an industry that suppresses evidence of its failures and punishes businesses as well as colleges if they cannot find a sufficient number of qualified minority applicants for enrollment and faculty positions. The worst example of this might be the University of California system, which ignores the 1996 initiative passed by the state’s voters that bans race and gender preferences in government and education. California not only insists minorities (and women) be hired but refuses to accept objective measurements of candidates’ qualifications, all but asserting that minority status alone means the candidate is qualified for the job.

That is bad, but what makes matters worse is that minority students can ruin careers simply by claiming an instructor has used words or taught concepts that make them feel victimized. When any such accusation is levied, university administrators automatically treat the accused as guilty. Due process is flawed if practiced and when the accusations border on absurdity, as in the case of the professor who was censured for issuing t-shirts with his picture for a class softball game, the administration typically thanks the students for calling out the offender. The source of the professor’s aggression? His picture reminded someone that he was the author of a study that challenged the effectiveness of affirmative action. The idea of challenging a politically protected policy has become unacceptable in today’s university.

The damage being done by the fiction that American universities are dangerous places for minority students who must be protected even if it means certain authors cannot be read, certain subjects cannot be taught, and objective grading must be dispensed with, is uncalculable. Advocates for minority advancement ought to be challenging these excesses for they are damaging to minority students and to society as a whole.

Sex Toys and Victimhood

While minorities clamor for more representation, Mac Donald reports that a majority population in our colleges continues to claim victimhood at the expense of fact and reason. That group is women.

Spurred by an under reported problem of sexual misconduct on some campuses thirty years ago, universities responded by manufacturing a campus rape crisis where the definition of rape is whatever each campus perceives it to be. In response to this “crisis,” bureaucracies have mushroomed resulting in dozens of high-paid positions with heavily-staffed rape crisis centers designed to serve an artificially-created population of victims.

Undermining the rape crisis claim is another bureaucrat-enriched activity on college campuses: support for unbridled sex. While “freshman counselors organize games of Sex Jeopardy and pass out tips for condom and dental dam use,” (p. 117) rape crisis counselors encourage women to report attempted and actual rapes even when the victims had been having consensual sex with the accused for months. While one part of the academic bureaucracy promotes a promiscuous hookup culture, another claims one in five women are subjected to rape or attempted rape during their college years.

Oddly, the proponents of doing more to protect women do not want rape cases to be handled by America’s criminal justice system. The reason for this might have something to do with the fact that few such cases gain convictions and many turn out to be frauds, such as the infamous Duke lacrosse gang rape case, the University of Virginia Rolling Stone case, or Columbia University’s ‘mattress girl.’

Mac Donald reports that the campus rape crisis has spread into the work place where ‘overly broad definitions of what constitutes sexual misconduct are now being legitimized,’ in the words of a female attorney who has dealt with these cases. Ironically, as Mac Donald points out “[w]estern culture is in fact the least patriarchal society in human history.” (p. 159) Echoing the bureaucratization on campus, the #MeToo movement has spawned a campaign to fill businesses with counseling staffs and to guarantee woman are given priority in hiring decisions without regard for qualifications.

The Ideology of Victimhood

The transformation of academia into centers for political indoctrination has been advanced by an ideology that justifies the institutionalization of their claims. Intersectionality is the theory that everything wrong in the world comes from an interconnected historical enemy headquartered in the U.S.––namely, white males and capitalism. This is the source of slavery and racism, of patriarchy and misogyny, and of climate change and exploitation of minorities and women.

That teaching young adults to think of themselves as victims is the opposite of what they need to learn seems lost to the bureaucrats whose jobs depend on their finding more and more examples of oppression. At institution after institution, diversity offices and counselors mushroom as salaries out-pace those paid tenured professors. Administrators join the chorus, advancing the thesis that their institutions have done much harm to women and minorities in the past and must make amends. Many, like Yale’s Peter Salovey, give in to any outrage outbreak with more money for diversity programs and mandatory diversity indoctrination.

As Mac Donald stresses, the mission of every academic institution ought to be the “transmission of knowledge, pure and simple.” There’s plenty of evidence that students arrive on college campuses ignorant of the fields of knowledge that underlay our civilization. Unfortunately, many leave in worse shape than when they entered, having been indoctrinated by faculty steeped in the “hermeneutics of suspicion”––the assumption that all language carries hidden meanings that either subvert or reinforce power structures.

Mac Donald challenges the assumption that transmitting knowledge once featured in Western Civilization courses is dangerous to minorities and women by quoting Frederick Douglas and W.E.B. Du Bois––two of the heroes of black liberation, who pay tribute to men like Aristotle and Shakespeare whose ideas inspired them and gave them the intellectual courage to state their piece.

Heather MacDonald’s study is so thorough and irrefutable that it cannot get fair treatment by the mainstream media. Don’t look for her book to be listed under the Washington Post’s 50 Best Non-Fiction Books of the Year or to be reviewed by the New York Times. Yet, it should be required reading for members of Congress, the bureaucrats at all state and federal education departments, and students studying to become school administrators. It’s time to go back to doing what colleges and universities were created to do, which ironically will benefit minorities and women much more than coddling, indoctrination, and unmerited advancement.

The New Left’s Destructive History Told by Two Former Ramparts Editors

Destructive Generations by Peter Collier & David Horowitz, Encounter Books, 2006 edition of the1989 original

For the baby-boomer generation, the Sixties remain a watershed––a time of deep personal, social and political change that lingers for many as the best years of their lives. The decade began symbolically with the election of John F. Kennedy whose inspirational inauguration speech many baby-boomers still recall, but the 60s ended in flame with violence, not hope, dominating the headlines.

Like Peter Collier and David Horowitz, former editors at Ramparts magazine and co-authors of Destructive Generations, I was caught up in the optimistic belief that the American dream could no longer be withheld from those who had been denied equal rights solely due to the color of their skin. I joined the NAACP in college, and after graduating joined VISTA—the domestic peace corps. I spent a year serving in Atlanta where I marched with Dr. King to protest Julian Bond’s removal from the Georgia State Legislature for opposing the war in Vietnam.

Vietnam Divided the Civil Rights Movement and Undermined Non-Violence

Vietnam stirred up a generation of young men who were faced with being drafted to fight a war that seemed more about imposing America’s will on a Third-World country than being on the side of liberty. The war also splintered the Civil Rights Movement with militants Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael (of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) rejecting Dr. King’s commitment to non-violence, asking why should young black men fight for a country that did not grant them basic rights at home?

By the end of the decade, the movement for equal rights had morphed into a movement that sought to “bring the war home”––i.e., aid the North Vietnamese drive the U.S. out of “their” country. The movement’s goal was no longer fulfillment of the promise of the American Revolution. New Left radicals envisioned a different kind of revolution, one based on the belief that America was the source of poverty, racism, and environmental degradation at home and abroad. Those who took up the call for a new revolution were increasingly willing to engage in “direct action” including bombing service recruitment offices and police stations to accomplish their goals.

Following the Black Panthers, the Left Invited Its Own Demise

Unfortunately to disastrous results, these activists viewed militant blacks like the Black Panthers as role models for their revolution. They believed like Vladimir Lenin that they could activate the masses by performing random acts of violence against dominant social institutions.

And what had once been a unified movement splintered into competing organizations based on hair-splitting interpretations of Karl Marx and his successors, including descendants of the Soviet Union-affiliated American Communist Party, followers of Leon Trotsky, and admirers of Chairman Mao. At times, it seemed each of the above groups hated their Marxist competitors more than they hated capitalism.

Like many, I was attracted to the notion of “scientific socialism”, but it wasn’t long before I realized the neo-Marxists preached their own form of economic determinism––one that failed to hold water like Marx’ original predictions. Each year, the New School Marxists revised their predictions of when capitalism would collapse until the robust economy of the 1980s robbed them of their few remaining followers, long after I’d put an end to my flirtation with socialist theory.

The Collapse of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)

Having been a leader of a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society at the university where I obtained my graduate degrees, I knew many of the people involved in the break-up of that once democracy inspired organization, including Mark Rudd, leader of the Columbia University Sit-in, and SDS national leaders Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers.

But, as SDS’s leaders became more militant and the logic justifying their confrontational behavior became more convoluted, I stepped back, hoping a remnant of the earlier movement would emerge seeking an American style “democratic socialism” based on a commitment to core American values.

That hope, however, also floundered after the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam, as the Left corkscrewed through love affairs with the militant blacks like Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, mixed in with the drug/rock culture, radical feminism and radical environmentalism.

Today, while many who lived through the ‘Sixties still long like John Lennon for a world without religion, country or possessions, others––myself included––remain true to the original ideals that resulted in our becoming activists.

The 60’s Early Ideals Remain My Ideals

I still believe that America can be a beacon on a hill in a world where the rights of the individual are sacrificed to the will of dominant political autocracies as is the case in China, Russia, Iran, the oil rich Arab states, and many third world nations. While the latest threat to the American ideal is Jihadist Islam rather than Marxist Communism, the later remains prevalent in American universities where the professoriate indoctrinate young people into hating America and advocating wholesale reform.

I reject the Liberal Left’s desire to replicate a system of government where a minority of enlightened leaders are in command and continue to advocate for policies that protect the rights of those who are out of power––including those awakened for the first time in decades by Donald Trump’s 2016 candidacy.

While there are aspects of President Trump’s personality that rub many the wrong way, I believe his election has given this country a chance to return to policies that put the people before the government, protecting the rights of the individual as well as freedom of association, speech and religion.

One of the reasons I recommend people read Destructive Generations, even though the core content is almost thirty years old, is that the authors document so eloquently the corrosive impact of the Left ideology that undermined the democratic ethos of the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements. For example, Collier and Horowitz document the disastrous consequences of those consumed by white guilt in a chapter about Fay Stender, the white lawyer who sacrificed her life for black radicals, including Huey Newton and George Jackson, both of whom betrayed her as their true nature as drug dealers and murderers emerged.

The authors further explore the fraud perpetrated by Newton’s Black Panther Party on the New Left. Learning the truth about the Panthers is not just important to understand their role in the destructive post MLK, Jr. years, but also to combat today’s black nationalists who hope to revive the Panthers as a symbol of resistance to white authority.

Socialism in One City Shows Its True Colors

Destructive Generations should also be read by followers of Bernie Sanders who think socialism is an idea worth supporting. In particular, the chapter “Slouching towards Berkeley,” can help Sanders’ followers understand the harm done by those who try to implement an ideology that fails to take human nature into account.

To wit, Collier and Horowitz quote a Berkeley liberal who experienced the decades long attempt to install socialism in one city. “They’ve divided this city right down the middle . . . set whites against blacks, landlords against tenants, students against long-term residents . . . And in the process they’ve also done something I thought nobody could ever do––they made me into a conservative.”

From Revolution to Popular Front Communist Party Tactics

After their plans crumbled, the New Left radicals, who in their arrogance appointed themselves the vanguard of the revolution, returned to the approach invented by the American followers of the Soviet Union. The Communist Party justified lying about who they were and what they sought as the means to achieving their goal of upending society and establishing the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Recognizing the “popular front” tactic of the Left in all of its formulations is an essential lesson documented among so many others in Destructive Generations.

Finally, it will prove instructive to read each author’s personal story about how they came to see the critical flaws of the New Left and how they emerged as conservatives which David Horowitz defines as “respect for the accumulated wisdom of human traditions; regard for the ordinary realities of human lives; distrust of optimism based on human reason; caution in the face of tragedies past.” (334)

The Panthers Showed their True Colors After Years of Leftist Support

The 1960s began with young Americans committing themselves to bring about a better world, but by linking that hope to dead ideologies and personal ascendance, they opened the gates of hell. The authors document one particular tragic example when they encouraged a friend to help the Black Panthers with some bookkeeping. Unfortunately, she discovered funds donated by the Panthers’ supporters to educate ghetto children were being used for drug deals and they killed her. The price of arrogance can be very high. The price of not understanding the past and remaining romantically linked to utopian ideals is often the death of innocent people. Look at Russia, China and Cuba for examples.

I hope some of my former New Left friends will find the courage to read Destructive Generations and break the links to that unfortunate time in our personal histories.

Sympathy for the Devils Within: A Review of Viet Nguyen’s The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Forty plus years after the U.S. abandoned Vietnam to the Communists, Viet Thanh Nguyen captures the duplicity of all sides in the war and its aftermath in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Sympathizer.

Reading Nguyen reinforces my belief that I was on the right side in the 1960s when I joined the anti-war movement before it imploded in the 1970s, exhibiting similar excesses to those perpetrated by the North Vietnamese (and Cambodian) on their own people.

The American anti-war movement morphed into an anti-American movement with groups like the post-SDS Weather Underground waging war on the American working class for failure to take up arms against the American government. In Vietnam, the victorious Communists subjugated anyone and everyone who had not been on their side during the war as well as those who had been on their side for the wrong reason.

It is easy to see in retrospect how the anti-American left could ally itself with the North Vietnamese ignoring their commitment to the same totalitarian ideology that had led to the deaths of millions of Russians and Chinese citizens under Stalin and Mao.

The victorious Vietnamese employed torture methods invented by the Russian and Chinese Communists including re-education techniques where confession is offered as the means to salvation. Smartly, Nguyen employs confession as the format for this novel having his protagonist be made to write a confession to rehabilitate himself for having succumbed to Western ways during his exile in the U.S. The entire novel is that confession.

Nguyen deserves praise for the lack of heroes in his story––especially not his bastard protagonist who is both a captain in the South Vietnamese army and an agent of the Viet Cong, and who commits multiple crimes, including murder, out of this divided loyalty. No one is clean perhaps with the exception of the protagonist’s mother who was forcibly impregnated by a French priest and then abandoned to a slow death of poverty and neglect.

Nguyen holds the French and United States responsible for their part in the war’s horrors, but doesn’t absolve the Vietnamese people on both sides, for each played a part in the war, victimizing their own as the price for the victory that one side failed to achieve and the other converted into a kind of defeat.

For Americans, The Sympathizer reminds us the ideals of our founding are not sufficient to protect us against the arrogance that led us to think no price was too high to prevent Vietnam from falling to the Communists. Unfortunately, we continue to pay that price, often misjudging where our national interest lies. There is no more evident an example of this failure than Barack Obama’s ignoring the Iranian government’s murderous ideology out of some misguided desire to make amends for America’s past sins.

Yes, Communism had to be opposed and American aid for people suffering under Communism or on the verge of falling under Communism’s iron yoke at times required a military response, but we misjudged Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese and drove them into the Communist camp, as we did in Cuba with Fidel Castro, both of whom admired America’s revolutionary commitment to individual freedom. The consequence of our arrogance was both became totalitarians who oppressed their own people, deciding their ideological goals justified any and all means of achieving those goals.

Americans should also read The Sympathizer because we have failed to recognize the price the boat people paid for their freedom, coming to the United States where they were expected to forget the U.S. role in the devastation of their country––the napalm bombings, wiping out villages suspected of harboring Viet Cong agents, the manipulation of the South Vietnam government and more, as Nguyen so skillfully portrays in this novel.

The Sympathizer is above all a brilliantly written story about a man we sympathize with while not absolving him of his crimes, but it can also be read as a form of national therapy. Nguyen offers a lens through which we can examine ourselves and perhaps recognize in ourselves a tendency to betray and murder our own, for who can say for certain they would not have acted like his main character in similar circumstances.