People who do not protest and fight back for their beliefs are cast as pitiful victims.
Even a badly-organized revolt that fizzles can offer more hope than doing nothing at all. As my father used to say: “Do something, even if it’s wrong.”
An esteemed U.S. Supreme Court justice took the adage one step further.
“Be not afraid to do something,” advised Clarence Thomas.
But is it always necessary for something to be done about everything?
“If we think something is dreadfully wrong, then someone has to do something,” Justice Thomas told the American Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., back in February, 2001.
And his sageness is as significant today as when the words were spoken 10 years ago.
Pick your battles, then put up or shut up. “One might shut up when it doesn’t matter,” he said. “But when it really counts, we are required to put up.”
The most effective weapon of brutes is to intimidate an opponent into the silence of self-censorship, he emphasized.
It is better to risk criticism for speaking up against politically-correct mainstream opinions than to accept the alternative. Remaining silent and doing nothing leads to the loss of liberty and freedom.
“Too many show timidity today precisely when courage is required,” he continued. Having courage of your convictions can be the hardest part, for it is bravery that is required to secure freedom.
Complaining about the obvious state of affairs does not elevate one’s moral standing. And it is hardly a substitute for the courage that we badly need.
“Arguments should not sneak around in disguise, as if dissent were somehow sinister. One should not be cowed by criticism.”
Justice Thomas punctuated his powerful lecture with excerpts from the Dimitar Pesev’s story which definitely deserves repetition.
The Bulgarian Parliament vice-president demonstrated the utmost courage when the “rule of law” was being surrendered to the “rule of fear” during the rise of Nazism.
Pesev was among the many Bulgarian officials who began to hear rumors of the New Policy. He questioned his ministers. At first, he believed their lies, which the ministers may have begun to believe themselves.
In the last, frantic hours, a handful of citizens from Pesev’s hometown raced to the Bulgarian capital of Sofia to tell Pesev the Jews were being rounded up and the trains were waiting to load the human cargo.
According to the law, such actions were illegal. He forced his way into the office to have audience with the interior minister. Pesev wanted the truth and didn’t believe the minister who repeated the official party line.
Pesev implored the minister to telephone the local authorities and remind them of their legal obligations. “This brave act saved the lives of the Bulgarian Jews,” explained Justice Thomas.
“Pesev then circulated a letter to members of Parliament, condemning the violation of the law, and demanding that the government ensure no such thing take place.”
Pesev’s words moved to action all those who until that moment had not imagined what could happen nor could they accept what they had learned.
“He had broken through the wall of self-deception and forced his colleagues to face the truth,” declared Justice Thomas.
It came with a price, though, as often happens when winning victories while correcting a wrong. Pesev was removed from his official position and publicly chastised for breaking ranks.
However, he had won which was his bonus. He had stood up for his convictions. He had defended the country’s Jewish population, roughly 50,000 in number, and prevented the Bulgarian government from advocating any active operation with the Third Reich.
If others had been brave and come on-side, the Communists probably wouldn’t have managed to occupy Bulgaria after the war and rewrite its history that gave credit to the Communist Party for saving the Jews. If others had been brave and come on-side, the Communists wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to whisk Pesev off to the Gulag.
Pesev died in 1973. Thankfully, the courageous role this unknown hero had played in saving the Bulgarian Jews was rediscovered after the bankrupted Soviet Union finally imploded and splintered into a bunch of other countries around December 1991. Afterwards, the Communists withdrew from their occupied countries and materials in the Russian archives began to come open to academics in the Western World.
Due to a sequence of events, the remarkable Dimitar Pesev did not die in obscurity. Writer Tzvetan Todorov ferreted out the documents about this selfless man whose heroic legacy was recorded on the pages of The Fragility of Goodness: Why Bulgaria’s Jews Survived the Holocaust.
According to a piece on the Princeton University Press website, Todorov settled on the title’s meaning because “Once evil is introduced into public view, it spreads easily, whereas goodness is temporary, difficult, rare, and fragile. And yet possible.”
A critique in the New York Review of Books by István Deák agreed:
“In reconstructing what happened to such decent men in his native Bulgaria, Todorov, a respected French philosopher and social critic, is also pursuing his long-standing aim of showing that goodness can thrive under atrocious conditions. In fact, he believes it is under such conditions that goodness is most genuinely present. . . .”
Justice Thomas’ lecture brought another revered and wise man to my mind. I had difficulty reading the horrible Gulag Archipelago accounts written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who spent 11 years in Soviet prisons and concentration camps. It was even more difficult to comprehend how any human being could survive the actual brutality, tortures and hard labour. But one can’t put on blinders and shun the reality of “man’s inhumanity to man” if ‘something’ is expected to be done to ensure these barbaric evils don’t resurface.
Unbelievable as it seems, the Communists couldn’t cow Solzhenitsyn nor could they break his spirit. He still had the fortitude to deliberately confront the black-hearted Soviet authorities head-on by writing his Nobel Prize-winner Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956 so that he could expose their lies and his truths.
Through it all, he remained as Russian as a balalaika, from the days he wrote his works denouncing Communism and Josef Stalin until his return to his beloved motherland following a 20-year exile in America.
By 1974, when the Soviet government had become extremely perplexed over what to do about the voluminous book and its author, Solzhenitsyn was already certified as a Soviet enemy. He already had written bone-choking semi-autobiographical novels such as Cancer Ward (1967), The First Circle (1968) and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962).
It was Gulag Archipelago that promised his arrest, for sure. Besides, he also was courting a death sentence for publishing the book abroad. The Russian text was printed by a French publisher and the English version by Harper and Row in the United States about 1973.
Meanwhile, the New York Times began to syndicate a 10,000-word excerpt of the blistering works and Radio Free Europe was broadcasting it. The ugly Communist police state was brought into a glaring light that repulsed the world.
Yet the naive Henry Wallace, American Vice-President under Franklin Roosevelt, had, in 1944, visited Kolyma in Siberia and, not knowing that he was observing a segment of the despicable Gulag prison network because the Soviets didn’t want him to know, he came home gushing with glowing reports about “Uncle Joe’s” country that was ever bit as grand and glorious as America and the Siberian inhabitants were hale and hearty.
Solzhenitsyn wanted the myths dispelled and the ugly side of truth revealed. He calmly waited for the crushing hand of Kremlin “justice” to fall. He anticipated the heavy footsteps on the stairs, the banging on the door in the middle of the night.
He had wanted the evil Soviets exposed to the world, so was without fear or concern whether he would live a hero or die a martyr. He had defied Soviet policies with the knowledge his truths would live forever.
“The lie has no way of maintaining itself except by violence,” he said. “Woe betide the nation whose literature is interrupted by force. It is the amputation of a nation’s memory.”
Gulag Archipelago, based on his real-life personal experiences, is a sweeping expose of the system and its leaders. While writing, Solzhenitsyn was fortunate to have the collaboration from about 230 former inmates of the Soviet prison camps.
Repression of the police system was still alive and well when the book was published. Millions of Russians, who were hungrily accessing the book through the underground and secretly devouring the words under the covers at night, would have been arrested if caught with a copy in their possession.
The Kremlin was incensed about the embarrassing episode; Pravda press tried to discredit the author with malicious slurs. The Soviet copyright agency threatened to sue the foreign publishers for issuing works without the agency’s stamp of approval. A permit was mandatory for individuals to produce books, movies, plays, music, newsletters–anything of a creative nature–in the Soviet Union. Such items had to serve the interests of the Communist Party and its leader.
But what were the Kremlin’s secret plans for the author? The Russian government was trying to reach detente with the Western World. Any action against Solzhenitsyn would stir up a hornet’s nest of political criticism.
Solzhenitsyn, an impressive and respected figure, was a fearless hero in the eyes of his countrymen and to people around the world.
The delay in a response to his fate illustrated the delicate sensitivity of the dilemma brewing in Moscow. Solzhenitsyn had cornered the enemy with his pen which proved mightier than the sword he wasn’t allowed to own.
He was revered as Russia’s most defiant critic and had brought a superpower nation to its knees with his pen. He had risked personal abuse to expose the truth, just as Justice Clarence Thomas said must be done to preserve freedom.
A Western journalist once described Solzehnitsyn as “a bone choking the Kremlin’s throat” and suggested the Soviet Union should learn its lesson and permit greater freedom for Soviet dissidents.
Solzhenitsyn was finally exiled to the United States, where he continued writing. The Oak and the Calf, started in 1967, was finally released in 1980. It portrays his head-butting attempts to have his work published in his own country, a testimony that police states stomp out any semblance of freedom of speech, expression or the press.
Regardless of “perestroika” that followed the collapse of a bankrupted Soviet state in 1989, simply because ‘socialism doesn’t work, never did work, and never will work’, all forms of Communism have not been eradicated. It is alive and well, filtering into European and North American countries.
Nikita Khrushchev specifically and Communist states generally have boasted for years that the United States would eventually fall to Communism without a single shot fired. Canada, a country steeped in socialism, has been ripe for the Communist takeover for years.
“No country is immune from the many pressures and tendencies that give rise to totalitarianism,” warned Andrew Irvine, past-president of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.
“It is by remaining indifferent to apparently small and incremental increases of state power that citizens eventually lose their most cherished freedoms.
“Even countries like Canada cannot afford to become complacent about their most fundamental rights and liberties.”
Additional “Must Read or View” list:
Some accounts listed below are about those people who have paid the price to keep freedoms and democracy alive while some publications outline what happens when good people do nothing when something definitely needs doing.
Next, Friedrich Hayek warns about the obvious signs that are The Road to Serfdom. And when we don’t heed the warnings of a police state snapping at our heels, the fallout is outlined in the chilling works about power-hungry monsters–Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot–who trample people’s rights and freedoms, execute, starve or otherwise kill citizens imprisoned in deplorable forced labour camps, while regimes sink into abysmal tyrannies which can take a 100 years or more to crumble, then collapse.
Be Not Afraid, the entire text of Justice Clarence Thomas’ inspirational presentation:
The Fragility of Goodness: Why Bulgaria’s Jews Survived the Holocaust by Tzvetan Todorov (2001.)
Bruce Montague: Why My Dad Went to Jail: A Recap for Those New to My Bulletin, by Katey Montague, page 2-3:
Bruce Montague: The Latest on the Government’s Attempt to Steal Our Family Home by Katey Montague, page 2:
So Much for Democracy in the New Democratic Party! (Two NDP politicians penalized for upholding their constituents wishes) by Christopher di Armani, November 8, 2011
The Worst of Mankind and the Best of Mankind by Christopher di Armani, November 20, 2011 https://christopherdiarmani.com/4079/life/the-worst-of-mankind-and-the-best-of-mankind/
The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek (original 1944), the Reader’s Digest condensed version can be found at: http://www.iea.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/files/upldbook43pdf.pdf (or I will send the pdf version on request)
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949) (I will send the pdf version on request)
Gulag Archipelago (1918-1956) Vol I, II and III by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1973), (My favourite book was Volume III.)
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1962). Also, the bleak 10-part film is posted on YouTube as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Part 1 of 10) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_XFkKN2fzQ&feature=player_embedded
Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum (2003)
American in the Gulag by Alexander Alexander Dolgun with Patrick Watson (1975) (I will send pdf version on request)
Mao: The Untold Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, (2007)
Pol Pot: A History of a Nightmare by Philip Short (2004)
First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung (2000),
NAZI FIREARMS LAW AND THE DISARMING OF THE GERMAN JEWS by Stephen Holbrook, (2000) 53 pages excerpt, http://www.stephenhalbrook.com/article-nazilaw.pdf
November 14, 2011