The South Korean newspaper Chosunilbo commented yesterday that the circumstances around the death of the Great Leader Kim Jong-il are quite improbable. All the evidence points to the fact that he died not in his train while working but in his residence; and that he died 50 hours before the time announced by the North Korean government. Apparently, it took 50 hours for the regime to decide what story to present to their people and to the world. The plain truth about how the Great Leader died wouldn’t be good enough.
For the average American that may sound strange. Why all the effort? What’s the big deal of just telling the truth as it is, that he died in his residence while sleeping? After all, whatever they tell the masses, they can’t do anything. One doesn’t expect an oppressed people brought to near starvation to have the strength to fight a regime that has all the guns and all the food . . . that is, whatever food is left. They could tell them that Dear Leader was killed in a lightsaber duel by Darth Vader while heroically defending his people against the Dark Side, and the result would be the same. So why not just save the effort and tell the truth as it is?
I am not surprised. In fact, the second greatest accomplishment of Communism – second only to murdering more people in peacetime than were killed in all recorded wars before the 20th century, by a factor of 3 to 4 – was the perfection of the art of lying. The Propaganda Departments in Eastern Europe were second in staff only to the secret police; and in fact, they had their own secret police that watched for “enemy propaganda,” that is, for battling the truth in case it raised its ugly head somewhere. No news was supposed to be straight news, or just simple facts. Such was the paranoia against even the plainest facts, that journalists were fired for reporting on seemingly innocent issues before they consulted with the party propagandist on staff. At the end, the art of making every single little fact into a propaganda story was so perfected that we knew that nothing we read in the papers or saw on TV was true.
An American Congressman visiting the Soviet Union in the 1930s reported that when he commented on the Great Depression in the US, the Russians – even those of the Party and economic elite – laughed at him. “If it’s in our media, it can’t be true,” was their response. “Tell us the truth now.” Everyone in the Eastern bloc knew that the regime had a frantic fear of even the most innocent truth or fact being publicized.
I was reminded about that violent fear of facts and truth when I was watching Obama’s entourage working frantically to conceal everything about the past of the man. Even the supposed “birth certificate” appearing on the Internet many years after it was supposed to appear reminded me of it. And reading Chosunilbo this morning about the 50 hours gap between the death of Dear Leader and the announcement in turn reminded me about Obama’s birth certificate. Communism is the same, always.
The economic damage of socialism is a terrible thing – the labor and the savings of generations – but the economy can still recover in less than a generation, especially if there are men who are willing to sacrifice and work. A story was told about Stalingrad in the worst months if the fighting there in the winter of 1942 that some unnamed soldier wrote with a charcoal on a wall facing the German lines, “Otstoim” (“We will prevail”). A little later another soldier added an “r” on the top, “Otstroim” (“We will rebuild”). Rebuild they did; the living conditions 40 years later in the Soviet Union were horrible by Western standards but they were still better than the devastation of the war.
But the heavier damage, the one that is not so easily rebuilt is the damage of a culture of lies. A society that not only takes lies for normal but for normative. That disease spreads from the government newspapers all the way down to the minutest details of everyday living. It saps the life out of the ordinary people, it darkens the whole society. Men and women are raised and taught in an atmosphere that is permeated with lies, and even worse: with the instinctive desire – encouraged by official policies – to twist even the most innocent fact into a lie.
I know one day, when Communism implodes in North Korea, the society will gradually rebuild economically. It will take much longer, and much more effort to rebuild psychologically from the culture of lies.
But I have a greater concern yet; I see the United States going down the same road that Eastern Europe is coming back up from. We have accepted as normal that our politicians will lie, cheat on their wives, cheat on their voters, lobby for causes while speaking against them. Communism is not necessarily in the government boot in the face of a private individual. It is also in the government lies in the face of us, the people. When we accept that as normal – and normative – we have Communism.