Hopes Dies Last

The Book of the Week is “Hope Dies Last, The Autobiography of Alexander Dubcek” with Jiri Hochman, published in 1993.

In 1920, Czechoslovakia became a sovereign state. In the nineteenth century, Slovakia had been under the thumb of the Hungarians, but it currently has its own identity, culture and language.

History has its fools. Dubcek was one of them. However, such a tragic figure inspires optimism– that helps oppressed people function, that helps them survive until they see better days.

Born in November 1921 in what is now Slovakia, Dubcek– who had an older brother, moved with his family every few years around what is now the former Soviet Union. His parents had briefly lived in Chicago prior to his birth. They were socialists and studied Marxism. In autumn 1921, his father became chairman of the newly formed Czechoslovak Communist Party, and was also a carpenter.

In spring 1925, the family moved to Kyrgyzstan to help build infrastructure for a famine-plagued area, through the auspices of an organization of a couple of hundred Eastern Europeans who sought to do cooperative charitable works. It was there that Dubcek became fluent in the Russian language, in addition to Czech and Slovak.

In March 1939, when Adolf Hitler took over Czechoslovakia, “Czechs, Jews, Communists and Social Democrats were declared public enemies. Remaining civil and political rights were terminated and anti-Semitic laws were imposed.” Dubcek’s family was Christian, and his homeland (Slovakia) was forced to fight for the Axis powers.

At seventeen years of age, Dubcek joined the (then-illegal) Communist Party like his father before him. He hid Party documents in his family pet’s doghouse, where they weren’t found by the oppressive ruling authorities. The Party’s main activity was the distribution of leaflets, which became more dangerous in 1940. However, the Nazi invasion of Russia in June 1941 was viewed as good news by the Slovaks.

Dubcek and his brother got jobs at an arms factory, working at a lathe. Their Monday through Saturday commute was rigorous: wake up at 3am to walk five miles to the train station; take the train; walk another two and a half miles to the workplace. Do it in reverse at shift’s end. Otherwise, they wouldn’t eat.

In spring and summer of 1944, Slovak partisans (which included Dubcek and his brother) and the Czech Army engaged in guerrilla warfare in the Slovakian countryside, where the Germans were committing atrocities.

In early 1945, the Soviets took over Czechoslovakia, instituting land reform and national health care while telling the people there would be full employment.

In March 1945, Soviet troops came in after the time the Nazis were all but defeated, to grab the glory. The Soviets’ war propaganda convinced the Czech people that Russia beat Germany, and anti-fascism was good, so their Communist system became preferable to Germany’s.

In summer 1949, Dubcek chose to quit working in a nationalized yeast factory to working for the Communist Party in a district office in what is now Slovakia. He eventually supervised bureaucrats in industry, agriculture and ideology– which he fully believed in himself; that is, prior to the shocking time (1956) he learned of Josef Stalin’s purges and oppression of dissidents.

In the early 1950’s, Dubcek’s family was permitted to holiday in the mountains, skiing, hiking, picking berries or mushrooms. In August 1955, as he was fluent in Russian, he (without his wife and children) was sent to a government school in Moscow for career training for three years.

As first secretary of the Slovak Communist Party, Dubcek wanted to move his country toward de-Stalinization. The tyrant Stalin, who died in 1953, accused dissidents of “bourgeois nationalism” and used other kinds of lingo that labeled Soviets whose words or deeds suggested that they might be thinking about Western culture and values.

Calling someone a bourgeois nationalist would be like calling someone Hitler nowadays– childish, and most likely, incorrect because the accused and Hitler aren’t the least bit analogous. Anyway the Soviets who did the accusing were just “… Marxist-Leninist ideologues convinced that any nationalism was detrimental to the cause of proletarian revolution.” Nonetheless, those accused under Stalin were disappeared without a fair legal proceeding to determine their guilt or innocence.

Stalin perpetrated and perpetuated a culture in which horribly insecure, power-hungry men made ridiculous, baseless accusations (and encouraged the general populace to do so) backed by sociopathic sadists with weaponry to put down threats to their power. The bureaucrats with survival skills lingered in the Soviet government into the 1960’s.

In late 1967, Dubcek was appointed the top leader of Czechoslovakia. He had been able to relax the Soviet censorship of the press but he needed to give his nation’s people more liberties to continue his Action Program, which included proposals for political and economic reforms that would move his government toward a democracy.

Dubcek felt that those dissidents who had been oppressed under Stalin, who had been released from the gulag, should have been pardoned, received their old jobs back, and received restitution. But no other government officials in the Soviet sphere agreed with that. They were all still steeped in the past lies and not ready to change.

In early 1968, Dubcek met with a Party functionary each from Poland and Hungary. They turned out to be snitches for Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. In March 1968, Brezhnev played Dubcek for a sucker by inviting him to a conference of Soviet bloc countries, to be held in Dresden. He told Dubcek it was about economic planning but it turned out to be a criticism session of Czechoslovakia– as Czech leaders were permitting a diversity of opinions from the press (horror!) which bordered on counterrevolution.

After two more charades masquerading as conferences at the behest (or rather, high-pressure tactics) of the Soviets, all of the Party functionaries present, signed an agreement with loophole-filled language that would allegedly allow some of Dubcek’s proposed reforms to be implemented.

And Dubcek’s naivete continued. He should not have been gobsmacked the way he was. He should have known the Soviets wouldn’t hesitate to fire on protestors and use dirty tricks in order to crush a resistance movement. He did know that if he resigned during the phony negotiations, the Soviet oppression of Czechoslovakians would get much worse sooner– but only about five months sooner.

Read the book to learn what transpired in Prague in the third week of August 1968 and thereafter (Hint– Dubcek wrote, “After 1968… rewriting of history was the common practice, and hundreds of historians, including quite a few of my friends, were persecuted.”)

Quarantineville – BONUS POST

Quarantineville

Sung to the tune of “Margaritaville” from Jimmy Buffett. Apologies to Jimmy Buffett.

Tuning in to Fox

watching the idiot box.

All of those talking heads repetitive as hell.

Trying to get some truth, amid all the political spoof.

What the story is, I really can’t tell.

Wasting away again in Quarantineville,

wondering why all things have come to a halt.

Some people claim that it’s Wuhan to blame,

but I know it’s nobody’s fault.

I know the reason– it’s election season.

Everything’s off and canceled and closed.

Now I have fears

it’s all EXPLOITERS AND PROFITEERS.

I hate to think how we’re all getting hosed.

Wasting away in Quarantineville,

wondering why all things have come to a halt.

Some people claim that it’s Wuhan to blame,

but I think, hell it could be THEIR fault.

Don’t want to pout,

but I can’t work, play or go out.

Might have to put my six-string in hock.

There’s no end in sight

to this horrible blight.

I personally think it’s all a big crock.

Wasting away again in Quarantineville,

wondering why all things have come to a halt.

Some people claim that it’s Wuhan to blame.

And I know it’s THEIR damn fault.

Yes and some people claim that it’s Wuhan to blame.

And I know it’s THEIR damn fault.

Love Thy Neighbor – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Love Thy Neighbor, A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America” by Ayaz Virji, With Alan Eisenstock, published in 2019.

This slim volume related how the author tried to counter the “Nasty comments. Ignorant. Bigoted. Hateful.” messages and deeds of Americans pursuant to the mood of the nation that was changed for the worse with the election of Donald Trump. This is NOT to say Trump started the trend toward xenophobia, but he has exacerbated it.

In 2017, the pastor in the medical-doctor-author’s small community of Dawson in western Minnesota (population, about 1,500) suggested that the author give a talk to educate people about his religion.

Read the book to learn why the author decided to continue to dispel “… myths and misinformation about terrorism and Sharia law and how Muslims treat women.” Right now, this nation needs to dispel myths and misinformation about medicine and its medical community. The two major takeaways from the current episode of political shenanigans are (not that there aren’t pros and cons on each side):

  • The Democrats are pushing for national healthcare.
  • Bill Gates is pushing for online education.

Of course, as always, all political donors are pushing for their own agendas. Enough said.

Underground

The Book of the Week is “Underground, My Life With SDS and the Weathermen” by Mark Rudd, published in 2009.

March 1969 saw the start of Nixon’s secret bombing campaign against Cambodia. The author wrote, “I was so sure I knew better than my parents; after all, their generation had brought the world to this state of affairs, if only by their acquiescence.”

Rudd became the poster boy for the media as a protest leader at Columbia University during its period of violent unrest in the spring of 1968. He started his degree there in the autumn of 1965. At the time, the school employed African American female maids to clean the dorm bathrooms, a service included with the boarding fee.

Rudd joined the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in March 1966. He had grown up in a suburban Jewish family. His father had fought in the Second World War, during which Hitler was perceived as “Absolute Evil.” The United States used its powers for good to defeat the latter. However, twenty years later, when Lyndon Johnson’s war crimes began to be revealed, Rudd became disillusioned with his own country.

Rudd and his contemporaries didn’t support any presidential candidate in 1968 because “Electoral politics was beneath our concern.” He and his fellow political activists were concerned, however, about the deleterious effects of a senseless war perpetrated by the federal government, along with the university’s related and other nefarious activities.

For at least the last half century, hypocritical liberals have sought to “… co-opt the energy of radical young people into working for meaningless reforms…” However, with Vietnam, some would say the protests were justified. For, the American president started a needless war that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and ruined lives– recruiting cannon fodder against their will. The stubborn, arrogant president didn’t take a lesson from the stubborn, arrogant French, who epically failed in clinging to their fast-fading colonialism in mid-1950’s Indochina.

Columbia University had secret contracts with the U.S. government– researching both war weaponry for the Pentagon and war policy for the execution of the war. In spring 1968, this accounted for 46% (!) of the nation’s budget. The university was also abusing eminent domain in planning both to construct a segregated sports complex in Morningside Park, and more dormitories on West 114th Street off of Broadway near its campus. For years, it had quashed the formation of a union of black and Latino cafeteria workers.

Rudd and his fellow activists held rallies and went on protest marches. He wrote to school publications. The protesting led to occupations of campus buildings by, eventually, thousands of activists in the last week of April 1968.

Although Rudd’s became the most recognized name and face associated with the historical event (possibly because he was a white male), there were plenty of other activist organizations of different ethnicities whose members were arrested and got beaten up by law enforcement sent in by New York City Mayor John Lindsay; those fighting for civil rights, black-power, and peace.

The New York Times propagandized that the destructive and immature hooligans provoked the police; the police were the good guys. It should have come as no surprise to the cynical that the university was in bed with the newspaper. The school’s board of trustees claimed the newspaper’s publisher as one of their own. He was also an alumnus. The Times’ employees were alumni of the Columbia School of Journalism. Nevertheless, the university actually met about half of the six-odd demands of the activists.

After he was expelled from Columbia, Rudd became a recruiter for SDS, visiting various chapters and speaking at universities around the nation. The two major issues were always Vietnam and racism. Various groups within and without SDS, including the Weathermen (a spinoff of SDS), the Maoist Progressive Labor Party, the Black Panthers and the Revolutionary Youth Movement began arguing among themselves and with each other at conferences they jointly held in the next few years.

Rudd was in the Weathermen. He believed that the way to rebel against “the man” was through armed struggle. According to his FBI dossier, he urged college kids to kill cops. But his group was anti-racist, pro-Communist and anti-reactionary.

In the summer of 1969 in New York City, he and his fellow revolutionaries came across as so violent, they turned people off when they spoke at a Central Park rally. The other SDS factions thought the Weathermen (or, as they had renamed themselves, the Weather Bureau) were anarchistic, chauvinistic, masochistic and Custeristic.

In Chicago, there were clashes between sadistic cops and radical protestors. “Cook County Jail was overflowing with the addition of almost three hundred Weathermen, the total number arrested over the three days. The period was named ‘Days of Rage.’ ” After that, Rudd’s group went underground and broke off from SDS.

Rudd’s group’s heroes continued to be: Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh, Vladimir Lenin, Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers.

By the mid-1970’s, Rudd’s group had claimed responsibility for more than twenty-four bombings, which were intended to destroy only property. There occurred three accidental deaths of its own radicals from a botched bomb-making operation in Greenwich Village in spring 1970.

Read the book to learn a wealth of other details of the tenor of the times, the mentalities of Rudd’s contemporaries, and how Rudd fared after his Chicago arrest.

Forty Autumns

The Book of the Week is “Forty Autumns, A Family’s Story of Courage and Survival On Both Sides of the Berlin Wall” by Nina Willner, published in 2016.

The author was the daughter of an East German refugee named Hannah. After WWII, Hannah’s family residence happened to be located in Schwaneberg, in East Germany. The area was liberated by Americans, but was taken over by the Soviets in short order. Hannah’s father was the headmaster of the local school. He was forced to teach Communism to his students.

In 1948, at twenty years old, Hannah, the second oldest in her immediate family (which would eventually consist of nine children), risked getting shot or imprisoned in fleeing to West Germany. The Soviets charged such people with treason– she was young and healthy and refused to help rebuild East Germany.

East Germany indoctrinated the children with their Communist youth groups in which they recited a loyalty oath, sang jingoistic songs, had film-viewings and acted in plays. The children were rewarded for being snitches on their own immediate families, neighbors, friends, teachers– whoever said anything negative about the State. Prison terms awaited the tattled-on.

This prompted a super-serious case of brain-drain and flight of capital and a labor force from East Germany to West Germany. In spring 1953, tensions of the oppressed boiled over. Soviet tanks rolled in, leaving hundreds dead. By the mid-1950’s, the government owned the media, which spewed positive propaganda about itself, and negative about any place other than Soviet-controlled territories.

Initially, the Berlin Wall consisted of the following: concrete that was twelve feet high and one to three feet thick; a slippery, rounded top; wire mesh; electric signal fencing; barbed wire; electric alarms; searchlights; trenches; raked sand to reveal escapees’ footsteps; floodlights; tripwires; booby-traps; attack dogs; not to mention wooden watchtowers. And armed guards, too.

Just for good measure, in the mid-1970’s, the Wall was fortified with metal spikes, nail beds, fences with touch-sensitive alarms and bullet-dischargers, concrete watchtowers, tripwires that set off signal flares; concrete barriers, electrified fences, and additional attack dogs.

Unsurprisingly, by then, countless people had been shot and killed trying to get past the Wall. Their murderers were rewarded with promotions and awards ceremonies. East German government officials enjoyed luxury housing in the Wanderlitz Forest Settlement (equivalent to a corporate village full of dachas) and drove Volvos.

East Germany’s leader decided to boost national pride by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in sports research and sports medicine to churn out the best Olympic athletes. And the nation did so into the 1980’s.

Unfortunately, by the end of the 1970’s, the country was $10 billion in debt to West Germany. It got so desperate to feed its people, it awarded plots of land to individual families so they could grow their own food. It was an un-Communist move– taking power and property away from the State. But after about thirty years, the chickens were coming home to roost under the East German brand of socialism.

In modern times, in the West, it is possible to be capitalistic in one’s economic thinking, and be mildly Soviet in one’s political thinking.

Read the book to learn the fates of the different family members, and how their lives changed during and after the Cold War.

Inventing Al Gore – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Inventing Al Gore, A Biography” by Bill Turque, published in 2000.

Gore was born in 1948 in Washington, D.C. into a family of economic royalists originally from Tennessee. He had a decade-older sister, and built a political career like his senator-father. After graduating from Harvard in spring 1969 during a raging Vietnam War, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he was assigned to be a journalist. Stationed in Alabama, his job was to spread war propaganda on alleged war heroes.

There was a good chance he wouldn’t have seen combat, but there was anecdotal evidence that he had General William Westmoreland pull strings for him to stay safe anyway. Draft-dodging would have hurt his anti-war father’s chances for reelection to the U.S. Senate in 1970. His father lost, regardless.

In early 1971, finally having been granted his request to go to Vietnam to dispel vicious rumors, Gore served less than five months there in a non-combat capacity. He had post-traumatic stress disorder when he came back. He turned toward religion– traditional Baptism and New Age spiritualism, and environmentalism.

The author’s account was murky on exactly how Gore could possibly attend classes in a special one-year divinity school program, be a full-time reporter (working long hours) for the “Tennessean” newspaper, assist his father with a home-building business on the weekends, and socialize with family and friends– all simultaneously for a year and a half (!)

In mid-April 1987, Gore jumped into the race for president. It may be recalled that in the following month, candidate Gary Hart was forced out of the race after busybodies exposed his marital infidelity. That was the election season when the New York Times‘ nosiness reached new heights with all the presidential candidates.

From 1993 to 1994, Gore was an active participant in president Bill Clinton’s “… solid accomplishments like deficit reduction, NAFTA, FMLA, and the Earned Income Tax Credit…” However, other controversial issues reared their ugly heads, such as “… gays in the military, the leviathan health care package…” Of course, political enemies constantly needled Clinton with his every professional and personal misstep.

Nevertheless, during his presidency, Clinton attacked major issues. It appears that the U.S. government has yet to take major, major action in connection with decades-old, explosive issues– such as illegal immigration and gun control– for economic and/or political reasons. Yet it has taken major, major action on, say, abortion (with Roe. v. Wade), civil rights, women’s suffrage, and Prohibition– for ideological and/or religious reasons; it hasn’t been for the money. Healthcare and education are too broad, fragmented and complex to generalize about one way or the other.

Nonetheless, read the book to learn additional tabloidy details about Gore’s life and times.