Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
Thus one of the greatest statesmen of modern times, Sir Winston Churchill, speaking in Great Britain’s House of Commons, on Tuesday, November 11, 1947.
These days, we can see how right he (and the unknown predecessor whom he was quoting) was. How can a democracy defend itself against violent mobs that are dead set on destroying her? How can she defend herself without using methods that are hardly compatible with the very concept of democracy?
Look back in anger
American history is littered with names of people who had helped bring today’s chaos into being, all in the name of what they thought was democracy.
Some of them would become legends, icons, even.
Well, the time has come to begin speaking openly about them. Today’s mobs seem to love the sight and sound of monuments being torn down. Let’s help them.
By the end of the Second World War, U.S. Congress formed a committee to look into what it called un-American activities. It accused quite a few Americans in influential positions within government and elsewhere (Hollywood, in particular) that they had been secretly collaborating with the Soviet Union. Mind, not all of them were engaged in outright espionage. Many were working as agents of influence, as this kind of clandestine work has been known in intelligence circles.
The spectacle of the hearings before Senator Joseph McCarthy wasn’t pretty. It hit the sensitivities of CBS journalist Ed Murrow so hard, he started a campaign against it. The strangest thing about it was that he had spent time as a war correspondent, covering the Allies’ effort in the battle against Nazism. And yet, even as a direct eyewitness to Nazi atrocities, Ed Murrow never came even close to realizing that Communism was Nazism’s twin brother.
Not only that: Ed Murrow, quite obviously, never bothered to check whether the committee’s accusations could be correct. To him, even if they were, so what, we all are entitled to our opinions in a democracy, so, why hound those who believe in the gospel of Marxism-Leninism?
That the Soviet Union (and its allies) viewed the United States of America as their enemy Nr. 1 (враг нoмер один) would never cross Ed Murrow’s mind, and that the Soviet Union (and its allies) was prepared to use any means available, including outright violence, to destroy democracy in the United States was an idea as foreign to him as anything.
Ed Murrow was an adult during Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s forced agricultural collectivization, and how he could not see the sheer cruelty and violence that accompanied it, is beyond comprehension.
Ed Murrow was an adult during Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s purges in the 1930s, and how he could not be aware of them is beyond comprehension, too.
We should regret that Ed Murrow did not live long enough (he passed away in 1965, at age 57) to see what he should have seen when he started his campaign in 1954.
The U.S. intelligence managed to break into the Soviet intelligence communications between their personnel in America and the Moscow Centre during the war, and they managed to decipher most of the names involved, including pretty detailed overall descriptions of their activities. It was called Venona Decrypt, and that was the source for Senator McCarthy’s hearings.
Russian military historian Dmitri Antonovich Volkogonov opened most of the Soviet intelligence archives in the 1990s. All the names on Senator McCarthy’s list were there. And when Volkogonov arrived in the U.S., he confirmed all of these findings.
U.S. government would publish the description of the Venona Decrypts in book form, but the publication would be met by silence from the mainstream media: Ed Murrow had become a revered legend, McCarthyism had become a swear-word, and Communism had become a perfectly acceptable topic for political discourse in the politicking salons at Beltway, in Georgetown, and on New York’s Fifth Avenue.
Another empty legend
Walter Cronkite would become another legend in American journalism. Many would go so far as to call him “conscience of the nation.”
But that didn’t stop him from making howlers no professional journalist should have committed.
Such as: broadcasting from Vietnam during the now infamous war, Cronkite announced that U.S. military went down to crushing defeat in the 1968 Hanoi-led Tet offensive.
The only issue with it: it was the other way round. The Americans stopped the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies pretty quickly and decisively. If anyone would desperately cry uncle, it would be the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces.
Except: Cronkite’s announcement, irresponsible and wrong as it had been, strengthened the position of the anti-war movement inside the U.S. This would eventually lead to U.S. withdrawal, which, in turn, would lead to the uninhibited expansion of Communism throughout the region. We feel the impact even today: all of this helped China to her gradual economic growth, making her now the most serious danger to humanity.
Not that Walter Cronkite would ever learn.
Workers at Poland’s shipyards in the city of Gdansk decided in the early 1980s that they have had enough of Communist abuse. They formed an independent union. Their country (just as all other Communist countries) had, as a matter of course, official trade unions that were run by Communist authorities. The shipyard workers felt those unions didn’t represent them. Under the intrepid leadership of one Lech Wałęsa, an electrician in the shipyards, they formed what they called Independent Self-governing Trade Union Solidarity (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy Solidarność).
This scandalized the Soviet leadership so much that the future chief reformer Mikhail Gorbachev even suggested military intervention. KGB boss Yuri Andropov, aware that U.S. President Ronald Reagan had made it known that he would consider any attack on Poland an attack on the United States, stopped Gorbachev before he could put the proposal before the entire top body, the political bureau.
It was at that time that Cronkite arrived in Moscow to conduct a series of interviews with people in the streets of the Soviet capital, asking them what they thought of the affair.
Street interviews have been a popular tool on U.S. (and Canadian, too) television for decades. As superficial as anything, they still are a great time filler. Most of the respondents would hear about the topic discussed for the first time in their lives, yet, their opinions would count as valid despite their perfect ignorance.
Matters were different in Moscow. Even though the authorities could be sure anyone facing an American television camera would toe the party line, they still made sure by having politically correct comrades become accidental passers-by who would give convincing performances as if thinking hard about the questions and then giving thoughtful answers.
No need to stress that the respondents all agreed that the Poles were frightful ingrates (we did liberate them from the Nazis, after all, a popular lie in Soviet historiography that is awfully at odds with the truth), and we (meaning the Soviet Union) should teach them their place, and so forth.
No need to stress, either, that neither Walter Cronkite, nor anyone else in his crew, was surprised that all of the “accidental” Soviet passer-by respondents spoke relatively passable English.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the conscience of the nation in the eyes of American mainstream media.
Here’s the issue democracy faces: its mainstream media, still exerting major influence upon public opinion, has remained at least as illiterate as it had been during Murrow and Cronkite’s times, if not more.
To add insult to injury, today’s mainstream media have developed a new view about their role in society. They no longer perform journalism. Rather, they have become social advocates (or workers, if you wish). Instead of informing their readers, listeners and viewers as fully, as thoroughly, as quickly, as objectively as possible about what is going on in the world around them, and doing so 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 52 weeks a year, today’s mainstream media announce they see it as their role to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and it would be solely their decision who is who.
That they, in the pressure of today, forget yesterday’s headlines, is just another side effect.
Today’s would-be journalists say, in excusing their mayfly-like attention span, that their readers, listeners or viewers aren’t any better. Now, that statement would require a separate analysis, answering the question who came first: an egg or the hen.
But the real question remains: how can democracy defend herself against the violent assault by the insolently violent mobsters, led by ideologically driven cliques for whom democracy is an empty word that they want to do away with?
Here’s the simple answer: you can’t stop violence by pleading and appeasing. You must meet violence with violence, no matter how hard it hurts your own democratic sensibilities.
Jaroslav Hašek, a Czech writer who became famous for his First World War novel, Good Soldier Schweik, said it best (here in brilliant translation into English by Sir Cecil Parrott): You killed my uncle, and so I’ll bash your jaw (Zabili jste mi strejčka, tak tady máte přes držku in the Czech original).
It has been a well-known fact that most bullies are really scared of anyone who is not afraid of them.
Now’s the time to stand up and be counted, despite mainstream media’s (and some politicians’) cries that the mobs have a valid point. They have nothing of the sort.
Once they have crossed the line and began terrorizing the rest of their country with their violence, they have forfeited every democratic right they could have claimed previously.
We should force them to learn that violence hurts. It’s the only way how to save democracy, as imperfect as she can be.