The following is part 1 of a 3-part series that discusses the author’s personal perceptions and recollections of socialism and communism while growing up in the 1990’s.
One of my favorite pastimes of late is browsing YouTube; the right keywords can be used for more than finding the latest viral video. Anyone interested in history can find historical video footage or audio recordings online, from audio of the earliest known recording of a human voice, an 1860 recording of a woman singing in French, to picture montages of the Western Front in World War One, to color video of the battleship USS Missouri firing her 16-inch guns in the 1980’s. Curiosity recently pushed my YouTube searches into Cold War topics. I found myself intrigued with 1970’s videos of the Red Army marching through Red Square. The soundtrack was the Red Army Choir singing “The Internationale”, in Russian of course. Watching these videos got me thinking about communism, socialism and the fascination that some Americans seem to have with those ideologies and their trappings.
As one born in the early 1980’s, I find that the Cold War is mostly a historical curiosity for people of my generation. Reruns of the 1984 movie “Red Dawn” or classroom discussion of the Cuban missile crisis may be the extent of our exposure. While we were born and raised under the under the potential path of Soviet and American intercontinental ballistic missiles, we weren’t old enough to be conscious of the situation. My first coherent memories of events occurring outside of my household are those of watching television coverage of the 1988 Yellowstone Park forest fire, followed by coverage of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. That one glowing impression of Germans sitting atop a concrete wall played out on a television long since junked represents my only personal recollection of that global struggle.
Later in life, I learned about the worldwide struggle between the Communist and Free World, I saw the 1981 Disney picture Night Crossing, the story of two families escaping communist East Germany in a homemade hot air balloon. I remember the actors portraying fear of the Stasi, the East German Secret Police. The notion of a secret police force then came to be synonymous with socialism to me. Into the 1990’s and even occasionally today, I remember hearing the President of the United States referred to as the leader of the Free World. This was significant. If we were the free world, then there must have been another world enslaved.
I remember adults quoting Ronald Reagan when they would describe the Soviet Union and communism in the same breath, by use of the phrase “evil empire”. I remember my confident knowledge that we were the good guys, and they were the bad guys. They had secret police, toilet paper resembling emery cloth, real life internal travel visas or “papers” that may or may not have been in order and lines for purchasing the simplest of grocery items.
In my childhood in the 90’s, I was aware of the recently collapsed Soviet Union and the grim failures of communism. It made intuitive sense to me that if people had risked death to escape East Germany by crossing the border into West Germany, if scores of people risked the 90-mile trip across open water to Florida to escape Castro and Communist Cuba, if people sealed themselves into stifling shipping containers to cross the Pacific to escape Communist China, and nobody but Hollywood whackos and Eldridge Cleaver appeared to be trying to make the opposite passage, they must have had a very good reason to leave. There was nothing I would have wanted to have in common with the “Democratic”, or “People’s Republics” they left.
Please return tomorrow for part 2 of “The Romance of Red”, which will discuss the author’s observations of the perception of socialism today and how would-be collectivists fail to see the dark side of their ideology.