Inordinate Fear?

An examination of our historical "inordinate fear" of communism might shed some light on what some consider our new inordinate fear of terrorism.  We are now in the middle of the Global War on Terror (or whatever you care to call it), so it is difficult to assess our situation.  Will terrorists obtain nuclear weapons and use them on us?  Or will we sink into continual warfare with a phantom enemy, while losing the very civil rights we claim to fight for?

Communism, however, offers us the benefit of hindsight.  Were we right to fear, and fight, communism? Some say no.
"I've been talking a lot about the parallels between what we're going through now and McCarthyism.  The term 'terrorism' is taking on the same kind of characteristics as the term 'communism' did in the 1950s. It stops people in their tracks, and they're willing to give up their freedoms. People are too quickly panicked." Nadine Strossen, president of the ACLU.
"We are now free of that inordinate fear of communism which once led us to embrace any dictator who joined us in that fear."  Former President Jimmy Carter.
To many people today, "communism" is just an old bugaboo -- something crazy people used to fear some 50 years ago.  Crazy people like Joe McCarthy.  Or crazy people like John Nash in the movie A Beautiful Mind.  In that movie, Nash's insanity was manifested in the belief that communists were spying on him.  (The real-life Nash's schizophrenic hallucinations were of the more garden variety "space alien" type.)  Hollywood has given us several films about the bad old days of the Cold War, from The Front and The Way We Were to The Majestic, and Good Night, And Good Luck.

You get the idea: communism was not the heavy; anti-communism was.  Anti-communism was a form of insanity, gripping an entire nation and leading us to the very brink of nuclear annihilation.

So let us review.  Let us examine the myths and realities of communism and anti-communism, and see if our fear really was inordinate.  Were we fighting a phantom menace?  Was the only thing we had to fear our own fear?  Let's start at the beginning.

Myth:  The Communist ideal is quite innocent, for example, "to each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities."

Fact:  "The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property. ... Abolition of the family! ... Communism abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion, and all morality ... this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads ... In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things."  (The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.)

Myth:  The Russian Communists overthrew the czar; they were simply replacing a violent dictator.

Fact:  Czar Nicholas II, no longer getting support from his own army, abdicated in March 1917, yielding power to a provisional government ultimately led by Alexander Kerensky, a democrat and a socialist, not a Communist.  At the time of the abdication, much of the Communist leadership was out of the country in Switzerland, New York, London and Paris, or in Siberian prisons.  In particular, Vladimir Lenin was in Switzerland, Leon Trotsky was in New York and Joseph Stalin was in Siberia.

With a newly liberated Russia, the Communists were able to return.  The German Kaiser paid for Lenin's return because Lenin supported Russia's withdrawal from World War I.  The Communists overthrew the provisional democratic government in its infancy a few months later, in November of that same year.  (It is called the October Revolution because it occurred in October of the Julian calendar used in Russia at the time.)

Myth:  The Russian Communists were no more violent than the czar.

Fact:  "The size of these numbers alone - between 10,000 and 15,000 summary executions in two months - marked a radical break with the practices of the tsarist regime...  In the space of a few weeks the Cheka [Bolshevik secret police] alone had executed two to three times the total number of people condemned to death by the tsarist regime over ninety-two years."  (The Black Book of Communism)

Myth:  The Communists were guilty of some violence, but no more so than any other form of government, especially considering the Christian Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, slavery in the U.S. and its treatment of Native Americans.

Fact:  According to The Black Book of Communism, "the total approaches 100 million people killed."  According to R.J. Rummel (author of Death By Government), the figure could exceed 250 million.  There is some uncertainty over who is the all-time killer: the Soviet Union or China.  The Black Book of Communism attributes roughly 20 million deaths to the USSR (Lenin and Stalin) and 65 million to China (Mao).  Rummel's best estimates are 62 million USSR deaths and 35 million Communist China deaths (but could be up to 127 and 103 million, respectively).

R.J. Rummel credibly estimates other death counts throughout history, and he pulls no punches or otherwise minimizes the death counts from Christian and Western movements.
  • African slave trade with New World - up to 2 million.
  • Christian Crusades - 1 million.
  • Spanish Inquisition - 350,000.
  • North American Indians - up to 25,000.
The numbers from all such incidents combined amount to a tiny fraction of the communist death toll.  Importantly, the communist deaths happened recently, while many Americans were dancing the Lindy, listening to radio, watching TV or going to Disneyland.  And not caught by simple numbers is the inhuman suffering on biblical scales.  In the forced famine of the Ukraine, infants were exchanged between families so they would not have to eat their own children.

When it comes to people killing people, communism is the all time champ.

Myth:  Communist movements were subverted by their leaders, who were not practicing true communism.

Fact:  The major communist leaders, and leading mass murderers, such as Lenin, Mao and Pol Pot, sure thought they were practicing true communism.  In fact, they thought they were instituting an even more perfect communism.

Lenin literally wrote the book on communism: "our prime task is to re-establish what Marx really taught."  The result was 20 to 127 million dead in the Soviet Union, with a good 5 million dead before Lenin himself died in 1924.

Mao wrote,
"Communism is at once a complete system of proletarian ideology and a new social system. It is different from any other ideological and social system, and is the most complete, progressive, revolutionary and rational system in human history." 
The result was about 65 million dead, perhaps over 100 million.

According to Rummel, the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot claimed they "wanted to establish the most advanced and purest form of communism in the world."  The result was 1 to 3 million dead, over 20% of the Cambodian population.

It seems the more pure the communism, the more people die.

Myth:  Communism offers a more fair distribution of wealth.

Fact:  Not unless you think everyone being poor together, with the exception of communist party leaders, is "fair".  No communist country has ever done well economically.  The Soviet Union was an economic basket case.  From the Soviet Union to China to North Korea, millions of people have died from abject poverty and starvation.  Communist countries have always been near the bottom of any international economic comparison.  Listed below are the GDP per capita (purchasing power parity, 2006) comparisons among the U.S., world average, and all five current communist states, according to the CIA World Factbook.
  • U.S.:                $43,800
  • World:             $10,200
  • China:              $7,800
  • Cuba:               $4,100
  • Vietnam:         $3,100
  • Laos:               $2,200
  • North Korea:   $1,800
China's current wealth (such as it is, at 76% of the world average) is due to its turning more toward economic freedom and away from Mao's version of communism.

The more communist a country is, the poorer it is.

Myth:  Anti-communism in the U.S. is a Republican product, part of their "politics of fear", from the Red Scare to the House Un-American Activities Committee to the Cold War itself.

Fact:  The "Red Scare" lasted roughly from 1917 to 1921, all during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat.  The Espionage Act and the Sedition Act were passed in 1917 and 1918, under a Democratic President, Democratic Senate and Democratic House.  Democrat Wilson appointed Democrat A. Mitchell Palmer Attorney General in 1919.  Palmer appointed the young J. Edgar Hoover to the new General Intelligence Division of the Justice Department, conducted the anti-communist "Palmer Raids" and sought the Democratic nomination for President in 1920.

The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was established in 1938, under a Democratic President, a Democrat Senate and Democrat House.  It became a standing, or permanent, committee in 1946 -- again under a Democratic House.  It was renamed the Internal Security Committee in 1969 and abolished 6 years later.  Democrats controlled the House in all but two terms during that time: 1947-48 and 1953-54.

Democratic President Harry Truman instituted the policy of "containment" of communism and in 1950 went to war in Korea.  (In 1953 Republican President Eisenhower signed an armistice with Korea that would last to this day.)  In 1960, the Democratic Senators running for president -- Stuart Symington, Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy -- campaigned on the "missile gap", the supposed superiority of the Soviets in nuclear weaponry.  In 1961 JFK authorized the Bay of Pigs invasion against Cuba and started sending advisors to Viet Nam.  By 1967, under Democratic President Lyndon Johnson, the number of U.S. troops in Viet Nam reached 500,000.  (Republican President Richard Nixon signed the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, ending direct U.S. military involvement in Viet Nam.)

Myth.  Joe McCarthy ran the HUAC and blacklisted hundreds of innocent Hollywood artists.  He ruined the lives of innocent people by irresponsibly accusing them of being communists.

Fact.  Joe McCarthy was a U.S. Senator; he was never in the House and therefore never on the HUAC.  It is true that the HUAC, but not McCarthy, investigated communism in Hollywood.  The HUAC had 10 people arrested, the Hollywood Ten, and those 10 could reasonably be called communists.  One could argue whether simply being a communist and refusing to testify about it under oath is worthy of a crime, but they were not exactly innocent lambs.  The Hollywood "blacklists" were made privately by movie studio executives, not HUAC.  The Hollywood execs took the radical step of promising to "not knowingly employ a Communist or a member of any party or group which advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States by force or by illegal or unconstitutional methods." (The Waldorf Statement)

McCarthy's interest, on the other hand, was the potential of communists and Soviet spies in government, especially the State Department.  Considering he was chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations and subcommittee on investigations, that the Soviets had killed tens of millions by that time and would continue to kill millions more, that the Soviets had nuclear weapons, and that the Soviets were our enemy in the Cold War, McCarthy's interests could be considered quite reasonable, and exactly what a person in his position should be concerned with.

McCarthy wanted the government to investigate its employees better.  Only when pressed by his critics to produce lists and names, did he produce lists with names.  He did not claim that the people on his lists were communists, but merely people who might be, and therefore worthy of investigation.

According to scholar John Earl Haynes, coauthor with Harvey Klehr of In Denial: Historians, Communism and Espionage, nine of the people on McCarthy's lists were later shown to have
"assisted Soviet espionage against the United States: Lauchlin Currie, Harold Glasser, Gerald Graze, Standley Graze, Many Jane Keeney, David Karr, Robert T. Miller, Franz Neumann, and William Remington." 
Haynes believes a large number, perhaps a majority, of the other people on the lists were legitimate security risks for one reason or another.

Haynes, Klehr and others who have combed documents such as the Venona Papers available since the fall of the Soviet Union conclude that hundreds of Soviet spies were in the United States, including many in the government such as Alger Hiss (U.S. State Department, helped establish the United Nations), Harry Dexter White (senior U.S. Dept. of Treasury official and first head of the International Monetary Fund) and Harold Glasser (U.S. Treasury Dept. economist, and spokesman for the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration).

McCarthy, to be sure, had personal flaws and laid himself open to becoming a bogeyman for the left. They artfully personalized the politics of the era and exploited his persona to carry off one of the triumphs of political jiu-jitsu, the anti-anti-communist movement, which still holds sway over Hollywood and much of the media.

new book on McCarthy by M. Stanton Evans promises to reveal more about what McCarthy was fighting, based on recently available historical records. For many, personal distaste for McCarthy has colored their view of the threat raised by domestic communism of the time.

Myth:  The anti-communists warned us of a "domino effect" and a "bloodbath" if we left Vietnam.  Those warnings turned out to be unfounded.

Fact:  When the U.S. did leave Vietnam, the countries that fell to communism were South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.  Had we not fought there at all, others might have included Thailand, Burma, Malaysia and Indonesia, and maybe the Philippines.

As it was, an estimated 1.7 million died in Cambodia after we left, perhaps as many as 3 million.  In Vietnam, 1 to 2 million fled in rickety boats, resulting in 100,000 to 1.4 million deaths, probably about 500,000.  According to Rummel,
"Vietnam also appears responsible for the death of 461,000 Cambodians from 1970 to 1987 (virtually all of them after 1978) and from 1979 to 1987 another 87,000 in Laos.  Adding these figures for the post-Vietnam War democide in Vietnam, Vietnam likely murdered about 1,040,000 people."
I'm not sure what would constitute "dominos", but three countries did fall to Communism after we left.  I'm also not sure what constitutes a "bloodbath", but a few million died after we left, and others were "re-educated" or fled the country.  One can only guess what would have happened had we not been in Southeast Asia at all, and lost over 58,000 U.S. lives in over a decade of fighting.  If you think the death toll would have been less, how do you explain the 65 million or so killed in China, where we did not fight at all?

Myth:  Communism was flawed and would have fizzled out on its own.  "George Bush taking credit for the Berlin Wall coming down is like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise."  Al Gore in the 1992 Vice Presidential debates.

Fact:  Let's go back to about 1980.  At that time, all of the Soviet empire, including most of Eastern Europe, was communist.  In Asia, the Communists had China, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, with active communist insurgencies in Indonesia, the Philippines and elsewhere.  The newly de-colonized Africa was mostly following the communist model, and certainly rejecting anything like economic freedom.  (And as Dr. Phil might ask, "How's that working for you?")  In Latin America, Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru and Grenada had fallen or were falling to communism.

Even Europe had an active and influential communist parties.  Communists were well represented in the parliaments and cities of France and Italy, for example.  In all, about one third of the world's population lived under communist rule, with much of the rest threatened by insurgencies and political machinations.

Communism was expanding, and most believed no one could stop it.  The Soviet Union and China had the bomb.  When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the only response the President of the U.S. at the time could think of was boycotting the Olympics.  The emerging Third World was imitating the USSR and China, not the U.S.

I was alive through much of this time.  No one, and I mean no one, pro or con, thought communism was a dying force.  Quite the opposite, the intelligentsia thought history was on the side of communism.  And the anti-communists were largely hunkered down in what they thought would be a perpetual stalemate of Mutually Assured Destruction.

President Ronald Reagan changed all that.  His strategy was "we win, they lose".  He told the "Evil Empire" to "tear down that wall".  He spent more on defense (up to a whopping 6% of GDP), despite constant harping about an unwinnable arms race.  He got Europe to accept nuclear weapons in their soil, despite the Nuclear Freeze movement.  He pushed the Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars", against cries to keep space weapons free.  He provided arms to Afghan freedom fighters.  He supported the Contras against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.  He invaded Granada.  He told Gorbachev "no" in arms negotiations.  And the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists kept pushing the doomsday clock closer to midnight.

Yet in 1989, the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin Wall was torn down.  Can anyone really believe, in their heart of hearts, that if Jimmy Carter had won in 1980, or Walter Mondale in 1984, that would have happened?

Myth:  Communism is so over; didn't you see Rocky IV?

Fact:  Current communist states are China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba, accounting for about 1.4 billion people, or one fifth of the world's population.  Some other countries are led by communist-leaning strongmen such as Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.  High death rates have continued in countries such as North Korea and Zimbabwe in recent years, and may be happening right now. The Heritage Foundation classified 79 out of 157 countries as either "mostly unfree" or outright "repressed" in economic freedoms, although not all are communist or communist leaning.

Also, many people throughout the world and the U.S. remain sympathetic to the goals of communism, whether calling themselves "communist" or not.  How many agree with the sentiment of "to each according to his needs"?  In fact, a third of the voting age population thought that phrase was in the U.S. Constitution, and another third were not sure.

The Communist Party USA (CPUSA), which Haynes and Klehr showed had been largely controlled and influenced by Soviet communists during the Cold War, still exists and still claims:
"We base ourselves on Marxism-Leninism, on the accumulated experience of our Party since our founding in 1919... Communism isn't dead! There is still a worldwide movement of Communists, who are active in the struggles in their own countries, who apply Marxism to their conditions and according to the history of their countries, and who organize international solidarity."
In 2000 the CPUSA endorsed Al Gore for President -- the first time it had ever endorsed anyone outside CPUSA itself.  It withheld formal endorsement of John Kerry in 2004 only because it feared CPUSA endorsement would harm his chances of winning.  The Democratic frontrunner in the 2008 race, Hillary Clinton, wrote her Wellesley thesis on Saul Alinsky, the radical organizer, former communist fellow traveler, and author of Rules for Radicals.  One can only speculate on how sympathetic Clinton remains to Alinsky's ideas, but a case could be made that her adult life follows Alinsky's rules almost to the letter.

Hindsight.  It sure looks to me like communism was, and is, something to fear.  It was bad in philosophy: against freedom, morality and property, but for violence.  It was bad in practice: widespread poverty, with starvation and violent deaths by the tens of millions.  It was global in reach, from Europe to Asia, Africa and the Americas.  And until the 1980s, it was winning.

Yet it was not defeated idly (if we can even assume it has been truly defeated).  The U.S. lost over 36,000 lives fighting communism in Korea and over 58,000 fighting it in Vietnam.  The U.S. spent 5% to 10% of its economy on defense during the Cold War.  The U.S. stood up to the Communists from Truman's containment policy and the Berlin Airlift to Kennedy's Cuban Missile Crisis to Reagan's Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Granada, and Star Wars.  All under unrelenting criticism from anti-anti-communists, nuclear freezers, war protesters, and much of the Democratic Party itself.

Is it really wrong to conclude that Communism was bad, and we defeated it?  We won the Cold War and we should be proud of it. Shout it from the rooftops and make The Black Book of Communism required reading in high schools.

Which brings us back to today.
"I personally am more worried about global warming than I am about WMDs."  Hans Blix, former foreign minister of Sweden and former UN chief weapons inspector, in 2004.
"I don't want to diminish the threat of terrorism at all, it is extremely serious, but on a long-term global basis, global warming is the most serious problem we are facing."  Al Gore, 2005.
"Despite all the ominous warnings of wily terrorists and imminent attacks, there has been neither a successful strike nor a close call in the United States since 9/11... it is worth remembering that the total number of people killed since 9/11 by al Qaeda or al Qaeda­like operatives outside of Afghanistan and Iraq is not much higher than the number who drown in bathtubs in the United States in a single year"  John Mueller, Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University, in 2006.
Here we go again.

Randall Hoven is an engineer living in Illinois.  He can be reached at