It was funny, all of us good-ol’-boys getting out of college together during the Korean War and going into different branches of the military and learning just a little bit about our corner of the military, maybe enough to ridicule Hollywood when they made movies about our specialty.
“It was ridiculous,” said Jimmy, who was in an early version of the Green Berets. “Nobody takes your gun away with an Asian karate chop if you’ve got him on the ground properly. We learned to keep him on his back with your handgun in his mouth deep enough for your fingers to soak in enemy saliva.” Harold couldn’t get over how long the Marines held onto their grenades after pulling the pin. There was a movie about the dropping of the first atomic bomb. The pilot stretched and yawned en route to Hiroshima, casually telling the co-pilot to take over, saying, “I think I’ll go back and work on the bomb.” I think Harry demanded his money back when John Wayne picked up a machine gun, ammunition belts and all, and charged into the ranks of the terrified foe.
I was in intelligence, and I haven’t seen a spy movie since that didn’t fall apart like an Alka-Seltzer tablet under Niagara Falls because of one cosmic blunder in espionage procedure after another.
Later, as a would-be journalist, I did enough time in dictatorships to develop contempt for the notion of any American leader, especially Barack Obama, succeeding in converting America into a dictatorship. I regard the ones folks fear will become our dictators like the Russians regard American Communists and the Israelis regard American Jews. They’re softies.
There’s no place to start and no place to end when detailing the many immunities America enjoys protecting us against dictatorship. In 1937 the Nazis ordered nurses in German hospitals to hang out bedside of patients with dementia to eavesdrop for any incoherent mumblings against Hitler or the regime. Eric Holder would clutch his tummy and retch if ordered to do that. They had a problem after the Revolution in Russia. At meetings of the Supreme Soviet, nobody wanted to be the first to quit applauding after Stalin spoke. The solution: They rang a gong after a suitable period of appreciative applause, to allow the delegates to resume their deliberations.
The mindset required for totalitarian control goes beyond confiscation of firearms and talk of eliminating presidential term limits. Oh, it never hurts to stay vigilant, I guess. That’s what the skeptical townspeople of Greensboro, N.C., used to say when our Boy Scout forces split, half deploying to the east side of town to watch for German planes and the other half to the west side to watch for Japanese planes.
The Communists kept a synagogue, a Baptist church and a few Russian Orthodox churches open in Moscow to make it look good. In Communist Albania, however, they were more faithful to Communist doctrine. They closed every single house of worship in the entire country and executed the clergy. A Christian family had a problem. They wanted to give their children dyed Easter eggs behind their closed doors. Fairly safe so far, but how could they get rid of the colored eggshells later on? If a neighbor were to spot such “evidence” in the garbage they’d get a reward and the family would disappear forever. It took careful smuggling by night. A friend of theirs did seven years in jail. His crime? He was overheard saying, “There are no tomatoes in the market!” Bad for morale.
Everybody understands that democracy is hard to nurture in regions where there’s no tradition of democracy. And it’s just as hard to get a good dictatorship going where there has been almost two-and-a-half centuries of freedom; not to mention 300 million firearms in private hands and thousands of talk shows, commentators, bloggers and loudmouths of every stripe totally unaccustomed to being told to “watch their language”!
Americans talk freely about the CIA and the FBI. In dictatorships the very names of their “Gestapo” organizations go unuttered. You never heard mention of the “NKVD,” the “MVD” and “KGB” in Communist Russia, “Stasi” in East Germany, “Securitate” in Romania, “AVO” in Hungary, “Sigurimi” in Albania. Those very sounds went unuttered.
You know the job of a dogcatcher, a garbage man, a hot-dog vendor. Do you know what the “agitprop” man did in the Soviet Union? “Agitprop” means “Agitation-and-Propaganda.” One of his missions was as a plain-clothes “street-walker” in Communist cities. If you and I were to meet and chat, no harm done. If, however, we were joined by a third friend passing by, the agitprop man would tell us, “Keep it moving, Comrades. Let’s go. Keep it moving.” Dictatorships hate crowds they don’t control.
Why will dictatorship fail in America? We have too many Americans like that old codger filling out a government form. When he got to that little square that said, “Do Not Write In This Space,” he pulled out a black felt pen and wrote large, “I’ll write where I damned well please!”