I grew up with a particular phrase: “poisoning the atmosphere of détente.” If you criticized the Soviet Union and its satellites — if you pointed out the persecution of people in the Gulag, for example — you were “poisoning the atmosphere of détente.” If you uttered names like “Sakharov,” “Sharansky,” or “Orlov,” you were all but precipitating war. Shhhh. You had to shut up. If you spoke candidly about the Soviet Union, you were essentially a warmonger.
I remember those days well. And we are having a bit of a replay today, where Communist China is concerned.
Into my inbox came a column published in The Examiner. It said, “What would really pose a potential threat for causing tensions is if columnists continue to write articles, like the National Review’s Jay Nordlinger did on January 19, saying that Hu Jintao’s state dinner at the White House is ‘A Stain upon the American Honor.’”
I will confine my points to five, which is not so large a number.
1) There ought to be tensions between a police state and a liberal democracy.
2) I am grateful to write for a publication where truth-telling about China is allowed, and grateful to live in a country where such a publication can exist.
3) The Examiner columnist and people like him often say that people like me “fear” China. For the record, I don’t fear China: I hate its dictatorship and persecution of people. I don’t see how you can be pro-Chinese without being anti-CCP and anti-dictatorship.
4) I am all for making money, heaven knows, but there is more to life than that. We Americans hang Christmas lights made by Chinese political prisoners. I know a former prisoner who was forced to make them. (Charles Lee, a Falun Gong practitioner now living in New Jersey.) He was also forced to make Homer Simpson bedroom slippers. We Americans slip our tootsies into Homer’s mouth. Isn’t that sweet?
Classical liberals like me are naturally wary of doing business with a police state.
5) About many things — the most important things — the Chinese people are unable to speak for themselves. It is incumbent on people in free societies to speak for them. Chinese Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, dissidents, democrats — they are all shut up, often with imprisonment, torture, and, indeed, death. We in free societies should not shut ourselves up, or be shut up by our fellow citizens, when vital truths need to be told.
Someday, the prison cells and labor camps in China may open, and those who suffered in those places would have a right to say to the rest of us, “Where were you? Did you remember us when we were being brutalized, and you were free to say and do as you pleased?” I would rather talk about Gao Zhisheng, as agents of the Chinese state are mutilating his genitals, than obey the commands of Examiner columnists and others to . . . you know, just shut up, for the sake of a false peace, or a quick dollar.
6) I will sneak in a sixth point. It is perfectly possible to have necessary and correct relations with police states without throwing truth, conscience, and morality aside. Men such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have proven it.