Breaking Through

by Jay Nordlinger

In the last couple of days, I have been writing notes about Communism and anti-Communism, Communists and anti-Communists. (There is another category, by the way: anti-anti-Communism, whose practitioners are anti-anti-Communists. WFB and NR used to write about these people all the time. There were always people who objected to anti-Communism more than they did to Communism. There still are.)

For the second and final installment of my little series, go here. I would like to jot one more note, here on the Corner.

Some weeks ago, I was seated at a dinner next to a woman from the former Soviet Union. She is an exceptionally worldly woman, someone who has had a diplomatic life on several continents. She is from a prominent and influential family. She earned a Ph.D. in economics from Moscow State University — this was back in Soviet days.

I asked her whether she had been a believing Communist. She said yes. “We all were. We were brainwashed, mesmerized. We never heard anything except that life in the capitalist West was miserable.” I asked whether her professors had been Communists. Yes, she said. “They would not have been allowed to hold those positions otherwise. They were carefully vetted.”

Now, this woman is unusually bright and sophisticated. And she had a desirable family background. If she was taken in — if she was unable to break through the indoctrination, until later — what chance did the ordinary Joe have? What about the Ivans and Olgas on the street?

I think of an Egyptian woman I knew, also a worldly person, who has traveled widely, speaks several languages, etc. When the terrorists struck on 9/11, she said, “It could not have been Arabs or Muslims.” Who must it have been then? Well, you might guess. (Rhymes with “choose,” as Rick Brookhiser might say.)

And I thought, “If this woman is subject to such thinking, what about the people on the streets, who have not had a fraction of the opportunities to learn about the world that she has had?”

To some degree, most people are prisoners of their time and place, I suppose. Most people go with the flow around them. “Come out from the world and be separate” is easy to say — but very hard to do. Going with the flow is the norm. And the flow can be bad. This makes the righteous dissenters, the Solzhenitsyns and Sakharovs, all the more remarkable.

P.S. We are all sure that, if we lived in a totalitarian society, we would be dissenters. Are we really sure? Maybe there is a touch of wishful thinking involved . . .