A Further Perspective

The Cold War We Lost

A whole new generation, cluelessly raised.

By 11.13.13


What the HELL is going on???” emailed a colleague of mine after reading my most recent column for The American Spectator, regarding Bill de Blasio’s mayoral victory in New York. “Absolutely stunning.”

My friend was amazed that New Yorkers could—by a 50-point margin—elect a man who was so pro-Sandinista in the 1980s that he peddled subscriptions for the Marxist regime’s newspaper; who was so pro-Castro that he took his bride to Fidel’s Cuba for their honeymoon; who, in an earlier romance, sojourned to the Soviet Motherland; who now peddles his beliefs under the banner of “progress” and “social justice.” With finely honed Obama-like class-warfare rhetoric, Bill de Blasio preaches income leveling and attacks the rich who never pay their fair share. He now calls himself, as so many ex- and current communists do, a “progressive.” And he wins election in a landslide, with the proletariat rolling out the red carpet at city hall.

As I related in my article, New Yorkers have elected their first Red Diaper Baby Mayor to go with their first Red Diaper Baby President, who they likewise gleefully elected in landslides.

So, to repeat my friend’s plea: “What the HELL is going on???”

The answer, coincidentally, arrived in my email box moments earlier. It came from a college student, and was the sort I receive all-too-frequently. I’ve deleted his name and college to protect him from persecution by the tolerance-preaching academic left. Here’s what he wrote:

I had a Communist Prof. last semester and we were talking about communism in class and he stood in the front of the room and talked about how great communism is. He even held up his little red book a few times and yelled “Long live chairman Mao.”... If it wasn't the biggest class [the college] offers, there [were] 120 kids in the class, and if not 9 in the morning I probably would have said something. I have a reputation for speaking up…. I once told my English prof. that what he was saying was full of, pardon my speech, but bulls—t…. The stories I could tell you about my time at [college deleted] … I could write a whole New York Times best seller….

Mired in the academic gulag, this poor soul sought reprieve by watching an on-lecture I recently did, titled, “Why Did We Fight the Cold War?” It moved him to email me. It was totally unlike anything he had heard at his college—or most colleges in America.

Of course, none of what he wrote of his academic experience is a surprise. It also contains the answer to my friend’s plea. Indeed, this is the HELL that’s going on. And I saw it coming.

We won the Cold War in the 1980s, defeating the forces of communism and the left generally from Managua to Moscow, from Havana to Prague, from Berkeley to Manhattan. Ronald Reagan won a major ideological battle. Not only had communism been trounced, but so had liberalism, to the point that it eventually had to change its name to “progressivism” to make it more palatable to the uninformed. In tapping the “progressive” label, the left resurrected an old brand that the current wide-eyed generation knows practically nothing about. Communism was on the ash-heap of history. So was socialism. Their sister variants and off-shoots, including liberalism, were pretty much finished. There was no way a Democrat would win the White House in 1988, and in the 1990s Bill Clinton had to run as a moderate “New Democrat” preaching that “the era of big government is over.”

Sure, class warfare and redistribution still had welcome arms and eager demagogues in the Democratic Party, but they didn’t have much currency. Most of all, any politician with a communist past didn’t have a political future in America. Very few Americans in 1989 would have voted for such a person.

But alas, it’s a generation later, and something crucial happened in the interim: the political left retained control of higher education and much of education generally, not to mention Hollywood, television, and media. Positioned in the right places, the left controlled the most influential forces in the country and culture. This meant that the next generation never learned the vital lessons about the Cold War, about communism, about the pitfalls of the left’s penchant for centralization, collectivization, redistribution, government fiat, moral and cultural relativism, militant secularism, and on and on. The nation’s youth was ample prey for the left’s cynical misuse of phony slogans like “diversity” and “tolerance,” which the academy preaches mightily but doesn’t dare apply where it matters most in a university: ideas. Thus, the post-1989 generation learned the bad ideas that lost, not the good ones that won; the latter were refused and repressed.

Again, I saw it coming. I watched it up-close, personal. Around the country, I would speak to college audiences—on communism, socialism, progressivism, collectivism, redistributionism—where I’d repeatedly warn: We’re not learning these lessons. This stuff isn’t being taught. This will come back to haunt us.

Many times I’ve given a speech titled “Why Communism Is Bad,” often sponsored by the excellent Young America’s Foundation. Frustrated college students, captive to the likes of the aforementioned Maoist, beg me to come to their campus: “S.O.S. Please help!” As I speak, holding up primary sources ranging from Marx’s Manifesto to the Harvard University Press book The Black Book of Communism, laying out everything from communism’s war on property to war on religion, students are riveted. Left or right, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, they’ve clearly heard none of it before. And they can tell I’m not lying to them. Facts are facts. You know truth when you hear it. That’s the beauty of truth. You hear it and nod; you intuitively get it.

And guess who’s not sitting in those classrooms as I speak? The professors. They rarely, if ever, attend. The one or two occasions where I recall a professor in attendance, she just shook her head in disgust, staring at me contemptuously as if the ghost of Joe McCarthy had flown into the room and leapt inside my body.

But here’s the bigger picture: Amid these lectures over the years, from attentive students to angry professors, I’d wonder if we really had won the Cold War.

Well, we did. We won the Cold War. In an important sense, however, we also lost it at home. We failed to teach the essential truths to the next generation. As my friend Herb Meyer likes to say, we’ve forgotten what we knew.

The left ensured the forgetting. It took over the necessary institutions to secure its triumph. And thus, the ugly stepsisters of communism—socialism, “progressivism,” communism and socialism cloaked as “progressivism,” centralization, collectivization, etc., etc., etc.—are now prevailing. It explains how the likes of de Blasio, Obama, Pelosi, Sebelius, Boxer, McAuliffe, get elected. It’s how Sandra Fluke becomes a “progressive” heroine rather than a public outrage. As they expand government and encroach on basic civil liberties (especially religious freedom), as they advance their postmodern nostrums and ever-expanding list of new “rights” and entitlements, their young foot soldiers have no idea that their ideas are really nothing new—rooted in the extremes of an ideology we had vanquished a generation ago.

Speaking of that vanquishing, the architect of victory, Ronald Reagan, said that freedom is never more than a generation away from extinction. Every new generation has to fight anew. That’s where we are. We have to fight all over again. It’s frustrating, yes, but the battle never ends. That, too, is the truth.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His new book is Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage.