Thursday, July 5, 2012

Chairman Mao Caps and Communist Conquests

Last week, a child came to Vacation Bible School wearing a Chairman Mao cap:  olive green with a red star.  I thought about Communism and Capitalism and all the spectres of my youth that no longer haunt us. 

Or do they?

During the Cold War years, my father and I got into philosophical discussions/arguments about what Communist regimes offer and threaten, and what Capitalism offers.  We were both right, in our ways.  I liked the security that I thought that Communism offers:  no one goes hungry.  They may not have freedom of speech, but at least they have freedom from hunger.  That's what I huffily told my father.

Ah, youth.  How nice to be forgiven for one's know-it-all 19 year old self.

Now, of course, we know that under many a Communist regime, many went hungry together.  Not as much class stratification, perhaps, but far from the utopia that my 19 year old self envisioned.

During the same week that I saw the child in the Chairman Mao cap, I had a discussion with a friend about her family's immigration path.  She comes from a family who immigrated from China to Jamaica, a part of World History that had eluded me.  I didn't realize, until I met my friend, how many Jamaicans of Chinese descent there are.

But her story takes an even more interesting turn.  Her parents went to Canada in the 70's so that if Jamaica fell to the Communists, the rest of the family would have connections in Canada and fleeing the island might be easier.

Yes, let that rest in your brain for a minute:  if Jamaica fell to the Communists . . .

It's easy to laugh now.  We forget how frightening that specter would have been, how realistic it seemed. After all, Nicaragua had fallen.  Cuba had fallen much earlier.  It would not be inconceivable to lose the whole Caribbean to the Communists.

My students laugh when I tell them that President Reagan used to inform us that the Communists had plans to invade the U.S. across the Rio Grande.  If we didn't stop them in El Salvador, we'd have to stop them at the Texas border.

Now we have border battles of different sorts.  Now we worry about a different set of dominoes.

At times, I feel oddly nostalgic for the Cold War days.  It seemed easier then, with enemy lines more clearly drawn.  We knew where all the nuclear weapons were; we couldn't do anything about them but feel frightened, but at least we could monitor them and keep track.

I wonder if older people then felt nostalgic for World War II days.

And what about this time will make us feel nostalgic in 40 years?  Will terrorists seem an easier foe than whatever we're facing then?  Will we feel nostalgic yearnings for the early years of the escalating pace of global warming?  Will we miss the last years of easy oil and natural gas?

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