Ich Bin Ein Berliner

November 6, 2009 at 1:41 pm (By Amba) (, , )

Due to a trick of German grammar — you don’t use the article when you announce your nationality, profession, or other official identification — this bold rhetorical move by President John F. Kennedy was often mischievously translated as “I am a jelly donut!”  (Sugar-dusted berliners are to Berlin as hamburgers are to Hamburg and frankfurters to Frankfurt.)  OK, he should have said “Ich bin Berliner.”  (Except since he wasn’t literally a Berliner, Wikipedia says his usage was correct, and what’s more, Berliners themselves don’t call jelly donuts berliners.)

But the small endearing error, if it even was, didn’t diminish the symbolic power of the June 1963 statement, or the arc it made with President Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” 24 years to the month later.  The Berlin Wall went right through our hearts.  It divided the very heart of a divided world; it was the metaphorical Iron Curtain made literal.  There could have been no more tangible evidence of communism’s breathtaking sense of entitlement to its citizens’ very lives, of the prison it was or the walls and snipers that prison needed.

I saw it on its first birthday, not long after my 16th.  August 13, 1962.

My marvelous high school German teacher, W. Gregor Heggen, led a trip to Germany for his students every summer.  American teen-agers lived with families in three locations — Paderborn, Herr Heggen’s hometown; West Berlin; and Esslingen, in the south, near Stuttgart — as well as in youth hostels, and we were taken to see marvels of historic architecture and art:  Romanesque, Gothic, and Rococo cathedrals, famous altarpieces.  When we arrived in Berlin we had just spent a month of total immersion with families in and around then-bucolic Paderborn, and our German had begun to swim.  As a city kid I immediately recognized Berlin as a great metropolis — it throbbed with that urban intensity — but a schizoid and feverish one, with a tourniquet cutting off its circulation.  The West was a show window of capitalism, pumped almost artificially full of colorful commerce and adventurous architecture. The East — we were led in through Checkpoint Charlie, “Achtung!  Sie verlassen jetzt West-Berlin!” — was drab and gray and limp.  Tall, ugly buildings that looked like file cabinets for storing working parts (I would later see their clones in Romania) alternated with bomb craters and rubble that had never been repaired since World War II.  The palate doesn’t lie:  a little cart sold ersatz chocolate-coated ice-cream bars that tasted like cardboard.  We were given fistfuls of propaganda leaflets about how the evil capitalists were the heirs of the Nazis.

The Wall was the sobering shock of my young life.  My letters home (I still have two from Berlin, if I didn’t somehow leave them behind after the fire) had been adolescent prattle; their tone suddenly changed.  We got as close as we could to the Brandenburg Gate, where wooden viewing stands peered over the rather low grey barrier into a no-man’s-land of barbed wire coils scanned by snipers.  On the first anniversary, we went to a section where whole rows of houses had been conscripted into the barrier, their windows bricked up.  Wreaths lay on the sidewalk at the feet of metal crosses marking where people had jumped to their deaths rather than lose their freedom, their families and friends.

Obviously, I had no clue that my own destiny would be all about that barrier, what lay on the far side of it, and the lives and loves severed by it.  But it made a stunning and indelible impression.

The sight of the graffiti-infested Wall being dismantled by sledgehammers in a party atmosphere at the end of 1989 was therefore personal to me.  I would have liked to have one of those little pieces of it they were selling as souvenirs.

For those of us whose lives were dominated by that divide, the aftermath of its collapse has been bewildering.  A world that was starkly black-and-white was shattered into a hologram of little yang-yin droplets.  Suddenly good and evil were both everywhere.  That was actually a salutary challenge; far worse was the don’t-look-back amnesia that seemed to fall on the world, rendering the whole seventy-year ordeal irrelevant. I wondered how J felt, seeing the bulldozer that rolled over and crushed his entire childhood world suddenly simply vaporize.  How could a monolith that had had such vast and terrifying power, that destroyed so many lives, just crumble to dust and blow away?

I am beyond embarrassed, I am mortified that President Obama isn’t attending the 20-year commemoration of the Wall’s destruction.  Why?

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54 Comments

  1. Randy said,

    I don’t know why he is not going. This is what Michael Barone thinks.

  2. Peter Hoh said,

    I never visited the Berlin Wall, but your vivid descriptions bring back some of what I felt about it while growing up. When you build a wall to keep people in, you might as well admit that you are running a prison.

    Add me to the list of people who think the President ought to be there at the anniversary.

  3. Melinda said,

    I think he should have gone, too. Or sent me. I’ve always wanted to see Berlin, even when the Wall was up.

    Maybe Bam is saying, “Eh, I did Berlin already.”

  4. pathmv said,

    Very moving post, Amba.

    I spent 10 days in Poland in 1993. Nothing remotely near the depth of your experiences, of course, but it was so fascinating to see the changes being brought about, while everyone still lived in the Communist-erected grey blocks. I also had fascinating conversations with people who had worked underground for Solidarity, both about their adventures and about their observations of the changes, both good and bad, that their society was experiencing in the aftermath.

  5. amba12 said,

    Pat: quite right, the changes have been both good and bad. Before communism fell, people (those who weren’t informers, that is) had only the intensity of their friendships and their loyalty to each other — their soul life, including love, art, and ideas. They were up against such bad guys that merely by not becoming a bad guy you could be a good guy. Freedom has offered opportunity and distraction, lives that are broader but shallower. Those who can have thrown themselves into making money and seeking pleasure with the long-pent-up intensity of the starved. Gangsterism is rampant. Now that the bad guys are out of power (but are they really??), everybody finds the little splinter of bad guy in their heart.

  6. Ruth Anne said,

    Grey cement can’t keep out dandelions or the human spirit.

    Your life and writing skills are a treasure.

    Have you seen ‘The Lives of Others’?

  7. amba12 said,

    Not yet, Ruth Anne, but it’s #1 on our list.

  8. michael reynolds said,

    Oh for God’s sake. Mortified because Obama didn’t show up for a ceremony? Is there a big list you have in mind of symbolic events Obama absolutely must attend to spare your feelings? Is 20 the magic number? He may still be president on the 25th anniversary too. Will you be equally mortified then? And why not 21, 22, 23 and 24?

    23 gets no respect.

    The 65th anniversary of VJ day is coming next year. Does that count? Will that be a mortifying lapse or does mortification only occur when the number ends in zero? Obama may still be around for the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg? But then, what of Antietam? Sumter? Fort Pillow?

    You strain for excuses to attack Obama. All while pretending to be open-minded.

    Someone send Amba a teabag and a Michelle Bachman sticker.

  9. amba12 said,

    *yawn*

  10. amba12 said,

    *stretch* *blink* Ceremonial stuff is part of his job, and it ought to be part of his strategy. To be sure, he has to pick and choose. But if he doesn’t care about keeping the Reagan voters, then I guess he doesn’t care about a second term.

    Not going to Berlin seems of a piece with not speaking up strongly for the Iranian protesters, which he could have done on safely general terms. You can call it hoke, but it’s American hoke. It’s a hole in the heart. Your baby ain’t getting reelected, Michael.

  11. trooper york said,

    Wonderful memories Amba. I hope all is well with you after the fire.

  12. trooper york said,

    After the fire the fire still burns,
    the heart grows older but never ever learns.
    The memories smolder and the soul always yearns,
    After the fire the fire still burns.

    I saw Matt Dillon in black and white
    there ain’t no color in memories.
    He rode his brother’s Harley across the TV
    while I was laughing at Dom DeLuise.
    Now I’m cycling all my video tapes,
    I’m crying and I’m joking.
    I’ve gotta stop drinking, I’ve gotta stop thinking,
    I’ve gotta stop smoking.

    After the fire the fire still burns,
    the heart grows older but never ever learns.
    The memories smolder and the soul always yearns,
    after the fire
    The fire still burns, raging through the pain,
    blackening the promises, the tears and the rain.
    The fire will burn
    ’til the wind begins to turn
    and it all begins again.
    After the fireeeee …Yea the fire still burns
    (Pete Townshend)

  13. amba12 said,

    Thanks, Troop, we’re good.

    — Wait! Wow. Thanks.

  14. pathmv said,

    Exactly, Amba. The woman I spoke with gave me one example which has stuck with me. During Communism, with its strict rationing of things, she said, your neighbors knew when you ran really low on corn flakes at the end of the month, and so couldn’t feed your child breakfast. You would wake up one morning and find a box of corn flakes outside your front door, left anonymously by a friend or neighbor. After Communism, however, that type of understood, quiet charity largely disappeared. It’s not that there was no charity any more, it’s just that people became more connected and attuned to work and other distractions, rather than to their immediate neighbors, and so they just didn’t notice such needs as much. On the whole, she was naturally quite happy to no longer be living in a totalitarian state, but there were things to be missed, as well.

  15. amba12 said,

    That’s pretty much exactly what I’ve heard from Romanians. East Bloc immigrants here before 1989 used to say much the same thing.

  16. El Pollo Real said,

    *waves at Trooper York*

    Of course, Obama could have gone to Berlin and proclaimed Ich bin ein Bismarck, with reference of course to the great 19th Century German Chancellor who gave his people universal healthcare. But of course the pundits would have had a field day with the word Bismarck (hey is that photo racist in any way?-sorry couldn’t help the shameless self-promotion there).

  17. amba12 said,

    I don’t think it’s racist, but it might make a nobler substitute for the Oreo.

  18. Rod said,

    I visited Berlin in ’86. By then, there was a museum near Checkpoint Charlie. The Wall seemed to me an adumbration of the Iron Curtain. A half century of European history was tied up in the answer to the simple question, “Why is there a wall through the middle of this city?” There was little to suggest the Wall would be torn down three years later.

    I crossed over at Alexanderplatz with a West Berliner, and we got on a bus. In less than a mile the proud facade of East Berlin faded into a gray, bombed out cityscape. It was as if WW II had ended only a few weeks before. We got out of the bus in an East Berlin neighborhood and walked into a grocery store. Most of the bins were empty, but there was an overabundance of apples and potatoes.

    I have a piece of the Wall sitting on a shelf in my family room. Someday, one of my grandchildren will ask me why we have a broken piece of cement up with the knick-knacks. I’ll tell her about a war and a world of walls divided by a bitter, edgy truce, then she will go out to play.

  19. El Pollo Real said,

    I visited Berlin for the first time over Christmas/New Years in 1990-91 after the wall had come down. We stayed at the flat of a West German friend of friend who was on vacation. OMG, what good memories. It seemed that the bombed out heart was still intact from the Second World War (none of the central parts had been rebuilt yet. The nightlife was still remarkable. I recall one place off of Orianenbergerstrasse simply called the “Brazilian Bar” where you literally entered through what looked like a round hole (shell impacted?) wall and descended flights of steps into a dank basement. The place was so named because the host (a Brazilian) served only a peculiar green liqueur drink. Another spot was called der Friseur: and had been a former East German hair saloon: another was called der Tresor, and had once been a bank; it was basically an underground discothèque that became somewhat famous later on before the floor collapsed. Basically, unfettered capitalism flourished for a brief shining moment.

    I still remember that time as a week where we literally didn’t see the sun. Due to the northern winter latitude and midwinter (6 hours of daylight?) we slept through mornings and afternoons only to rise again when it was dark again for another night of carousing.

    My God I used to drink and party too much!

  20. amba12 said,

    That’s OK, evidently it was character forming.

  21. wj said,

    It may be worth noting that Kennedy not only didn’t speak German, he was really, really terrible at foreign languages generally. Getting that one sentence into the speech required more rehearsals than anything else by far.

    I would also point out that the translator on site, who was doing English to German, calmly rendered “Ich bin ein Berliner.” as “I am a Berliner.” — which is to say, those listening at the time knew what was intended. (And Kennedy ad libed, “I thank the translator for translating my German.”)

  22. amba12 said,

    Clearly, it was understood as intended — the gibes came later. The interesting question, fine point of German grammar, to me is: If you are not actually a Berliner, do you correctly say “ein”? So Wikipedia claims, but I don’t trust them as far as I can throw them. I’m going to ask my German teacher, Herr Heggen, with whom I spoke on the phone yesterday, to thank him for helping me (at a distance of going on 50 years) help my brother pass his German exam. Stay tuned — I’ll probably have an answer by tomorrow.

  23. amba12 said,

    So, Rod, you actually have a piece of the Wall!! Good for you! Maybe there are still some floating around out there. Wonder how you authenticate them. Just as the crematorium may send you a bunch of ashes that could be anybody’s (how would you ever know?), someone could sell you a piece of the “Berlin wall” that actually came from the Bronx.

  24. amba12 said,

    HERR HEGGEN RULES!

    Dear Annie: The German ‘Duden’ and traditional grammar rules that Nationality and City membership do not have an indefinite article unless: there is an adjective or numerical designation: Example: Mein Vater ist Hamburger, meine Mutter ist eine typische Berlinerin und in unserer Familie ist nur EIN Koelner. I have not used grammatical terminology for such a long time but my examples should clarify this big problem. the sad fact is, when a popular and adored politician makes a slight mistake he is forgiven. Kennedy was understood by his audience, and that is what counts.

    The moral of the story is: DON’T TRUST WIKIPEDIA!!!!! I hate to say I told you so.

  25. Rod said,

    I may have two pieces. One came in a box marked as an authentic piece of the wall. It was about an inch in diameter. “Authentic” pieces of the wall were sold as souvenirs in Germany, and I suspect they were real, because, unlike splinters of the “True Cross, which arrived at so many cathedrals,” the Wall was really big. There were a lot of pieces to go around, and the prices were very cheap.

    The second piece was one of several picked up by the Berliner who had taken me to the East. It is larger and irregularly shaped. He gave the pieces to my former exchange student’s family, and I have no doubt as to its authenticity.

    The role of guilt in postwar German society is a fascinating subject. Rarely have the people of a nation been forced to face their capacity for evil. Most of us can assume we would have been the “good Germans” who hid the likes of Anne Frank. Many who grew up in Germany after the war cannot be so sure, which is why the concept behind the book and movie, “The Reader,” is so compelling.

    As for me, I hope I would have the moral courage to do the right thing, but it would be easy to go along and avoid putting your family at risk. The question for us is not what we would have done then to protect Jews. We don’t live in Nazi occupied Europe. The question is what we would do if the same kind of hysteria swept this country about another group – Muslims, for instance. Would we speak out to defend them if Kristallnacht happened in Dearborn? Would we hide them from death squads in a society with cameras at every intersection and an electronic record of our every purchase, if to do so and get caught put our very lives and the lives of our children at risk?

  26. amba12 said,

    Have you ever seen “The Siege”? Besides its very eerie foreshadowing of 9/11, and a riveting performance by Annette Bening, it featured the fantasy of citizens of Brooklyn rallying to their Muslim neighbors’ defense (signs and chants: “No fear!”) when the latter had been detained behind barbed wire under martial law.

    The rough analogy is probably less to Jews in 1940 Germany than to Japanese-Americans after 1941.

  27. Rod said,

    Yes, I saw the movie when it was released. I had forgotten its name, but events since 9/11 have brought it to mind from time to time. Beneath our superficial commitment to lofty ideals, we are often scared little animals. I don’t think we are immune from genocidal hysteria. We currently have better procedural safeguards against getting carried away, but look how easily we cast aside habeas corpus when it became inconvenient.

  28. Liza said,

    Do you really think there is much to celbrate twenty years later? The wall is still there…

  29. Stephanie said,

    Amba,

    I can tell that the wall marked your life, and so the anniversary of it’s destruction is an important event for you, and one you wish your President honored as well. I am 36 years old, and it perhaps does not have the same meaning for me, so the President’s lack of attendance is perhaps not so important to Gen X and Gen Y.

  30. amba12 said,

    Point taken: President Obama is a president for your generation, not for mine; for the future, not the past. I’ve never been called an old fogey with quite so much courtesy and consideration! :)

    But the evaluation of certain historic events as important is not purely subjective. However immediately aware of it you are or aren’t, the Cold War shaped the world you live in. (For example, we supported the Afghan Mujaheddeen because they were fighting the Soviets; the enemy of our enemy was our friend and client. In so doing, we fed the snake that grew up and came back to bite us.) The fall of the Wall was a symbolic event, but it was symbolic of something that the history books will define as a major epoch.

    Naturally, what happens in one’s own lifetime looms large, fresh, and powerful in a way that past events don’t. But you’ve probably heard the old saw that “those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it.” In our time we tend to see everything through a too exclusively personal lens. I didn’t live through World War II, but it would’ve been … I don’t even know what word to use … for me to say, “Oh, that’s not so important.” There’s meaning beyond “meaning for me,” and that larger meaning often in fact affects “me” more powerfully than I know.

  31. amba12 said,

    Liza, what do you mean when you say that the wall is still there? Between East and West Berlin, or the halves of Germany, or the world? Do you mean that literal wall or walls more generally?

  32. Liza said,

    East and West Germany, Eastern and Western Europe… The literal wall might have come down but people are still divided, and will be for decades to come. Moreover, many people miss the wall: it’s destruction took their safety and security away, and didn’t replace it with anything meaningful, just more poverty, misery and lack of power.
    The only thing keeping many of the Eastern European countries from rebuilding “the wall” is their fear of Russia. At the same time, Russia became a scare again for the same reason: trying to find something meaningful that would replace what’ has been lost with the destruction of the wall.
    Or are you trying to tell me that Romania (or Bulgaria, or Serbia, or Poland, or Ukraine…) is now a part of Europe and the rest of the “free world”? For real?
    Please understand: I am not advocating return to the past. Unfortunately, the present and future for these countries are bleak enough to make me want to postpone celebrations until there is something worth celebrating.

  33. amba12 said,

    I know Romania pretty well (though not as well as I used to know it, which was very well). Young people feel like a part of the world, feel that they have opportunity. They are computer-literate, have cell phones and are fully plugged in. Older people suffered a great deal in the transition. It is a mixed bag. They’ve lost the security of stagnation, and gained the sometimes ruthless insecurity of opportunity. Plus, society is still dominated by many of the same people, who made fortunes under communism and so had plenty of capital to dominate the new crony capitalism. And, bad secrets are still coming out; it’s a process of purgation that’s going to take more than a generation. But younger people feel that they have a chance of influencing their situation and the direction of their society. That’s a 100% change. And they feel themselves to be proudly a part of Europe.

    I have had fights with people over the worship and idealization of capitalism, but the worst possible answer is to idealize communism again. The bigger and more powerful the entity, the more you have to fear from it. That includes governments and corporations, and especially the alliance between them. The difference is that corporations may buy laws favorable to them, but they don’t make laws. Corporations can limit your choices and try to manipulate your mind, but they can’t coerce you to buy their products or to behave the way they want you to behave. Governments can.

  34. El Pollo Real said,

    Moreover, many people miss the wall: it’s destruction took their safety and security away, and didn’t replace it with anything meaningful, just more poverty, misery and lack of power.

    When I was there in the early 90’s, there was a detectable fear amongst some Western Germans regarding the “hordes” from the East. That sounds cruel and selfish in retrospect. I think Helmut Kohl- disgraced as he became later-was largely to credit for spurring the better public impulses and deep-sixing the worse ones.

    But you’re talking here about the anxiety of the former Eastern bloc nations right? Hasn’t this always existed? Germany has long been a transition state between the romanized western nations and the slavic east. When were they ever at parity throughout history?

    *ducks when somebody who knows slavic history chimes in*

  35. amba12 said,

    Liza: here’s a Pew survey of a number of former East Bloc countries that confirms both what you were saying and what I was saying above.

  36. Liza said,

    With all due respect – to you more than to the Pew survey :) – I don’t normally read anything that starts with the “end of communism.” Even the Central Committee never claimed that communism had become a reality anywhere in the world… how could it find an end without a beginning?

    More to the point, what you say is not entirely accurate: the younger generation might be computer-literate and fully plugged in but at the same time, this generation at best does not believe in anything but private pleasures and at worst seeks affirmation in the most rabid nationalism. What they actually don’t feel is being part of the world, and it’s not their fault: the world has little need and even less pity for them. Some countries are better off than others (Slovenia and Czech Republic can hardly be compared to Romania, leave alone Moldova) but on the average, it’s quite sad. It might take more than the generation to right the multiple wrongs, but I am often afraid that people over there will loose patience and what then? another “Balkan war”?

    El Pollo, what kind of parity are you looking for? Military, cultural, economic? Shall we go back to the Russian-Swedish war? Russian-Polish? All of the above against Ottoman Empire?

  37. amba12 said,

    Liza, do you have friends in that world? I’m just curious where you got your very bleak impression. I’m also curious what you think the best place in the world is, right now (granted that nothing and noplace is perfect).

  38. Liza said,

    Amba, the last one is easy: the best place in the world is my kitchen when I bake apple turnovers (grandma’s recipe!) with my ten-years-old daughter and a bunch of her giggling friends. Home is home. But the place where I would love to live – the place I dream about! – is Istanbul, with its old pavements and multicolored multitudes (would have to learn Turkish, though…)

    Does it answer your question? :)

  39. amba12 said,

    Obliquely, but yes!

    You must have been in Istanbul — I wonder if it still has that Ottoman multifariousness.

  40. Liza said,

    Oh yes! it’s quite an unbelievable place, but its multifariousness goes back way before the Ottomans. There is this incredible feeling of connection with the past of all humankind, regardless of ethnicity and religion: people – exactly like those in the street before you – lived here a thousand, and two, and who knows how many years ago, and hurried on their little errands, to buy bread and milk, and clothes for the children, and newspapers and books, or whatever they used to read back then… No other place like this one. Tourist industry didn’t manage to “beautify” it enough to erase all those smudges of dust, and sweat, and soot… It’s there, it’s breathing, alive, real, bubbling with life. Bridges over the Golden Horn, men fishing, frying their catch and selling it right there… Smell of burning charcoal and fish left in the sun for too long… Hagya Sophia towering over everything… Spice Market, piles of bay leaves, beads, saffron, chamomile, multicolored lanterns, peddlers trying to figure out what language you can possibly speak to greet you like you were a long lost cousin of theirs… book shop around the corner from the Blue Mosque, where they serve you a cup of coffee like nothing you have ever tried…

  41. amba12 said,

    You make it irresistible. You should write a novel about it.

  42. Randy said,

    I’ve followed your conversation at the end here, and thought about joining in, but decided to toss out some links instead:

    Nick Thorpe Book Recommendations

    Ilya Somin’s Reflections on the Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Ilya Somin: Why the Neglect of Communist Crimes Matters

  43. amba12 said,

    Thank you, Randy. Particularly interesting is the notion that the Berlin Wall is too mild a crime, relatively speaking, to be the symbol of Communism.

  44. Liza said,

    Hey, wait until you hear me raving about Zagreb! or Vilnus! or Krakow! or Smolensk!.. There too many novels, though, already set in these places, and written by better people than me…

    Randy, I wouldn’t take the Volokh people too seriously: they descend from people… m-m-m… It’s enough to say that thanks to them you now use the word “communism” to describe Warsaw Pact countries like it actually means something. It doesn’t. There was no “communism”, if you use the word in its original sense, anywhere at any time: formally, the Soviet system was based on the socialism (government ownership of the means of production, if you remember your Marxist theory), but even that meant very different things in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1970s. Branding it all a “communism” makes as much sense as branding the entire history of the United States an “imperialism”, and is usually done for one of two reasons: lack of knowledge/interest or desire to please your employers.

  45. Randy said,

    Liza: There doesn’t seem to be any point in engaging with someone who is in such deep denial about the nature of the regimes, the quality of life therein, and the horrendous social and environmental costs of the misguided adventure. Your refusal to accept the near-universal shorthand use of the word “communism” to describe that system as it developed/mutated through the decades of its imposition, would be laughable were it not so sad. WRT your “two reasons” conclusion: it is as uninformed and inaccurate as most of your pseudo-intellectual arguments here.

  46. Liza said,

    Randy, you are absolutely right: no point. You limit your arguments to clichés and insults. Boring.

  47. amba12 said,

    Randy did have an important point, though, that he could have made less dismissively: to say there was no such thing as communism is to clear the way for its comeback.

    Its proponents would like to say, as G.K. Chesterton said of Christianity, “[It] has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” (A case could even be made that communism is a malignant mutation of Christianity warped by trying to force it into the material world.) But communism has been tried and has failed. It’s a bad idea, that’s why it has always failed. Inequality does tend to get bigger and bigger–the rich get richer, the poor get poorer–and that’s a problem, but it is not a problem that can be solved by redistribution, because the problem comes back again: the redistributors become the rich.

  48. amba12 said,

    People used to believe the rich (the aristocracy) were virtuous; then that the enterprising, pious bourgeoisie were virtuous; then, thanks to Marx (this is the perversion of Jesus), that the poor were virtuous. People are susceptible to corruption, period; and those who are most susceptible will always tend to seize and monopolize power and advantages. That’s why those cynics, the Founding Fathers, who thought you could trust Man as far as you could throw him, created something that worked in its imperfect way where Marxism was a disaster.

  49. Randy said,

    Liza: While I find your non-political commentary delightful, your political comments strike me the same way that mine do you: unimaginative and cliché-ridden. Thus far, it reads like a chapter and verse repetition of twaddle I first heard while in college. IOW, “boring.” As the term “communism” offends your sensibilities, I probably should have referred to totalitarianism instead, but I doubt you would have liked that term any better. As I said to Amba above, I should have stayed out of this conversation. Apologies for offending you.

  50. Liza said,

    Amba, I think I see now where the misunderstanding is: the classic idea of communism is not about redistribution but rather about the means of production and the property rights. Communism cannot be achieved while the means of production are not developed enough to have sufficient capacity to produce enough goods for everybody’s consumption, regardless of each person’s input (the monetary system would be abandoned, for example, etc.) – and that has never been tried. Still, even socialism (the initial stage of this future paradise), with its centrally planned economy and state ownership of land – and everything else, is a very bad idea: it fails miserably in comparison with a private property-based economy. You are absolutely right as to why, and I don’t know even one reasonable person who would still seek to defend or promote it.

    At the same time, I am very suspicious of words being used to mean what the speaker wants them to mean: this is what Bolsheviks used to do. Whatever Soviet system was (totalitarianism, dictatorship, socialism, disaster and disgrace), it was never a communism. I am not defending the idea, just the proper use of words, which is the only way to withstand the pressure of propaganda – from whichever side.

  51. amba12 said,

    Liza — I love the paradox that the idealists created a dystopia while the skeptics, if not cynics (about human nature), created the U.S. Constitution.

  52. Liza said,

    :)) Cynicism is the only sure way to deal with good intentions that pave the road to hell. Do you remember that old joke about the optimist and the pessimist discussing politics? “Everything is so horrible, it cannot get any worse,” said the pessimist. “Wrong, my dear, I am an optimist: it can always get worse.”

  53. amba12 said,

    “Yes we can!”

  54. naturelover54 said,

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