A Personal Perspective
Scripps-Howard News Service 10.24.01
After five years of writing for readers in and around the nation's
capital, the Scripps Howard News Service kindly offered to distribute
my weekly column. For three months now, I have been honored by the
interest of editors and the public from Florida to New England,
from Southern California to Seattle, Washington. The e-mail messages
have covered the range from the highly complimentary to the inordinately
hostile, which indicates that my thoughts draw a response.
The opportunity to communicate regularly with fellow-Americans
is a privilege for anybody, but especially for one who came here
as an adult, a non-native speaker and writer of the English language,
schooled mostly in another land. Because my perspective - and the
way it is conveyed - is bound to be different from the majority
of columnists, I ask for your indulgence on this one occasion for
the purpose of introducing the background, the components, the words
which make it so.
From age 8 to 20, my formative years coincided first with German
National Socialist, then with Russian Soviet Socialist, occupation
- and the terror dispensed by their surrogates. My family belonged
to the somewhat rare breed of those persecuted under both regimes.
Consequently, the contradiction between their apparent hostility,
yet unmistakable similarity, to each other began to exercise my
curiosity at an early age.
In addition to their identical practices, and use of similar types
of operatives, it was the identity of their common enemy that revealed
the fraternal twins Nazism and Communism in fact are. Both treated
any contact with the English-speaking world as the highest crime
against the State.
These experiences should explain my suspicions of anyone who condemns
one less than the other; my unshakable belief that no single idea
originating from either is compatible with America's political philosophy;
finally, that in Nazism (national socialism) the word "socialism"
is infinitely more important than "national." In fact,
observation proves that those who sympathize with socialism are
inclined to emphasize "national" precisely to avoid the
linkage between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
Stalin went as far as to order replacement of the word "Nazi"
with "fascist" - a label of no relevance whatsoever to
the 12 years of Hitler's rule.
The foregoing is of interest only because the past three-or-so
decades have seen a gradual weakening of the bond between Americans
and the political philosophy bequeathed to them by the Founding
Fathers. Before the 1960s, Americans flirted with various aspects
of socialism - essentially the ideology of the European Continent,
developed mostly by French and German thinkers - but the fundamentals
that have made America more free, prosperous and successful than
any other society had not been questioned.
Those fundamentals, enshrined in our founding documents, elucidated
for the newcomer why Americans were fiercely independent, enterprising,
reasonable, generous, and - yes - by and large good people. I have
spent much thinking time since my arrival here in 1959, and invariably
came to the same conclusion: it's all there in the Declaration of
Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The preparation for my citizenship
examination in 1964 was only the beginning. The difference between
Americans and all other nationalities would continue to fascinate
anyone willing to notice it.
The result has been not only a high degree of devotion to this
country and the people who live in it, but a serious concern toward
any tampering with the fundamentals - or the importation of socialist-inspired
tenets, whatever the label attached to them. Probably, unbeknownst
to most, millions of Americans are affected by socialist ideas,
masquerading as "progressive," "liberal," "Left,"
"politically correct," "sensitive," "compassionate,"
or "social and economic justice." Similarly, "Constitution
Lite" is being practiced by those who refer to the clearly
written, Supreme Law of the Land as a "living-breathing"
In these critical days, as we balance the requirements of national
defense with our civil liberties, we need to keep the fundamentals
firmly in focus. The provisions of the First Amendment suddenly
appear more crucial than ever before. Nonetheless, we must realize
that freedom of expression is wasted if the speaker has not done
the mandatory homework about the topic in question.
But even more important is the realization that, as the case had
been for nearly two centuries, our differences have all the wide
berth they require within the American context. There is neither
need, nor excuse, to borrow from failed ideologies that Americans
have sacrificed, fought and died to defeat.
As I thank editors and readers for their patience, I ask that the
foregoing explanation be admitted in evidence.
Balint Vazsonyi, concert pianist and director of the Center for
the American Founding, writes every Wednesday. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org