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Intellectual Walls

Mis (Teddy Bear)

Mis (Teddy Bear)

Many people were concerned about Obama’s speech, and some conservatives were voicing fears that Obama would try to indoctrinate the youth. Concerned conservative groups urged parents to keep their children at home, to shield them from the insidious message of socialism. “Parents have a right to decide what their children hear!” they protested, “And we’re only trying to protect our children.”

The irony is, in trying to shield their children from a perceived socialist threat, they were engaging in behavior that historically has been most commonly exhibited by — surprise! — socialist regimes.

One of the most frightening features of the Soviet Union and its satellite states was the complete control they had over information. Orwell’s 1984 had the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, which altered historical documents to create the appearance of Big Brother’s omniscience. The Soviet Union, in many ways, did the same thing.

More importantly, though, anything and everything from the corrupt West was censored. The capitalist message was so insidious that it might indoctrinate the happy citizens of the Soviet Union and lead to the downfall of the the most perfect civilization on Earth. Capitalism was bad, so bad that even to think about it was deadly.

The Polish cult classic Mis (“Teddy Bear”) has a scene dramatizing what surely happened each and every time a sports team from a communist country traveled West for a competition. The director of the sports club gives the standard speech before getting on the bus:

You’re going to a capitalist country, which might have it’s own, well, advantages. Take care that those advantages don’t overshadow the disadvantages.

The advantages could be so seductive that they could cast their spell even in the midst of post-war destruction: Stalin imprisoned many of the Soviet soldiers who’d been on the far Western front. They’d seen too much; they’d been contaminated. Indoctrinated.

The Soviets didn’t want informed citizens who could weigh the advantages and disadvantages of socialism and capitalism and choose wisely. Big Brother knew very well how seductive the dark side could be, and he took great pains to shield his younger siblings’ eyes and plug their ears.

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