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Thoughts on My 75th Birthday

My adoption of communism and a belief that it was the key to all truth stemmed from what I was taught by my high school teachers. I recently talked to the school’s official historian, now employed by the institution and teaching there now. He told me that virtually every member of the faculty when I attended the school from 1949 through 1955 was an actual member of the American Communist Party. Recall that this took place during the so-called McCarthyite reign of terror in the 1950s. And here, in the heart of New York, communist teachers were employed by a private school based on the pedagogical theories of John Dewey (who was on its original board of trustees) and no one threw them in prison. Some were indeed good teachers, but the truth is that impressionable young people like me learned that being decent meant being a good leftist. The school, Elisabeth Irwin High School, was the upper division of The Little Red Schoolhouse, the elementary school we referred to as “The Little Red Schoolhouse for Little Reds.” It is not surprising that in their big anniversary book published some years ago, they noted that for a period in the postwar era, the school stopped teaching American history and taught only Soviet history, since that was the future of the world it wanted its students prepared for.

Most of my readers also know that what got me in trouble with the Left when I still considered myself part of it was writing The Rosenberg File, published in 1983. That book came from the same motivation that led me this week to write about the Stone film. The difference is that when I started, I believed that the Rosenbergs were innocent, and that as a historian, I could prove it. As I began my research with my friend Sol Stern, it quickly became apparent that they were guilty as charged. Seeing that the evidence did not square with the views I believed, I went with the evidence, and began to reevaluate the left-wing mythologies I had always thought were true.

Although the period I considered myself a communist was thankfully a very brief one, and decades ago, I realize how if someone skillful had been around to counter the misinformation I was regularly fed, I could have avoided taking such a path that led to some wasted years. Today, equally idealistic and well-meaning young people, who now as before crave a better world, join movements and organizations that espouse a totalitarian mentality because they believe they are promoting social justice. They too think their oppositional stance will lead to the utopian future they think remains possible -- not understanding that no such utopia exists for them to make possible, and that their actions will only make things worse. How else to explain the alliance in Europe, especially in Britain, between the old New Left, the remaining old Communists, and the various Trotskyist splinter groups with the Islamists and Salafi fundamentalists?

As in the past, these folks on the Left have a double standard; they want to end the patriarchy and espouse feminism but remain silent on the real war on women by radical Islamists, since to criticize them is to attack the West they believe is responsible for all evil, and to say anything is to be ethnocentric and to criticize their chosen ways of behavior, which is itself coming from an imperialist perspective.

A few years ago, Joan Wallach Scott of Princeton’s Institute for Advance Studies exemplified this attitude. As The New Yorker reported,

Scott, a feminist scholar, was asked by the moderator, Jacob Weisberg of Slate, about the treatment of Muslim women and Ramadan’s views on the subject, including his call for a "moratorium" in Muslim countries on the Islamic criminal code, including stoning of adulteresses. Her answer came in two parts: first, she said, the whole question is just a distraction from the plight of unemployed Muslims in Europe. Second, who are we to criticize? Let them work things out according to their religion.

Scott, by the way, is also a leftist I knew well as a fellow student during my UW-Madison undergraduate and graduate years.

So, let me return to the theme of thoughts on being 75. The way to keep going is to do what gives your life passion and meaning, and to continue to do so as long as possible. In my personal case, it is to hopefully provide the kind of wisdom that will allow some to avoid taking the path of utopian fantasies that can never be realized, and to write works as a historian that give my readers a real perspective on our country’s path -- rather than the kind of ideologically motivated “history” of an Oliver Stone, that takes material out of context to fit it to his preconceived, communist world-view.

So I will carry on, keeping-on keeping-on. Therefore, dear readers, you can look forward to more from me at PJM and elsewhere. And now, I’ll go out and celebrate my birthday!


Image courtesty shutterstock / Robyn Mackenzie