This year is the anniversary of three momentous events of the 20th century: 70 years ago, NATO was formed; 30 years ago, the Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall were dismantled; and 20 years ago, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined NATO.
Have we learned the lessons of these historic dates? There are troubling signs indicating we have not.
The century began with World War I, which ended with an punitive and unfair peace treaty in 1919. The treaty was not supported by President Woodrow Wilson and sowed the seeds for World War II. Following that war, President Harry Truman recognized the need for an alliance of free democratic countries to oppose a dictatorial Soviet Union. NATO, the most successful alliance in history, was formed on April 4, 1949, and it peacefully prevailed over a dictatorial communist/socialist system.
As a result, Western Europe enjoyed an extended period of peace and prosperity, while Central and Eastern Europe suffered under a system that was designed to progress from socialism to communism, per the teachings of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Lenin. In reality, this so-called “progressive” movement meant a reign of terror, poverty, loss of individual freedoms, 100 million lives lost, and many millions more imprisoned.
However, the utopian promises of social equality and the creation of “heaven on earth” could not overcome the desire of people for freedom, sovereignty, and self-determination. In 1956, there was a bloody revolt in Hungary against the Soviet Union and dictatorial communism. This was followed by the 1968 Prague Spring and the Polish Solidarity movement in the early 1980s. Then came the historic 1989 events of 30 years ago when, in June, Hungary opened the Iron Curtain toward Austria, allowing East Germans to flee the oppression of the utopian socialist system, thereby rendering the Berlin Wall obsolete. In November of that year, the Berlin Wall itself was demolished. People were jubilant as they regained their freedom and the ability to determine their own future, as opposed to the comrades in Moscow.
An unparalleled period of euphoria and optimism in Central and Eastern Europe followed that momentous year. Then 20 years ago, in 1999, three former Warsaw Pact satellites, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland, joined the NATO alliance of free democratic countries. Fittingly, the accession agreement was signed in Truman’s hometown of Independence, Mo., on the same desk on which the Washington Agreement creating NATO was signed.
Unfortunately, the dark clouds of socialism are again gathering in many countries, based on the same old promises of a utopian system guaranteeing equality and that governments are the answer to all societal problems. Politicians, who unscrupulously seek the favor of voters for their own benefit, are making the same old “heaven on earth” promises. Sadly, there are politicians and bureaucrats in Washington and Brussels, supported by ivory tower academics, media pundits, and Hollywood luminaries who believe socialism is viable.
It is critical that current generations look back at what socialism produced in the last 70 years. Where is there one successful socialist system? For a time, Scandinavian countries were able to use the production from a successful capitalist system to support a new socialistic system, but that experiment has ended because it proved to be unsustainable. Other so-called socialist systems, such as those in Cuba, North Korea, and Venezuela, provide nothing but hunger and misery to their citizens, while their “visionary” leaders live lives of luxury. Once the richest country in South America, Venezuela under socialism has become one of the poorest.
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