Decades ago, when I was studying Russian history in graduate school, a popular aphorism circulating at the time said, “The optimists are studying Russian; the pessimists are studying Chinese.” As the years have unfolded, that statement has come to seem to be increasingly quite on target.
Today, continuing in their traditions of the last century, both countries are ruled over by despotic dictators, who have no regard for the people under their rule. Both states are totalitarian hegemonies, oppressively controlling the citizenry without regard for human or political rights of the populace.
In Russia’s case, Putin is slaughtering masses of civilians and military in his invasion of Ukraine, a country that was not a threat to Russia, but in his vision, should be brought back under Moscovite control. In 2014 he successfully grabbed the Crimean Peninsula, this time, perhaps inspired by that fait accompli, he is attempting to take back the lynchpin of the former Soviet economy, namely the great plains of Ukraine that had been the principal food supply for the U.S.S.R.
We must remember that Putin is a product of the K.G.B., the Soviet secret police that was the principal instrument of keeping the citizenry under control. Early in his career, Putin was stationed at the Soviet embassy in Washington, during which time he lived with his colleagues at a house on the outskirts of Washington in Bethesda, Md. He is knowledgeable about our country and knows our strong points and our weaknesses.
With the fall of the Soviet empire, many of its client states from the former Warsaw Pact have joined NATO, causing Putin to fear the Ukraine would follow suit. The Warsaw Pact was formed in 1955 during N. S. Khrushchev’s tenure at the helm in Moscow. In essence, it was the communist response to NATO. With the fall of the U.S.S.R., it ceased to exist. Under communism the inner empire consisted of Russia and the lesser member states within the Soviet borders; the outer empire consisted of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, and the most brutal of all, East Germany. Each was a despotic dictatorship modeled after the U.S.S.R.
The “pessimists,” those now studying Chinese, are facing off against another dictatorship, based on the fundamental Marxist principles of denying the essential human freedoms that we find established in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Xi Jinping, the Chinese dictator, is oppressing the Uyghur Muslim population in western China, the Buddhists in Tibet and all forms of Christians throughout the country. Regrettably, leaders in the West are not speaking out against these atrocities.
The brutality of his dictatorship is most apparent in the treatment being given to Jimmy Lai and the Catholic former Bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Zen. Each is facing spending the rest of his life in prison, merely for advocating for human rights.
Reflecting on the current plight of Russia and China causes me to be ever more grateful for the blessings of liberty that we enjoy in America, and at times take for granted. As Hanukkah and Christmas are upon us, in the spirit of giving and gratefulness that inspire and motivate the season we also should remember those millions deprived of the freedoms that are the hallmark of our country. May they one day be able to share in the blessings of liberty that is their inalienable birthright.
As the year draws to a close, to all of our readers I send wishes for a Happy Hanukkah and a Merry Christmas. May the New Year bring us all peace, health and prosperity.