Thomas Sowell

IF ONE PICTURE could capture the tragedy of the 20th century, it would be a recent front-page photograph of a Korean mother and son, reunited after 50 years of not being able to see each other. One lived in South Korea and the other in Communist North Korea. Here was the casual cruelty of Communism, which breaks the heart and spirit of individuals and families.

The ease with which so many Americans were willing to send little Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba speaks volumes about their gross ignorance of one of the great evils of this century. But I have met too many people from Communist countries to buy the argument about the "parental rights" of Elian's father.

There are no such rights in a Communist country, and a Cuban official said publicly that Elian is "the property of the state" like other Cuban children. Accordingly, Elian was returned not to his father but to a state institution set up for him in Havana, while his father lives in Cardenas.

Those who cannot grasp the casual cruelty of the state should have been with me one night when I encountered a usually upbeat colleague who was clearly depressed and asked what was wrong. He said: "I just learned that my mother died -- five years ago" in the Soviet Union.

Those who do not understand should have been there when a woman from Communist China expressed worry because her visa for staying in the United States was running out.

"Why don't you ask for asylum?" I said.

"Do you know what will happen to my family in China if I do that?" she replied.

What is simple ignorance on the part of many Americans is determined blindness on the part of many intellectuals. A woman in Hong Kong, who had escaped from China after the horrors of Mao's "cultural revolution" were inflicted on her family -- with one member driven to suicide -- told me of Western intellectuals who simply refused to believe her when she told them things that conflicted with their naive illusions about China under Mao.

Those illusions have been so strong on the Stanford University campus that a doctoral student who went to China in the 1980s and came back with stories that blasted the local illusions was forced to leave without his degree. He was sacrificed because of complaints from the Communist authorities in China.

Although Communism is in retreat where it has not already collapsed -- except in Cuba and North Korea -- the dangerous naivete of many in the democratic countries remains. Indeed, some of those democracies, including the United States, are following in the footsteps of those who set up the state as the controller of the family. In Sweden, you cannot even spank your own child without violating the law.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate