With Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) becoming the odds on favorite to win the Democrat nomination, the media rehabilitation efforts have begun. First up on Sunday evening was CBS’s 60 Minutes, which moved to protect Sanders against attacks that he is a communist.
Host Anderson Cooper didn’t ask Sanders about his decision to honeymoon in the former Soviet Union or about past proposals for “public ownership of utilities, banks, and major industries,” proposals that Sanders has never disavowed. However, Cooper did ask Sanders about some positive statements that he has made about Communist Cuba.
In explaining why Cubans didn’t help the U.S. overthrow Fidel Castro, 60 Minutes first played an old interview of Sanders explaining it failed because people liked Castro. He “educated the kids, gave them health care, totally transformed the society.” No mention is made of the police state and Castro killing or throwing his political opponents in prison.
“You know it is unfair to simply say that everything is bad,” Sanders told Cooper. “When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?”
Sanders can’t acknowledge it, but the push in communist countries to make sure that everyone could read had a dark side -- the literacy programs were a massive indoctrination effort. The communist governments used the education system the same way that they take over at the same time and use television, radio, and newspapers. Controlling information is the reason that communist governments would regularly jam radio Voice of America’s broadcasts in their countries during the Cold War.
That is the same pattern that we have seen in other noncommunist totalitarian countries such as Nazi Germany. But undoubtedly Sanders wouldn’t be as effusive in his praise of the Nazi education system. In both the Nazi and communist systems, even simple math problems contained indoctrination lessons for students.
Education was just another part of the police state to control people. If you could teach people from a young age how wonderful the government is and how horrible the lives are for people in freer countries, you didn’t have to spend as much money on the secret police.
Cuba, other communist countries, and other totalitarian countries spent a lot more on education than freer countries with the same per capita income. Totalitarian countries also start public schooling at younger ages than freer countries, and they did so because they wanted to weaken the connection between children and their parents and replace the parent’s values with those of the government.
Sometimes these governments went much further than simply starting school at younger ages. For example, during the 1920s and 1950s, the Soviet Union experimented with raising children in communal children’s houses and dining halls that almost completely removed children from the influence of their parents. While fighting in Afghanistan during the 1980s, the Soviet government forcibly took tens of thousands of 3-and 4-year-old Afghanis to the USSR and raised them away from the influences of their families. The hope was that when later returned to Afghanistan, they would form the core of a loyal government administration.
In 1989, immediately before the fall of the Soviet Union, former President Ronald Reagan pointed out, “the biggest of Big Brothers is helpless against the technology of the Information Age.” Unlike Sanders, Reagan understood that part of winning the Cold War was breaking the control that communist governments had over the information that their citizens received.
Sanders is not alone in praising Cuba’s health care system. Of course, when Fidel Castro got very ill, he went to Spain for medical treatment. Their most significant bragging right was their improvements in infant mortality rates. But while infant mortality rates were improving dramatically between 1960 and 1971 in all the rest of North, Central, and South America, Cuba alone saw things get worse. Cuba’s big improvements occurred long after the attempted overthrow of Castro. To lower the infant mortality rate, the government forced abortions for high-risk babies. The government also took many pregnant women away from their families and ordered that they stay in special maternity homes. By 2000, the Cuban government was ordering 40 percent of mothers to stay in these homes for at least a portion of their pregnancy.
Cuba was able to eventually get an infant mortality rate slightly below that in the United States, but Anderson Cooper didn’t ask Sanders any follow-up questions about how the Cubans accomplished this “transformation.”
Communist countries from Cuba to Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union impoverished their citizens, though their leaders lived lives of luxury. The general citizens had miserable lives. Bernie Sanders might not want to acknowledge it, but their supposedly fabulous accomplishments had a real dark side.