Go West this summer and get ahead.

Self-interest and ethnocentrism

The concept of self-interest is an all too familiar and quintessentially American belief. It guides not only public policy but also social values, both of which are connected in a somewhat frightening way.

After World War II, the United States adopted a foreign policy of “containment,” the goal being to contain an apparent communism being spread throughout Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union. “Containment” was a foreign policy, but more broadly, it was an ideology. Which beliefs characterized this ideology?

The core conviction was that Communism is an oppressive and tyrannical oligarchy. This is how our federal
government justified its radical foreign policy and defense measures. Containment was seen as a humanitarian cause:

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To save the downtrodden peoples of Eastern European countries, many of which most Americans probably still can’t point to on a map. (Where’s Bulgaria again?)

No one should doubt that the Stalinist regimes established in Eastern and Central Europe at the time were horrendously oppressive. The relationship between government and governed existed only in late-night rendezvous’ with secret police from which only the police returned.

But let’s take a step back. Who committed these crimes? Joseph Stalin was a central culprit and war criminal.

Fortunately for many, he died in 1953. Unfortunately, Nicolae Ceaușescu rose to Romanian power in 1965 as leader of the Romanian Communist Party, a Soviet-backed puppet government. He exported his country’s production to pay off foreign debt, leaving most of his citizens to starve in the streets. He was rewarded by a comically eager and ever-accurate firing squad.

Would it be just as accurate to blame Communism for the crimes of these men? The Soviet Union was dominated by a self described “Communist Party of the Soviet Union.” Clearly, they saw themselves as a communist entity, but would

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Karl Marx or Friedrich Engels agree? They wrote “The Communist Manifesto,” an 1848 treatise that introduced communism to Europe. They established communism as a system with no private property in which occupation depends on skill and wage depends on need.

Whether it’s a good idea or not can be argued elsewhere. But the fact remains that this system did not exist in the

Soviet Union nor did it exist elsewhere. Many communist scholars will tell you it’s never existed at all.

It may seem petty, but noting that the Soviet Union did not enact communism is more than a semantic distinction.

Unlike communism, Marxism-Leninism was not universally sensationalized in U.S. propaganda, despite being Stalin’s term for his guiding ideology. It wasn’t a typo — it was misinformation, engineered and spread deliberately. That’s what propaganda is and our late pals Stalin and Ceaușescu used the same technique on their populations. They could’ve given our media some tricks of the trade.

When a semantic discrepancy justifies public policy and the imprisonment of U.S. citizens, it demands attention.

When it instills ethnocentrism and xenophobia into an entire generation, it demands clarification. When those ideologies linger into 21st century public policy, it demands an explanation.

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