Last week my wife & I went to the new movie “America”. Like many of my friends we cringed as we listened to the words of the leftist persons interviewed and we listened intently as Dinesh D’Sousa made a strong argument to refute each point. We know that our own three sons would have different responses to this movie. But I left the theater with thoughts of my own wake up moment years ago as to what America means to me.
In June of 1969, I joined 30 other Indiana farm kids on a People-to-People tour of Europe. We realized upon arriving in Moscow that this was the day Apollo 11 was to land on the moon. We did not want to miss all the news coverage that would take place back in the USA. Naively we called the Embassy and asked if we could come over and watch it on TV. The nice Sergeant at the Embassy laughed and asked where we were from. He was from Terre Haute, IN himself and stated he would bring over a short wave radio to our hotel to see what we could hear. In the middle of the Cold War, three of us wore trench coats to the lobby like in a James Bond movie and met him. — After we got older we learned this was no time for jokes.
In our hotel room we listened to the squeal of jamming that he explained was done by the Soviets. When the commercials came over the radio signal (a repeater of a USA radio station), the jamming stopped. The commercials were considered by the Soviets to be an example of those decadent capitalists. We listened for over four hours and were barely able to hear enough to believe that the mission had succeeded. We popped champaign corks out the window in celebration. The street below was empty as we looked out over Red Square and Lenin’s tomb from our hotel room window. Spooky to say the least! — At the time we did not fully understand the reality of the times. — The next day we found a small 2″ article in the English version of the Pravda newspaper on the inside crease of the last section stating that the Apollo 11 crew successfully landed on the moon. Our guide stated that this article was not included in the Russian version of the paper — Total silence for the people of the Soviet Union!
The next day, in a southern region of Russia, we met with farmers on a collective farm. We saw vast fields of poor crops yet every backyard in the homes was a paradise of green gardens. The farmers had no incentive to work the fields for the government but they worked very hard on their own gardens. We also played soccer on a local field when a group of Russian teenagers joined us. We could not communicate, however with hand signals we were able to give them US flag stickers and we all decided to play a game. They were very nice to us and let us get one goal before pounding us to a 9-1 defeat. We all laughed and left as friends. I would give anything to meet them today here in the USA!
The next day we arrived in Warsaw, Poland (ten years before Lech Walesa’s Solidarity Movement began the decline of USSR. When I heard Lech Walesa speak a few years ago at FreePac-Ohio, my wife could not quite understand why that moment was so special to me!). We called the embassy and asked if we could listen to the ocean landing of Apollo 11 on radio. They said, “Come on over. We will have a live TV feed!”. When we arrived, the Embassy had TVs mounted on poles all around the perimeter fence. Polish citizens, that would soon break their chains of bondage with socialism, surrounded the entire embassy perimeter ten people deep. This was a stark contrast to what we had just left behind in Moscow. We joined other Americans and guests inside the Embassy. What a glorious night that was!
Days later we arrived in Dresden, East Germany and stayed at a plush hotel with lavish gardens. At night however we saw something very different. From our hotel windows from the upper floors, we saw that the four block complex of hotels we occupied was lit up strongly, but the rest of the entire city was dark – totally dark. The next night we traveled through this dark void to the Berlin Wall and entered across Checkpoint Charlie into West Berlin. We drove from a dark dreary place into a vibrant place that looked like Times Square in New York City. The contrast was beyond belief.
As kids entering college at the end of the sixties with the turmoil of anti-war movements, we all saw on that trip a different view of America that almost all of my fellow freshmen classmates in college had not seen and some would not allow themselves to see. This was an America of tremendous freedom, opportunity and charity. In Moscow we saw the total control of the Soviet government. In Southern Russia we discovered that kids everywhere are basically good people & yearn to know about each other. In Poland I saw with my own eyes the enthusiasm of a people who are demanding freedom and who eventually obtained it. In East Germany the poverty was so evident and the prosperity of West Germany was so enormous. These images of socialism remain with me to this day. I cringe when I hear our young people praise socialism and condemn capitalism in a free society. Even though we are no longer as free as we should be.
As I left the theater after watching “America”, all I could think about was the endless squeal of the radio in Moscow, the smiles of the young kids on the soccer field in Southern Russia and the scarcity of the collective farms contrasted with the abundance of their personal gardens. I saw the strength of the Polish people bursting out toward freedom. Finally in East Berlin, over the course of less than one mile, I went from a place of stark dreary poverty into a place of vibrant energetic freedom in West Berlin – a defiant island of freedom trapped in a sea of socialist depravity.
This is why I will stay focused on freedom and liberty until I leave this earth. To reference the book by Seth Morgan of the same name — “It’s About Liberty, Stupid”. — I thank my parents for being here in this place where I was born and for the opportunities given to me. I thank God for America!