A Personal Perspective

Scripps-Howard News Service 10.24.01
Balint Vazsonyi

After five years of writing for readers in and around the nation's capital, the Scripps Howard News Service kindly offered to distribute my weekly column. For three months now, I have been honored by the interest of editors and the public from Florida to New England, from Southern California to Seattle, Washington. The e-mail messages have covered the range from the highly complimentary to the inordinately hostile, which indicates that my thoughts draw a response.

The opportunity to communicate regularly with fellow-Americans is a privilege for anybody, but especially for one who came here as an adult, a non-native speaker and writer of the English language, schooled mostly in another land. Because my perspective - and the way it is conveyed - is bound to be different from the majority of columnists, I ask for your indulgence on this one occasion for the purpose of introducing the background, the components, the words which make it so.

From age 8 to 20, my formative years coincided first with German National Socialist, then with Russian Soviet Socialist, occupation - and the terror dispensed by their surrogates. My family belonged to the somewhat rare breed of those persecuted under both regimes. Consequently, the contradiction between their apparent hostility, yet unmistakable similarity, to each other began to exercise my curiosity at an early age.

In addition to their identical practices, and use of similar types of operatives, it was the identity of their common enemy that revealed the fraternal twins Nazism and Communism in fact are. Both treated any contact with the English-speaking world as the highest crime against the State.

These experiences should explain my suspicions of anyone who condemns one less than the other; my unshakable belief that no single idea originating from either is compatible with America's political philosophy; finally, that in Nazism (national socialism) the word "socialism" is infinitely more important than "national." In fact, observation proves that those who sympathize with socialism are inclined to emphasize "national" precisely to avoid the linkage between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Stalin went as far as to order replacement of the word "Nazi" with "fascist" - a label of no relevance whatsoever to the 12 years of Hitler's rule.

The foregoing is of interest only because the past three-or-so decades have seen a gradual weakening of the bond between Americans and the political philosophy bequeathed to them by the Founding Fathers. Before the 1960s, Americans flirted with various aspects of socialism - essentially the ideology of the European Continent, developed mostly by French and German thinkers - but the fundamentals that have made America more free, prosperous and successful than any other society had not been questioned.

Those fundamentals, enshrined in our founding documents, elucidated for the newcomer why Americans were fiercely independent, enterprising, reasonable, generous, and - yes - by and large good people. I have spent much thinking time since my arrival here in 1959, and invariably came to the same conclusion: it's all there in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The preparation for my citizenship examination in 1964 was only the beginning. The difference between Americans and all other nationalities would continue to fascinate anyone willing to notice it.

The result has been not only a high degree of devotion to this country and the people who live in it, but a serious concern toward any tampering with the fundamentals - or the importation of socialist-inspired tenets, whatever the label attached to them. Probably, unbeknownst to most, millions of Americans are affected by socialist ideas, masquerading as "progressive," "liberal," "Left," "politically correct," "sensitive," "compassionate," or "social and economic justice." Similarly, "Constitution Lite" is being practiced by those who refer to the clearly written, Supreme Law of the Land as a "living-breathing" document.

In these critical days, as we balance the requirements of national defense with our civil liberties, we need to keep the fundamentals firmly in focus. The provisions of the First Amendment suddenly appear more crucial than ever before. Nonetheless, we must realize that freedom of expression is wasted if the speaker has not done the mandatory homework about the topic in question.

But even more important is the realization that, as the case had been for nearly two centuries, our differences have all the wide berth they require within the American context. There is neither need, nor excuse, to borrow from failed ideologies that Americans have sacrificed, fought and died to defeat.

As I thank editors and readers for their patience, I ask that the foregoing explanation be admitted in evidence.

Balint Vazsonyi, concert pianist and director of the Center for the American Founding, writes every Wednesday. His e-mail is bv@founding.org