I'll never forget my introduction to Russia and world politics in junior high school. First we read "The Communist Manifesto." Then we read "Animal Farm," about the "real way" it worked. A small cadre of unprincipled, violent, godless, radical atheists seized power in Russia in 1917, toppling the Christian tsar, murdering his family and proceeded to turn Russia into a prison camp called the Soviet Union. All private property was seized by the government. Children were forced to tattle to the government on their parents' thoughts and actions. They were programmed and indoctrinated. Then after World War II, the virus of communism spread into Eastern Europe, China, and right to America's doorstep in Cuba, 90 miles from our shores. Next our teacher dramatically showed us a world map. He explained the "Domino Theory" and pointed to all the countries that had fallen to the "Reds." It was pretty scary. The commies were united in their desire to overtake the world and to bury us, our teacher said, and we had to stop them.
That's why we were in Vietnam. To stop communist aggression and give the Vietnamese people freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, the right to own private property and to become prosperous like we were in America. To stop the dominoes from falling. We only half succeeded in stopping the communists in Korea. If Vietnam fell to the Reds, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan, Australia and New Zealand couldn't be far behind. And then the communists would move on to conquer Hawaii, Alaska, Canada and the West coast of the United States. The communists would stop at nothing.
I was ready to enlist in the army to defend my country and our way of life.
Believe it or not, our teacher said, there were American citizens who did not want us to win in Vietnam, did not want us to beat the Reds, and would actually assist them in America. There were communists right here in America, right here in North Carolina. My teacher was a big fan of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. I read "Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It" and reported on it for class.
These communists threatened our way of life, especially in the South, my teacher said. They pushed racial integration as a way to get blacks and whites fighting each other. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a rabblerouser, controlled by communists. He started riots and cowardly fled the scene, we were told.
At that, I started to doubt what I was taught, to do some reading on my own, and to come back to my teacher with questions. The more I studied, the more I realized his simplistic world view was falling apart. To be sure, I had been gripped and initially frightened by it. He had gotten my attention. Less threatening, boring "pro and con" analyses of America's role in the world perhaps might not have captured a 14-year-old boy's imagination.
So in that sense, his teaching was a success. I had resisted programming and indoctrination. He had inspired me to think for myself, to study, and to his credit, allowed me to debate him and try to punch holes in his arguments.
These good-vs-evil paradigms and black-vs.-white dichotomies still shape our views of the world. Fox News and MSNBC generate them routinely. Sometimes it's implicit assumptions rather than explicit assertions, which we know do not stand up to scrutiny:
- Western Civilization (Always Good) Vs. Middle Eastern Civilization (Always Bad).
- Individualism (Always Good) Vs. Collectivism (Always Bad).
- Christianity and Judaism (Always Good) Vs. Islam (Always Bad).
- Israel (Always Good) Vs. Arabs (Always Bad)
- Capitalism and Free Market Economics (Always Good) vs. Socialism (Always Bad):
- Job-stealing Global Economy & MultiNational Corporate Greed (Always Bad) Vs. Loyal, Homegrown, Small Businesses (Always Good).
- (Conversely) Global Economy of Limitless Opportunities (Always Good) Vs. Stagnating Low-wage Small Businesses (Always Bad).
Or vice versa. One purpose of education is to recognize indoctrination (like I experienced as a 14-year-old) and develop a nuanced view of the world.
I'm sure you can think of other either/or, good vs. bad paradigms. if only the world were so black and white, life would be a lot simpler, wouldn't it?