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Sharansky: The U.S. has “lost the courage of its convictions”

Sharansky: The U.S. has “lost the courage of its convictions”

When did America forget that it’s America?

One of my early posts at Legal Insurrection, on November 11, 2008, was Is It Time For Conservatives To Sit Down In The Snow?.

The post analogized what conservatives were about to experience in the aftermath of Obama’s first victory to the experience of Soviet Jewish Refusenik Anatoly (Nathan) Sharansky. I related the story of Sharansky’s release from the Soviet gulag, and how he resisted to the very last moment of his release:

Sharansky spend almost a decade in Soviet prison because of his activities on behalf of Jews who wanted to emigrate to Israel. Sharansky was subjected to torture and other indignities, but never lost his spirit.Sharansky notoriously refused to obey even the most mundane orders from his captors. Sharansky understood that to compromise even a little would lead to compromising a lot. Throughout his ordeal, Sharansky kept his spirits alive by reading a small book of psalms.

As Sharansky was being led to the airplane that would take him from the Soviet Union to East Germany for the exchange, the Soviets confiscated his book of psalms.It would have been easy for Sharansky simply to keep walking towards the plane and freedom. But Sharansky understood that the Soviets confiscated his book of psalms not because they wanted the book, but because they wanted to show that even in this last moment, they were in control.

In front of reporters covering his departure, Sharansky sat in the snow refusing to move unless the Soviets gave him back his book of psalms. Here was this diminutive man, after 10 years in prison, on the verge of freedom, refusing to budge unless one of the world’s two superpowers gave him back his book. And give him back his book of psalms they did. Sharansky proceeded to the plane, where he read Psalm 30: “I will extol thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me.”

Jay Nordlinger’s 2005 interview with Sharansky recounts not only the episode in the snow, but also the final moments when Sharansky walked to the car for the exchange:

Sharansky spent nine years in the Gulag, a harrowing time in which he demonstrated what resistance is. More than 400 of those days were spent in punishment cells; more than 200 were spent on hunger strikes. His refusal to concede anything to the Soviet state was almost superhuman. This was true to the very last. When they relinquished him to the East Germans, they told him to walk straight to a waiting car — “Don’t make any turns.” Sharansky zig-zagged his way to that car.

I found this video which has brief clips of that moment of release, as well as his arrival in Israel as the crowd sang Hine Mah Tov (Psalm 133 – “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”). I remember those events, but never was able to find video.

I’m not a “hero” type of person — but if I were to have a list of heroes, Sharansky would be on it.

So when Sharansky speaks, I listen. And he spoke on April 17, 2015, in The Washington Post, When did America forget that it’s America?, in which he compares the U.S. capitulation to Iran to U.S. negotiations with the Soviet Union:

As a former Soviet dissident, I cannot help but compare this approach to that of the United States during its decades-long negotiations with the Soviet Union, which at the time was a global superpower and a existential threat to the free world. The differences are striking and revealing.

For starters, consider that the Soviet regime felt obliged to make its first ideological concession simply to enter into negotiations with the United States about economic cooperation. At the end of the 1950s, Moscow abandoned its doctrine of fomenting a worldwide communist revolution and adopted in its place a credo of peaceful coexistence between communism and capitalism. The Soviet leadership paid a high price for this concession, both internally — in the form of millions of citizens, like me, who had been obliged to study Marxism and Leninism as the truth and now found their partial abandonment confusing — and internationally, in their relations with the Chinese and other dogmatic communists who viewed the change as a betrayal. Nevertheless, the Soviet government understood that it had no other way to get what it needed from the United States.

Imagine what would have happened if instead, after completing a round of negotiations over disarmament, the Soviet Union had declared that its right to expand communism across the continent was not up for discussion. This would have spelled the end of the talks. Yet today, Iran feels no need to tone down its rhetoric calling for the death of America and wiping Israel off the map.

Sharansky correctly notes that reinforcement of the Mullah regime’s expansionist and aggressive posture seems to be a concession the U.S. is willing to accept:

Reality is complicated, and the use of historical analogies is always somewhat limited. But even this superficial comparison shows that what the United States saw fit to demand back then from the most powerful and dangerous competitor it had ever known is now considered beyond the pale in its dealings with Iran.

And then Sharansky zeroes in on the problem — the Obama and modern liberal world view of moral equivalence:

While negotiating with the Soviet Union, U.S. administrations of all stripes felt certain of the moral superiority of their political system over the Soviet one. They felt they were speaking in the name of their people and the free world as a whole, while the leaders of the Soviet regime could speak for no one but themselves and the declining number of true believers still loyal to their ideology.

But in today’s postmodern world, when asserting the superiority of liberal democracy over other regimes seems like the quaint relic of a colonialist past, even the United States appears to have lost the courage of its convictions.

So, When did America forget that it’s America?

Don’t say 2008. That’s too simple. Obama’s election was the symptom, not the cause.

We abandoned the educational system over two generations ago, and allowed people who think that the U.S. is the main problem in the world to get control of our children. Obama will be out of office in two years, but the problem will live on.

[Note: As originally published, the sentence starting “As a former Soviet dissident …” was not included in the block quotes in error. That’s Sharansky’s statement, obviously, not mine.]


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NO. The left never shared the same convictions in the first place. How can you say that the left has lost the courage of their convictions when they have been convinced that the US is wrong and that Our enemies (namely the old Soviets) are right?

Nor does the left believe in democracy. The left believes that people are too ignorant to be trusted with self governance.

This is not a loss of the courage of our convictions. The problem is that our current leaders do not share the same convictions as the rest of the nation.

    Barry in reply to jim_m. | April 19, 2015 at 1:58 am

    “This is not a loss of the courage of our convictions. The problem is that our current leaders do not share the same convictions as the rest of the nation.”

    Those “leaders” are elected by the population. the current leader of the “free” world was elected twice. The opposition party promises to change things and pretends to do it. The only real fools are those of us that keep voting for the conservatives while campaigning, but democraps while legislating.

      jim_m in reply to Barry. | April 19, 2015 at 9:18 am

      True enough, but the fact is that people voted for obama without ever really learning anything about him other than he was black. He was never elected for his policies, unless you count his promises to give Americans free everything from healtcare to housing.

        Barry in reply to jim_m. | April 19, 2015 at 7:30 pm

        “but the fact is that people voted for obama without ever really learning anything about him other than he was black.”

        True, in other words about half of the American people are too stupid to take their freedom seriously. This was the first election.

        In the second, they should have known, and apparently some learned since obambi received a much lower vote total.

        But the “Topmen” of the R party decided to run the father of obambi care, a man who would not go after obambi on any number of clearly anti-American issues, thus guaranteeing a loss.

      Valerie in reply to Barry. | April 19, 2015 at 10:39 am

      Please recall what Barack Obama was promising during his first election campaign. It was something well in keeping with our ideals, very different from his actions. There are a lot of Democratic Congressmen and Senators who will confirm this.

        Barry in reply to Valerie. | April 19, 2015 at 7:32 pm

        ” It was something well in keeping with our ideals…”

        Valerie, I know of nothing obambi promised that was in keeping with traditional American ideals. Perhaps I missed something, or maybe I just knew it was a lie and so dismissed it.

        Please remind me…

Some time in the very early 90s or the late 80s I stopped being able to sing the National Anthem. The question at the chorus broke me up. Still does.

DINORightMarie | April 18, 2015 at 9:49 pm

So, When did America forget that it’s America?

Don’t say 2008. That’s too simple. Obama’s election was the symptom, not the cause.

A profound question. I would say when we ceded the culture, the language, the education of our children to the PC cancer. This occurred by the Frankfurt School’s stealth capture of American exceptionalism; the Clowards and Pivens teaching and indoctrinating their Critical Theory, including the acceptance of America as the “bad guy” – extending even to the intentional tactic of going “underground,” undermining and infiltrating every institution and vital pillar of a democratic republic as possible.

Relentlessly. Stealthily. Strategically.

Read Radical in Chief by Stanley Kurtz, and to a lesser degree Liberal Fascism by Johan Goldberg. Watch this PJ Media video and this one on The Narrative and Critical Theory, respectively.

That’s where – and how, I believe – we lost it.

Breitbart knew this, and fought it, till the day he died.

Midwest Rhino | April 18, 2015 at 10:12 pm

Even in the McCarthy era, it was bad to support McCarthy. He was demonized, and then sex, drugs, rock and atheist Marxist rock and roll took over.

Those ideals were crafted from Russia, largely. Obama was raised by a true communist, and the west was full of them. It was Buckley that started the conservative movement way back in the 50’s, against the takeover of our universities.

And the social justice movement actively infiltrated the churches decades ago, so now we have the Catholic pope pushing global warming.

And of course the communist leaning unions control much of our government unions, so Lois Lerner types have weaponized our own government against us for decades, along with the EPA green bull.

All that holds us together is the middle class and American ingenuity. And now with the internet we can expose them. But it will not be so easy … they had a plan long ago, and have wormed into every institution to some extent. But as things fall apart, we can reveal them.

Sammy Finkelman | April 18, 2015 at 10:58 pm

It’s not that the United States has lost its convictions – certainly not the whole United States – but President Obama is convinced that the Iran deal is TOO BIG TO FAIL.

And that asking Iran to announce it would stop supporting terrorism is a bridge too far. He’s said it would be a good thing if it did. It’s just too much to ask for.

What he’s lost conviction about is the idea that words mean anything.

Sammy Finkelman | April 18, 2015 at 10:59 pm

The latest news seems to be – and it’s crazy – that President Obama thinks Iran is willing to agree at least to stay at T Minus One Year and Holding from having an atomic bomb, but it needs to save face because of political opposition in Iran.

I think it’s the other way around.

Iran thinks the United States is willing to lift sanctions without getting anything really but President Obama needs to save face because of political opposition in the United States.

” … the Soviets confiscated his book of psalms not because they wanted the book, but because they wanted to show that even in this last moment, they were in control.”

During the cold war, I was assigned as an electrical engineer to start up a plant in Poland for 6-months. We lived in army-style barracks on the plant grounds. Randomly, we would lose hot water in the morning while showering, and electricity in the evening while reading. It wasn’t that the Poles had inadequate water or power distribution, it was merely the authorities wanting to remind us who was in control.

    That’s exactly right. Everything that Obama, and his minions, are trying to enact is being done so that more control can be exerted over our country. Obamacare is all about more control and that’s 1/6 of our economy. Amnesty for people who have immigrated illegally is about getting more people beholden to the Feds, more control over a good sized chunk of the population. The heavy hand of the IRS is again about more control over US. And, it’s not just Obama, is all his followers and those who want to continue on with this take over.

    For these reasons, we need to stop and reverse the Obama revolution and restore the liberties we’ve been accustomed to. We need to live free or die.

“We abandoned the educational system over two generations ago, and allowed people who think that the U.S. is the main problem in the world to get control of our children. “

We didn’t abandon the educational system. We, who love this country, weren’t watching when the socialist-leftist-liberals who didn’t took control. But we have helped. Every state in the Union has mandatory attendance laws for children between the ages of 6 and 18. Parents wishing to homeschool need to do some serious hoop jumping in some states. We need to decriminalize school truancy. When enough students leave the socialist might get the idea. The massive testing is a means of proving the schooling is working, but it isn’t, and the educators sentenced for cheating are proof of that. The money spent on education in Detroit, and the outrageously low literacy rate is proof it isn’t working.

We need to provide schools for those who want to learn, not internment centers for those who don’t.

    Sammy Finkelman in reply to Milwaukee. | April 19, 2015 at 9:36 am

    We need to decriminalize school truancy.

    I think so. It doesn’t work, and may even be counterproductive in educating children.

    It might have worked, somewhat, 75 to 100 years ago, when teachers were not unionized, and someone had to think they were good, and the schools were closer to the time of their founding, and grade inflation and social promotion hadn’t had too much of an effect and schools were not afraid to take children out of class.

    As it is now, the law is reasonably good at keeping children in school, up to a certain age, but not good at all in teaching anything, and the fact children are in school, may fool some parents into thinking the school is doing something worthwhile, or efficient in the use of time.

    This is all besides the inability to teach fair and accurate history.

    The massive testing is a means of proving the schooling is working, but it isn’t, and the educators sentenced for cheating are proof of that.

    It is not working much in changing things, because it hasn’t had a chance, but teachers’ unions are very afraid of that and claim it is unfair to rate teacher’s according to how much the children learn. Now it would be unfair to treat the difficultly of teaching all children as equal. But it is easy to adjust for that.

    Another thing that goes wrong is attempting to drill students to pass a test instead of giving them a deep knowledge of what is being tested. They attempt to get them to memorize a lot of random unrelated bits of information, instead of connected knowledge. That’s because they don’t have any idea ow to teach and what.

    The money spent on education in Detroit, and the outrageously low literacy rate is proof it isn’t working.

    Only the possibility of losing a job would work; only competition, and it would work even if only one third of the parents had any idea what they doing in choosing schools.

    Valerie in reply to Milwaukee. | April 19, 2015 at 10:48 am

    I was one of those early recipients of standardized testing. I was tested every year. It was not a big intrusion.

    What has happened is that people of ill will, who do not want to be held accountable for actually teaching children, have taken this testing, and turned it into a monster. This nasty morphing of a benign tool into a massive disservice to school children reminds me of the famous Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education.

    I was a kid when Boston was up in arms over busing. I remember that some kids had 3-hour commutes. So, I was curious when I came upon the Brown case in law school, and I read the whole thing. All that fury arose from a suggestion, in a footnote, that school districts could be more equally distributed by use of bus trips of no more than 15 minutes.

    That was when I understood this:

    “If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken,
    twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools….”
    R. Kipling

    What people of ill will did to Brown has happened to No Child Left Behind.

      Milwaukee in reply to Valerie. | April 19, 2015 at 9:30 pm

      A “con game” is short for “confidence game”. First the perpetrator gains the confidence of the victim, and then they do the victimizing. There are those on the liberal left who want to use schools for indoctrination.

      “What has happened is that people of ill will, who do not want to be held accountable for actually teaching children, have taken this testing, and turned it into a monster.”

      Some of those people of ill will are just incompetent. Others have deliberately sought to gain a position of trust, as a teacher, to promote their world views onto their teachers.

      I have taught in public schools and seen teachers promote a socialist-liberal world view. Myself, I teach in a Catholic school where Mass is offered almost everyday, and we start and end class with a prayer. You can be sure my room has a crucifix, a statue of the Blessed Mother and a copy of the Divine Mercy picture. I try to live a life consistent with the teachings of the Church.

“…Obama and modern liberal world view of moral equivalence:” are key words to understanding America’s weakness in the face of Evil.

I believe that the philosophy of Epicureanism found in the DNA of American thinking and America’s make-shift democracy shaped by that philosophy has created an America that is prone to moral equivalency (basically, lacking in judgment and discernment; synthesizing good with evil) and to a lack of moral courage, the latter Alexander Solzhenitsyn addresses in his speech below.

Solzhenitsyn also provides for us an accurate description of our current leadership from his vantage point of 1978 and his years spent in gulags for writing truth to power.

Excerpts from Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s speech at Harvard, June of 1978, “A World Split Apart”:

“A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course, there are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.

Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable, as well as intellectually and even morally worn it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and with countries not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.

Should one point out that from ancient times declining courage has been considered the beginning of the end?
When the modern Western states were created, the principle was proclaimed that governments are meant to serve man and man lives to be free and to pursue happiness. See, for example, the American Declaration of Independence. Now, at last, during past decades technical and social progress has permitted the realization of such aspirations: the welfare state.

Every citizen has been granted the desired freedom and material goods in such quantity and of such quality as to guarantee in theory the achievement of happiness — in the morally inferior sense of the word which has come into being during those same decades. In the process, however, one psychological detail has been overlooked: the constant desire to have still more things and a still better life and the struggle to attain them imprint many Western faces with worry and even depression, though it is customary to conceal such feelings. Active and tense competition fills all human thoughts without opening a way to free spiritual development.

The individual’s independence from many types of state pressure has been guaranteed. The majority of people have been granted well-being to an extent their fathers and grandfathers could not even dream about. It has become possible to raise young people according to these ideals, leaving them to physical splendor, happiness, possession of material goods, money, and leisure, to an almost unlimited freedom of enjoyment. So who should now renounce all this? Why? And for what should one risk one’s precious life in defense of common values and particularly in such nebulous cases when the security of one’s nation must be defended in a distant country? Even biology knows that habitual, extreme safety and well-being are not advantageous for a living organism. Today, well-being in the life of Western society has begun to reveal its pernicious mask.

I have spent all my life under a Communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale than the legal one is not quite worthy of man either. A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses. And it will be simply impossible to stand through the trials of this threatening century with only the support of a legalistic structure.
Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counterbalanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.

And what shall we say criminality as such? Legal frames, especially in the United States, are broad enough to encourage not only individual freedom but also certain individual crimes. The culprit can go unpunished or obtain undeserved leniency with the support of thousands of public defenders. When a government starts an earnest fight against terrorism, public opinion immediately accuses it of violating the terrorist’s civil rights. There are many such cases.

Such a tilt of freedom in the direction of evil has come about gradually, but it was evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent to human nature. The world belongs to mankind and all the defects of life are caused by wrong social systems, which must be corrected. Strangely enough, though the best social conditions have been achieved in the West, there still is criminality and there even is considerably more of it than in the pauper and lawless Soviet society.

The press too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. (I shall be using the word press to include all media.) But what sort of use does it make of this freedom?

And yet — no weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the West until it overcomes its loss of willpower. In a state of psychological weakness, weapons become a burden for the capitulating side. To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being. Nothing is left, then, but concessions, attempts to gain time, and betrayal. Thus at the shameful Belgrade conference free Western diplomats in their weakness surrendered the line where enslaved members of Helsinki Watchgroups are sacrificing their lives.

Western thinking has become conservative: the world situation should stay as it is at any cost; there should be no changes. This debilitating dream of a status quo is the symptom of a society which has come to the end of its development. But one must be blind in order not to see that oceans no longer belong to the West, while land under its domination keeps shrinking. The two so-called world wars (they were by far not on a world scale, not yet) have meant internal self-destruction of the small, progressive West which has thus prepared its own end. The next war (which does not have to be an atomic one and I do not believe it will) may well bury Western civilization forever.
Facing such a danger, with such splendid historical values in your past, at such a high level of realization of freedom and of devotion to freedom, how is it possible to lose to such an extent the will to defend oneself?
How has this unfavorable relation of forces come about? How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present sickness? Have there been fatal turns and losses of direction in its development? It does not seem so. The West kept advancing socially in accordance with its proclaimed intentions, with the help of brilliant technological progress. And all of a sudden it found itself in its present state of weakness.

This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was first born during the Renaissance and found its political expression from the period of the Enlightenment. It became the basis for government and social science and could be defined as rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists.”

There too many nuggets of truth to place in this comment section. Here is the link to the speech:

America forgot that it is America on June 25, 1962…”Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country. Amen

Liberalism is a sanctuary, a place of no worries, a cocoon.

Conservatism is a fortress, a place of worry, a paper castle

My friends, take heart. For while Sharansky has described the current administration well, and may have isolated the root cause of its fecklessness, he has not described us all, and we do have the power to eventually correct the shambling disaster that is the current administration. We have the power of revolutions, and we have them regularly. We just call them “elections.”

Consider what steps that Congress has taken to limit this administration’s foolishness with respect to Iran.

This administration, in contravention to our custom and the rules we put in place post-Vietnam to ensure transparency, has shown a dismaying tendency to present Congress or at least the minority party, with a series of fait accomplis. This has resulted in policies that deliberately fail to address the concerns of the minority, or perhaps the majority, of voters. So, we have a series of disasters based of half-assed policies.

In the case of the negotiations with Iran, Congress has been acting with measured, careful, co-operative intent to limit what Congress clearly considers to be foolish policy.

Last year, the two ranking members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), sent a letter to the Obama administration, telling it that Congress would have a role in approving any deal with Iran, and that what they had seen of the terms being discussed cause them some qualms.

They were ignored. So, after a while, and after some Kabuki theater between the US and Iran, the Republican Senators sent a letter to Iran, reiterating Congress’ concerns.

The Republican Senators were loudly criticized by our dishonest media, which claimed their action was “unprecedented” and failed to include any other context, including the earlier letter.

Again Congress was ignored by the Obama administration.

So, the House as a whole wrote a letter to the United States President, reiterating the same concerns as before.

And, a new phrase started popping up in the reporting: “veto-proof majority of both Houses of Congress.”

My friends, do not fall for the propaganda from the DNC. They are busy trying to mischaracterize you and divide you from people that agree with you. Remember this, and have faith, for it is the key to the revolution we can have in 2016.

This administration is incompetent, and the party that produced it needs to be sent to the wilderness for a while, to rid itself of its morons in high public office.

Henry Hawkins | April 19, 2015 at 2:05 pm

The modern-era ‘forgetting’ began with Viet Nam, the 60s assasinations, race wars, the Nixon resignation, and the Carter administration, a fifteen year period of constant upheaval that collectively shook the confidence of the American people, a fracturing of which politicians have taken advantage ever since.

I admire Sharansky’s drawing strength from the Book of Psalms. Maybe the loss of conviction and courage in our leadership is reflected by our loss of the Bible.