As one who tasted a bit of Nazism and communism, today’s economic fiasco strikes me as relatively mild as human disasters go.
For starters, many in America remember the Great Depression and World War II, both of which devastated millions of lives, destroying the bulk and arresting even more. The concentration camps, the gulags, the bombings and the wreckage left in their wake across the globe simply aren’t anything like what we are experiencing now, economically mostly, but not exclusively. And the fallout from the loss of all the wealth is yet to be counted.
Yet, what we are in the midst of and what is likely to follow just doesn’t compare to the disasters and catastrophes people have known throughout history and especially in recent history.
Perhaps Darfur comes close, but even that isn’t quite in the league of Dachau, for example. And in some cases a goodly portion of the world’s population has actually witnessed drastic improvements. It is a bit of that I’d like to recount here.
On a train ride I recently took from Budapest to Salzburg, Austria, so as to visit my 90-year-old and amazingly lucid mother — who has lived through the majority of Europe’s recent calamities — I happen to have passed by each town I went through back in October 1953, on my escape from communism.
I was smuggled out because my parents thought I would never survive there, being the outspoken kid I was and adult I would likely become. I was then 14, but I remember it all very well, and even the little I witnessed on my recent journey revealed a most amazing difference between the two journeys.
Back during the escape, with four adults, me, and our guide — the likes of whom Time magazine would later label a “flesh peddler” because they took money for their troubles — we had to sneak about, sleep in haystacks during the day and walk on freshly tilled ground under cover of dark, dodge everyone especially cops and national border guards and discard nearly all our baggage for fear it would impede our progress.
Finally we made it across the barb-wired Iron Curtain separating Hungary and Austria, although the latter was still partly under Soviet occupation.
In contrast to all that, this time when I crossed from Hungary into Austria via train, no one even asked me anything, not even for my passport.
Unbelievable changes have taken place, mostly for the better for most people. If one considers how dangerous it used to be to speak out about the regime and its policies, the current economic fiasco is nothing like what people went through in those days. And, of course, there have been even worse times elsewhere and in earlier times, which puts the current fiasco in a different light.
All would do well to keep some watch over recent as well as older history and realize there are far worse things that can happen to people than an economic downturn.
We should, I believe, put our current economic woes in perspective and not panic about them, but make the proper adjustments and not make the same mistakes again.
Tibor Machan advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at: