A central feature of the Cold War racket was the anti-communist crusade. At the behest of the US national-security establishment, the entire nation became obsessed with the commies, both foreign and domestic. The Reds were coming to get us. They were everywhere. They were in Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Russia, China, Guatemala, Chile, Indonesia, Brazil, and most everywhere else. They were in Congress, the military, the executive branch, the political system, the universities, and Hollywood. In the 1950s, people were even being exhorted to look under their beds for communists.
In the foreign realm, the anti-communist crusade led the US national-security establishment to sacrifice almost 100,000 US soldiers in US interventions in civil wars in Korea and Vietnam. More than 250,000 US soldiers were wounded in those conflicts.
Here at home, the FBI and the national-security establishment targeted suspected communists and did everything to destroy them. This included the US Communist Party as well as leftist organizations, such as the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.
The anti-communist crusade is also why the FBI targeted civil-rights leader Martin Luther King with secret surveillance, harassment, blackmail, and possibly even assassination. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was convinced that King was a secret Russian agent and that the civil-rights movement was a secret communist front that was paving the ground for the Russian takeover of the United States.
And we mustn’t forget that it was the supposed communist conspiracy that was supposedly based in Moscow, Russia (yes, that Russia!), that was used to justify the conversion of the federal government to a national-security state, along with its omnipotent, dark-side, totalitarian-like powers of assassination, kidnapping, torture, and indefinite detention.
Was all this death, suffering, mayhem, and destruction of American liberty necessary? I say not. I hold that the biggest mistake Americans have ever made was to permit the conversion of their government from its founding system of a limited-government republic to a national-security state, which then led Americans into supporting the Cold War racket and its obsessive anti-communist crusade, along with such things as dark-side, totalitarian-like powers and the deadly and destructive interventions in the Korean and Vietnam civil wars.
Despite warnings that failure to intervene in Vietnam, Korea, Cuba, Guatemala, Chile, Iran, and other countries would bring the communists to America, it never happened. The Reds never came and conquered the United States. Foreign interventionism in the name of the anti-communist crusade only brought needless death, suffering, and destruction, especially to people in foreign lands.
Here at home, a genuinely free society would have protected the right of the American people to become communists, to join communist organizations, and to participate fully as communists in America’s political system. That’s partly what a free society is all about — to live your life the way you want, even if it’s considered irresponsible or dangerous by everyone else. It’s the duty of government to protect, not destroy, people’s right to live their lives the way they choose, so long as their conduct is peaceful.
Yes, I am fully mindful of the fact that communists are committed to the destruction of a private-property, free-market system that we libertarians know is essential to a free society. I also am fully aware that communists have installed brutal totalitarian regimes that destroy the civil liberties of the citizenry. I also know that communist regimes have killed millions of their own people.
Nonetheless, I still maintain that under the principles of a genuinely free society, Americans had the fundamental right to advocate whatever political and economic ideology that they wanted, including communism and socialism, without being harassed, blackmailed, prosecuted, or punished by the US government. Making communism illegal, either explicitly or implicitly, was no different in principle from what the communist regimes were doing in foreign lands by making the advocacy of capitalism and private property illegal.
Would the advocacy of communism in the United States have been dangerous? Of course. It’s theoretically possible that the overwhelming majority of the American people might have been seduced by the Siren’s Song of communism, just as they were seduced by the Siren’s Song of the welfare-warfare state. Nonetheless, a genuinely free society must take that risk, no matter how dangerous it might be. Otherwise, liberty is destroyed in the name of protecting liberty.
Among the best things America could have ever done was to protect the right of Americans to be communists and to openly and freely advocate for their position in all walks of life, including in the political process. I have no doubts that America would have survived and prospered. The worst thing that America ever did was to convert the federal government to a national-security state and to wage the anti-communist crusade as part of its Cold War racket, both here at home and abroad. By embarking on this course of action, tens of thousands of American men were sacrificed for nothing, countless foreigners were subjected to death, suffering, and destruction, our own principles of morality were abandoned, and we ended up trading own own liberty for the pretense of security. In other words, to defeat the communists, we became like them.
Reprinted with permission from Future of Freedom Foundation.