If we watch American TV sitcoms from the 1950s we're apt to assume those were golden years of plenty, downhome wisdom, somewhat stilted humor, and easily overcome obstacles. Also, all women were pretty, all dads were successful, all girls knew how to cook and sew, and all boys had a crystal radio, grease under his fingernails, and rolled jeans cuffs.
This was what is known by psychologists as denial. But, coming home after the biggest war ever fought, could you blame the citizen G.I.'s for wanting to forget what they never wanted to know in the first place? Unfortunately for the places that war was fought, forgetting and moving forward wasn't quite as easy. It wasn't easy at all, in fact.
Right off the bat, the Communists started to take over. Winston Churchill had seen this coming, but his fellow world leaders failed to heed his warnings, and the next thing they knew the Reds had taken over North Korea and were moving into South Korea. The ensuing Korean War (1950-1953) was essentially a war between the Red Chinese and the United States over whether South Korea would become a Communist nation or not.
Technically the war was never resolved (to this day, no treaty or surrender has been signed; we're in the midst of an impossibly long cease fire), but it set a precedent among free-world nations: Communism was their responsibility to stop, and they would do so wherever it presented itself as a threat. This interventionist mentality was rationalized by the "domino effect," the idea that if one country fell to Communism, all the others around it would quickly follow suit, tumbling over like a series of dominoes.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander during World War II and president of the U.S. during the Korean War, was the first to put the doctrine into words. France and the United Kingdom were also proponents of the theory, though whether they were as altruistic as the U.S. is another question—both nations still had a large colonial and post-colonial interest in many of the countries in question.
Not least of these was Vietnam. By the time the U.S. entered the conflict, France had already fought a long war known as the First Indochina War in North Vietnam (1946-1954), asserting their colonial control; they lost. So did the Americans, but they stuck around for 19 1/2 years (1955-1975) in an effort to stem the tide of Communism.
What exactly was everyone so afraid of? Genocide, for one thing: wherever Communism went, it brought massive population reduction in the form of mass executions, torture, political killings, forced labor, and imprisonment. Authoritarianism must eliminate any threat to absolute control, and that's exactly what men like Mao Zedong, Josef Stalin, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il-sung, and Pol Pot did.
The other major reason was quite different. The fantasy world of the '50s ideal would not stand, nor would physical prosperity be possible, in a country under Communist rule. In order to forget the Great Depression and the World Wars, it was necessary for capitalism to thrive and grow. Liberty and prosperity were the catch-phrases of the day.
Liberty took on interesting meaning in the 1960s. Counter-culture movements sprouted up, the result of kids misunderstanding and reacting (sometimes legitimately) against their parents' materialism. Sexual mores were more publicly loosened, drugs were seen as a means to freedom and enlightenment, and doing what you wanted became the rule of the day.
Nothing changed much in the 1970s or '80s, except that bad behavior became increasingly acceptable and public. Looming over the entire landscape was the Cold War, and there was a sense that it was playtime before the apocalypse. But 1990 rolled around, and the only apocalypse was the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the break-up of the Eastern Bloc (the Eastern European Communist countries).
In the end, the demise of Communism was more subtle than bombs or invasions. Ironically, capitalism itself contributed to its downfall; Communist countries found that a measure of market economics was necessary to sustain nations long term, and some abandoned the Communist project altogether, while others simply incorporated capitalist practices into the Communist framework. This is part of the answer to Communist China's continued existence and success.
The last half of the 20th century was kind of the Age of Communism. But it was also the age of postmodernism, with its emphasis on personal liberty without culpability, moral relativity, and relativity in general. Both ideologies continue to spread and to influence people and nations; in such a climate, the only response for Christians is to counter with the truth of the Gospel, not as a competing ideology, but as the only reality in a world overtaken by contrasting political theories and comparative religions.
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