WHEN I was asked to direct “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” my friends warned me not to go anywhere near it.
The story is so American, they argued, that I, an immigrant fresh off the boat, could not do it justice. They were surprised when I explained why I wanted to make the film. To me it was not just literature but real life, the life I lived in Czechoslovakia from my birth in 1932 until 1968. The Communist Party was my Nurse Ratched, telling me what I could and could not do; what I was or was not allowed to say; where I was and was not allowed to go; even who I was and was not.
Now, years later, I hear the word “socialist” being tossed around by the likes of Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and others. President Obama, they warn, is a socialist. The critics cry, “Obamacare is socialism!” They falsely equate Western European-style socialism, and its government provision of social insurance and health care, with Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism. It offends me, and cheapens the experience of millions who lived, and continue to live, under brutal forms of socialism.
My sister-in-law’s father, Jan Kunasek, lived in Czechoslovakia all his life. He was a middle-class man who ran a tiny inn in a tiny village. One winter night in 1972, during a blizzard, a man, soaked to the bone, awakened him at 2 in the morning. The man looked destitute and, while asking for shelter, couldn’t stop cursing the Communists. Taking pity, the elderly Mr. Kunasek put him up for the night.
A couple of hours later, Mr. Kunasek was awakened again, this time by three plainclothes policemen. He was arrested, accused of sheltering a terrorist and sentenced to several years of hard labor in uranium mines. The state seized his property. When he was finally released, ill and penniless, he died within a few weeks. Years later we learned that the night visitor had been working for the police. According to the Communists, Mr. Kunasek was a class enemy and deserved to be punished.
Whatever his faults, I don’t see much of a socialist in Mr. Obama or, thankfully, signs of that system in this great nation. Mr. Obama is accused of trying to expand the reach of government — into health care, financial regulation, the auto industry and so on. It’s fair to question whether the federal government should have expanded powers: America, to its credit, has debated this since its birth. But let’s be clear about how frightening socialism actually could be.
Marx believed that we could wipe out social inequities and Lenin tested those ideas on the Soviet Union. It was his dream to create a classless society. But reality set in, as it always does. And the results were devastating. Blood flowed through Russia’s streets. The Soviet elite usurped all privileges; sycophants were allowed some and the plebes none. The entire Eastern bloc, including Czechoslovakia, followed miserably.
I’m not sure Americans today appreciate quite how predatory socialism was. It was not — as Mr. Obama’s detractors suggest — merely a government so centralized and bloated that it hobbled private enterprise: it was a spoils system that killed off everything, all in the name of “social justice.”