Column on Looking Back to Gain Prespective

Looking Back to Gain Perspective!

Tibor R. Machan

As one who tasted both 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 the Second
World War, both of which had 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 up.

Yet, what we are in the midst of and is likely to follow just
doesn’t compare to the disasters and catastrophes people have known
throughout and especially fairly 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

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 had been smuggled out because my parents through 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 hay stacks 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 batter for
most people–though, as with all such transitional periods there have been
many disappointments and troubles (not the least because most of the old
guard is still there trying to muck things up). Still, 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.

Hungarians have a saying, harking back to when forty thousand some
were murdered in the south of the country by turkish invaders–who meant
to send a message to the Austro-Hungarian regime concerning the danger of
resisting them, namely, "Tobb is veszet Mohacson" ("More
was lost at Mohacs"). Nothing quite compares to what happened back
then and Americans, as well as the rest who are going through current
hardships, might well remember that history is replete with real
catastrophes compared to which our mess is small potatoes. They would all
do well to keep some watch over recent as well as older history, as well
as other regions of the globe today, and realize that there are far worse
things that can happen to people than an economic downturn, one that is
mostly the result of malpractice throughout the political as well as the
commercial system of the country. But this malpractice is nowhere near as
awful as were the horrors of the 20th century and those of many eras of
human history when people were brutalized by their rulers and by empire
builders in their neighborhoods.

We should, I believe, put our current economic wows in perspective
and not panic about them but make the proper adjustments and not make the
same mistakes again.

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