How to identify American totalitarians

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The Article

In the Soviet Union, the future is known; it’s the past that is always changing.
—old Soviet dissident joke

As a graduate student in international affairs at Columbia University, I specialized in the study of totalitarianism, especially, though not only, the communist variety. I found the subject fascinating, but I never for a moment imagined that any expertise gained in this field would prove relevant to American life.

Sad to say, it has turned out to be the most valuable subject I could have studied. The totalitarian temptation is not confined to Nazis and communists; it can rear its head in any society and gradually destroy it. And as the Soviet dissident joke notes, one quick way to identify totalitarian threats to liberty is to identify those who falsify the historical record on behalf of their cause.

In America today, two groups are most actively engaged in falsifying history: the ACLU and the anti-smoking movement.

The ACLU is suing cities and counties to remove crosses from their city and county seals. One of the ACLU’s greatest victories was getting the Board of Supervisors in a 3-2 vote (the three were the three leftist supervisors) to remove the tiny cross from the seal of Los Angeles County. Of course, this was done in the name of separation of church and state; no one falsifies history without some higher motive. But falsifying Los Angeles County’s history was the issue. The cross was on the seal because Los Angeles was founded by Catholics. That is why it is named “Los Angeles,” “the angels.” (Once the ACLU successfully removes all crosses from cities and counties, will it move on to changing religious names such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and St. Louis, not to mention Corpus Christi?)

The attempts by the ACLU—and the Left in general—to expunge the Judeo-Christian roots of America from American history are mirrored by the attempts of America’s anti-smoking organizations to expunge the history they object to—images of Americans smoking.

Examples of anti-smoking fanatics doctoring photographs are so legion that I can only offer a few examples in the space of a column.

In 1999, the U.S. Postal Service released a stamp depicting the famous abstract expressionist artist Jackson Pollock. The most famous photograph of Pollock, who loved to smoke, was a Life Magazine photo of him with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. The Postal Service used the photo, but digitally removed the cigarette.

As a columnist in the MIT student newspaper wrote at that time, “To strip Pollock of his cigarette would be like taking away the character-defining cigar from Sigmund Freud. Would you replace Freud’s cigar with a fat pencil?”

The question is not rhetorical. Of course, the Postal Service would.

This is all new. As recently as 1982, the Postal Service issued a stamp honoring President Franklin D. Roosevelt that showed a profile of the president and his trademark cigarette holder.

The Disney Corporation has done this to characters in its films—even the arts are falsified because of the totalitarianism of the anti-smoking movement. In its 2000 re-release of the 1948 film “Melody Time,” Disney removed the cigarette from the cartoon character Pecos Bill. (Instead of a cigarette in his mouth, kids now see him holding a gun by his mouth!)

In his newest book, “June 1941: Hitler and Stalin” (Yale University Press), historian John Lukacs notes that Hitler, the original anti-smoking zealot, had a cigarette removed from a photo of Stalin that Nazi Germany circulated when it signed its non-aggression treaty with the Soviet dictator. Hitler felt it was bad for Germans to see such a “statesman” (Hitler’s term) with a cigarette between his fingers.

And Stalin, of course, was the father of doctoring photos, removing rival Bolshevik Leon Trotsky from all photographs in which Trotsky had appeared. (In one such photo, Stalin’s photo changers failed to remove Trotsky’s shoes, leaving Stalin amid a group of early Bolsheviks standing next to a pair of shoes.)

In 2001, the Salt Lake City newspaper Deseret News altered a photograph of James Dean to remove an unlit cigarette from his lips. To its credit, once this doctored photo was exposed, the paper’s managing editor told the Associated Press, “It was a mistake . . . We did want the cigarette to be less dominant, but when you start messing around with a picture, that’s wrong.”

Exactly. That’s wrong. In fact, it’s worse than wrong, it’s totalitarian.

Those who want a fully secular America don’t care about what the Left is doing to America’s Christian history. And those who loathe cigarettes don’t care about what the anti-smoking zealots (again, usually folks on the Left) are doing to photos and films. But, as Shakespeare said about a rose, totalitarian behavior by any other name smells the same—and that is a lot worse and a lot more dangerous than even cigarette smoke.

Dennis Prager
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