I grew up during the Cold War. I was assailed with stories about the Soviet Union and its "scientific achievements" and "economic progressiveness". I had the impression that the USSR was a serious rival of the U.S. After all, didn't they launch the first man into space? A remarkable achievement, right?
Some years later, I was sent to the USSR on a NASA trip at the height of the Cold War to meet with some of the researchers at the Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP). From the moment I arrived in this people's republic, it was obvious that I was in a 3rd world country. Everything was grungy and dirty. And I mean everything. The sheets at the slummy hotel I was staying at were filthy. I shared a bathroom with two other rooms, both occupied by men. The bathroom was so disgusting that for two days I couldn't bring myself to take a shower (the tub was crusted in dirt and didn't look as if it had been cleaned in years). There were dead bugs on the floor of the room. The radio in the room did not work. The window in the room could not be completely closed (it was November and the outside temperature was about 18 degrees). Did I mention that this was an ELITE hotel for academics visiting the IBMP and other Soviet institutes?
As I wandered around Moscow, the only people I saw were standing in lines to get food. There was one line for bread. One for milk. One for meat. The faces of the people were dull and resigned. Faceless women wrapped in scarves for warmth sluggishly swept the dirt on the sidewalks from one side to the other (I could never figure out why). Above the streets, on the buildings were old banners that proclaimed in Russian "Glory to Soviet Science".
When I tried to buy something in a "tourist" store (under the supervision of several Soviets assigned to me) the clerks (there were four of them, although there were very few people in the store) completely ignored me for the longest time; then when I went to pay they never once spoke to me or looked at me. They kept up a conversation among themselves that seemed to have something to do (as far as I could tell from my limited Russian)with the last time they had bought meat it had been bad.
At the IBMP, scientists I was supposed to confer with on psychological issues in space, spent most of their lecture time talking about the "wonders" of Soviet science. Their papers were peppered with such phrases. In private, when they were sure none of their bosses were listening, they would plead with me to tell them what other researchers were doing in their field. Did I think that their research was interesting or useful? Most places I have travelled in the world to visit scientists, I would be queried at length about my work. But the Soviet scientists were desperate to know what was going on in their fields. They were not permitted to read "outside journals"; there was noone who could review and critique their work, except their immediate colleagues. All too often, the political considerations overrode scientific ones.
Every evening these scientists would quietly apologize to me and others in the group because they had to publicly denouce us as "capitalist liars". Over and over again we were told, "We have to say these things to get along here."
It was an eye-opening experience for me to see up-close how totalitarianism chips away at the human soul and at human dignity; destroying any talent; encouraging mediocrity; crushing independent thought; and eliminating initiative. The evidence of this simple truth was all around me.
Take a close look at the pictures over at Captain's Quarters at the link above. What you are seeing is the world of people who don't care anymore. I saw the same thing in the Soviet Union in the 80's. The stench of hopelessness and mediocrity is unmistakable. These are the symptoms of a slowly disintegrating human soul.
Which is why this is so incredibly appalling. That artists would defend Castro and his oppressive regime is the height of self-delusion and is a betrayal of the human spirit that art expresses.
And if you are inclined to think of Cuba as a "worker's paradise" you might just read this post by an EMT who was at Guantanamo for a while and is now in medical school. Here is some of what he has to say:
We deployed in the vicinity of the fenceline. We met the refugees as they approached, and with weapns in hand, denied them entry to the base. They had managed to traverse a kilometer deep minefield covered by towers with machine guns to get to this point. They had left everything they had ever known in order to get out of there. And we stopped them. We had orders. We had our orders, so we followed them. After enough shouting and threatening, the refugees eventualy gave up and headed back. Back into Cuba. While I was sweating my balls off under the hot sun, these refugees made a mistake. They had gotten through the minefield the first time, but they had not followed in their own footsteps going back. While I was thinking to myself how I wish these people would hurry up and go back so that I could head back to someplace with air-conditioning, one of them stepped on a landmine.
That explosion touched my world.
Then, I witnessed the worst thing I ever saw in my life.
As the dust cloud wafted away from those refugees, nobody ran. Nobody screamed. Nobody said anything.
They just laid down to die in the middle of a minefield that was the sun's anvil.
Think of how badly you would not want to die like that. Think about that real hard. Think about slowly dying of exposure in a minefield. Think about what would make you risk such an outcome. Think about it real hard, and then remember that as bad as that was, it was better than going back.
The apologists of tyranny are again hard at work trying to redeem the one of the last outposts of communist enslavement. They see a "worker's paradise", but underneath the "civilized" veneer of Castro's Cuba is the deadening illness of the soul that infected all the other failed communist and socialist "paradises".
The only cure is Freedom.