November 28, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, November 28th, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Fidel Castro, one of the most infamous figures of the 20th century, dead at age 90
Fidel Castro is dead at age 90. He died on Friday, the announcement was made early on Saturday by the communist government there in Cuba. By any measure, Fidel Castro was one of the most significant figures on the world stage throughout the 20th century, or at least beginning in 1959 when he took power in Cuba in a revolution that toppled the Batista regime, a corrupt right-wing regime. And when he took power in 1959 leading a small band of revolutionaries, it was considered by many that he was a force for liberty in what would be called the Third World, particularly in the nation of Cuba, just 90 miles off the Florida coast. But as history now records, that was not to be the case.
Fidel Castro was raised as a son of a very prosperous sugar merchant. He was raised in the capitalist class. He had all the benefits of great wealth. He had a good education, all the education that money in Cuba could buy, but he also during that educational process, especially when he was a law student in Havana, evidenced radical, even revolutionary ideas. He took part in an abortive coup, but then was arrested and imprisoned. The Batista regime then gave him amnesty in which case he then joined with other guerrillas, and he eventually came back to Cuba, fighting a revolution from mountain strongholds. And it was a revolution that was stunningly successful, at least in military terms.Show Full Transcript
When he took power in 1959, he was celebrated by many in the American and European left. He came to the United States and in an appearance at Harvard University, he stated that he was neither a Marxist nor a communist; however, later all of that was reversed. As the New York Times reported,
“It was not until just before the Bay of Pigs invasion that Mr. Castro declared publicly that his revolution was socialist. A few months later, on Dec. 2, 1961, he removed any lingering doubt about his loyalties when he affirmed in a long speech, ‘I am a Marxist-Leninist.’”
Very quickly, Fidel Castro began to centralize power around himself and the Cuban communist elite. He also began to nationalize private property and businesses, including American businesses. This led to successive waves of immigration from Cuba, largely to the United States. It is now estimated that as many as 3 million persons worldwide are a part of a Cuban diaspora entirely due to the communist revolution of Fidel Castro. Shortly after declaring himself a Marxist-Leninist, Castro then took the natural next step of aligning Cuba with the Soviet Union. This was deliberately and obviously provocative when it came to the relationship between Cuba and the United States and also the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. This eventually brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, indeed, as almost all historians now recognize, the closest the world has yet come to the brink of a nuclear exchange.
Without question, Castro had a charismatic personality, as the New York Times reported,
“Most people in the crowd had no idea what Mr. Castro planned for Cuba. A master of image and myth, Mr. Castro believed himself to be the messiah of his fatherland, an indispensable force with authority from on high to control Cuba and its people.”
The paper went on to say,
“He wielded power like a tyrant, controlling every aspect of the island’s existence. He was Cuba’s ‘Máximo Lider.’ From atop a Cuban Army tank, he directed his country’s defense at the Bay of Pigs. Countless details fell to him, from selecting the color of uniforms that Cuban soldiers wore in Angola to overseeing a program to produce a superbreed of milk cows. He personally set the goals for sugar harvests. He personally sent countless men to prison.”
But that last phrase, of course, is a significant moral understatement. Fidel Castro not only sent many by the thousands to prisons, effectively creating a Cuban analogy to the gulags in the Soviet Union, but he also sent many to torture and others to their death by summary execution.
What no one could have foreseen in 1959, or even in 1961, is the fact that Fidel Castro would outlast the Soviet Union, and that by several decades. And it would also become clear that the communist regime he put in place in Cuba would outlast most others everywhere around the world. The New York Times got it exactly right when they wrote,
“Beyond anything else, it was Mr. Castro’s obsession with the United States, and America’s obsession with him, that shaped his rule. After he embraced Communism, Washington portrayed him as a devil and a tyrant and repeatedly tried to remove him from power through an ill-fated invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, an economic embargo that has lasted decades, assassination plots and even bizarre plans to undercut his prestige by making his beard fall out.”
The paper then states,
“Mr. Castro’s defiance of American power made him a beacon of resistance in Latin America and elsewhere, and his bushy beard, long Cuban cigar and green fatigues became universal symbols of rebellion.”
The only figure on the world scene in terms of a head of state who outlasted Fidel Castro was Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain. But unlike Castro she is a constitutional monarch, not a dictator. No other figure on the world scene lasted long enough to trouble 11 presidents of the United States, but Fidel Castro did. He seized power during the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower and he died as the second term of President Barack Obama was coming to an end. President Obama had not yet even been born when Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba.
I grew up in South Florida in the company of Cuban immigrants who clearly identified Fidel Castro as the tyrant that he was, and they blamed him for the exodus from their country that led them to the United States where they became fierce patriots as American citizens.
Reflecting the opinion of Fidel Castro that is held by so many Miami residents, the Miami Herald yesterday editorialized,
“By the time his death at 90 was announced late Friday, Fidel Castro had become what he most feared during a prolonged and dramatic life — an irrelevancy, a living museum piece trotted out for ceremonial occasions, but no longer the man in charge of Cuba’s destiny. He was the living embodiment of the Cuban Revolution, to be seen and applauded in public functions, but real power had passed to his brother Raúl and others in the inner circle.”
The paper went on to say,
“Well before Castro left the scene, the revolution he created was itself long since dead, an empty slogan few could believe in. Castro himself had become a pathetic, shuffling figure who outlived his own era while Cuba began to take the first steps toward a transition that its once fierce leader swore would never take place.”
The paper’s editors then said,
“Unceasing defiance of the American Colossus made Castro a hero to millions, including many who did not otherwise share his left-wing politics. He was the most influential figure of the 20th century in Latin America, the lion whose roar gave voice to the resentment and grievances, real and imagined, that accumulated over decades as the United States rose to become the dominant force in the hemisphere. At the height of his power in the 1970s, his admirers in the Third World — disregarding his status as a Soviet pawn — chose him to lead the Non-Aligned Movement.
“But all of his prominence and power came at a terrible cost to the Cuban people, and therein lies his most lasting, tragic and unforgivable legacy.
“The history of Latin America is replete with the names of dictators who ruled by fear and violence, including some of Castro’s contemporaries, from Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay to Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. But Fidel Castro outdid them all because his regime was the most oppressive — and most enduring. Petty tyrants like Peru’s Alberto Fujimori and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez came and went. Castro endured.”
Perhaps the most important sentence in the editorial is this:
“The painful price that his suffocating tyranny exacted on the Cuban people is impossible to measure, but safe to say that there is hardly a single freedom recognized by civilized countries around the world that Fidel Castro did not violate.”
In terms of worldview analysis, the death of Fidel Castro should remind all intelligent Christians of the enormous, indeed incalculable, cost of communism in the 20th century, continuing into the 21st. One of the saddest aspects of world communism is that it never delivers on its promises. By definition socialism can’t, and communism which claims to establish socialism by force, has failed most spectacularly of all. The communist debacles of the 20th century were murderous in terms of the hundreds of millions—this would include the revolution of the Soviet Union, expanded to then the so-called Soviet bloc, the communist revolution in China, and also the revolution in Cuba.
After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Castro aligned himself ever more closely with the Soviet Union, leading to an economic dependence that barely survived the fall of the communist regime in the Soviet Union. The other thing to recognize here is that that dependence also led Castro to come to an agreement with the Soviet Union to put intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear missiles, aimed at the United States on Cuban soil. This led to the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis, and that was the crisis that brought the entire world to the brink of nuclear war.
Also, in terms of worldview significance, we need to note the infatuation of so many in the intellectual left with communism in general and Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, his colleague, in particular. The continuing infatuation of the political left of Fidel Castro came in the face of the multiple crimes against humanity in which he was guilty, and not only the oppression that was now so evident in Cuba, but also the failed economic policies that had brought that nation to such crushing poverty. But keep this in mind in terms of a story that ran in the National Post, the Canadian newspaper over the weekend,
“The prime minister [Justin Trudeau] is facing criticism at home and abroad for his statement expressing ‘deep sorrow’ about the death of former Cuban president Fidel Castro.”
As the paper went on to report,
“Justin Trudeau, who recently returned from a diplomatic visit to Cuba, made the statement early Saturday after the announcement that Castro had died at the age of 90.
“Trudeau acknowledged the late president was a ‘controversial figure,’ but remembered him as a ‘larger-than-life leader,’ who made significant improvements to Cuba’s education and health-care systems.”
“A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and health care of his island nation.
“I know my father [that is the late former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau was very proud to call him a friend.”
Justin Trudeau’s statements draw attention to two of the central claims often credited to Fidel Castro in Cuba: that is, that he brought about universal education and that he also brought about vast improvements in health care. A fair analysis would indicate that Fidel Castro’s leadership did bring some strengthening to the educational medical systems in Cuba, but often for the greatest benefit of the communist elite and not for the people of that nation.
Responding to Prime Minister Trudeau statement, Marco Rubio, the United States Senator from Florida, himself a Cuban-American, said,
“Is this a real statement or a parody? Because if this is a real statement from the PM of Canada it is shameful (and) embarrassing.”
But the statements about Fidel Castro made by Justin Trudeau are indeed indicative of many in the European and North American left for whom Fidel Castro was, if imperfect, still very much a hero. But there was absolutely no excuse by the time we got to the 1960s and the 1970s for anyone to miss the fact that Fidel Castro was as autocratic and dictatorial, indeed as totalitarian and murderous, as any other communist leader around the world, at least in terms of the opportunity that he had as the communist leader of that Cuban nation. By the late 1970s and the 1980s, there were witnesses such as Armando Valladares, a man who had spent 22 years in the Cuban gulags at the hands of Fidel Castro, his memoir entitled, Against All Hope became one of the great freedom cries of the 20th century.
But in terms of worldview analysis related to the death of Fidel Castro, it’s important to go back not just to 1959 and the year of the Cuban revolution, but to the year 1955, just a few years before, where something happened in Indonesia that became a very important catalyst for what would later happen in Cuba and what would shape the world for the next several decades. This was the conference known as the Bandung Conference held in 1955 at the invitation of President Sukarno of Indonesia. As the historian Paul Johnson would later point out, this gave rise to what was called the Bandung generation, the generation of those who claim to be the leaders of nonaligned nations. But the interesting thing was how many of those nations eventually became aligned with the Soviet Union.
But finally when it comes to Fidel Castro, we need to remember that some of his most famous words came down to his own slogan, “Socialism or death.” That has a particular ring when we consider those words just hours and days after the death of Fidel Castro at age 90. As the Scripture makes very clear, death comes to all men, to democrats and dictators alike. Death has now come for Fidel Castro. But even as he had said for so many decades, “Socialism or death,” he eventually did get death, even though he lived to age 90. But the Cuban people never actually saw the socialism that he promised, and that’s because socialism cannot work, it cannot actually exist. Someone else eventually has to pay the bills, if not in money then in blood. That’s the true legacy of Fidel Castro.
Why the nomination of a Secretary of Education reveals the fault lines of America’s worldview conflict
Next, coming back to the United States, there is no issue more laden with worldview significance than the issue of education. Thus, debates over education are, inevitably, debates over worldview. And that’s going to become increasingly clear in the controversy that will inevitably follow the announcement made by President-elect Donald Trump that he would appoint Betsy DeVos of Michigan as the new Secretary of Education of the United States. The way the secular left has responded to her appointment was made clear in a front-page article in Thursday’s edition of the New York Times by Kate Zernike in which she wrote,
“It is hard to find anyone more passionate about the idea of steering public dollars away from traditional public schools than Betsy DeVos, Donald J. Trump’s pick as the cabinet secretary overseeing the nation’s education system.”
Zernike went on to write,
“For nearly 30 years, as a philanthropist, activist and Republican fund-raiser, she has pushed to give families taxpayer money in the form of vouchers to attend private and parochial schools, pressed to expand publicly funded but privately run charter schools, and tried to strip teacher unions of their influence.”
Now those initial paragraphs are intended to drive a deep fear into the hearts of the readers of the New York Times, but of course what’s really announced there are the stakes in terms of the battle over public education in the United States, and that is a battle all the way from preschool through the graduate-level education on America’s college and university campuses.
As I said, the words in the New York Times were clearly intended to bring about panic on the part of the secular left. Contrast that with the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, responding to the very same announcement. The editors wrote,
“Mrs. DeVos is a philanthropist who has devoted years and much of her fortune to promoting school reform, especially charter schools and vouchers. She chairs the American Federation for Children (AFC), which has fought in the trenches across the country for more school choice to liberate kids from failing schools. By trenches we mean hand-to-hand political combat in state legislative races against the teachers unions.”
So there you have two very different newspapers announcing by the way they are responding to and reporting about the nomination of Betsy DeVos as education secretary. Those two papers basically did reflect two major distinctions in worldview found in the United States, and of course at the center of this is the public schools. And that’s inevitable, because when you look at the public schools in America, you are looking at the worldview engines, the manufacturing worldview factories for the vast majority of young people and children in the United States. Who controls those public schools, eventually, will have a great deal to say with what those children know and what those children think.
A closer look at the two worldviews reflected here would indicate that the words of the New York Times would imply very directly that there should be an unimpeded flow of taxpayer money to the public schools where those monies should be spent and the schools should be run according to an elite of educators and especially according to the dictates of the teachers unions.
But what the readers of the New York Times, we presume. are supposed to understand as a great threat, the editors of the Wall Street Journal sees as a significant sign of promise, the promise of genuine reform. And the background to that includes decades of battle between reformers and the public schools in terms of their leadership, most particularly the teachers unions.
At this point Christians should also keep in mind that we’re talking about a vast federal bureaucracy. One of the major battles in the United States has been the battle between local control of the public schools and federal control. And of course federal control is exactly what those who style themselves as the educational progressives want, indeed even demand. To state the matter as clearly as possible, under local control, many schools, if not most schools, remain under at least some kind of more conservative control that would be true at the federal level. And the Department of Education is itself a significant parable of this problem. It is indeed a vast federal bureaucracy. We’re talking about the United States federal department that has a $73 billion budget, much of that acknowledged should be passed-through money, that is between the federal government back to the states and then on to the local school systems. But the other thing you need to recognize is that money comes from the states to the federal government and then is sent back, and it is not sent back without so-called mandates. This leads to greater and greater federal control.
The Department of Education itself came into being by legislation that was dated October 17, 1979. Thus, it is a relatively young federal department. Previously, education had been included in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. But after 1980, when the Department of Education actually began to function, those were separated out so that you had Education in one department and Health and Human Services, as it became called, in the other department.
Another interesting note, by the way, is that even with a $73 billion budget, the Department of Education with about 5,000 employees is actually one of the smaller, if not the smallest, departments of the United States government.
Something else to recognize here is that once you have the establishment of this kind of bureaucratic department, it is almost impossible to kill it. Remember that date, 1980. That was the date that the Department of Education by a legislative action under the leadership of President Jimmy Carter came into existence, and then Republican candidate Ronald Reagan ran on a platform that included the elimination immediately of the Department of Education. To set the matter clearly, President Reagan served two full four-year terms. To make the obvious observation, the Department of Education continued. And it continues.
Big federal departments inevitably create dependencies and allies, and the encroachments become almost impossible to eliminate. And so what you end up with are conservative administrations that promise not so much now to eliminate the Department of Education as to lead it and to control it. In terms of decreasing the influence of a federal department, we need to note, however, that Republican administrations have not been for that matter much more successful than Democratic administrations.
But there’s still a crucial difference when you consider some of the issues we’ve discussed over the last several months on The Briefing, including the now infamous “Dear Colleague letter” sent concerning bathrooms and gender identity by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice. You come to understand that who serves as the Secretary of Education of the United States of America does make a difference.
A conservative political worldview reminds us that sometimes the best you can hope for out of government is avoiding disaster. But we also need to acknowledge the importance, indeed the good, of avoiding a disaster rather than accepting it. The looming fight over the U.S. Department of Education is one of those that is actually over something that matters. In that sense, it’s a fight worth fighting.