One of the great joys that I have experienced in recent years is my friendship with Ion Mihai Pacepa. “Mike,” as I call him, is the highest-ranking officer ever to defect from the Soviet bloc. He was once the right-hand man to Nicolae Ceausescu, the president of communist Romania.
Living at the top of the Soviet world, Pacepa knew and socialized with Nikita Khrushchev, Mao Zedong, and Fidel Castro. He had all of the creature-comforts anyone could desire. Nevertheless, in 1978, Pacepa left all of that behind and defected to the United States, where he became an invaluable source of information for U.S. officials.
Ceausescu didn’t believe it when he first heard that Pacepa had defected. When the truth sank in, he had something of a breakdown. He then placed a $2 million bounty on Pacepa’s head. The infamous assassin Carlos the Jackal was one of several would-be killers who was unsuccessfully dispatched to silence Pacepa.
Pacepa spent three years in debriefing. At first, CIA agents had to convince President Jimmy Carter not to return Pacepa to Romania (which would have been a certain death sentence). The president had trusted Ceausescu and had a hard time believing the information that Pacepa was putting forth. He even prohibited Pacepa from publishing his information. Things changed when President Ronald Reagan came into office. He authorized Pacepa to publish his story, and it was released in a widely translated book entitled “Red Horizons.”
Reagan read the book and liked it so much that he came to call it his “bible for dealing with dictators.” Soon after it was published, it was translated into Romanian, smuggled into that nation, secretly printed, and widely distributed. Radio Free Europe even serialized it and broadcast it into Romania.
In 1989, 11 years after his defection, Pacepa became a U.S. citizen. On that day, he was given a letter signed by the CIA’s deputy director for operations, stating that he had “made an important and unique contribution to the United States” of which he could “justly be proud.” He was credited by the CIA as being the only person in the Western world who had single-handedly demolished an enemy espionage service—the one he had managed, Romania’s Directia Informatii Externe (DIE).
That Christmas, Ceausescu and his wife Elena were executed, following a hearing in which most of the accusations had come directly from Pacepa’s book. A week later, the new official Romanian newspaper Adevărul (The Truth), wrote that “Red Horizons” “played an incontestable role in overthrowing Ceausescu.”
Pacepa and I have spoken quite a bit about his decision to leave everything behind and defect to the United States.
There were several motivators: a lifelong interest in all things American, the need to avoid an order he had received to oversee an assassination, and a desire to correct the disinformation that he had spent most of his career creating.
This disinformation included revealing that Ceausescu wasn’t a new and trustworthy ally of the West, but a cruel tyrant who only looked out for himself; that Soviet intelligence had heavily promoted the story that the CIA killed President John F. Kennedy and put out the false story that they weren’t interested in Lee Harvey Oswald when he defected to the Soviet Union; that the idea of a pope having been complicit in the Holocaust was another invention of the Kremlin; and that the KGB had intentionally cultivated anti-Semitism in the Middle East with the express purpose of weaponizing Islamic terrorism against Israel and the United States.
Pacepa’s most important message, however, is that socialism/communism/progressivism—call it what you want—is more than a threat to freedom: it’s the end of liberty. Communism has not just failed in application (resulting in tyrannical leadership), its very theory impels government toward totalitarianism.
Under socialism, a self-proclaimed benevolent government makes many of the most important decisions regarding life, education (based upon the collective needs of the workforce), equality of well-being, family, association, travel, and political speech. Serious sanctions are put in place for those found to be in violation of government mandates.
Such rules are necessary because criticism, travel, and choices about family or economics are dangerous to the system. Marx himself recognized that socialism couldn’t be achieved without suppressing free choices of the individual. Individual choices produce different outcomes, and that leads to inequality. As such, socialism cannot sanction individuality.
The Soviet Union wasn’t an aberration or a misapplication of communism. Nor was Pacepa’s Romania. Nor communist East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Albania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, the People’s Republic of China, Laos, North Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan, Benin, Cambodia, North Korea, Somalia, or South Yemen. All of these nations delivered depravity, poverty, pain, and despair—without freedom—because of the inherent structure of socialism.
I have a Facebook friend from Venezuela who used to send me messages about the bad things that were happening in his country. I haven’t heard from him in over a year. I hope he is okay, but his nation—once a thriving and beautiful location with a vibrant economy—is now facing critical shortages of necessities like water, medicine, and food. Scarcity in the country has grown so severe that starving Venezuelans have resorted to eating garbage. All of this is the result of socialism and communism being put into practice.
It’s not always just economics. About 110 million people were killed by their own socialist governments between 1900 and 1987.
Pacepa is justifiably worried that leftist ideology—the very thing he risked his life to escape—is on the rise in the United States. “Democratic Socialism,” as it is now called, follows the same redistributionist principles as traditional socialism. Both the mainstream media and the young seem enamored of the thought of progressive, redistributive tax rates designed to achieve what they call social justice.
The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is the largest socialist organization in the United States. Claiming 52,000 members as of December 2018, it’s still fairly small. Its membership, however, increased more than eightfold after the 2016 presidential election. Moreover, DSA member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is one of today’s most highly profiled members of Congress. She is undoubtedly influencing many people, especially the young. According to recent polls, a majority of respondents aged 18 to 29 now hold a positive view of socialism.
As Pacepa has recognized, the ideas espoused by today’s democratic socialists don’t differ greatly from those of the Soviet Union. They will, if put into practice, inevitably lead America to its downfall. We need to work very hard to win back the hearts and minds of this emerging generation of leaders.
As Ronald Reagan once warned: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Let’s fight to save it.
Ronald J. Rychlak is the Jamie L. Whitten chair in law and government at the University of Mississippi. He is the author of several books, including “Hitler, the War, and the Pope,” “Disinformation” (co-authored with Ion Mihai Pacepa), and “The Persecution and Genocide of Christians in the Middle East” (co-edited with Jane Adolphe).
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.