By Sydney H. Schanberg
Originally published in The New York Times, June 12, 1982
Is our brain fiber so eroded by Perrier water and our spine so softened by beanbag chairs that we can no longer do battle with ideas from an alien galaxy? Can we rise anymore to a challenge? Is this the Big Apple – or only a rotten nectarine?
These knotty questions arise because the anti-Red brigade in the State and Justice Departments has blocked over 300 foreigners from coming to the United Nations disarmament session on the grounds that they are Soviet dupes with alien ideas, bent on capturing our hearts and minds.
I say let them in. We can handle them. Does Lawrence Eagleburger, the State Department official who seems to worry most about these aliens and their little red books, really think they would be any match for Mayor Koch, Donald Trump, the Financial Control Board, Vito Battista, Rosemary Gunning and The Wall Street Journal? Do they stand a chance against George Steinbrenner, gypsy cabs without springs, the West Side IRT and deli waiters whose insults would wither Lenin himself?
Anyway, these intruders have long since been tamed into submission by our jungle. They’ve been coming here for years without hindrance from Eagleburger, and all their invidious sowing of anti-American ideas hasn’t made the slightest dent in the Laffer Curve.
Hundreds of these now-proscribed people — such as members of the Japanese group, Gensuikyo — came to the first United Nations disarmament session in 1978; and all they left behind were some sandals discarded for Guccis and their welcome contributions to the sales tax.
Now I do realize that all Communists are not benign, that this country has adversaries and that we must be vigilant and militarily prepared. But in my experience, that very real problem has virtually nothing to do with people hawking ideas. It has to do, rather, with dictatorships seeking to amass world power and dominate others. Hitler, as far as I know, was not a member of the World Peace Council or its purported affiliate, Gensuikyo, which have got the Eagleburger aerie so stirred up.
”They are undesirable,” says Kenneth Adelman, our No. 2 delegate at the U.N. ”We have absolutely no legal obligation to let Tommy Bulgaria or anyone else from Soviet-front groups come here, participate in demonstrations, get on air time and do the Soviet Government’s work for it.”
I don’t know Tommy Bulgaria, but my contacts with Communists — in my reporting tours overseas – suggest that it is not subversion through ideas that we should fear. It is paralysis through boredom.
At their worst, these Communists were droning ideologues, all of whom should have been on retainer for the National Association of Insomniacs. At their devious best, they were masters at honing their rhetoric into a weapon akin to water-drip torture.
I recall the arrival in April 1975 of the victorious Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh, where they were nervously awaited by five Russians left behind in the Soviet Embassy with the sole mission of making friendly contact with their new Cambodian ”comrades.” The Mao-oriented Khmer Rouge were having none of it. They tore down the Soviet flag, stomped on Brezhnev’s picture, fired a rocket into the building and then, in the ultimate assault, forced the Russians to stay up all night and engage in a debate on Marxism-Leninism.
By morning, the Russian will had been sapped. Defeated and glazed of eye, they packed up their canned black bread and sour cream and drove, humiliated, to the French Embassy, where all the other foreigners had taken sanctuary.
New Yorkers are tougher than those Russians. The denizens of Elaine’s or Ruelles stay up all night discussing drivel far more mind-numbing than Hegelian dialectic and emerge into the morning sunlight without a wrinkle in their beautiful-people personas.
And beyond Elaine’s for a moment, perhaps the strongest evidence of our country’s advantage over the Soviet Union is that this conference, with its marches and open-air rallies, could never be held in Moscow, where fear of outside ideas results in their suppression. Our openness is our greatest strength. It’s a pity that the sky-is-falling bureaucrats in Washington are too insecure to understand this.
In their paranoia, they dug deep into their cold-war bins to dust off the hoary and hysterical McCarran Act of 1952, which sought to close our doors and ears to ideas other than our own.
It’s a good thing the statute applies only to aliens, because in addition to ”subversives,” it also excludes ”chronic alcoholics” and those suffering from ”moral turpitude.” Can you imagine, under those standards, how many members of Congress returning from junkets could be barred re-entry to our shores? I say that for better or worse, we should remain tolerant and continue to let our Congressmen into the country — along with members of the World Peace Council, tedious and undesirable as some of them may be.