A young man is thrown into a jail cell full of haggard prisoners. They are sitting on benches around a central bucket that serves as their latrine. Silently, they indicate to him the rules of the house: Everyone sits still with his mouth shut, looking toward the cell door. Every now and then, a guard checks through a peephole to see that the inmates are obedient.
Some time later, the young man is taken from the cell. The guards perp-walk him down the hall, reminding him of the rules: “Hands behind your back! Head down! No talking!”
They shove him into a brightly lit room that contains, in one corner, a shower stall, and in the other, a chair and a desk and a uniformed officer. “I am your interrogator,” the officer says. “You will tell me of your counter-revolutionary activities. I will hear every one.” The young man begins to reply, “I’m not a— I don’t have any— ” —at which point the officer shouts, “No talking!” and rushes over to him. “I will tell you when you are ready to talk about these things,” the interrogator purrs, then starts punching him in the kidneys.
Thus begins several days of beatings, some conducted in the shower so as to wash away the blood. By and by, the poor man is indeed “ready to talk.” As soon as he signs his confession, his tormentor compliments him on his fortitude, shakes his hand, calls him “comrade” and wishes him “all success” in the camps. Then the officer tucks the confession into his desk and gets set for his next victim.
That sequence is from “Coming Out of the Ice,” a 1982 British film based on the memoirs of Victor Herman, an American born in Detroit to Ukrainian immigrants. The boy was 16 when, in 1931, his pro-Communist father took the family back to the Soviet Union. There Herman ran afoul of the authorities, resulting in the treatment described above and in even worse suffering in the frozen hell of the Gulag Archipelago, the system of Soviet labor camps that stretched from one end of the country to the other.
“Coming Out of the Ice” is available on VHS, DVD, and on YouTube. It doesn’t appear on most lists of movies dealing with Communism and anti-Communism, perhaps because it is a foreign-made film. Although it features two American stars (John Savage as Herman and Willie Nelson as a countryman Herman met in the Gulag), it was never released here in theaters. It appeared on television instead. But it’s no cheesy “Movie of the Week.” It’s better than all but the very best of its genre, right up there with “The Killing Fields,” “Eleni,” and “The Prisoner.” It’s remarkable not only for the cold light it shines on Communist atrocities but for the warm empathy it shows toward the ordinary people who were caught up in them.
Herman’s story is unusual in that it has a happy ending. After his 10-year term in labor camps was up, he remained an exile in Siberia but married a Russian woman there (portrayed by English actress Francesca Annis above), had a family and—after more than four decades of subjection to Soviet authority—was allowed to return to the land of his birth, bringing his wife, his two daughters, and his mother-in-law with him.
My point in telling his story is to remind everyone of what hard-Left law enforcement looks like. It is evil, not just in its brutality but in its raging partiality. For a Soviet in the hands of the law, everything depended on where he stood politically. Check out the scene where Herman’s party sponsor, sizing him up as a “counter-revolutionary,”turns in an instant from warm cordiality to ice-cold malice. Consider how it would feel, being in thrall to such people. Then look at what is going on in America today.
Impartial enforcement of the law? Think of how our deep-state apparatchiks went from playing the Three Wise Monkeys with Hillary Clinton to playing Inspector Javert with Donald Trump. Respect for freedom of speech? Watch how the Left behaves when a conservative speaker comes to a college campus or when a corporate employee, whether high or low, commits a thought crime. Concern for human rights? Never forget how liberals lionized Fidel Castro, from the day he took over Cuba until the day he died, despite a record of savage cruelty every bit as horrible as that suffered by Victor Herman in Russia.
Listen to how liberals talk now, whether it’s Madonna musing about blowing up the White House; Andrew Cuomo saying that if you are “right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay,” you “have no place in the state of New York”; Peter Fonda tweeting, “We should rip Barron Trump from his mother’s arms and put him in a cage with pedophiles”; or Maxine Waters calling for Trump officials to be mobbed wherever they go, to show them “they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”
Reason for Worry
As today’s Democrats lurch farther and farther leftward, it begins to appear that the only limit to the expression of their malice is the limit other people place on their power. Hence the enormous importance of our keeping them out of power until their party comes to its senses. God help us if the Democrats regain power without such a reformation, for if they do, their notorious softness on crime might easily be superseded by unprecedented rigor in handling that particular class of people the Left hates more than it hates any mere murderer: namely, us “deplorables.” As Charles Hurt argues, “a new civil war is already upon us.” And as Michael Walsh writes, in this war “there can be only one winner.”
What can President Trump do, beyond what he is already doing, to keep that “one winner” from being the Left? What can the rest of us do, beyond what we are already doing?
Those who’ve been following my work at American Greatness know where I’m going with this. But consider a recent development.
When a local crank shot up the offices of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, killing five people, the usual suspects of the Left immediately blamed President Trump, saying his habit of demonizing the press had made the massacre, or something like it, all but inevitable.
For his part, the president had this to say (emphasis added):
Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their jobs. To the families of the victims there are no words to express our sorrow for your loss. Horrible, horrible event. Horrible thing happened. When you’re suffering, we pledge our eternal support. The suffering is so great, I’ve seen some of the people, so great. My government will not rest until we have done everything in our power to reduce violent crime and to protect innocent life.
“Everything in our power”? How about building a gallows for the Annapolis shooter, and marching him to it right quick? How about going beyond mere rhetoric about crime and taking practical steps to ensure that no one can live for long after doing what that shooter did?
Punishing the shooter is Maryland’s business, of course, but federal interference prevents Maryland from punishing him with the full force of the law. Removing that interference is where Trump comes in. He’s already appointing people like Neil Gorsuch to the federal bench, and that’s good—but it’s only a small step in the right direction. What we need, what’s long overdue, is a giant leap.
The Case for a Constitutional Amendment
It would require a constitutional amendment to get swift and certain enforcement of the death penalty past the activist precedents of the Supreme Court. So? What’s so impossible about that? We’ve already amended the Constitution 27 times. The most recent such proposal to be approved, the 26th, sailed through Congress in 1971 and was ratified by the states in a matter of months. (The 27th, on the other hand, was proposed in 1789 and took more than two centuries to gain ratification. Let’s try to avoid that!)
As you read, consider this: Were Trump to make an issue of capital punishment now, leftist leaders would take it as conclusive proof that he is a Nazi at heart. “Hanging people? In this day and age? Who but a Nazi would even think of it?” Their voices would be loud, strident, hysterical, vituperative—almost involuntary. They’d be foaming at the mouth. They just couldn’t help themselves.
Meanwhile, how would the Democratic rank and file respond? Check these two entries in my AG series, and you might glimpse just a chance that the response of ordinary people would differ from that of their leftist leaders. Indeed, it might differ a lot. As I pointed out in this piece for National Review:
Unlike some other parts of Trump’s agenda, the quick restoration of law and order would be eagerly embraced by many of the very people the Left pretends to champion. Just consider that the voters of California, who backed Obama twice and went for Hillary by almost a 2-to-1 margin over Trump, also rejected (as they had done already in 2012) a proposition to abolish capital punishment, approving instead a ballot measure aimed at speeding up its enforcement.
I believe a really hard campaign against crime, if carried through to victory, would destroy liberalism’s power for a generation or more. Specifically, actual enforcement of the death penalty, to the point that thousands instead of dozens of killers are put to death for their crimes, has the potential to break apart the entire culture of gangsterism, cowing not only murderers but also the robbers and rapists who rely on the threat of murder—and thus making today’s crime rates a thing of memory. And in the peace that followed, people would never forget nor forgive liberalism for the fact that the mayhem they’d suffered for decades had been indulged, shepherded and enabled by liberal dogmas.
Some may have grown accustomed to those decades of mayhem. But millions of us have not, and in any case, crime is not the only issue at stake in the current crisis. If we really are in a new civil war, and it really is imperative that the Left lose this war, then all legitimate weapons at hand should certainly be used to defeat the Left. Calling the gallows down on murderers is certainly one of them.
Photo credit: The Denver Post via Getty Images