What exactly happens when we learn a word? The most basic explanation is that a verbal sound is applied to an object or idea which represents the object or idea in question. Therefore, as children when we are first learning language, we must first visually see a chair and then we learn how to call this object in question by making a vocal sound. As time progresses we learn which words we should apply to emotions and feelings which we cannot see or touch, but have a presence none the less. As we grow even older, we string together or vocabulary and are eventually able to comprehend abstract ideas to which we must also apply a vocal sound or “word.” These ideas can be Democracy, Socialism and so on.
Now it is relatively easy to see a chair and call it a chair. Not much brain activity is needed. However, for the more abstract and that which is not so easily understood as a chair, the comprehension of the idea may be misunderstood or not understood enough, even though we know which vocal sound ‘word’ to apply to it.
The two words I’m thinking of at the moment are Colony and Communism. As many of you know I have lived abroad for four years and what really keeps me motivated is the amount of learning I acquire.
Sticking with our focus of these two words I’d like to explain a little about the progression of my understanding of these ideas………
Ask anyone what a colony is and they will most likely be able to define it in loose terms. If I think back to my previous understanding I would have said “Host Country sends nationals to a foreign land with the hopes of obtaining settlement there under governance of the host country.” The dictionary defines colony as:
“A body of people who settle far from home but maintain ties with their homeland; inhabitants remain nationals of their home state but are not literally under the home state’s system of government.”
Wow I was close!
Before, when thinking of this word, I would have conjured up images of the English Pilgrims in their blue hats settling in America and sharing food with the Native Americans even though it is now popular to understand that they shared more bullets (in firing them at the Natives) than food.
This is the same naïve concept of colony when people are asked to describe it. However, living in Vietnam I’ve come to understand the much darker side of this word or concept called “Colony.”
Now let’s take the dictionary definition of “Colonialism,” a derivative of Colony:
“Exploitation by a stronger country of weaker one; the use of the weaker country’s resources to strengthen and enrich the stronger country.”
If you ask people about France and Vietnam most will say Vietnam was a colony of the French and leave it at that. Some French nationals comprehension of the word is that it was basically good since it tried to make Vietnam “Civilized.” Yet, through my reading of history and I have learned the facts. One good site is the Ho Chi Minh Archives which offers amazing insight.
A colony is more often than not a barbaric subjugation of the native people where the wealth and resources are exploited for the economic gain of the host country. Therefore, there is a drastic difference between the concept most people hold when hearing the world colony and what it really is. The colonialism of the old European superpowers was one full of murder, greed and power grabbing. However, I’m sure nationals of those countries were not taught about the horrors of what actually happened. Therefore, if I read about Colonialism in France, Spain, England (and the USA) I will hear about how these colonies benefited their respective host countries and enslaved their people.
Yet, one cannot only read one side and know the truth. There are always too sides to every story and one must also read the literature of those that have been colonized. And every major country has ventured into colonialism at one point or another.
1. Britian – Subjugated the Indians with terror and torture.
2. USA – Wiped out the Native Americans under “Manifest Destiny” – Like “Colony” the definition of “Manifest Destiny” also changes depending on who you ask.
3. France – Exploited the Vietnamese along with countless other nationals of other countries.
4. Japan – Korean sex slaves, Vietnam famine.
Thus, we have to ask ourselves how well we understand our own language. Do we have a full and complete concept of what words actually mean and everything they entail or do are we content with a simple dictionary definition?
I learned this word in the United States of America. When I asked what Communism was, every single definition I received was that communism was basically a bad idea and something to be feared.
If I asked the reason for the Vietnam war, it was simply “To stop communism” as though communism was some 10000 pound Godzilla that was coming to enslave us all and should be feared. If you ask most of the population of America they will have a negative image of this form of government.
It wasn’t until I began to read for myself about Communism that I understood exactly what it was. I started to read Marx and was shocked that his manifesto wasn’t about enslaving people and depriving freedoms but was a dry and boring as any old economic textbook. It spoke about markets, money, and a way where everyone could have a chance to make something of themselves.
I then read history and about the Industrial Revolution. I was shocked to learn that most workers were treated much like slaves and could not save a shilling while the barons horded all the wealth. I was also appalled that this lasted much into the 1920’s America with the Strike Breakers who would put down worker protests while on horses and smashing in people’s skulls. I read about the horrible working conditions and how the people really did not have a chance to better their lives.
I also read an article stating that Capitalism was bad way back in the 1920’s but Communism underestimated Capitalism’s ability to evolve, gain better working conditions and labor laws etc. Yet, it seems to me that the author of this statement has engrained in his skull the very same naïve concept of communism that most of the American public hold. That it is bad and something to be feared. How is it that only Capitalism has the capacity to change and adapt but Communism does not?
Marx defined Communism as simply the path to socialism and not a permanent form of government. Therefore, it evolves and can evolve for the better. Yet, this argument is wasted on those who have suffered years of propaganda and even the word “Communism” puts them on the defensive and in fear.
They will cite examples of Stalin and his atrocities and of Communist China who do not have a very good human rights record. Yet, what the Americans have not been taught is that the USA has engaged in unimaginable atrocities in foreign lands to fight this concept called Communism.
And here it is. The American public have been so brainwashed into believing that Communism is some monster that will come upon it’s shores if not stopped that they look the other way when horrible atrocities have been committed like in Vietnam. Communism is not a horrible monster but one that would come from the people if they are suffering economically and have no chance to better their condition. They equate an economic concept “Capitalism” with freedom and “Communism” with slavery which is completely absurd. They are simply two economic models that would be better debated in terms of markets and currency movements by certified Economists.
Yet, the super elite know that if communism were to take hold then they would lose all or most of their wealth. Therefore, they strike at it anywhere in the world in hopes of preventing it while brainwashing the populace to believe it is simply a horrible monster. Millions of poor peasants in Vietnam were slaughtered who do not know the difference between Capitalism and Potatoes. The Vietnamese have really had it rough for the past century. They had to deal with the Colonialist French who exploited the country and enslaved many for their own economic benefit. Then this guy named Ho Chi Minh comes along and says “Hey, this is not right!” He tried to free his people from these oppressive French in many ways but do you think he got support from other western countries? Nothing! The only support he could get was from the Communists (Even in France) and therefore, by adopting communism it was his only way to free himself from the French. Then the USA comes along and fights Communism because as most Americans would put it “Communism is Bad, or now Evil.”
So the USA supports an extremely repressive and awful “Diem” regime which carries out an untold number of political assassinations. Meanwhile the Americans spray chemicals on the peasants villages since they cannot control them from the Communists. So these poor peasants just got out from under the yoke of the French to then have Chemical warfare sprayed upon them. Now ask yourself, if you were born in a peasant village and had been exploited by the French and then driven from your village by the Americans, whos side would you be on? Actually these poor people got caught in the middle of an ideological war and could give a damn for whatever side wins, but just want to live in peace!
If we look at the political side of things, it is easy to denounce the Soviet Union and China for their form of Communism. You say the wrong thing, you get put in jail. However, why do we have to look at these countries models of communism as the only ones? In many democratic countries there are things that cannot be said and if you cross the wrong leader landing in Jail is easy. Communism has one political party and the United States has two which is simply a difference of one! Also, Communism picks their next leader in a way that many Americans would feel “undemocratic.” Yet in the USA we now have a son of a former president! We say that he was picked by the people when the truth is that the people could not have been taken further out of the political process. Both parties are funded by the same powerful interest groups and it really doesn’t matter who wins. Americans say that the people in Communist societies live in a state of fear. What is going on in America right now? They have scared the wits out of the population with this terrorist nonsense and then wage war without trying to fix the underlying problems which promote terrorism in the first place!
Do we honestly think that a “terrorist” wakes up one day and says “Hey, I want to be a bad guy, so I think I’ll become a terrorist!” Now the word “Terrorist” has taken the same level of fear that the word “Communist” used to instill. Perhaps we think that “terrorists” are just not right in the head and want to strap bombs to themselves and them blow themselves up?? What could possibly drive a person to kill themselves like that? Perhaps if we look at the injustice some of the USA policies have created we will understand that these destitute, poverty-stricken people have no other choice!
But again, this argument is wasted on most Americans since the simple utterance of the words “Terrorist or Communist” have instilled such fear.
For them they will have this reaction:
1. Terrorist – Bad man, must be killed or stopped in any way possible.
2. Communism – Slavery, Fear
The images they conjure up when hearing these words are as naive as a two year old.
Finally if Americans do read this post, they will not like me one bit. So much for being able to say what you want in America even today. Their defensive stance is that I have just railed against everything they have ever been taught and most Americans have been taught in America as far as I know. Therefore, most of the information they have will paint America in a good light.
It is as simple as one child being taught potatoes are poison then add volumes of information and details supporting this position that no one could possibly read in a lifetime. Then another being taught that potatoes are healthy with another library full of materials supporting this stance. If I say potatoes are healthy to one who has been taught they are poison, the child who believes they are poison will empty all their knowledge is defending the stance that potatoes are poison.
Another aspect is the concept of team. Americans are on one team and define themselves as such in international affairs. Better not say anything bad about the team. So this post is like going into a New York Yankee stadium wearing a Red Socks Jersey. The Red Socks fan could have piles of information about how the Red Socks are better but it will simply fall on deaf ears.
Finally back to my original theme about our understanding of the meanings of words. What images do we conjure up when we hear them and are they correct? I guess it just depends on which school you’ve been attending and the information you’ve received. Steven Hawking says that humans are capable of understanding only a tiny fraction of all the information out there and therefore, one should not choose all their books from the same library.