The Free World, The Not Free World

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryAs like everyone else, I get up from bed, I take my wife to work, I do grocery shopping or do errands like pay bills and take care of the house, and go on my computer to check the news. Hundreds of millions of people do similar patterns in life everyday, and most take for granted that their lives are “normal” like everyone else’s. But that is assuming we believe our lives are the best that can be, that the information we get from our social media is true, and that we feel our lives are free from controls that limit our choices and prevent us from voicing what we really feel or where and what we can do.

Once upon a time I lived in a not so free country where I was limited to I could do. Yes, I got up, i rode to work, I taught classes (when I worked as an English teacher), and I could go out with the guys for an evening every now and then and watch movies. What I could not do was read books that presented a certain topic in history (since where I lived had already censored all such books and media in this regards, I was forbidden from importing books or any magazines or newspapers that even remotely talked about this topic in question). I could not mention any forbidden topics in public, and private citizens had the duty of reporting whatever I had inadvertently said in public to the authorities.

This place I should mention was Taiwan in the late half of the 20th Century when it was under one-party rule of the Nationalist Party of China, and one of those forbidden topics was on the February 28, 1947 massacre of 28,000 innocent Taiwanese by Nationalist forces. No books were allowed to mention this, no news media was allowed to say anything about this, and those who did were imprisoned in the infamous Jing-mei political prison. This was something I feared. Although those years are now well behind me, I have not forgotten. Now fast-forward to the present, and we can see how the Russian government is more than willing to imprison anyone who even remotely speaks about its war in the Ukraine as a “war.” The parallels are just too striking, and worse for those who are living in Russia too many Russians are convinced that their government is telling the truth, that their life is the best, and that every country designated “the enemy” is a mortal threat.

In my case, before I went to live and work in Taiwan during that tie period, I had lived in the United States where no topic is forbidden, where I can get any and all information well outside the United States, and I can travel well beyond this country’s borders and have done so. This is not true in the not free world today, and I had seen and experienced how all of this felt. I had to have special permission to leave Taiwan for whatever reason, I had to keep my “political record” clean by not getting involved in any protests or associating with “undesirable elements” (whatever they were), and I had to present my identification card to any police who could demand it on the spot. I had no privacy, no legal protections, and there was no such thing as freedom of speech. Taiwan is thankfully nothing like this now, but countries like Russia, Belarus, China, North Korea, Laos, Nicaragua, Cuba, Vietnam, Myanmar, Iran, etc., are.

As we come out of the pandemic, the world is becoming dangerously divided between the free world and the not free world. In this real sense we have entered a new Cold War where what we take for granted could be taken away. Russia’s bloody war in Ukraine is one fault-line where this reality is galvanizing the world into armed camps. The corona virus pandemic in so many ways has accelerated this deep world division.

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