Let's say you and your young daughter are walking along and a seedy-looking stranger with his arms full of rope and duct tape taps you on the shoulder and says, "Do you mind if I take your daughter with me to a nearby motel?"
You shouldn't have much trouble arriving at a reaction. And it's exactly the reaction we who were among the first to deal with an opening communist world would have had if any official of a communist government had dared ask us for help in identifying and apprehending dissidents they suspected of fomenting democracy or befriending foreigners or spreading genuine news from the outside world.
We would have shown that communist goon where the bear sat in the buckwheat.
Not so, with Yahoo and other American companies operating in communist dictatorships today. Apparently all the communist governments have to do is make a request and Yahoo pushes the data buttons that deliver the names of the "offenders" to the communist authorities resulting in the arrest and imprisonment of who knows how many Chinese citizens so far whose crime is wanting the same freedoms those Yahoo execs couldn't live one day without. And the Yahoo types don't even call it ratting out freedom-lovers. They call it "obeying Chinese law!"
When there were very few of us Americans reporting from inside the Soviet Union we devised ways of never letting the Soviet goons find out precisely who was telling us all those grotesque facts of life in the communist world we were relaying to our readers. Just as companies today buy and sell carbon emissions rights, we used to swap stories and then change them so we kept the pure essence but threw the secret police completely off the trail.
For instance, if I described the anti-communist grumblings of a Russian sergeant I'd met in Gorky Park in Moscow, it could have really been a Russian captain another Western journalist interviewed on Nevsky Prospekt in Leningrad.
Meanwhile a Norwegian reporter was describing his interview with a young Russian musician who wanted the freedom to play American jazz. Except it wasn't his interview. It was mine. So, no matter how closely the agit-prop goons monitored our movements, we got the word out without endangering the locals courageous enough to talk with western journalists.
Yes, I realize big money is involved in Yahoo's decision to knuckle under to Chinese Communism thuggery. Trust me. Money doesn't come big enough to have seduced us into endangering our informants inside the communist world.
I want to be Jesus-like and ask God to forgive these twerpy little Yahoo types because "They know not what they do." Too much of a stretch.
They know damned well what they do.
During the German occupation, Hitler's Nazis gave any Dutchman who squealed on neighbors who were hiding Jews a kilo of coffee, half a carton of good cigarettes and the equivalent of about $20. If there hadn't been takers, we'd never have heard of Anne Frank. From those quislings to Yahoo, as they say down south, "ain't up!"
Don't ever try to sell a story like the one that comes next unless you get it first-hand from someone you trust. I did get this first-hand from someone I trust and I suggest it illustrates what I call the humanistic universality of what I proudly call "our" ethic as opposed to the collaborationist surrender of Yahoo and the others.
Shortly after World War II, a Jewish family of four in Soviet Estonia was called together by the father. His friend who worked in the train station in Moscow had written him that Stalin was planning to let a large number of Greeks who'd been brought into the Soviet Union before the war to make important things like limousine services for top communist officials run better, return to Greece.
"He doesn't know what papers the Greeks will have or what checks will be made between Moscow and the first city in the free world," explained the father, "but he can get us into the big room the Greeks are going to gather in and we can take our chances from there. If we fail, we die in Siberia. If we succeed, we live in freedom. Let's vote!"
It was 4-to-0 in favor of the attempt.
On the appointed day, the family waited on a specified corner in Moscow and the friend appeared and waved them forward and showed them into the room in the station where the Greeks were gathering. They almost died of suspense right there.
When the Greeks were called to board, they all surged toward the platform and boarded the train. Nobody asked for papers. The train headed westward. Kiev, the Polish border, still no call for "papers!" The Estonians began to feel pretty good about things.
Suddenly, while still in communist territory, a plain-clothes Soviet thug began eyeing the four Estonians. They were blond. They Greeks were all dark-haired. The thug sauntered over and asked the father, "Are you Greek?" "Yes," managed the terrified man. A pause. "Are you sure you're Greek?" asked the communist cop. "Yes," answered the father, almost gagging.
The thug summoned a real Greek nearby. Understand, they all spoke Russian. The Greeks spoke Russian. The Estonians spoke Russian. And, of course, the Russian cop spoke Russian. The Russian cop ordered the Greek to speak Greek to the Estonian father. He did. The Estonian father didn't understand a word but he looked the Greek man in the eye and said something in Estonian. And the Greek smilied and spoke more Greek. The Estonian father smiled and spoke more Estonian. Then more Greek. Then more Estonian. Still more Greek. Still more Estonian. Finally the two men flung themselves into each other's arms as though they were born busom buddies who hadn't seen each other since junior high school in Thessalonika.
The commie thug grunted and walked away. They thereupon glided ever so smoothly across the Iron Curtain!
Hey, Yahoo. That was the late 1940s, but why don't you see if you can find that Greek man's heirs to be your ethics consultant?
My late wife, Ulla, was Swedish and travelled alone to the Soviet Union in 1968. Though not a militant anti-communist always on the ramparts with a broken bourbon bottle, she was a natural sentient human being. She could sense the Soviet women acting as her guides, guardians and interpreters were salivating for a look at her American fashion magazines, but they couldn't dare say so or even admit it under waterboarding.
The Soviet state demanded they pretend everything anybody could possibly want they already had in abundance in the Soviet Union and nothing glitzy from the West could even attract the butt-end of their attention.
When it became painfully obvious how desparately those Russian women wanted those American fashion magazines, Ulla figured out a way to accommodate them without endangering them.
Upon taking leave after her stay in Moscow, she went to the street market and bought armsful of fresh flowers for all her female Soviet attendants.
And she presented them with their stems wrapped tightly to protect them with unusually sturdy paper.
The paper happened to be those American fashion magazines.
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