For the last 20 years of the world’s bloodiest century, Lech Walesa, along with Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, was a man on a pedestal in my pantheon of contemporary heroes, one of those who had helped bring about an end to communism in Eastern Europe and the demise of the Soviet Union. Now, here he stood before me on a warm November afternoon—this leader of Solidarity, Nobel Prize winner, and former president of Poland—speaking through a translator named Magda to more than 300 students in the Hines Auditorium at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. Although somewhat heavier these days—he joked about his attempts at dieting, garnering a laugh from the students—Walesa, with his lancer’s moustache and rumpled, weary face, still looked very much like the man who had once gazed with implacable determination from television screens and magazine covers.
Walesa immediately befriended his audience, telling the students that those who began snoring should move to the back of the room and sharing with them several stories regarding airport inspections since the terrorist attacks on September 11. He then spoke of his role in the battle against communism in Poland. He explained to the students how he and a few others realized that they didn’t have the guns to fight a war against the Soviet military and that street demonstrations frequently ended in bloodshed. Unable to follow these traditional paths of resistance to oppression, he and a handful of others devised the unique strategy of taking the workers away from the Communist Party through labor unions.
Walesa gave a good deal of the credit for the success of Solidarity and the failure of the communists to Pope John Paul II—“51 percent of the credit,” as he jokingly put it. “Before the Pope first visited Poland, I had ten supporters,” Walesa told the students. “After he left Poland, I had ten million supporters.” Walesa recognized as well the role played by Solidarity and its fervent members in bringing about the Polish revolution. He added that the support of such countries as the United States and Great Britain had also damaged communist efforts to crush Solidarity. Even Mikhail Gorbachev had helped to topple communism, he joked, telling the students that failure was not always something to be feared, since Gorbachev had received a Nobel Prize for his failure to revitalize Soviet communism.
After concluding his initial remarks, Walesa stated that the subject closest to his heart these days was not the struggle between freedom and oppression, but the struggle for the future: globalization.
Walesa told the students that globalization was the premier issue of their time. In promoting globalization, Walesa first advocated what he called “continentalism,” giving the European Union and NAFTA as examples. Once the national governments had joined together on a continental level, globalization would follow. In his description of this global government, Walesa envisioned a world with open borders, a world court, and a world police force. In a breathtaking statement that went unchallenged in the question-and-answer period following his lecture, Walesa even advocated a world religion. “After all,” said Walesa, whose support of the Pope and whose large family of eight children would otherwise indicate that he was a practicing Catholic, “there is only one God,” adding that we therefore needed only one religion in which to worship that God.
Walesa also briefly addressed the fate that might befall nations failing to endorse such a plan of globalization. He compared the countries of the world to a set of Legos. Each block, Walesa said, is different in size and color, yet all fit together into a larger pattern. If some of the blocks are flawed, it is sometimes necessary to push them together more firmly. Sometimes, too, a block might be so flawed that it will not fit at all into the pattern. These blocks, Walesa said ominously, must be thrown away.
What astounded me about Walesa’s advocacy of globalization—other than the fact that he advocated it at all—was his unquestioning adherence to such an idea. His simplistic approach and the faulty reasoning evidenced in a number of his remarks were shocking, particularly coming from a man who, in so many other ways, was a realist in politics. Walesa gave not a hint that globalization might have any drawbacks. He never defined “globalization.” He apparently regarded it much as a 19th-century transcendentalist might have regarded Utopia—that is, as an undefined goal whose conclusion always lay just around the next bend of the road. Sounding at one point like the Marxists with whom he used to do battle, Walesa stated that globalization was “inevitable.”
Walesa often seemed mistaken even in his interpretation of history. He stated that the great conflicts of the 20th century were territorial when it might strike many other observers that the great conflicts have been ideological. He stated dogmatically that improved economic circumstances would solve the problems of terrorism, thus ignoring Christ’s injunction that the poor would be with us always—as, I suspect, there will always be terrorists of one sort or another. Finally, the Polish leader encouraged young people to focus on the present and the future rather than the past, telling them that he himself had little interest in the past (and so, perhaps, inadvertently explaining why former communists have gained the upper hand in Poland).
Driving home from the lecture late that afternoon, I found my thoughts wandering in half a dozen directions. Were all Nobel Prize winners so ignorant of the topics on which they were paid to lecture? Walesa, at times, reminded me of one of those actors who embarrass themselves on talk shows by touting a cause about which they know nothing at all. And were all globalists—to my Smoky Mountain ears, the very name rings up the cosmopolitan, the sophisticated, the suave—so misguided, so ill informed, and, finally, so silly about the workings of community and the desires of man’s heart? Were they all so vague about the ultimate destination of globalization? And, if Lech Walesa was so interested in globalism, why didn’t he ask the students what effects, if any, they saw of globalization in their daily lives? If he had so inquired, I might have offered these bits and pieces by way of telling Walesa that my neighbors and I are quite familiar with the effects of globalization.
In 1982, when I moved to Haywood County, North Carolina, to open a bookshop and a bed and breakfast, the chamber of commerce showed me statistics revealing that the county’s economy was equally divided, with one third of the county’s gross product coming from business and industry, one third from agriculture, and one third from tourism. Today, the apple orchards are gone, victims of the rising cost of land and labor, and the tomato fields are much diminished. The furniture factory, the tannery, the boot factory, and the large Dayco plant—it once employed close to 1,500 people, paying union wages—have either closed their doors or moved overseas. Those people who lost their jobs went to work in retail stores such as Wal-Mart, started their own businesses, or left to find work elsewhere. In the other mountain counties around us, tens of thousands of people lost their jobs when their companies moved their operations abroad.
Wal-Mart, importer of the world’s cheap goods made by the hands of cheap labor, came to Haywood County in 1990. Downtown Waynesville has never recovered its lost local business, and, with the exception of grocery stores, the large shopping-plaza retailers—Sky City, Kmart, Dollar Store, Belks, and others—have also either closed their doors or suffered enormous losses since the advent of Wal-Mart.
“I tell young people to become surveyors,” a banker told me last year. “Unless you’re a doctor or a teacher, there’s not going to be much to do in Haywood County for a while. But we have a lot of Floridians building second homes here right now, and it’s tough finding surveyors.” He neglected to mention that these same Floridians are driving up the cost of land and home construction, making it even tougher for our young people to live here.
The effects of Walesa’s continentalization are even more pronounced than those of globalization. The 1990 census showed 240 Hispanics living in Haywood County; the 2000 census, 763. Our Hispanic population has tripled in ten years.
A bank manager whom I know asked a Mexican worker for a Social Security card to open a bank account. The worker returned with a card, which proved to be forged from a Chicago man who had recently died. After this card was rejected, the worker returned the next day, spread 12 social security cards across the table and invited the manager to select a card that worked.
Mission Hospital in nearby Asheville has so many Hispanic births that they have hired translators to work in the delivery rooms.
A friend of mine recently asked the receptionist at the Buncombe County Health Department to call a Maria Sanchez to the front desk. “Honey, I’ve got twelve Maria Sanchezes here today,” the secretary replied with a laugh. “Which one do you want?” Like the proverbial John Smith of the No-Tell Motel, Maria Sanchez is apparently the name of choice used by young women from Mexico when illegally taking advantage of the social-services system.
“Hispanics are family oriented,” an Hispanic friend of mine told me. “Besides, they work harder than Anglos. They just might save our country.” Mulling over my friend’s statement, I think about Mexico with its century-long government corruption, its oppression of the poor, its graft, and its literal inability, at times, to function as a modern nation. Is that what we want here?
On my drive home through the mountains, I eventually conclude that Walesa and I are using the same vocabulary, but the words have different definitions. For Walesa, globalization means peace and unity. For me, globalization means coercion, simply another way for the rich and the powerful to maintain order in the marketplace. In former times, goes the old adage, the flag followed business; today, a global government is expected to follow international corporations. I don’t give a damn about Wal-Mart’s cheap goods if it means that my neighbors are unemployed or that my children won’t be able to live here, and I believe that the guy with dirt under his fingernails living in a trailer would agree with me if he thought about it. He might shop at Wal-Mart, but he would give it up in a heartbeat if it meant a better job for himself or jobs for his children.
I don’t want neighbors who are living here illegally, who abuse the system, the schools, and the land without helping to pay for them through taxes, service, and the other myriad demands of citizenship. I don’t want to live in a bilingual country, nor do I want my children’s children living in one. Indeed, I would like to throttle the next smiling soccer mom who tells me that her child is studying Spanish because “she’ll need it someday.” (I don’t consider myself a racist in this regard; I’ve known some English twits who deserve a good boot to the bottom to send them home. I just happen to think that it’s time to stop the invasion of what our government now calls “the homeland.”)
Finally, Walesa’s Edenic vision does not appeal to me precisely because it is Edenic. Christians used to be accused of naiveté and self-deception for looking for “pie in the sky,” for seeking a heavenly Paradise rather than an earthly one, yet, for the past 300 years, those who have tried to create a heaven on earth—philosophes, socialists, communists, fascists, everyone from the fruit-and-nut communalists of the 19th century to the architects of the Great Society—have made a bloody hash of it. Lech Walesa’s globalization is another such dream, another Utopia akin, on a larger scale, to the dreams of those murderers whom Walesa once opposed, a script without an ending, a promise of a better way that will likely find its concrete expression in the blood and sacrifice of millions.
Thinking about Walesa’s lecture, I kept coming back to John Lennon’s song “Imagine”:
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today . . .
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace . . .
The tune behind these saccharine, poorly constructed, and antihuman sentiments is a catchy one, and I believe that we localists should make this song our anthem before the globalists do. We should hum “Imagine” wherever the word “globalization” is spoken, even sing it aloud to globalists. We could season the words with a little sarcasm, but the lyrics really speak for themselves. As we hum or sing, we should remember the true meaning behind Lennon’s—and Walesa’s—message: winsome tune, witless words.
Leave a Reply