We Americans are optimists. As peo­ple of goodwill and great intentions, we find it difficult to comprehend a system of government or a political philosophy that has no place for de­cency or compassion.

From time to time, however, some­thing happens that makes us face the facts of international life. Solzhenitsyn writes The Gulag Archipelago. Korean Airlines’ flight 007 is shot from the skies. For former President Carter, who had belittled “an inordinate fear of Communism,” the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan put things back into focus. And for all of us, the behavior of the current government of Ethiopia should be a similar lesson.

Back in February, when Congress was considering a measure to add $175 million to our already generous emer­gency aid to that country, it was time to commit candor on the Senate floor. And so, I observed that “this great famine has become merely another weapon in an inhuman campaign to make slaves of the Ethiopian people.” It may not have been diplomatic to describe Ethiopia’s ruler, Mengistu, as “a home-grown barbarian with a for­eign Communist ideology,” “a Marx­ ist version of Idi Amin.” But it was certainly accurate, and subsequent events have vindicated my assessment.

In the last days of April, some of the thugs who currently control Ethiopia decided to disperse more than 50,000 refugees, including thousands of in­ fants, from the Ibnet famine relief camp. Western reporters and relief workers have described what happened next. Without warning, the pathetic starvers were driven from their huts, which were then set aflame. Two women miscarried while fleeing the troops. Nurses said that hundreds of seriously ill children simply disappeared. Relief officials feared that half the refugees would perish in their desperate trek to food and water. By the second day of the “evacuation,” relief workers were counting the dead along the dirt pathways through the mountains.

The United Nations assistant secretary general in charge of emergency operations in Ethiopia reacted predict­ably. Kurt Jansson faulted “the hasti­ness” of the operation and hoped that “in the future Ethiopia will handle this more efficiently.”

Perhaps it will. For a model of efficiency, Mengistu can turn to his ideological brothers in Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge, whose efficiency was fatal to three million of their country­ men. But this is a matter that will never be debated by the UN in its new $73 million conference center under­way in Addis Ababa, where the diplo­mats’ restaurants will never lack food and their treasury will never lack dollars.

The wonder is that anyone can still be surprised by all this. It is not in the least remarkable. Birds fly, fish swim, Communists commit atrocities. That is not accidental; it is essential to what they are.
At the risk of becoming “Cold War­riors,” we should make the point clear. All Marxists, whether in Addis Ababa or Moscow or Managua, are absolute materialists. That is, they insist that human life is nothing but matter, like a stone or an insect. If a mountain is in the way, blast it If women and chil­dren are in the way, blast them. The only difference between their killing of U.S. Army Major Nicholson in Ger­many this year and their massacre of thousands of Polish military men in Kalyn Forest during the Soviet-Nazi alliance is that the earlier operation required a larger grave.

That is not anti-Communist propa­ganda. It is, and always has been, the bottom line of Marxism. Individuals have no meaning, no rights, no identi­ty. They are clods of earth to be plowed into productivity for the state.

Why are we surprised, then, when thousands of African children are set off on a death march across the Ethio­pian highland? Haven’t we read about the Afghan youngsters whose arms are blown away by gaily colored toys booby-trapped by the Soviets to maim toddlers? Haven’t we heard about the Jewish and Christian boys and girls in the Soviet Union who are treated like criminals for their family’s faith? Yes, there are infants in those Siberian prison camps, and their jailors are the men with whom we are trying to negotiate arms agreements and trade deals.

These people are, after all, true to their school. Their first teachers, back in 1918, were not content to kill the Czar. They had to murder his children as well. They are now in their seventh decade of systematic annihilation; and there are still those in the West—indeed, in our Congresswho pro­fess shock when it happens again, this time in Ethiopia.

Just as the Ethiopian tragedy is in a continuum with the past of Commu­nism, so too it is surely but a prelude to its equally ghastly future. It is just a question of where this happens next. In little Benin? In Leninist Congo? In what used to be called Upper Volta before its latest “people’s revolution”? It could well occur in Mozambique, where $28 million in emergency food aid from the United States is propping up a Communist regime even more incompetent than the one in Ethiopia.

It is naive not to expect more such calamities. They have been a part of Communism’s genetic Code since its birth, and they will remain so until its death. For yes, even monsters are mor­tal; and this monstrous distortion of the mind and spirit need be no ex­ception.

In the meantime, though we may be repulsed by the Ethiopian govern­ment, we should not be paralyzed by it. We could not make it rain in Ethiopia; so with the rest of the free world we poured in hundreds of mil­lions of dollars in food and medical supplies. We could not control the weather; so we sent thousands of vol­unteers to feed, heal, and comfort. We have countered tyranny with mercy, and brutality with an open heart.

But how are we to respond over the long run? When the famine passes and the people of Ethiopia confront the underlying cause of their suffering—their Marxist rulers—what will be our answer to their need? Having saved them from starvation, will the free world help them save themselves from Soviet control? That depends upon whether we have learned well the lesson of lbnet.