A Moral Challenge to the West – A World Wide Battle

The Honorable Ezra Taft Benson
Delivered to the International Freedoms Conference. Philadelphia. Pennsylvania. October 26, 1979

The Honorable Ezra Taft Benson

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, delegates and guests: You accord me a great honor by extending this invitation to address you at your Third International Freedoms Conference. Although I could not be with you at your first or second conferences because of other duties, I have received favorable reports of the proceedings. I commend you for your efforts and declared purposes. The swift passage of time is funneling us into a situation where we of the free world must make an unequivocal choice. A choice that must be made now! The choice: Will we live in freedom … or suffer under the grinding heel of oppression. The tidal wave of Marxism is sweeping across the world, extinguishing the lamps of freedom one by one. And the nations of the free world seem powerless to do anything about it.

I intend to speak bluntly. We are living in a period of grave danger. It is fitting that we meet in Philadelphia, the scene of one of history’s most illustrious moments. One hundred ninetytwo years ago, September 17, 1787, thirty-nine men affixed their signatures to a document that formed a government which institutionalized safeguards to protect the freedom of its citizens. Few today appreciate the significance of this American Revolution which indeed, was a revolution for the rights of mankind everywhere.

What happened on that occasion distinguishing this revolution in the annals of time, is that men determined they, the people, were sovereign under God. The Declaration of Independence affirmed the doctrine that man’s most basic rights of life, liberty and property were unalienable. That affirmation rejected the political ideology of the centuries that such rights were subject to a sovereign’s benevolence or whim.

Too few appreciate the fact that we live in one of history’s most exceptional moments, a time of unprecedented freedom. Freedom, as the western world knows it, has been experienced by only a small fraction of the human family at any time. The stark reality of this fact led two distinguished University of Rochester professors to publish this statement during America’s Bicentennial:

Humanity has survived in various states of tyranny for thousands of years. One might even say this is the natural state ofaffairs for man. Future historians may look back and see the period 1776 to 1976 as a brief 200 year accident in the history of man in which real freedom existed for all…

Pause for a moment and ponder our legacy of freedom. Few nations enjoy the freedom to speak, freedom to own or participate in ownership of property and business, freedom to worship, freedom to print, freedom to travel at home or abroad, freedom even to censure public officials, freedom to have the privacy we desire, and freedom of private enterprise, though this latter freedom is greatly threatened by a mentality toward collectivism in recent decades.

But those freedoms are the heritage of the western world!

Today this freedom is being threatened by another revolution, a recurrence of the barbaric practice of political propaganda, human subjugation, and even mass genocide. That system of slavery, Marxism, has imprisoned the bodies and minds of over one billion of the earth’s inhabitants. Consider the contradiction of its ideology –

  • It proclaims peace, yet leaves in its wake the groans of the dying and the misery of the human family.
  • It predicts paradise on earth, but has left a trail of carnage, bloodshed, oppression, and depopulated nations -a desolate wilderness. If Communism is paradise, why have half a million Vietnamese fled from paradise?
  • It promises equality of privileges, but stands in contempt of the human rights of men everywhere.

Equality comes only in death and millions who have coveted Communist equality have prematurely achieved that end. Dictatorship, despotism, and demagoguery are hallmarks of its institutional soul. George F. Will, a noted columnist, recently wrote that even the French philosophers who, after reading Solzhenitsyn, concluded (better late than never) that the “Gulag is the essence, not an accident, of Communism.” Yet so many in the West, supposedly enlightened to Communism’s grand design for world domination, accommodate themselves to it, grant apologies for its “excesses,” capitulate to its demands, and permit the free world to become encircled by its tentacles.

Recently the President of the United States congratulated the nation on having overcome its “inordinate fear of Communism.” Perhaps he is right in one sense: there is a complacency toward Communism. But I agree with Andrew Knight, editor of The Economist of London, that the influence of the United States has been diminished in recent years because there is a lack of perception of the problem. (U.S. News and World Report, October IS, 1979, p. 77.)

I ask:

  • Is it inordinate fear of Communism to censure its record of almost total suppression of individual rights, a fact hardly mentioned by an administration whose hallmark was to be for “human rights” of men everywhere?
  • Is it inordinate fear of Communism to acknowledge 60 million political prisoners in the gulag?
  • Is it inordinate fear of Communism to recognize the fiendish butchery of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia where perhaps over 2 million died? This is a fact that almost escaped notice in the western press.
  • Is it inordinate fear of Communism to distrust the Kremlin’s claim that its military build-up is only defensive?

The struggle for freedom is more momentous than a decade ago, yet the conventional wisdom says, “You must learn to live with Communism and give up your ideas of national sovereignty.” Tell that to the millions – yes, the scores of millions – who have met death or imprisonment under the tyranny of Communism! Such would be the death knell of freedom and all we hold dear.

I am a witness to nations and people deprived of their freedom. I was there. I watched the great Iron Curtain drop around nations which formerly had prized their freedom good people. I was aghast as they were written off by the stroke of a pen. I saw Poland abandoned by nations with a heritage of freedom – the United States and Great Britain.

I was in Warsaw in June of 1946. I shared a room with seven other men in the Polonia Hotel, the only hotel even partially intact in the great city of Warsaw. The United States Ambassador, Bliss Lane, had his office in part of the building. He was so saddened that he resigned and wrote the book, I Saw Poland Betrayed. which detailed the failure of the United States and England to keep their promise that the Poles would have a free election after the war.

I was saddened when the United States refused to help at the time of the Hungarian revolution – when Freedom Fighters with bare hands and stones resisted bullets, tanks, and artillery. I confess I was ashamed at the response of my country. Freedom did not die that day (October 23, 1956) for Hungary alone. Hope died for many in other captive nations and has only recently been somewhat revived by courageous men willing to speak out against oppression.

As the Cabinet member assigned to agriculture, there seemed to be little I could do. But I knew we must respond in some way. I urged the President to make a strong, vigorous denunciation of the brutality of the Soviet Union in Hungary. I was asked to draft such a statement which was later released on Human Rights Day. Here is a portion of that statement:

The recent orgy of brutality in Hungary has moved free people everywhere to reactions of horror and revulsion. Our hearts are filled with sorrow. Our deepest sympathy goes out to the courageous, liberty loving people of Hungary.

The Hungarian Massacre repudiates and negates almost every article in the Declaration of Human Rights.

It denies that men are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and that all should act in the spirit of brotherhood. It denies the human right to life, liberty, and security of person.

It denies the principles that no one shall be subjected to torture, or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

It denies that all are equal before the law and entitled to its equal protection.

It denies the right to fair and public hearings by an independent and impartial tribunal.

It denies the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

It denies the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

It denies the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

It denies that no one shall be held in slavery or servitude.

It denies that the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.

It denies the right to leave one’s country or to seek in other countries asylum from persecution.

That these human rights have been so flagrantly repudiated is cause for mourning, national and worldwide.

…Once again the tree of liberty has been watered by the blood of martyrs. The courage and sacrifices of the brave Hungarian people have written anew in crimson the sentiment attributed to Patrick Henry nearly two centuries ago (“Give me liberty or give me death.”)

On this Human Rights Day, it is for each one of us to recognize anew that we are brothers in our Father’s house, and each is truly his brother’s keeper. We cannot shed that responsibility, nor do we want to. Let us resolve on this day that the world shall never forget what tyranny has done in Hungary.

Yes, I have stood face to face with tyranny. I was host to Mr. Nikita Khrushchev for a half-day when he visited the United States. I am not proud of this. I stated my reservation to the President and I still feel it was a mistake to invite this godless despot, dedicated to our destruction, as a state visitor.

Since that day, I have witnessed the Soviet Union spread its abominable ideology throughout the world. Every stratagem is used – trade, war, revolution, violence, hate, and immorality – to accomplish its ends. Since 1939, Europe lost three countries and parts of five others. In Asia, Outer Mongolia, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos are Communist dominated. In Africa, Russia controls Angola and has a military foothold in other countries. In the Mideast, Moscow influences Syria, Iraq, and South Yemen. In Latin America, she has a satellite in Cuba, which in turn exports the Marxist revolution in Africa and Central America.

I sadly confess that I cannot understand how the United States of America can maintain diplomatic relations with a nation determined to bring about our destruction.

I did not believe I would ever see the day when my own nation would be signatory to legitimatizing the Soviet conrol over the so-called captive nations of Eastern Europe but I have. The Helsinki accords were to “open up” the closed Russian society and countries under Soviet domination. There was to be greater freedom of thought, religion, travel, and “human contacts.”

Today we must conclude that the “Spirit of Helsinki” is nothing more than a diplomatic triumph for the Soviet Union, and a solidifying of their domination over the captive nations.

I did not believe I would ever see the day when we would accede to the expulsion of liberty and freedom-loving Taiwan from the United Nations on conditions of granting full participative membership to atheistic Red China – but I have!

I did not expect to see the day when we would ever grant the diplomatic, military and political concessions to Marxist leaders – but I have!

Nor did I ever think we would see the time when the United States would permit a Soviet brigade 90 miles off its shoreline in clear violation of the Monroe Doctrine – but I have!

The Soviet Union is not interested in the freedom and the human rights of all nations. Does the mention of these countries inspire confidence in the Soviets: Mozambique, Ethiopia, South Yemen, Rhodesia, Afghanistan, Cambodia? Everyone of these countries is a symbol of Communist aggression and the contempt of the Soviet Union for the free world and the rights of men everywhere. No one with the interest of freedom for all men will really say that the “detente” process has brought about a relaxation of tension, or has contributed toward the betterment of the world in general.

Now I sincerely believe that the United States and the West have an interest in and obligation to make friends of leaders of free nations. I do not believe that we are obligated, in the interest of peace, to barter away national sovereignty, nor to export technology to a nation that has as its declared purpose the subjugation of free men of all nations. It is a matter of record that the Soviet Union has violated almost every agreement made with the United States.

How has the Soviet Union gained a stranglehold on one-third of the world’s population? Alexander Solzhenitsyn answers: “It was because of a process on the part of Americans which has been in progress for more than 30 years of short-sighted concessions, a process of giving up and giving up, in hope that at some point the wolf will have eaten enough.” His appeal to American leaders is to “stop the senseless process of endless concessions to aggressors, these clever legal arguments for why we should make one concession after another give up more and more and more.” (U.s. News and World Report, July 14, 1975.)

Then in one of the most humiliating requests ever made to leaders of free nations, Solzhenitsyn implored: “When they bury us … please do not send them the shovels … or the latest earthmoving equipment.” (Warning to the West, p. 84.)

How much more humiliation must the West endure before our spine stiffens?

It is a fact that the West has built and sustained a faltering Soviet economy. Were it not for our help, Russia could not feed its own people.

There are many things that the West must do to strengthen its position to effectively retard the onward march of Marxism. Politically, economically and militarily, we stand vulnerable. I am a strong advocate for political, economic and military strength, but these alone, I think, are not the ultimate answer to our problem.

The greatest resource against Communism is spiritual.

There are only two possible sources of man’s rights. Rights are either God-given as part of the divine plan or they are granted by government as part of a political plan. If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they can be denied by government. I, for one, shall never accept that premise. As the French political economist, Frederick Bastiat, said,

Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.” (The Law, 1850, p. 6.)

It is my sober conviction that no people can long maintain freedom unless their political institutions are founded in a faith in a Supreme Being and belief in the existence of moral law. This is the foundation of Western civilization. When men reject the premise that God is the source of law, they countenance a political system based on human law. Man thus becomes his own god, and the state the benefactor of privileges. May I illustrate the consequences of these two separate premises.

When you accept the premise that the source of law and man’s rights come from a Supreme Being, you at once recognize the sanctity of the individual, his right to free expression, his right to possession of private property. The dictum that a man’s home is his castle originated in divine law. Since man was created to be free, the only logical form of government is self-government; for acceptance of ruler imposed authority is an implicit repudiation of one’s rights to free expression and ultimate liberty.

The most fundamental unit of self-government is the family, with father and mother instilling fundamental principles and skills in their children. This is the rock foundation of society, and a man’s success will never be greater than what he attains with his own family. Institutions of government were initially established to protect man’s freedom. A repudiation of our heritage is to accept – as so many Western Democracies have accepted – the supremacy of the State over the individual and family, which is the essence of Marxism.

Under self-government, when the civil government and its agencies lose their servant-role, you may know that we have slipped from our spiritual moorings.

What man thinks about God will ultimately decide what he will think, believe and accept about everything else. This is why both reason and religious conviction lead me to accept the divine origin of man’s rights.

The antithesis to this belief is represented by atheistic Marxism. There the State is supreme; man exists to serve the State. Inexorable moral laws are regarded as mythical. Since the State is the source of law, the State is god. The State, therefore, can control one’s family, education, religion, economics, property, and, yes, his very life. The individual is regarded, at best, as an economic resource. Once his usefulness is fulfilled, his life becomes expendable.

Atheism and agnosticism have consequences. When man refuses to recognize God as the source of his rights, he abrogates his right to denounce the State. The State may decide to expropriate his property, or capriciously determine to take his life. How can one take a stand against evil unless he recognizes a source of law higher than man? On what moral grounds can he object? It is a truism that “Men will either be governed by God, or ruled by tyrants.” (William Penn.)

The Communists recognize, even if some in the West do not, that the spiritual foundation is the essence of our strength. This is why they will use any device, resort to any method, expend any resource to discredit and repudiate the moral foundations of Western society. “Under present conditions,” they say, “religion appears to be the main opponent … and, consequently, an atheistic education must be prominent as a constituent part in developing a communist world outlook.” (U.A. Karpovsky, “The Cause of Religious Survival and the Means for its Elimination,” Voprosy Fi/osofli [Problems of Philosophy], No.4, Moscow, April 1964.)

With the trend in the free world moving away from self government to dependence on the state, is there not evidence that the Marxists are successful in developing a communist world outlook?

I ask you delegates to this Freedoms Conference: If we do not accept the existence of a Supreme Being; that God is the source of moral law, what more do we have to offer than Marx? On what basis can we morally resist tyranny?

I say to you with all the fervor of my soul that God intended men to be free. Rebellion against tyranny is a righteous cause. It is an enormous evil for any man to be enslaved to any system contrary to his own will. For that reason men, 200 years ago, pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.

No nation which has kept the commandments of God has ever perished, but I say to you that once freedom is lost, only blood – human blood – will win it back.

Freedom is an eternal, God-given principle. There is no genuine happiness without freedom, nor is there any security or peace without freedom. After traveling in practically all of the free countries of the world and several times behind the Iron Curtain, I say that Marxism is the greatest evil in this world and the greatest threat to all we hold dear.

Of all sad things in the world, the saddest is to see a people who have once known liberty and freedom and then lost it.

I have seen the unquenchable yearning of the human heart for liberty on two unforgettable occasions. These experiences are indelibly etched on the memory of my soul.

I saw this yearning spirit in the faces of many European people, in the aftermath of World War II. It fell my lot, as a Church leader, to be among the first to go into war-torn European countries and distribute food, clothing, and bedding to the suffering members of the Church and others. I saw first-hand entire nations prostrate, flat on their backs economically. I looked into the face of hunger – the pale, the thin, the many dressed in rags, and some barefooted. I saw the refugees, the poor unwanted souls who were driven from their homes to destinations unknown. They came with all their possessions on their backs. I visited some of their homes, shacks where as many as twenty-two people were living in one room – four complete families. I saw some fortunate to get hold of an American magazine and pore over its pages and wonder if what they saw could possibly be true. I saw the struggles on every hand to get to America or England, some legal and others illegal, all in an effort to enjoy freedom and liberty. These were a people who had once known a measure of freedom, but had let it slip away.

The second unforgettable experience was when I was in Russia in 1959. We had been touring seven European countries as a part of the objective of the government of the United States to develop world markets and create good will.

Mr. Khrushchev and Mr. Matskevich, the Minister of Agriculture, had promised me that I would be able to visit a Christian Church in Russia. During our stay there, the guides did everything possible to prevent this. Finally, on the way to the airport, before leaving Moscow, I insisted that we go to a Christian Church which I had located. It was only a few minutes out of the way. Reluctantly, we were taken to the church. Our guides had told us that the churches were empty, that no one attended church any more, that religion was the opiate of the people, and that the people had risen above religion.

We arrived at a Baptist Church and found it full to overflowing. We learned that they were holding three services on Sunday and two on weekdays to accommodate the desires of the people. I looked into the faces of the people. Most were middle-aged and older. As the ten members of the America press were being ushered to pews, which were vacated for our unexpected visit, people reached out and grasped for our hands to touch us. They were in misery and yet a light shone through their eyes. Like frightened children they gripped our hands.

Later in the service, I was asked to address the congregation. I spoke to them about God and Jesus Christ, I encouraged them to be unafraid and to pray for peace. I spoke to them about the reality of a resurrection, that this life is only a part of eternity. In closing, I told them that truth would endure, that time was on the side of truth.

I don’t recall all I said, but I do remember being inspired by their rapt faces. As we were about to leave, the whole congregation spontaneously broke into a favorite hymn of my youth, “God Be With You Till We Meet Again.” As we walked down from the platform and the members of the press walked up the aisles, the congregation waved their handkerchiefs in farewell. It seemed all 1500 were waving as we left. Through it all, members of the American press witnessed the event with tear-dimmed eyes.

As we were leaving the church, a young lady Russian guide whispered to my wife, “I am a Christian, too.”

It has been my privilege to speak before many church groups in all parts of the world, but the impact of that experience is almost indescribable. I shall never forget that evening as long as I live. Seldom, have I felt the oneness of mankind and the unquenchable yearning of the human heart for freedom so keenly as at that moment.

Never will I forget this victory of spirit over tyranny, oppression, and ignorance. Never can I doubt the ultimate deliverance of the Russian people.

Today we are in a worldwide battle for the bodies and souls of men. It is a battle between two opposing systems freedom and slavery. The persistent efforts of God-respecting men will determine whether freedom is victorious in our time. A faithless generation will not be equal to the task. Is it not time for us to reevaluate our commitment to the principles which the Marxists fear the most?

I fully believe that we can turn things around if enough men and women in the Free World will have the determination, the morality, and the faith to do so.

Here in the West we hold in our hands the only hope of mankind; and it will be to our shame and disgrace before God and man if we allow that hope to wither and die. May God bless us to be equal to the task.

(Source: Ezra Taft Benson, Delivered to the International Freedoms Conference. Philadelphia. Pennsylvania. October 26, 1979)

Filter by Categories

Explore our newest project!

Unlock a treasure trove of FREE resources! Dive into engaging videos, lesson plans, activities, and much more—all perfectly aligned with Come Follow Me 2024.

Join our email newsletter!
Latest News