It Was Worse Than a Swastika. But Communist So Okay
There it was, on the hat rack at the thrift store, the Red Army cap, symbol of a Communist tyranny. One of the most cruel and murderous regimes in human history, turned into cute headwear for Americans. Some business thought they’d make money on this and their product had made its way to the $2.00 hat rack.
I’d stopped at the store in a small town outside Portland, Maine, on a brutally hot Friday. I needed a hat to wear while walking around town running errands. I wanted a Red Sox cap and walked hopefully back to the hat rack. There, hanging at the front at eye level, was the Red Army’s olive colored, flat-topped cap with a big bright red star on the front. (And no Red Sox cap.)
The Chinese communist state killed perhaps 65 million of its own people. It murdered, tortured, imprisoned, beat, robbed, oppressed, persecuted and impoverished hundreds of millions of its own people for decades on end. The Soviet Union was at it 30 years longer and only managed to kill 25 million. You want a poster country for the evils of the totalitarian state, China’s it.
That cap? It’s not a cute cap with a pretty design on the front.
The Cap With the Big Red Star
Think about this. Here’s a symbol of one of the worst regimes in human history, maybe the absolutely very worst one. Someone had bought it and worn it. The clerks at the thrift store put it on the rack for sale. I’m sure no one gave it a second thought. It was just a hat.
You know what that big red star is like? It’s like a swastika. It means the murder of 65 million people the way the swastika means the murder of 6 million Jews. Would that clerk have taken a Nazi hat out of the donation bin, looked at the swastika, priced it, and put it into the hat rack? Not a chance.
Now think about this. Would anyone wear a cap with a swastika on it? No. Why not? Because it’s a universally recognized symbol of evil. You wear that hat, you’re saying “I’m John Smith and I approve this message.” You’re telling the world you’re okay with death camps and gas chambers.
Someone decks you in the street for wearing it, no one’s coming to help you. More likely everyone will cheer. You lose your job because your boss doesn’t want the company associated with Nazi-sympathizers, even your friends will say you had it coming. No civil liberties group and no government agency is going to help you get your job back.
And you can’t say, “Hey, I didn’t mean it! It’s just a cap with a cool shape on the front!” The guy who decks you, the people who cheer him, the boss who fires you, the agency that won’t defend you, they’ll all tell you that you should know better. You advertised Nazism. You deserve what you got.
Nazis No, Chinese Red Army Communists Yes
But advertise Chinese communism and no one will blink. No one except a few nerds who know what that red star means.
Everyone knows about the Nazis because we see them as the bad guys in movie after movie. When Hollywood needs a Boo! Hiss! character, they write in a Nazi. How many popular movies have the Chinese communists as the bad guys? Some, I think, but not many. And they’re not nearly as hateably evil as Colonel Strasser in Casablanca or Major Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark or a thousand others.
Americans suffer a vast cultural ignorance about the history of Chinese communism. The guy who wore that cap and the clerks at the thrift store shouldn’t be blamed too much. They probably didn’t know any better.
That doesn’t make it better. Note to Hollywood: Find new villains. Tell the truth about modern history. Replace the Nazi with the representative of an even more brutal regime.
Note to Americans: Chinese communism killed 65 million people. Don’t wear the Red Army cap. It’s not cute. It’s like wearing a swastika. Don’t do it.
What did I do about that cap? I bought it. $2.00 very well spent. I brought it home and threw it in the trash.
But even that doesn’t seem enough.
This story first appeared with the title, “Finding Evil at the Thrift Store, Because Americans Don’t Know About Red China.”
David Mills is a senior editor of The Stream. After teaching writing in a seminary, he has been editor of Touchstone and the executive editor of First Things. He edits the site Hour of Our Death and writes the monthly “Last Things” column for the New Oxford Review.