Communism, China, Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War… In Two Weeks.

Does is sound like I’m shoving a bunch of stuff into the last few weeks of school?

Yeah, well maybe I am.

Of course we started with Communism back during our study of WWI and the Russian Revolution of 1917.  But for some reason, maybe because we were so deep into WWI, I briefly covered the Russian Revolution and side noted that we would talk a lot more about Communism and explain it in more detail later.

Looking back, I really should have done a lot more of that right after our WWI unit.

In fact, there were a lot of things in this series of history “lessons” that I should have done in a different order.

I guess the first thing I had to do was review what Communism was. There is an interesting book outlining the origins of Communism, but when I say interesting I mean interesting to me and not interesting to my kids. It was a little more than they wanted to know. And there was a lot of Russian history in it that had less to do with actual Communism and more to do with revolutionary events.

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The basic definition of Communism that I gave the kids was something like “it is a form of government where all things are owned and controlled by the State. All things are supposed to be equal, all people are supposed to share everything the government lets them “have” so that nobody goes without anything they need. It is also meant to be a godless society without families, but communes instead, as the State raises the children and prepares them for a place in society. There is supposed to be no want, but there is also no freedom and no ownership.  The government controls everything because the government “knows best.” They are the “experts.” The people are just the citizens, the cogs in the system who make it work.  In practice, Communism has always meant violent and extreme dictatorships, famine, poverty, censorship, terror, corruption, and labor camps for those with different opinions or ideas than the current leadership of the nation.” We talked also about Socialism, and that according to the doctrine of the communists and socialists, Socialism is meant to be a peaceful, gradual slide into Communism, while all out communist revolutionaries were adamant about jumping right into it, even, and especially, if it meant bloody revolution. There was some Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in there, as well as words like “proletariate” and “bourgeoisie” that I tried to explain but may have not sunk in as well as it will in a few years.

(Have you ever noticed that Communism and Fascism are basically the same thing, except Fascism has a nationalistic twist to it and is slightly less economically based? That is an interesting concept to study – Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg – you can put that on your list to read.)

So we jumped from WWII, etc., to Communist China… and let me tell you, there are not a lot of books out there about Communist China, either that or someone else checked them all out from the library before I got there. I did find a couple of good books about Mao and the Cultural Revolution, though, so I went with that.

Both books were good, and although the history is gory and violent, I still felt ok reading it to the kids. (Meaning it wasn’t nearly as gory and violent in the retelling.)

I read the most wonderful book about the Cultural Revolution, but in the end decided it needed to wait a couple of years before being read by the kids. “Red Scarf Girl” by Ji-li Jiang was really excellent! I cannot praise that book enough. It is a must read… but not for children. Probably for ages 12 and up. She also wrote a children’s book called “Red Kite, Blue Kite” that is better for kids, but of course doesn’t capture the details of the situation of those poor Chinese caught up in the madness of the 1960s.  I had the children also read a little novel called “Little Leap Forward” that was fine, but I felt only brushed the surface of what life was like. Maybe that is the point though. It was written for kids, after all. I recommend that one also.

Here comes my first big planning blunder. I read, and had my 4th grader read the most excellent book about China! Except it was about China in the 1920s, when the communists and nationalists were still both struggling to gain power of the country – and before the communists really had much of a foothold. “Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze” was so fun to read! It is like “The Good Earth” but for children (meaning no drugs or prostitution or other undesirable… stuff)! In fact, it makes me want to read “The Good Earth” again to pick up on all I missed the first time I read it… oh so many years ago. (I don’t mean missing all the drugs and prostitution stuff. I mean I want to pick up on all the history I missed the first time reading. Sheesh! That came out wrong, maybe.)

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So if I were to do it again, I would review Communism, then read Young Fu, then jump into all the Mao stuff, then slip in the Korean War, and then come back to China and the Cultural Revolution.

But instead I got the Korean War out of order. So we just juggled a bit. (I really like the “choose your own adventure books” and in this one you actually had a pretty good chance of dying.)

My husband’s grandfather served in the Korean War and his military photograph is hanging in our living room, so hopefully that made it more meaningful. I learned next to nothing about the Korean War in high school, except it lasted from 1950 to 1953 and was really a war between the China and the U.S. (Except it was more like the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. Communism vs the Free World and all that.)

This introduced the concept of the Cold War and fighting other nations’ wars in an effort to undermine our enemy without actually fighting our enemy.

So I thought, in my very jumbled mind, why not just jump to the 70s and talk about the Vietnam War?

So we did.

But by the time we got into the details of who Ho Chi Minh, Pres. Kennedy, Ngo Dinh Diem, Henry Kissinger, and others were, I felt like this was getting a little excessive. I mean , really? I had one of those moments where I realized all the children need to know at this point is that there was a Vietnam War, why it happened, and how it ended. We didn’t even go into too much detail about how unpopular it was in the U.S. for major groups or the hippie peace and love movement at all. (Sorry, I don’t know the politically correct term for that, but “hippie peace and love” sounds good to me.) That wasn’t really my point in bringing up the Vietnam War in the first place, so I kind of just stopped teaching about it.

Too much brain energy and mom power going into something untimely and over excessive – at least at this point.

(Except I didn’t come to this realization until I had made my 4th grader read an entire 130 page book on the subject, that Scholastic Profiles book up there on the left. It looks like this is an entire series and is well worth looking into for middle school or high school kids, even. I was reading it aloud to my 2nd grader, and I was really interested, but I could see her eyes glazed over and I just shut the book and said, “good enough.” That is what high school is for… or if you are me, that is what university history courses are for.)

Did I just go to an incredibly unacademic high school? Or is this normal? There is so much I never knew and was never told. I guess that is why they teach you to read first. If you can read, you can teach yourself anything.

Or you can just watch YouTube.

I did learn about the Black Panthers in high school. Does that count for something?

I had wanted to get a bunch of books on the Cold War in general as well. How can you talk about our modern history – and really our current world situation – if you don’t understand our relationship with Russia?

But the only one I found – and read and enjoyed myself – I wouldn’t have my children read for years to come. It centered around the life of a 12 year old girl in Chicago during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Her father left when she was little, her brother joined the Navy, her mom is working/going to school, so the girl basically raises herself. She sneaks off with her best friend to read “naughty” books about sex. She is terrified her brother will be killed down on his ship near Cuba. Her best friend’s mother is so terrified by the whole situation that she runs off to Paris with her old flame, which happens to be her brother-in-law. The best friend’s dad becomes depressed and violent. But at least the girl and her mom connect again and their relationship is strengthened.

Anyway, too many adult themes and dramatic adolescent moodiness and rebelliousness to make it valuable to my children’s education.

But it was so very, very good at showing the fear, tension, and extreme anxiety felt by ordinary people during those horrible 10 or so days. It has lots of merit for that fact.

But it’s not a kid’s book.

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However… the Cuban Missile Crisis happened before Vietnam! So there is another one I got out of order.  I feel good, at least, that the basic overview of the Cold War’s “hot” wars were covered, we did indeed read about the Cuban Missile Crisis in our “textbook,” as well as a brief discussion about East and West Berlin (and I showed them my picture of me standing at Checkpoint Charlie, I told them about my experiences in former East Berlin, and the crazy story of my dad crossing Checkpoint Charlie when he was 14 back in the 50s! That is a story for you… but not for right now.) And when I got to the space race the kids understood why the U.S. was so paranoid about the Russians being first to everything (well, for a while at least,) so I got the mood of the time across and the basic outline of the history, as well. Check it off the list!

And that is where we find ourselves now. Deep in the space race!

I see a field trip in our future….. 🙂

P.S. My 4th grader asked me if the Cold War was still going on. That is a hard question to answer – especially given the news of the week (today is May 17th, 2017 and the media is frenzied over possible classified information being shared between President Trump and Russia.)  Does Putin and the Russian government still have it our for us? Uh, duh! They are not very secretive about their dislike of America. Does the U.S. have it out for Russia? No, not really. At least I don’t think so. The then U.S.S.R. proved it didn’t have a chance militarily against the U.S. a few decades ago.

But not all wars are fought with military strength. There are still economic, political, ideological, and technological wars.

And before I get too political, I think I will leave it just at that.

🙂

 

 

 

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