Thursday, February 7, 2008
Of Red-Hot Reds and Redemption
My grandmother's FBI file is keeping me up nights. In 1941, I read, she was elected to the gas-rationing committee in her large Midwestern city. "I wonder what they will do," she remarked to an informant, "when they find out that I am a red-hot red." (In 1942, sadly, the national higher-ups asked the agents in charge of surveilling my grandmother to stop including so much detail, so the next few years report only on her activities, not on her bons mots.)
I remember when the first conservative I dated -- not that long ago, relatively speaking -- told me that he was raised "to fear the red menace." My heart sank when I realized that my family was the red menace. According to what I've learned from both my family and from her dossier, Grandma really believed in the promise -- false, as the world would learn -- of communism to create a sort of heaven on earth. Communism was her religion. According to her FBI informants, she believed that young people in the Soviet Union were paid to attend school. She believed they all excelled at sports. She believed that their army was powerful because it conscripted eighteen-year-olds, and she therefore agitated for the U.S. draft age to be lowered from twenty-one to eighteen. She attempted to organize all the different Slavic cultural groups in her multiethnic city to support Russian war relief (prior to the US's entrance into World War II). When Stalin and Hitler signed the Anti-Aggression pact, she was an isolationist; but when the Nazis reneged and invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, she was for total, all-out war. Sometimes I suspect that my husband, also a conservative, would never have married me if he had known these things about my family. Where does this leave me? What does this mean for me as a Catholic, and as an American? What does it mean for me as this remarkable woman's granddaughter?
Tertium Quid writes, in response to my earlier post, "If we were Manicheans, we would have to hate ourselves. We are not. We are the children of Adam and Eve. We are the children of an Incarnate God. We are the spiritual children of the Blessed Virgin Mother, Ss. Peter, Paul, Mary Magdalene, Mary & Martha, Thomas, Simon of Cyrene, Augustine, and many others. Venerate your grandmother. Thank God for her, what she taught you, and what she taught you not to do."
Reading her FBI file has had me really rooting for my grandmother at times. There weren't many like her. Was she tragically misguided, and did she thus allow herself to be led into error, and possibly even evil? Yes, and yes. But I can certainly say the same for myself when I review my own history. I do thank God for Grandma, and I don't fear the red menace.