t least one American will invariably ask any foreigner who visits the United States: "So, how do you like America?" As a rule, they ask the question in such a tone as to imply that they consider only an affirmative answer, only enthusiasm, to be possible. Personally, I have been asked the question at least a hundred times. At first, I tried to be polite. My answers were usually quite diplomatic. I would say, "Well, it is interesting here, and different from other countries," or something of that sort. But today, the most civil response I could manage would be perhaps: "Read my book."
Much water has flowed under many bridges since the day I first stepped onto the American continent. My world outlook has changed a good deal. I now understand many things that it wasn't possible to comprehend earlier. Reflecting today on the conception I had of America when we first arrived here, I realize how ignorant and naive I was. I really believed that the United States of America was a free and democratic country. Moreover, I imagined it to be a highly advanced and progressive nation, perhaps even the most civilized country in history of humankind...
I came here to America with a very open mind. But I had my eyes wide open as well, and it didn't take long to see reality clearly. If, after all that I have learned, I could turn back the clock to the year 1989, I wouldn't decide to move here. As Mark Twain said, "It was wonderful to find America, but it would have been more wonderful to miss it."
There are thousands, perhaps even millions of naive people around the world who still dream about coming to live in America. It remains the destination of choice for those who wish to emigrate from their own countries. America is still like a mysterious enchantress to many. This is one of the main reasons why I have written this book. I want to tell the truth to others who, like myself ten years ago, are either ill-informed and know next to nothing about this country, or whose knowledge is distorted by propaganda.
Both my original positive views on America and on capitalism as well as the subsequent evolution of my world outlook, had their roots in my experiences in my native Lithuania. I grew up opposed to the Soviet communist regime that ruled my homeland. The slogan "question authority" well describes my attitude toward all that I usually refer to as "the System" -- any system. As a result, when I came to the United States, I still maintained a relatively skeptical attitude toward everything I saw here or was told. I wanted to find out for myself before coming to a final conclusion. My increasing alienation from the American system was not the disillusionment of someone whose personal plans and ambitions have gone awry; rather, it resulted from my intellectual predisposition to probe and test the generally accepted (and officially endorsed) version of reality, to see to what extent it accorded with truth. I have always preferred to see with my own eyes, and to think with my own brain.
The Soviet Union also had its own conventional view (maybe it would be better to say "official view") of the world according to which, for example, the Red Army "liberated" Lithuania... Liberated us from what? While the Soviets may well have viewed themselves as liberating the Lithuanian peasants and working class from their domination by landlords and capitalists, from the perspective of Lithuanians, who rightly felt their historic national identity to have paramount meaning and value, such "liberation" coincided with simply eliminating our country from the map of the world.
To be honest, perhaps I wouldn't have had much against even that Soviet-style mock-communism if it hadn't been forced upon us, but freely chosen by our nation from multiple choices within our independent Lithuanian state -- in other words, through democratic free elections. But the Soviets forced their communist system upon us with terribly brutal violence. More than 100,000 people from Lithuania (including many of my relatives) were deported to Siberia and thousands died or were killed there. This is how we were introduced to communism.
Perhaps I might use the analogy of rape: even if the process did not destroy the body, it was repugnant and abhorrent to the spirit. Even if the communist system itself could be presumed not to have brought about socio-economic harm for most people, in spiritual terms, it was nonetheless the rape of a whole nation. We simply lost our country in 1940. If you open any American or European encyclopedia that was published twenty or even ten years ago, in most you wouldn't find any country named Lithuania mentioned. At the best you could probably find it mentioned on the map of the USSR as "Litovskaya Sovetskaya Sotsialisticheskaya Respublika," in Russian. But our language is not Russian and we have nothing in common with Russians. Even ethnically, we are two absolutely separate and different groups.
So, this is the most important reason why an absolute majority of Lithuanians weren't satisfied with the imposition of Soviet communism. The Soviet Union eventually collapsed because it was like a prison of nations. Even many Russians felt that way. The huge Soviet empire had been created artificially and by brutal force, much of it from before rise of communism. This is why people in Lithuania and in thirteen other Soviet republics of the USSR in addition to Russia didn't feel liberated or happy. There was always the feeling that, in a sense, the Russians had seized a very important part of our national soul and trashed it. The Lithuanian people have very deep nationalistic feelings, just as do all the ancient homogeneous nations in other European countries and elsewhere. Our ethnic identity is a very important part of our mentality and way of life. We are not into multiculturalism or cosmopolitanism, when it is incorrectly defined as losing one's own culture to become assimilated into some supposedly universal culture -- which usually in reality is the culture of the largest or dominating component. Russian communists tried to turn us into a "Soviet people" with no national feelings or attachments.
Ironically, the Soviets may have thought that national identity had little lasting meaning for people, and could be eradicated without much pain, given equal and more or less fair socio-economic situations. The late twentieth century has certainly proved how mistaken that view is. Yet was this not the supposition on which America was built -- the multicultural "melting pot?" The American melting pot is different from the Soviet one, however. It's not accomplished by brute force. They don't force anyone here to jump into this pot and melt in it. The people who do that do so because most of them deliberately want to melt and become Americans. I mean new immigrants, of course, and not the Native or African Americans, who never had the choice and have always struggled to retain their ethnic identity in America.
What was going on in Lithuania was a legitimate nationalist struggle. Everybody in Lithuania (except perhaps only small Russian and Polish minorities) wanted to remain Lithuanian and dreamed that Lithuania would become an independent country again. Before 1918, Lithuania had been ruled by the Russian czar for over 120 years. Descended from a tribe of defiantly independent Aryan knights, Lithuanians had hated and fought against Russian domination then -- and did so again when the "new" communist Russia invaded us, sweeping us under the red flag. It was the national independence of Lithuania that was at stake. Had we been occupied by Sweden, for example, we likely would have fought against Swedish social-democrats just as much as against Russian communists. As the occupiers were communists, we fought against their ideology as well -- even though in time, many Lithuanians would come to acknowledge the benefits of that economic system. In fact, I believe that many Lithuanians hoped that the social and economic system would remain pretty much the same even after Lithuania became independent. ...