The Passover story provides us with deep insights into the nature of tyranny. This year, China’s tyranny is the subject of my annual Passover post.
For roughly 3,500 years, Jews have been telling and retelling the story of Passover — which is also the story of the world’s first revolt against a totalitarian dictatorship. The story remains relevant because each generation sees dangerous tyrants abusing their people and trying to expand their reach beyond their own borders. As we stare down those monsters, the thing to remember is that those atop the tyranny pyramid care about only one thing, which is that their tyranny remains stable and protected. And that leads me to this year’s iteration of my annual Passover post.
A doubting Jew I know, rather than seeing the Passover ceremony as a celebration of freedom (for it celebrates the world’s first successful slave revolt), justice, and morality (insofar as it gave us the Ten Commandments), derides the whole ceremony as the unconscionable and immoral celebration of the Egyptian people’s genocide. To support this theory, he points to the fact that, after each plague, when Pharaoh seems about to soften and let the Jews go, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, leading to the necessity of yet another plague harming the Egyptian people, a cycle of pain that culminates with the death of the firstborn.
Those familiar with the Bible understand that this objection is predicated upon ignorance. The tenth plague, which saw God strike down the firstborn in every family without the Pascal lamb’s blood above their door, was not a random punishment. It was, instead, divine retribution for the Pharaoh’s own decree, in effect at Moses’s birth, that all firstborn Jewish males should be drowned in the Nile. Still, doubters will argue that God was petty when he later punished innocent people who were not complicit in Pharaoh’s genocidal attack on the Jews.
One argument is that the many plagues, culminating with the firstborn’s death, are nothing more than dramatic license, meant to increase the tension and danger surrounding the Jew’s escape from Egypt. After all, if the exodus had been easy, it wouldn’t have been much of a story. Imagine if Moses had asked, “Hey, Pharaoh, can we go?” and Pharaoh had answered, “Sure.”
That narrative lacks punch and heroism. More importantly, God’s involvement is minimal or, at least, unexciting. Surely it resonates more strongly with the people reliving the narrative every year to have an escalating series of plagues, with the audience on tenterhooks as to whether those pesky Jewish slaves will actually be able to make a break for it.
The above reasoning is silly. The Bible is not so superficial. There is, instead, a much more profound purpose behind the ten plagues, and that is to remind us of the tyrant’s capacity for tolerating others’ suffering, as long as his power remains in place.
What Pharaoh discovered with the first nine plagues is that life can go on, at least for the ruler, no matter the burdens he places upon his people. A blood-filled Nile River may, at first, seem appalling, but the red recedes and life went on. Pharaoh still holds power. The same is true for each subsequent plague, whether lice, boils, frogs, darkness, or any of the other plagues. As long as Pharaoh realizes, after the first panic, that he is still powerful, he will always reconcile himself to his people’s incremental destruction.
Sheltered in his lavish palace, Pharaoh might have a theoretical concern that a starving and frightened populace could turn on him. However, as long as he is assured that his people will continue to fear and worship him, their suffering is irrelevant. It was only when the price became too high — when Pharaoh the plague struck in his own palace, killing his firstborn* — that Pharaoh is convinced, even temporarily, to alter his evil ways.
Human nature hasn’t changed in 3,500 years. Think, for example, of both the Nazis and the Japanese at the end of WWII. For the Nazis, it was apparent by December 1944 (the Battle of the Bulge) that the war was over. Hitler, however, was a megalomaniac in the pharaonic mold, and his high command, either from fear or insanity, would not gainsay him. Rather than surrendering, the Nazi high command was not only willing to see its country overrun and its citizens killed, he never stopped using military supplies for the Holocaust. The war ended only when Hitler, facing personal humiliation, killed himself and the remaining high command, see their lives at stake, finally gave up. Hitler and his commanders were Pharaoh. Only when they, personally, faced a humiliating death would they stop fighting.
The same held true for the Japanese. Truman did not decide to drop the bomb just for the hell of it. Even impressing the Soviets was an insufficient reason for doing so. What swayed Truman was his advisers telling him (credibly as it turned out) that the Japanese Bushido culture would not allow Japan to surrender. Instead, Truman understood that, despite an inevitable American victory, if he didn’t take drastic action, that victory would take another year, and cost up to 100,000 American lives and as many as 1,000,000 Japanese lives (including Japanese civilians).
Truman had two choices: Wage war for at least another year, killing 100,000 Americans and up to a million Japanese civilians, or end the war instantly, with no more American casualties and an estimated 100,000 civilian Japanese casualties. Put that way, the choice was a no-brainer. Not only would he save the military, he would also save tens of thousands of POWs, both military and civilian. One of the Dutch civilian POW saved was my Mom, who was on the verge of starving to death in a Japanese concentration camp.
The Japanese high command was Pharaoh. No amount of smaller plagues could stop the command from its chosen path. Only a large plague would swiftly lead to the inevitable conclusion.
The only way to destroy an evil institution is to decapitate it. That’s what God did with the 10th plague. That’s what Truman did when he dropped atom bombs on Japan. That’s what the Allies did when they engaged in total war against the Nazis. In each case, the only way to end a tyrant’s rampage of murder, torture, and enslavement was directly hurting the tyrant’s person.
Those who prefer the stability of tyranny to the risks of freedom are the same people who refuse to accept that, under tyranny, the innocents are always going to die, with the only question being whether they will die quickly or slowly. That’s the problem with an evil regime. If you’re unlucky enough to live under that regime, you’re going to end as cannon fodder. Pharaoh will let you die of plagues, and the Nazi and Japanese leadership will let you be bombed and burned, and China’s leadership will release a plague on the world and let tens of thousands of people sicken and die, both at home and abroad — as long as the tyrant can retain his power.
People of goodwill must sometimes recognize that the generation raised under tyranny is a lost generation that cannot be saved, whether because it will die under the tyrant’s lash, in the tyrant’s war, or in a war against the tyrant. Sometimes, when slaves finally taste freedom, they fear it. The Bible recognizes this problem, banning the Promised Land to those who were slaves in Egypt. They were a lost generation.
For this reason, when one sees a people groaning under tyranny the most humane thing to do is to destroy the tyranny quickly and decisively even if that process causes people to suffer. Most of them were always going to be lost. Our actions are for the benefit of subsequent generations and, if we are lucky, for those who survived both the tyranny and the liberation.
Protecting freedom for the greatest number of people sometimes demands proactive behavior. And there is nothing more proactive than an overwhelming response when a tyrant starts putting out feelers to see how far he can go. Had Chamberlain done that in 1938, WWII might have been avoided.**
Today, the tyrant is China’s government and, as was the case with Nazi Germany or Bushido Japan, China’s tyranny has suddenly started to reach far beyond its borders. No matter how China’s bought-and-paid-for American media work to cover up China’s responsibility for what happened, John Adams was correct: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
We know the facts: COVID-19 escaped from a Chinese lab, although we do not know whether this was deliberate or accidental. China, in true tyrant fashion, was so determined to cover up its failure that it willingly let people die by destroying anything (e.g., information and doctors) that might have helped battle the plague early. When Wuhan began to see mass die-offs, China continued to deny there was a problem. As the plague spread beyond China’s borders, its government continued to deny responsibility, so much so that both China and the WHO (which we pay for, but which answers to China) lied consistently about COVID-19’s reach, danger, and origin.
Now that the plague is a world-wide phenomenon, China is sending or selling useless masks and test kits to hurting nations around the world. It is trying to blame America for COVID-19. And it’s almost certain that people are still dying in the thousands in China, even as the government insists it’s tamed COVID-19 and tells the world to start readmitting its people and its shoddy products. The Chinese communist government is Pharaoh.
The only way to stop tyranny is to fight tyranny. Despite media efforts to cover for their Chinese paymasters, Trump is calling China out on its lies and other malfeasance.
China needs to pay. The world must pull out of China: No more cheap Chinese goods flooding the American market and denying jobs to people in America; no more Chinese-made fentanyl killing America’s citizens; no more plague-ridden Chinese citizens hopping on planes and traveling the world, even as China knew they were contagious; and no more rich Chinese students flooding American colleges and buying off leftist college faculties and administrations.
All of that needs to end. Trump is trying hard, despite Democrat and media pushback. Other countries’ leaders are making weak little grunting noises. We can only hope that Trump turns those grunts to roars and builds a great wall around China until the tyrants at the top give up. They give up hurting their people, they give up imprisoning religious people and using them as slaves and unwilling organ donors, they give up funding North Korea’s tyranny, they give up trying to build islands in the South China Sea, they give up using economic blackmail against poor countries, and in all other ways, they turn inward and cure themselves. This is how you end tyranny: you make the tyrants suffer so that they change.
With that, I’d like to wish all of you a Chag Sameach (Happy Passover). Whether Jewish or not, I hope that the Pesach celebration serves as an occasion for all of us to remember that, though the price may sometimes be high, both for slave and master, our goal as just and moral human beings must be freedom. So please join with me in saying, as all Jews do at this time of year, “Next Year in Jerusalem.”
*The fact that Pharaoh survived the last of the ten plagues tells us that he was not his father’s firstborn son. Either an older sibling died or Pharaoh was the younger child in a family unrelated to the Egyptian ruling family and, through a coup, seized the throne.
**And yes, I am aware of the argument that Chamberlain might not have been Hitler’s dupe. Thanks to England’s anti-War fervor after WWI, which led to disarmament and the drawing down of her military, Chamberlain might have believed by 1938 that England could do nothing to stop Hitler. That belief would have led him to choose appeasement as the only option. I don’t agree with this view because bullies will back down quickly if their intended victim fights even minimally, but I’ll give Chamberlain the benefit of the doubt because he was a decent and patriotic man.
(A couple more things. I highly recommend Dennis Prager’s The Rational Bible: Exodus. If you don’t want to read the whole book, you can just buy his The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code, which is a companion to his videos on the Ten Commandments. It’s a quick read and a refreshing one.)