The freedom fighters in Zimbabwe and South Africa who have nothing to lose expect (sic) class and racial oppression and everything to gain including independence and emancipation have stepped up the armed struggle to bring down to their knees the master racists in southern Africa sustained by the assistance of Western financial monopolies.
If you can read the above sentence in one breath - without faltering - don't bother to read any further; this is not your kind of story. But if the passage strikes you as typical Marxist boilerplate put through a linguistic Cuisinart, you are a kindred soul to the crew at the United States Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a few years back.
With our contacts in the foreign ministry virtually dried up, our daily chore was to glean what we could from the Ethiopian Herald, Addis Ababa's answer to Pravda. Fortunately, this jewel of journalism was written in something approaching the English language. Sanity in the embassy was maintained by a daily contest to see who could find the most outrageous malapropism. The outraged editors once charged:
``The US administration, which has been frequently disregarding the international conventions on the elimination of all kinds of racial discrimination, gave deaf ear to the celebrated words of the late Martin Luther. To its surprise, the US ruling clique had taken a hand in his cruel assassination.''
While it was ordinarily our policy not to comment on such base allegations, in this case we wrote to assure the editors that this particular administration had not dealt with the cited reactionary, Martin Luther (1483-1546 - who actually directed his subversion against a soon-to-be anti-Marxist clique then holding sway in Rome).
The gentlemen of the press never responded, perhaps because they were busy crafting an editorial about the impending visit of Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere:
``Apart from further cementing the cordial relationship that already thrives between Ethiopia and Tanzania, what perspires from the meeting of the two progressive leaders would widely be a useful stratagem to foil the designs of imperialism in Africa ...''
On reading this, we flew to our typewriters to advise Washington of the physical effort the two leaders were putting into the struggle for peace.
Even more drastic efforts had to be directed toward weeding out corruption from the garden of revolutionary bliss being cultivated in this new Marxist Eden. In an editorial entitled ``Combating Right, Left Opportunism,'' our favorite Comrade Menkin informed us that:
``Even while Lenin was alive, Trotsky indulged unreservedly in conspiring against the revolution. ... It is no strenuous task to witness that the offsprings of Trotsky in our country have also attempted to secure money, ostensibly through various means, including the channeling to their coffins proceeds from the festivals of the call of the Motherland.''
We would only add that the perpetrators quickly ended up resting in peace alongside their ill-gotten gains.
In fairness, the Soviets brought not only weapons but medical advances to the Ethiopian population. Some were trumpeted in the pages of the Herald:
``The Institute of Cosmetic Surgery in Moscow is the world's first state-run institution dealing with problems of beauty on a strictly scientific basis....
``All services are charged for according to price-list. For a face-lift (or removing wrinkles) - 60 Roubles; changing the shape of the nose - 50 Roubles; altering the shape of the cochlea - 30 Roubles; eliminating crow's feet - 22 Roubles; ear piercing - 2 Roubles.''
As the technique for reshaping the cochlea (canals in the inner ear) has thus far eluded Western medicine, we quickly reported the above to Washington; the reaction was a professed astonishment, not only at the scientific achievement, but also at the Soviets' ability to offer this service for a mere 30 rubles.
The Ethiopian government, determined to bring scientific enlightenment to their masses, recruited a rhetorical heavyweight by the name of Girma Lemma to scribe a regular feature for the Herald entitled ``From the World of Science.'' By far our favorite was Girma's disquisition on astrophysics. He proved a master of his subject and demonstrated a mean talent for analogy. Witness his explanation of black holes:
``After the swollen bulky outer covering of the sun fades away, the nuclear fuel of the sun starts to run out of stock leaving white cores behind. These white cores are so dense that a teaspoon would weigh as much as a ton....
``Subsequently, enormous gravitational forces ... crush the atoms squeezing out all space in the atoms leaving the neutrons almost unaffected. Density of such neutron star is by far greater than any other thing in the universe. A teaspoonful of neutron-star material would weigh as much as 200 million elephants (you gasp, and gasp! but this is not April the fool!)''
Since my days in Addis Ababa, I have diligently searched the pages of newspapers in many other capitals. I have never recovered the pleasure of those days in Addis. Marx and his heirs may have let loose a curse upon the earth, but no black hole is without its silver teaspoon, as Girma Lemma would say.
Donald Alexander is a US government official and a free-lance writer.