The Disease of Communism

The Disease of Communism

Beginning in 1981 the CIA covertly financed the Contras in Nicaragua in their attempts to overthrow the government of the Sandinistas. As the decade wore on there were heated debates in Congress over wither outright military aid should be given to the Contras, Finally, in February 1985, President Reagan won approval of $100 million in military aid for the Contra rebels.  

Aired April 1986, WPR’s Morning Edition

In recent debates in Congress over aid to the contras, poets might have taken heart. At least on one side—the pro-contra side—metaphor was a dominant rhetorical device. What was at stake Congress was told was contagion. Just as with skin cancer a tiny black spot could turn out to be melanoma and spread to kill a grown man, the cancer of communism could spread and take over a country, a region, or even the world. To illustrate the virulence of that black spot President Reagan colored half of the Southern Hemisphere red, to the amazement of South Americans who had no idea that deadly communist cells were proliferating inside their borders.

The aid bill was voted down in the house, but that even opponents of the bill acknowledged that some version of it would eventually pass is testimony to the power of metaphor. Indeed the colorful language of the pro-contras cause had all but silenced the drab reasoning of advocates of caution:

The contras are hardly democrats. There is no evidence they place any value on political freedom. They do not have the mass support of the populace. Nor do we have any right to intervene in the affairs of another country,

But what force can such logic have against the image of a deadly disease metastasizing within the tissues of a continent, curable only by the healthful surgical incision of a military operation, like any operation destructive, but in the end beneficial in that its purpose is to cut out the evil of disease.

But perhaps the metaphor of disease could also be used by the opponents of aid to the contras. Cancer is something that happens within a body due to outside forces: the smoke of cigarettes, the burning rays of noonday sun, polluted water.  Infant mortality, illiteracy, pollution can turn good cells into bad, loyal subjects into revolutionaries. An ominous build-up of America forces in nearby Honduras, CIA financed assassins in third-world countries. Is it so surprising that revolutionaries might turn to violent measures?