All Commentary
Sunday, December 1, 1991

When My Country Is Free

Mr. Peterson is headmaster of The Pilgrim Academy in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey.

Not long ago, I had the opportunity of hosting Marcos, a representative of “Free Angola,” at my school. His message on the Angolan people’s 15-year struggle to bring the Marxist, Cuban-backed government of Angola to the negotiating table was so well received that ours was probably the only high school parking lot in the country with student cars sporting “Free Angola” bumper stickers.

After his speech, I took him out to lunch. Our conversation ranged from politics to family to African and American cuisine. The longer we talked, the more i was struck by the similarities between us. We were the same age, knew many of the same people, shared many of the same ideas. The missionary school where he was educated was much like the school where I serve as headmaster, both seeking to teach the best in the Western tradition to their students.

We found that we both believed very strongly in the private property order. A recent paper on what Marcos’ organization proposes for Angola sounds like something I could have written: “Private initiative must be encouraged for the success of any free society. The individual must have the freedom to choose his own destiny . . . . When the state begins to wield control over the economy, the consequence is often rationing of essential products with little or no freedom of choice for the consumer . . . . The state should not try to substitute or compete with private businesses . . . . Every individual should have the right to buy, sell, or freely exchange his assets.”

Marcos then shared with me his hopes for the future in such a society: “When my country is free, I hope to open a travel agency and show people from all over the world my beautiful country.”

“When my country is free.” I’ve never forgotten those words, for no matter how much Marcos and I had in common, I was free, and he was not. And that made all the difference in the world.

As a child growing up in a free country, I had my choice of jobs—picking blueberries, pumping gas, washing cars, working in the family business. Marcos, on the other hand, had to live at a subsistence level. Without the opportunities created by a free market economy, coupled by the disruption of civil war, there was little Marcos could do to lift himself up by his own sandal-straps. When I reached college age, there were nearly 4,000 col leges in America from which to choose. Marcos had no choice: his education was cut short by the war.

I literally married the girl next door, in a church three blocks from land my great-grandfather farmed. Marcos married a fellow Angolan far from home, in Portugal, both virtual exiles from their country. His parents have never met his wife. Whereas I can see my parents every day, Marcos hasn’t seen his family in over 10 years—when the battle lines were drawn, they were on the wrong side. As Marcos told me, “My own mother wouldn’t recognize me.”

Most Americans can pursue any line of business they want, and invest in markets all over the world. Marcos, however, must work for the liberation of his country before he can even think about making his first kwanza, the basic unit of currency in Angola. In a word, Marcos’ life is on hold until his country is free.

“When my country is free.” How many other millions of people—both today and in the past—have whispered these same words? How many Chinese, East Europeans, Russians, and Angolans like Marcos have harbored these same thoughts? Sadly, we’ll never know how many Thomas Edisons, Jonas Salks, Marie Curies, or Florence Nightingales—people whose discoveries and services have enriched mankind—have been oppressed by coercive governments. We’ll never know how much Eastern Europe—with its traditions of music, literature, and industry—could have contributed to the world from 1945 to 1990. The long dark night of Communism saw to that. And we’ll never know how many Angolans were kept from developing their country into an advanced nation with quality medical care, modern agriculture, and business enterprises.

The world is indeed a much poorer place because people cannot vacation in Angola, study Angolan wildlife, wear Angolan diamonds, drink Angolan coffee, or eat Angolan fish. (Once a staple for even the poorest Angolans, fish is now a luxury.) In turn, the foreign exchange generated from such products would raise the standard of living of all Angolans and give them opportunities they never dreamed of.

Today, events are unfolding in Angola that may make Marcos’ dream a reality. In accordance with a peace treaty signed in Lisbon last spring, the warring factions in Angola are putting down their arms and getting ready to compete in this former Portuguese colony’s first free elections, to be held in 1992. It is a rare opportunity in a nation that once exported 30 percent of all Africa’s slaves.

For those of us who believe in freedom, now is no time to forget about Angola. Although Angolans are optimistic about the future, there are many pitfalls along the way, and the situation could quickly deteriorate. If Angola is to become a free society, free marketeers like Marcos will need moral, educational, and investment support from friends in the West.

Someday, perhaps soon, Marcos’ country will be free. And when it is, I hope Marcos gets his heart’s desire—his own travel agency. When he does, I want to be one of his first customers.

  • Mr. Peterson is headmaster of The Pilgrim Academy in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey. His articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including National Review and Human Events.