Two Who Made a Difference

By Reed, Lawrence W. | Freeman, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Two Who Made a Difference


Reed, Lawrence W., Freeman


In 20 years of traveling to 67 countries I've come across some pretty nasty governments and some darn good people. To be fair I should acknowledge that I've also encountered some rotten people and a half-decent government or two. The ghastliest of all worlds is when you have rotten people running nasty governments, a combination that is not by any means in short supply.

Indeed, as Nobel laureate and Austrian economist FA. Hayek famously explained in Tlic Road to Serfdom, the worst tend to rise to the top of all regimes-yet another reason to keep government small in the first place, as if we needed another reason. "The unscrupulous and uninhibited," wrote Hayek, "are likely to be more successful" in any society in which government dominates life and the economy. That's precisely the kind of circumstance that elevates power over persuasion, force over cooperation, arrogance over humility.

So I take special note when I encounter instances of good people working around, in spite ot, in opposition to, or simply without a helping hand from government of any kind. Some might say this betrays an unwarranted bias. But in today's dominant culture as represented by media elites, university bon vivants, and public-school mandarins, it is not government that gets shortchanged. By their thinking, the capacity of government to meet our needs is virtually limitless. It's private initiative that gets the shaft. It's the nonpolitician that is deemed unreliably compassionate, incorrigibly greedy, or hopelessly unorganized.

I offer here two stories of very good people I've met on opposite corners of the earth. If either story kindles anyone's faith in what private initiative can accomplish, it'll make my day as well as my point.

A man named Nicholas Winton is the centerpiece of the first story. He was a young London stockbroker as war clouds gathered across Europe in 1938-39. A friend convinced him to forgo a Christmas vacation in Switzerland and come to Czechoslovakia instead. Near Prague in December 1938 he was shocked to see Jewish refugees freezing in makeshift camps. Most had been driven from their homes by Nazi occupation of the Sudetenland, the part of Czechoslovakia handed over to Hitler at Munich the previous September.

Winton could have resumed his Swiss vacation, stepping back into the comfortable life he left behind. What could a lone foreigner do to assist so many trapped families? Despite the talk of "peace in our time," Winton knew that Europe was sliding toward war and time was running out for these desperate people. The next steps he took ultimately saved 669 children from death in Nazi camps.

Victims of a socialist government's persecution being helped by a stockbroker. Sort of makes mincemeat of Marx's "class consciousness," doesn't it?

The parents were anxious to get their children to safety, even though it would mean sending them off alone. Getting the children to a country that would accept them seemed an impossible challenge. Nicholas Winton didn't waste a minute. He wrote to governments around the world, pleading for an open door, only to be rejected by every one but two: Sweden and Great Britain. He assembled a small group of volunteers to assist with the effort. Even his mother pitched in.

With 5,000 children on his list, Winton searched for foster homes across Britain. British newspapers published his advertisements to highlight the urgent need for foster parents. When enough homes could be found for a group of children, he submitted the necessary paperwork to the Home Office and assisted his team of volunteers in organizing the rail and ship transportation needed to get the children to Britain. He took the lead in raising the funds to pay for the operation.

The first 20 of "Winton's children" left Prague on March 14, 1939. …

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