On May 9, this newspaper published a commentary I wrote on the use of the word “socialism.” It was my intent to illustrate why and how misuse of the word, without a full understanding of the many forms of this political structure, could result in grave mistakes.

Words have tremendous power and at this conflicted point in history, sensitivity to any politically-oriented word used to accuse or deride someone or a political party, can cause grave harm and division.

The form of governance that acquired the name socialism has been extremely unsuccessful and has cost the lives of many people in wars and other conflicts. This governance model has innumerable forms and modulations. It is clear one cannot pin it down to one thing.

I do not advocate for a socialistic form of government, which I believe would have disastrous results for this country. In fact, I made it clear that I am not a fan of socialism.

My neighbors and I have constructed a sort of wooden fortress within which are five extremely secure metal mailboxes. Since I am part of this enclave, I also have a box with my address on it. However, I do not receive mail there. Rather, I use a post office box. Accordingly, I rarely check the local box. By coincidence, on May 9, I opened it to empty it of junk mail. To my surprise, there were five letters directed to me.

None of the letters were stamped — a federal offense that carries a fine of $2,000 to $10,000. They were not signed, nor did they have return addresses. Each contained a sort of history lesson I suspect was copied from internet sources, given the language used. Only one had a question as to “what planet I live on” if I don’t understand the evils of socialism.

Nonetheless, none of the letters were nasty and I suspect they came from decent folks who had legitimate concerns that were triggered by my use of the word “socialism.” Exactly my point in the commentary.

Here is where a prediction I made came eerily true. Simply by using the phrase “socialism, you better duck because you will get a barrage of invective and criticism …”

Well, I can’t categorize these letters as containing invective, but they were strong, even if copied from internet sources.

It appeared that only a couple of the letters were unique in that most used the same stationery and type font.

Then, to my surprise, over the next few days another 15 letters arrived, this time with stamps on them. Some were actually posted, others had stamps but no postage. Again, the letters were not signed and many of them used the same stationery and type font.

As I said in the commentary, I am no fan of socialism. Yet it appeared from the letters I received that some folks believed otherwise. Again, this confirms my thesis that the word elicits very strong reactions.

Let’s not fail to remember the awful days of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and blacklists. At the time, our nation was awash in a neurotic fear of communism.

I have studied history for many years, since I received my university degree in that field. In those studies, I have seen the worst conflicts and loss of life come to pass because of the use of inflammatory and, in many cases, not-well-understood words.

I salute the letter writers for their strong but decent presentation.

Lee Rosenberg is a Santa Ynez Valley resident.

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