April 28, 2004--Although the government of North Korea now spins a different story, both initial Korean reports and American satellite photographs suggest that the devastating explosion on April 22 in Ryongchon, North Korea, was an eerie replay of the Taggart Tunnel train crash in Ayn Rand 's 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged . In Rand's novel, an incipient fascist dictatorship in America is stopped in its tracks when the “men of the mind,” the intelligent businessmen, go on strike.

In Atlas Shrugged , as in Ryongchon, the hobbling of human minds by dictatorship brought about a return to the ancient technology of open-fire steam locomotives. In both, the immediate cause of the explosion was the collision between an open-fire steam locomotive and a train carrying explosive materials. In Rand 's novel, the diesel engine that could have prevented the explosion was diverted to pull the private train of politician Chick Morrison. In Ryongchon, the diesel engine was used to pull the private train of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il.

The technology of production and trade is a life-giving force only as long as it remains harnessed to the minds of men who give it life. When the judgment of the intellect is overwhelmed by the brute force of dictatorship, that same technology becomes a danger, the destroyer of lives and avenger of destroyed minds. Fifty years after the publication of Atlas Shrugged , the Soviet dictatorship that Ayn Rand fled for America is a nasty memory, the grave of tens of millions of extinguished lives. But even today, minds are stifled and lives buried in the Communist dictatorships of North Korea and Cuba, the theocratic dictatorships of Iran and Saudi Arabia, the fascist-kleptocratic dictatorships of China, Russia and Singapore, and the socialist dictatorships of Myanmar and Venezuela.

As Americans, we like to think that our government is in the business of protecting our lives and certainly would allow us to take the steps we judge necessary to preserve our lives, health, and well being. And yet, not long ago, American writer Peter McWilliams died by choking on his own vomit because the government took away the marijuana that McWilliams grew to control the nausea from his chemotherapy cancer treatments. Never mind that any thinking person would judge this a clear medical use of the drug necessary to preserve life. Thinking is not the way of most politicians. The same government has already taken steps that could cause millions of other sick people to suffer and die needlessly by forbidding innovative Americans from using their minds to develop life-saving therapies: Specifically, the government has placed a near-total ban on medical research with embryonic stem cells.

North Korea's replay of a fictional incident that Ayn Rand described in Atlas Shrugged half a century ago should remind us of her message: Man's right to live by the judgment of his own mind is not an optional luxury. Man's right to live by the judgment of his own mind is a necessary precondition for human life. Where this right is denied, people die.

Adam Reed is a Professor of Information Systems at California State University, Los Angeles.


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