Books by Don Johnson

I invite you to take a look at books I have authored. Most of them are of a historical nature and contain much of what has been important in my life. If you are wondering about my books and who I am, click on the image of my Amazon Book Store just below and read “About Donald L Johnson.” For a more detailed and intimate look at me, my autobiography is at:
A Yearning for Publius – A Look at My Life 

I think you will enjoy my work.


The Books

I Didn’t Want to Worry You Mom (but sometimes it got a little scary and dangerous out there.)
When a loved one goes off to the military, especially in time of war, those left behind often have no idea what that loved one may be going through. This book is a glimpse of some of that, with true stories and episodes of what life is often like for that young man or woman. The book is mainly about Navy life at sea, but that is only because of the author’s personal experience and service.

Yearning for Liberty
Liberty is extremely rare in history and throughout the world. It is also so very precious and not to be taken for granted. This book is the author’s attempt to delve deeper into various facets of this jewel called liberty, and hopefully give the reader a greater appreciation of what’s at stake.

Budapest at War – The Story of Hungarian Freedom Fighter Adam von Dioszeghy
This book is very personal to the author. After 50+ years, Adam von Dioszeghy and Don Johnson reconnected – in Budapest. Adam and Don were shipmates on a US Navy destroyer back in the 1960s off the coast of Vietnam. The book is a narrative & pictorial walk through of the Budapest of von Dioszeghy’s youth. A World War II veteran at age 6 and a freedom fighter in the 1956 Hungarian  Revolution. The book also tells of Adam’s new life in America, including his Navy & Vietnam service, and his return to his native Hungary.

So They Can Fight Like They Train
US Combat Aircrews are the best in the world. This is a short history of the amazing system that keeps these aircrews razor sharp and ready for whatever is thrown at them. Much of my professional life was spent working to keep these aircrews well trained.

Immigration & Assimilation – A Hungarian Model
The 1956 Hungarian Revolution provided a wealth of quality new American citizens. Read the stories of some of these amazing refugees, including Intel Corporations founder Andrew Grove and my friend and shipmate Adam von Dioszeghy.

Just Thinking … The Case for Intelligent Design
A controversial topic for sure. But here’s one layman’s look at Darwinian evolution and a better idea – you decide.

Sam Jankovich – A Sports Legend.
Written by Sam Jankovich. Edited and published by Don Johnson.
The life story of a remarkable man. Beginning his career as a hard-rock miner in the depths of a mile deep copper mine in Butte Montana to national championships in collegiate football to CEO/GM of the New England Patriots. And a very fine man and dear friend.

A Yearning for Publius – A Look at My Life
My autobiography. Standing on the shoulders of giants all along the way.

The Old Man in Apartment 620: A Conversation
My first and only work of fiction. A dystopian short story. – Again, my bookstore.


A Dramatically Changed World

Epilogue: A Dramatically Changed World


This Viking River Cruise brochure and map arrived a few days ago and sparked my mind and memory of how much and how dramatically the world has changed – for the better, even in my adult lifetime, let alone my entire life.

Back in 1989 I was 45 years old and saw a personal glimpse of how the world was about to be radically changed in the coming years.  I didn’t really appreciate the event at the time, but in retrospect it was significant.

I had just accepted a new job which would take us out of our long-time home in San Diego to Ridgecrest, CA, the home of China Lake Naval Weapons Center in the high Mohave Desert of California.

In preparing for the move we had our house painted. The young couple that did the job for us were recent immigrants/refugees from Czechoslovakia, a communist republic of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Soviet Union – USSR. This was late 1989, the Soviet Union was collapsing, and the Berlin Wall fell. Communist governments fell in Bulgaria and Rumania and were teetering across the Warsaw Pact republics of the Soviet empire.

At dinner with the young couple, they talked of their escape from Czechoslovakia. They had applied for vacation papers to Yugoslavia, with plans to sneak across the northern border into Italy, a common enough tactic at the time. Unfortunately, their papers were revoked at that last minute and they had to come up with a different plan. They then applied for an exit visa and surprisingly enough it was granted and the exited to Italy. From Italy where they were sponsored by a Catholic organization, they found themselves in San Diego.

I wish I had paid more attention to this couple and kept in contact with them. But I do remember the conversations.

The young man was very critical of his home country and his countryman. This was all happening as the Soviet Union was collapsing and the Berlin Wall was either coming down or soon to fall. Several of the old Warsaw Block republics had fallen, I don’t remember which, but Czechoslovakia was still seemingly solidly within the Soviet orbit. He said this will never happen in Czechoslovakia – they are Stalinists and too lazy to rebel. He was very animated with his opinions.

But, within a week or two of those conversations, Czechoslovakia too had fallen and over threw their communist government.


Let me bring up all-stop at this point and review the geo-political scene up to this point in late 1989. I do this for the benefit of those in the younger generations that perhaps don’t know or haven’t been taught the seriousness of the times following World War-II. It is also a good time for those of us in the older generation to review and reflect.

Following WW-II, the world very quickly divided into two major competing world views along with the nations aligned with those views – communism and what became known as the free-world (i.e. the West).

Europe was devastated from the war, as was much of the Soviet Union. The Nazi threat had been soundly defeated, but very quickly leaders in the West recognized that the next existential threat to liberty and sovereignty was the goal of world communism/socialism. So early on in those post-war years NATO was established, and the Marshall Plan was put into place providing a protective umbrella to reestablish nations and economies. NATO was to be an effective bulwark against the communist ambitions of conquest of Western Europe. Presidents of both parties beginning with Harry Truman through Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush 41 held the line against communist expansion. Winston Churchill coined the phrase Iron Curtain as applied to the Soviet Union in the late 1940s. It was an apt description describing the iron curtain separating the totalitarian Eastern Warsaw Pact nations and the struggling western European nations recovering from the war. Churchill used the phrase in a metaphorical manner, but later on a real curtain was erected around the enslaved East Berlin populace. Many people died attempting to escape through this Iron Curtain/Wall. Recall that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev said to Western ambassadors in 1956 “We will bury you.”

So, I grew up in this world … a world with a constant threat of war – not just war, but nuclear war.

It was not known at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Empire, but the body count at the end of the Soviet Union is estimated to be on the order of 100 million civilian deaths … citizens of their own nations. China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and those Warsaw Pact nations of Eastern Europe shown on that Viking map above.


Let’s start those engines again and sail from 1991 to 2018 into that Viking River Cruise map.

We are now in a world where we can freely visit those formally captive nations and find friends there. And those former captives cane freely visit with us in the Wes Let’s begin.

In the mid-1990s a young man came to live with us as an exchange student and basketball player. Tomislav was from Croatia and came to us not long after the Croatian war of independence. Back in those bad old days of the Soviet Union, Croatia was part of that Union, only it was then known by the name of Yugoslavia. The old Yugoslavia was made up of many Slavic regions and peoples that many of us had never heard of – Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Macedonia.

Tom was with us for 2 ½ years, and we have visited him and his family several times in Croatia.

Another young man and a friend of Tom’s was Elir from Albania, another of the captive nations, and impoverished under communism. Elir also lived in the US, and I believe he still does, in the Boston area.

And on to our next encounter with those on the other side of the curtain. While visiting Tom and his family in Croatia, we went to a national park by way of a small river boat. Along with us was a family from the Czech Republic, another of the former Soviet republics. We had a very good time with this family, and Diana and Ivana exchanged email addresses. The two ladies kept in contact over the years, and then in 2015 we did a Viking river cruise on the Elbe from Berlin to Prague. They met us in Prague and gave us a tour of parts of the Check Republic. We stayed overnight in their home, and then they took us to Brno and put us on a bus to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. We passed thru these borders with ease. No guard towers or machine guns, no mine fields, no ‘minders’ shadowing our every move.

Our travels then took us to Hungary where we spent a week on the shore of Lake Balaton. We had a rental car and traveled freely around the area and met some very nice people including a couple who snow birded between Tucson Az, and Lake Balaton. We then drove to Budapest where we spent several days. We didn’t know the story of our Hungarian friend Adam von Dioszeghy then, and I’ve written of his story elsewhere, so I won’t repeat it here.

In 2015 we traveled on one of those Viking River Cruises from Berlin up the Elbe River to Prague. The entire trip was through what was once communist East Germany, a brutally oppressive communist nation.

Other places where changes are very noticeable are on ocean cruise liners. Many of the crew of these ships come from those former captive nations of Eastern Europe. We interact with one another, learn their names and a bit about their lives, and them about us. There are no KGB agents lurking around, and we talk freely with one another.

Also on that Viking map are Vietnam, China and Cambodia. Though still suffering from the ravages of communism, these nations are to some extent open to travel and commerce. As you can see, Viking River Cruises operate in these formerly closed nations as well.  I don’t know anyone in that part of the world, but it also is changed dramatically.

Yes, it is a dramatically changed world since the days of the Soviet Union.

And here are three who were instrumental in this change. Learn about them and their contributions to liberty for millions.

Don Johnson – November 2018


Legal vs. illegal

I see this now and then, and I thought I’d make a few observations:


But I’ll take these in a somewhat inverted order.


We are 7.6 billion tool-using primates stuck on one giant rock rotating on one painfully average star system.

DJ: This painfully average star system is actually quite extraordinary just because it is average. It’s called “fine-tuning” meaning that so many things have to be exactly right for life to exist and for us to think about and write about things such as this article. A more spectacular star system – there would be no life. A less average star system – there would be no life.

Consider: All of these life forms required for human existence require an exquisitely balanced eco system or it is all for naught;

* An atmosphere with just the right sort of mixture of gasses required for the plants and animals to breath and live.

* A weather system sufficient to distribute water across a very large planet, and to maintain a livable habitat.

* A series of oceans containing an abundance of living creatures usable for food;  a mechanism for moderating the climate around the world; a system for distributing warming currents to all area of the earth; ….

* A system of fresh water rivers and lakes containing all manner of food stuffs; a system for replenishing the oceans of the world; a delightful place to spend a morning, afternoon, day or longer (there’s that pesky emotional thing again that won’t be explained away by any kind of “Unified Theory of Everything . Sorry Steven Hawking!”)

* A system of magnetic bands which protect the fragile earth life from the ravages of solar radiation.

* Independent factors for habitability actually seem to “conspire” to allow for large, complex beings like humans.

* The fine-tuning “coincidences” permitting life are truly remarkable. The type of star we orbit, for instance, emits its primary radiation in “one tiny, infinitesimally small band” of possible wavelengths: the range we call the “visual spectrum,” plus some of the infrared. Our atmosphere, next in line, allows these bands through, but blocks most of the dangerous high-energy frequencies that would harm organisms. Finally, the molecules in plants are finely tuned to utilize sunlight for photosynthesis, allowing us “light eaters” to exist. That’s for starters.

We are a bit more than tool-using primates. We visualize, design, manufacture and then use tools. We integrate a whole range of tools into ever more complex systems. Quite different than say a bird that figures out how to use sticks to get food from a container. We actually visualize, design, manufacture and use a vast range of tools that we use to help one another – even those we don’t know. It says somewhere we are made “in the image of God.”

Our borders are arbitrary.

DJ: Are they really arbitrary? Yes of course borders have changed and do change as history moves along. But to the people living within these borders, they are anything but arbitrary. Wars are fought to defend these not-so-arbitrary borders, and wars are fought to expand these borders at the expense of others. Those seeking to expand these arbitrary borders often seek to destroy those currently living within them. Further, they often seek to destroy the very history and culture of those that happen to live within the borders of those selfish inhabitants wanting, mostly, just to be left alone in peace.

Were the borders of Poland arbitrary when Germany and the Soviet Union invaded in 1939? Were the borders of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary and the Soviet Union just arbitrary and fair game for anyone having enough military strength simply to move in and take the land and kill the inhabitants? And Great Britain? I think history shows that Hitler and the Nazis actively sought not just territory, but to replace the very culture of France and Poland, as well as others, with the grand plan of the “Arian Master Race.” Many thousands of pieces of art were stolen from French museums and brought to Germany where the plan was to exhibit them in the super museums of Germany.

Let’s move this logic to our own homes and neighborhoods. Do we have doors with locks to help keep intruders out? Or do we just hang a curtain to keep the wind out? Do we have fences and gates at the borders of our property?

Who gets to decide the nature of a future borderless global civilization, and who establishes the borders to contain those who resist and rebel against this global government?

No, I’m afraid that when I look at human nature and history, I find that borders are not arbitrary. Of course, if you think all people are good all the time, then I guess we don’t need borders at all. Another name for this philosophy would be anarchy.

We’re all one species.

DJ: Agree here. We are all human beings. And that includes all races no matter the color of the skin or eyes (See Rev. Martin Luther King Jr).

Our differences are superficial.

DJ: If we are simply talking about differences at the species level (see above) true. However – big however here – beyond the merely physical, the differences are monumental and most often catastrophic. The lessons of the twentieth century alone teach us the vast differences between humans, nations and cultures. We see Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot and the human catastrophe caused from their version of humanity. And we see the suffering of those with their neck under the boot and bayonet of those monsters. But even within such brutality and inhumanity we invariably see a different humanity – a good humanity.

Our political and economic systems show vast differences in our humanity. The world views of “statism” such as Nazism and Communism in modern times, differ greatly from the world view of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States and the Magna Carte of Great Britain. The differences are shown in the body count. Keep in mind the words “We the People …” “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are crated equal …”

No … I must say our differences are vast – history and human nature show it, the Bible warns us of these differences and shows a better way. Some cultures and civilizations are indeed better than others.

Here’s some history on legal vs illegal things:

Legal: Slavery
Illegal: Helping people escape slavery

DJ: See my discussion below.

Legal: Segregation
Illegal: Refusing to move to the back of the bus

DJ: See my discussion below.

Legal: the Holocaust
Illegal: Smuggling Jewish people out of Germany

DJ: The solution was to totally crush the Nazi regime.

Legal: Apartheid
Illegal: Fighting apartheid

DJ: I have little knowledge of this, so I decline comment, but I do come down on the side of liberty.

If the extent of your morality is based on whether or not something is legal, then you’ll find excuses to accept some truly horrific, evil things.

DJ: I find this statement to be quite simplistic and is itself moralistic. Our nation was founded through revolution against an increasingly autocratic English monarch. After a short period under the ineffective and unworkable Articles of Confederation, a Constitutional Convention was convened in Philadelphia which resulted in the Constitution as we know it today. It was ratified in 1789 and has been the “Law of the Land” ever since.

My morality is based on that Constitution and the various amendments and laws stemming from it. So yes, my morality is based on law (the Ten Commandments as well).

However, since humans are not perfect or angels, the Constitution as written and ratified was itself not perfect. As James Madison said in Federalist #51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.”

And our Constitution was written and ratified by imperfect men, containing the stain of legalized slavery

But that’s not the end of the story. Recall that slavery was the “peculiar institution” of southern states, while the northern states opposed it, and especially its expansion to new territories and states. Recall also that the Democratic Party was the party of slavery and defended it vigorously, including succession from the United States and thus causing the Civil War with some 620,000 deaths.

The Civil War ended with the abolition of slavery and blacks being made full citizens by way of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments.

But again, that’s not the end of the story. Following the Civil War, the “freed” slaves were not yet free. They were subject to much persecution such as segregation and vicious and often deadly harassment by the likes of the KKK and others. These persecutions were the policies of the Democratic Party.

Throughout this period of segregation beginning at the end of the Civil War, the Republican Party authored many Civil Rights bills. These were uniformly opposed and voted against by the Democrat until the 1964 Voting Rights Act signed by Democrat President Lyndon Johnson.

To the best of my knowledge, the Democrats have never acknowledged themselves as the party of slavery, the KKK and segregation. Rather, they have somewhat successfully shifted all that blame to the Republican Party, and thus to me, which I greatly object to.

If you want to verify this record, don’t go to Wikipedia. I just did, and there’s nothing there – whitewashed. Try other sources such as Dinesh D’Souza at

Getting back to legal v illegal – my morality is based on the Constitution and the various laws stemming from it. My morality is also based on a court system that will pass judgement on laws based on an understanding of what the original authors intended, not what we might like it to say in 2018+. Just as the framers were not perfect, neither are legislators who will make bad and unconstitutional laws. Likewise, the courts will err as in the case of Dred Scott and Roe vs. Wade.

So yes, my morality is based on law.

Either you’re a compassionate, decent, fair-minded person, or you’re not.

DJ: Agree. Unfortunately, so many are not. And unfortunately, many of those that are not compassionate, decent and fair-minded rise to power at the expense of many. Thus, we need a system of justice. If that does not happen then strength of body will determine right and wrong.

Don Johnson – November 2018

Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism


Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism

The title of this documentary does not disappoint. Well worth watching to witness the hell that was communism in Poland and throughout Eastern Europe, and the impact this giant of a man had on its collapse. .

A Veterans Day Thanks


Thanks to some I have rubbed shoulders with – however brief.

  • My Thanks to Kjell Harjo, my cousin Reidun’s husband who suffered from those nightmares of war.
  • My Thanks to the soldier I met recently in Knoxville who still reacts to fireworks and the sounds of helicopters. Tet 1968. He doesn’t remember coming home.
  • My Thanks to that Medivac soldier I met a few years ago in Montana. How many lives did he save? How many were lost in the attempt? Thee years in Vietnam.
  • My Thanks to; David Lesh, David Crabbe, Jim Devin, Frankie Paxon, Mark McMaster Robert Hampton, Arthur Pacheco for their heroic rescue of a severely injured shipmate Jim Detlefsen. This was in the midst of a typhoon off Japan. Devin was washed overboard, but rescued several hours later by another ship.
  • My Thanks to Commander Paul Jacobs and the crew of the USS Kirk FF-1087. This small ship is credited with saving the lives of 30,000+ Vietnamese refugees at the fall of South Vietnam.
  • My Thanks to Janice who I met in recent years at the Milford Connecticut YMCA. Janice lost a brother in Vietnam, and was instrumental in establishing the “V“ memorial at Long Wharf in West Haven CT.
  •  My thanks to Adam von Dioszeghy. A WW-II veteran at age 6 in Budapest as bombs fell from bombers above and as the Red Army was pushing the German army out of Hungary. Adam then became a freedom fighter in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. He then escaped as a refugee and made it to America where he became a Stanford graduate and a Naval officer. Lt(jg) Adam von Dioszeghy and I stood shoulder to shoulder  at General Quarters on USS Porterfield (DD-682) in support of Marines and GIs in Vietnam.
  •  My Thanks to my Porterfield reunion association shipmates – some from Vietnam, but going all the way back to the Cold War, Korea and World War-II.

We didn’t know it at the time, but these and many others were part of those who pushed back against the “Evil Empire.” Yes, there was such a thing, and the body count placed at the feet of this communist/socialist evil is on the order of 100 million – civilians and citizens of their own countries.

We can be proud.

Just a sampling of some of these people.





My Journey in writing the book “Yearning for Liberty”

Another ‘Statue of Liberty’


Sainte-Mère-Église is a small village close to the coast in Normandy. It was the first village liberated by the American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions in June 1944.

Walking into the village square I came across this sculpture alongside the sidewalk. It captured my attention then as it does today, and soon became the cover of my book. The sculpture brilliantly captures much of this thing called “liberty.” We see the parachute – the liberator – falling from the sky. We see the gnarled and suffering hands and wrists of captives reaching desperately towards the liberator. We see chains breaking free from the wrists of the captive. We see the steep cliffs and the frail rope ladder of Pointe du Hoc where Army Rangers scaled the cliffs to neutralize the German artillery and machine gun bunkers. We see the steep cliffs illustrating the strength with which the oppressors held boots to the throats of the captives. We see the church at Sainte-Mère-Église where the paratrooper still hangs from the bell tower witnessing the terrible price for liberty being paid by himself and the soldiers and villagers below. We see the rusted and defunct machine gun of a hard-fought victory against tyranny.

And we see flames rising from the base of the parachute – the flames of liberty.


As we begin, let me tell you what this book is about – and what it is not about.

My intent was not to write a definitive history of the US with all its successes and flaws. Rather, as the title implies, and the table of contents shows, I sought to delve deeper into the very concept of “Liberty” and its various facets. When I started this work, I realized I had collected a storehouse of personal experiences and knowledge that somehow might fit into a narrative. What that narrative might turn out to be was not clear at the time, and it was as if I had all this stuff, and what if I threw it all up against the wall. What would it look like, and does it, or can it, make any kind of coherent sense?   More on this later.

Federal agents don’t learn to spot counterfeit money by studying the counterfeits. They study genuine bills until they master the look of the real thing. Then when they see the bogus money they recognize it. In much the same fashion, I hope to help my readers recognize liberty, not by studying fascism, communism, Nazism, etc. But rather by studying liberty itself – both its presence and its absence.

I have tried to avoid the politics of left-right, liberal-conservative, and let the stories of history speak for themselves. However, politics does sneak into the narrative here and there. After all, what is politics but the intrusion of government into the lives of citizens. The question of concern here is how deep and destructive this intrusion is.


My journey to “Yearning for Liberty” is a long one.

In my mind and memory, I trace it back to a young teen age boy in Butte Montana watching that old black and white WW-II series “Victory at Sea” broadcast on the only TV station in Butte. I was thousands of miles away from the nearest ocean and had never seen one – and those scenes seemed so distant in geography and time from that young boy.

A few years later in 1963, shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis when we came close to nuclear war with the Soviet Union, I was drafted. I joined the Navy in early 1964.

I didn’t make the connection between the old Fletcher class destroyer I was assigned to and those ships I saw fighting on that old back and white TV in Butte. It was just something I had to do while my young life was unfolding.

Then about 6 years ago I developed an itch. An itch that caused me to attend a reunion of crew members of that old ship – USS Porterfield (DD-682). Her call sign was Pivot Point, and as it turns out that was a pivot point in my life.

I met some of those sailors I had watched on that old black and white TV in Butte. They called me friend. They called me shipmate. I was humbled as a circle was closed and now I was among those I watched as a young boy.

A passion then welled up in me to learn more about those sailors and their ships – me included. I learned much and wrote my first book “I Didn’t Want to Worry You Mom … but sometimes it got a little scary and dangerous out there“.

Two years, seven months and 24 days. That’s a story I heard from those WW-II sailors. Two years, seven months and 24 days from the time they left the pier in San Diego in the dark of night in 1944 until they returned at the end of the war. The price of liberty. Ten Battle stars.

I learned of collisions at sea, including my own. I learned the story of a man overboard in the midst of a typhoon, and the heroics of his fellow shipmates rescuing him and another badly injured shipmate.

I learned the story of the USS Kirk FF-1087, a small Navy frigate credited with the saving of 30,000+ Vietnamese refugees at the fall of South Vietnam – The Luck Few. I met the chief engineer of that ship Hugh Doyle, and talked with the skipper Captain Paul Jacobs. I heard the story of those many refugees “yearning for liberty.”

Through those ship reunions I reconnected with Mr. vonD, an old shipmate.

Lt(jg) Adam von Dioszeghy was an officer and I was enlisted, so it can’t be said we were friends. But he was memorable from those long, hot and often boring sessions at General Quarters where we stood shoulder to shoulder controlling and firing those five 5”38 caliber guns in support of the troops on shore. He brought a light-hearted and uplifting atmosphere to our small team. He spoke with an accent. His name began with “van” or “von” and was unpronounceable. I thought for years he was Dutch.

After 50+ years Mr. vonD and I reconnected in Budapest Hungary. I learned of this man’s remarkable life story from reading his memoir “Bridging Two Worlds”, a story beginning at age 6 when he and his mother endured WW-II literally in the street outside their apartment with bombs reigning down from the allied bombers and the German and Soviet Red Army battling in the boulevard in front of their apartment. I learned of the young Germain soldier that befriended that 6 year old Hungarian boy.

I learned of their struggles under the brutal oppression of their communist masters following the war. I learned of Adam’s “yearning for liberty” culminating in the 1956 revolution when nearly all segments of Hungarian society rose up in rebellion against tyranny as they “fought for liberty.”

I learned of the “price of liberty” that Adam, his mother and tens of thousands of Hungarians paid when the Soviet Red Army brutally crushed the revolution.

I learned the “value of liberty” that Adam and many other refugees brought to America, their new nation. Andrew Grove, co-founder and long-term CEO of Intel Corp was one of those refugees, and there are many others who contributed much as they assimilated into American life and culture. A friend in Idaho is the widow of Charlie, one of those. A colleague and friend at work was another.

Much of what I learned about liberty I learned from Adam von Dioszeghy as I studied his life, and as he guided me and my wife Diana on a walking tour through the Budapest of his youth. I captured this tour in a book I put together for Adam “Budapest at War”.

A recent 5 week stay in Paris and trips to Normandy was a stunning display of a people “yeaning for liberty” and their immense gratitude towards those who liberated them.

I heard a Frenchman say of his liberators “they came from thousands of miles away and died by the thousands for us – and they didn’t even know us.”

Walking the streets and trails of Normandy was the catalyst for my book Yearning for Liberty.” (<< click the link to the left) I knew I needed to put all these remembrances, experiences and friendships together in some fashion. I had been blogging these stories over the years, but how could I bind them together in some coherent fashion and come up with the story whose main character and hero is “LIBERTY.”

In a sense, I threw them all up against the wall to see what stuck and try to weave a story out of the mess on the wall. I sent a draft to my friend Adam in Budapest, and he said yes, you have a story and coherence, keep going.

So, a lifetime later we have a new entry into the story of liberty.

Liberty, as we have come to know and experience it in the United States of America, is very rare in the history and experience of humanity. My hope is that I have shined a light on facets of liberty that will inspire its protection, continuance and expansion – here and around the world.

“We the People …”

Donald L. Johnson — October 2018
382 Central Ave.
New Haven, CT 06515

See all my books at:



America has long been seen by many around the world as a “shining city on a hill.” Ronald Reagan said it often as in his farewell address. So I read that speech once more and thought I’d share it with you. When reading through it – maybe some wishful thinking – I see a lot of Ronald Reagan in Donald Trump. Styles certainly very contrasting, but for example “I never meant to go into politics: it wasn’t my intention when I was young. But I was raised to believe you had to pay your way for the blessings bestowed on you. I was happy with my career in the entertainment world, but I ultimately went into politics because I wanted to protect something precious.”

My hope is that in the days, months and years following this 2018 election, we as a nation can count our self worthy of the vision that President Reagan saw from his “favorite window.”

“My fellow Americans, this is the 34th time I’ll speak to you from the Oval Office, and the last. We’ve been together eight years now, and soon it’ll be time for me to go. But before I do, I wanted to share some thoughts, some of which I have been saving for a long time.
It’s been the honor of my life to be your President. So many of you have written the past few weeks to say thanks, but I could say as much to you. Nancy and I are grateful for the opportunity you gave us to serve.
One of the things about the Presidency is that you’re always somewhat apart. You spend a lot of time going by too fast in a car someone else is driving, and seeing the people through tinted glass – the parents holding up a child, and the wave you saw too late and couldn’t return. And so many times I wanted to stop, and reach out from behind the glass, and connect. Well, maybe I can do a little of that tonight.
People ask how I feel about leaving, and the fact is parting is “such sweet sorrow.” The sweet part is California, and the ranch, and freedom. The sorrow? The goodbyes, of course, and leaving this beautiful place.
You know, down the hall and up the stairs from this office is the part of the White House where the President and his family live. There are a few favorite windows I have up there that I like to stand and look out of early in the morning. The view is over the grounds here to the Washington Monument, and then the Mall, and the Jefferson Memorial. But on mornings when the humidity is low, you can see past the Jefferson to the river, the Potomac, and the Virginia shore. Someone said that’s the view Lincoln had when he saw the smoke rising from the battle of Bull Run. Well, I see more prosaic things: the grass on the banks, the morning traffic as people make their way to work, now and then a sailboat on the river. Reflections at a Window.
I’ve been thinking a bit at that window. I’ve been reflecting on what the past eight years have meant, and mean. And the image that comes to mind like a refrain is a nautical one – a small story about a big ship, and a refugee, and a sailor.
It was back in the early Eighties, at the height of the boat people, and the sailor was hard at work on the carrier Midway, which was patrolling the South China Sea. The sailor, like most American servicemen, was young, smart and fiercely observant. The crew spied on the horizon a leaky little boat – and crammed inside were refugees from Indochina hoping to get to America. The Midway sent a small launch to bring them to the ship, and safety. As the refugees made their way through the choppy seas, one spied the sailor on deck, and stood up and called out to him. He yelled, “Hello, American sailor – Hello, Freedom Man.”
A small moment with a big meaning, a moment the sailor, who wrote it in a letter, couldn’t get out of his mind. And, when I saw it, neither could I.
Because that’s what it has to – it was to be an American in the 1980’s; We stood, again, for freedom. I know we always have but in the past few years the world – again, and in a way, we ourselves – rediscovered it.
It’s been quite a journey this decade, and we held together through some stormy seas. And at the end, together, we are reaching our destination.
The fact is, from Grenada to the Washington and Moscow summits, from the recession of ’81 to ’82 to the expansion that began in late ’82 and continues to this day, we’ve made a difference. Two Great Triumphs
The way I see it, there were two great triumphs, two things that I’m proudest of. One is the economic recovery, in which the people of America created – and filled – 19 million new jobs. The other is the recovery of our morale: America is respected again in the world, and looked to for leadership.
Something that happened to me a few years ago reflects some of this. It was back in 1981, and I was attending my first big economic summit, which was held that year in Canada. The meeting place rotates among the member countries. The opening meeting was a formal dinner for the heads of government of the seven industrialized nations. Well, I sat there like the new kid in school and listened, and it was all Francois this and Helmut that. They dropped titles and spoke to one another on a first-name basis. Well, at one point I sort of leaned in and said, “My name’s Ron.”
Well, in that same year, we began the actions we felt would ignite an economic comeback: cut taxes and regulation, started to cut spending. Soon the recovery began.
Two years later, another economic summit, with pretty much the same cast. At the big opening meeting, we all got together, and all of a sudden just for a moment I saw that everyone was just sitting there looking at me. And then one of them broke the silence. “Tell us about the American miracle,” he said.
Well, back in 1980, when I was running for President, it was all so different. Some pundits said our programs would result in catastrophe. Our views on foreign affairs would cause war, our plans for the economy would cause inflation to soar and bring about economic collapse. I even remember one highly respected economist saying, back in 1982, that “The engines of economic growth have shut down here and they’re likely to stay that way for years to come.”
Well, he – and the other “opinion leaders” – were wrong. The fact is, what they called “radical” was really “right”; what they called “dangerous” was just “desperately needed.”
And in all that time I won a nickname – “The Great Communicator.” But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference – it was the content. I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation – from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries.
They called it the Reagan Revolution, and I’ll accept that, but for me it always seemed more like the Great Rediscovery: a rediscovery of our values and our common sense.
Common sense told us that when you put a big tax on something, the people will produce less of it. So we cut the people’s tax rates, and the people produced more than ever before. The economy bloomed like a plant that had been cut back and could now grow quicker and stronger. Our economic program brought about the longest peacetime expansion in our history: real family income up, the poverty rate down, entrepreneurship booming and an explosion in research and new technology. We’re exporting more now than ever because American industry became more competitive, and at the same time we summoned the national will to knock down protectionist walls abroad instead of erecting them at home.
Common sense also told us that to preserve the peace we’d have to become strong again after years of weakness and confusion. So we rebuilt our defenses – and this New Year we toasted the new peacefulness around the globe. Not only have the superpowers actually begun to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear weapons – and hope for even more progress is bright – but the regional conflicts that rack the globe are also beginning to cease. The Persian Gulf is no longer a war zone, the Soviets are leaving Afghanistan, the Vietnamese are preparing to pull out of Cambodia and an American-mediated accord will soon send 50,000 Cuban troops home from Angola. ‘We Changed a World’
The lesson of all this was, of course, that because we’re a great nation, our challenges seem complex. It will always be this way. But as long as we remember our first principles and believe in ourselves, the future will always be ours.
And something else we learned: once you begin a great movement, there’s no telling where it’ll end. We meant to change a nation, and instead, we changed a world.
Countries across the globe are turning to free markets and free speech – and turning away from the ideologies of the past. For them, the Great Rediscovery of the 1980’s has been that, lo and behold, the moral way of government is the practical way of government. Democracy, the profoundly good, is also the profoundly productive.
When you’ve got to the point where you can celebrate the anniversaries of your 39th birthday you can sit back sometimes, review your life and see it flowing before you. For me, there was a fork in the river, and it was right in the middle of my life.
I never meant to go into politics: it wasn’t my intention when I was young. But I was raised to believe you had to pay your way for the blessings bestowed on you. I was happy with my career in the entertainment world, but I ultimately went into politics because I wanted to protect something precious. ‘We the People’
Ours was the first revolution in the history of mankind that truly reversed the course of government, and with three little words: “We the People.”
“We the People” tell the Government what to do, it doesn’t tell us. “We the people” are the driver – the Government is the car. And we decide where it should go, and by what route, and how fast. Almost all the world’s constitutions are documents in which governments tell the people what their privileges are. Our Constitution is a document in which “We the People” tell the Government what it is allowed to do. “We the people” are free.
This belief has been the underlying basis for everything I tried to do these past eight years.
But back in the 1960’s when I began, it seemed to me that we’d begun reversing the order of things – that through more and more rules and regulations and confiscatory taxes, the Government was taking more of our freedom. I went into politics in part to put up my hand and say, “Stop!” I was a citizen-politician, and it seemed the right thing for a citizen to do.
I think we have stopped a lot of what needed stopping. And I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expands, liberty contracts. Actions Based on Deeds
Nothing is less free than pure communism, and yet we have, the past few years, forged a satisfying new closeness with the Soviet Union. I’ve been asked if this isn’t a gamble, and my answer is no, because we’re basing our actions not on words but deeds.
The detente of the 1970’s was based not on actions but promises. They’d promise to treat their own people and the people of the world better, but the gulag was still the gulag, and the state was still expansionist, and they still waged proxy wars in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Well, this time, so far, it’s different: President Gorbachev has brought about some internal democratic reforms and begun the withdrawal from Afghanistan. He has also freed prisoners whose names I’ve given him every time we’ve met.
But life has a way of reminding you of big things through small incidents. Once, during the heady days of the Moscow Summit, Nancy and I decided to break off from the entourage one afternoon to visit the shops on Arbat Street – that’s a little street just off Moscow’s main shopping area.
Even though our visit was a surprise, every Russian there immediately recognized us, and called out our names and reached for our hands. We were just about swept away by the warmth – you could almost feel the possibilities in all that joy. But within seconds, a K.G.B. detail pushed their way toward us and began pushing and shoving the people in the crowd. It was an interesting moment. It reminded me that while the man on the street in the Soviet Union yearns for peace, the Government is Communist – and those who run it are Communists – and that means we and they view such issues as freedom and human rights very differently. ‘Keep Up Our Guard’
We must keep up our guard – but we must also continue to work together to lessen and eliminate tension and mistrust.
My view is that President Gorbachev is different from previous Soviet leaders. I think he knows some of the things wrong with his society and is trying to fix them. We wish him well. And we’ll continue to work to make sure that the Soviet Union that eventually emerges from this process is a less threatening one.
What it all boils down to is this: I want the new closeness to continue. And it will as long as we make it clear that we will continue to act in a certain way as long as they continue to act in a helpful manner. If and when they don’t – at first pull your punches. If they persist, pull the plug.
It’s still trust – but verify.
It’s still play – but cut the cards.
It’s still watch closely – and don’t be afraid to see what you see.
I’ve been asked if I have any regrets. Well, I do.
The deficit is one. I’ve been talking a great deal about that lately, but tonight isn’t for arguments, and I’m going to hold my tongue.
But an observation: I’ve had my share of victories in the Congress, but what few people noticed is that I never won anything you didn’t win for me. They never saw my troops; they never saw Reagan’s Regiments, the American people. You won every battle with every call you made and letter you wrote demanding action. Much to Be Done
Well, action is still needed. If we’re to finish the job, of Reagan’s Regiments, we’ll have to become the Bush Brigades. Soon he’ll be the chief, and he’ll need you every bit as much as I did.
Finally, there is a great tradition of warnings in Presidential farewells, and I’ve got one that’s been on my mind for some time.
But oddly enough it starts with one of the things I’m proudest of in the past eight years; the resurgence of national pride that I called “the new patriotism.” This national feeling is good, but it won’t count for much, and it won’t last unless it’s grounded in thoughtfulness and knowledge.
An informed patriotism is what we want. And are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world?
Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American, and we absorbed almost in the air a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn’t get these things from your family you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed, you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-Sixties. Ahead, to the Nineties
But now we’re about to enter the Nineties, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style.
Our spirit is back, but we haven’t reinstitutionalized it. We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise – and freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile; it needs protection.
We’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important: Why the pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, four years ago, on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who’d fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, we will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did. Well, let’s help her keep her word.
If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I am warning of an eradication of that – of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.
Let’s start with some basics – more attention to American history and a greater emphasis of civic ritual. And let me offer lesson No. 1 about America : All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven’t been teaching you what it means to be an American – let ’em know and nail ’em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.
And that’s about all I have to say tonight. Except for one thing.
The past few days when I’ve been at that window upstairs, I’ve thought a bit of the shining “city upon a hill.” The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important, because he was an early Pilgrim – an early “Freedom Man.” He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat, and, like the other pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.
I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind, it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind swept, God blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace – a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.
That’s how I saw it, and see it still. How Stands the City?
And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that: after 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm.
And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the Pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.
We’ve done our part. And as I “walk off into the city streets,” a final word to the men and women of the Reagan Revolution – the men and women across America who for eight years did the work that brought America back:
My friends, we did it. We weren’t just marking time, we made a difference. We made the city stronger – we made the city freer – and we left her in good hands.
All in all, not bad. Not bad at all.
And so, goodbye.
God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.”

My hope is that future immigrants will see that “shining city on a hill”, and my hope is that our nation will be worthy of that vision … well into the future.

So from the bottom of my heart to those immigrants I know and have known, including my father, thank you for coming to America and thank you for being American.