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Once sailor, forever sailor

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Communism’s Forgotten Crimes

On an early summer day, six years ago next month, an event of historic significance took place in Washington, D.C. A diverse group of people—politicians, clergy, and émigrés—gathered to dedicate the Victims of Communism Memorial in honor of “the tens of millions of men, women and children who were ruthlessly and systematically exterminated to advance the cause of the murderous, malevolent ideology that is Communism.” That many people do not recall this event, and don’t even know that such a memorial exists, is a loss for everyone.

From the terror famine in the Ukraine to the Gulag Archipelago, from Mao’s Cultural Revolution to the barbarism of North Korea, from the persecutions in Eastern Europe to the tyranny in Cuba, from the re-education camps in Vietnam to the killing fields of Cambodia, Communism has left a path of global mayhem and destruction.

It has not done so alone, of course. The other overwhelming evil of the twentieth century was Nazism, whose sheer diabolical nature is unique in the annals of human history. Unlike Communism, however, Nazism has been thoroughly defeated. And while the United States has done an admirable job in documenting the unique horrors of Nazism, and honoring its millions of victims, it has never reached that level of understanding toward the epic crimes of Communism, much less shown the same sensitivity toward its victims.

One American seeking to repair that failure is Lee Edwards, chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which seeks to make the history of Communism better known. Now a fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., Dr. Edwards spoke to me recently about his efforts, and hopes for the future.

Almost twenty-five years ago, a few months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Edwards was having lunch with his wife when they began a serious political discussion. “I was concerned that many people were already forgetting about Communism, didn’t want to talk about it, why it was falling, examine its profound evils, et cetera, and my wife, after listening patiently, finally said to me: ‘Lee, what we need is a memorial to the victims of Communism.’”

It was a great idea, but also a great challenge: How would such a memorial materialize, who would authorize and finance it, and where would it be established?

Edwards began promoting the idea among colleagues and friends until his persistence paid off. With the aid of the late Ambassador Lev Dobriansky—the son of Ukrainian immigrants, and leader of the National Captive Nations Committee—they were able to form a broad coalition that persuaded Congress to pass a bipartisan bill supporting a memorial, which was to be privately funded. The government’s gift would be land.

Edwards and his colleagues then began the difficult task of raising funds and overcoming the usual red tape and bureaucratic hurdles. They did all this pro-bono, as a labor of love, to honor anti-Communism’s heroes and survivors. A major break came when Thomas Marsh, a talented and highly acclaimed sculptor, volunteered his services to create a monument for the victims.

The result was a striking and beautifully crafted bronze statue—modeled on the one erected in Tiananmen Square and resembling the Statue of Liberty—which now stands at a busy intersection in D.C., seen by countless visitors each day. The inscriptions on the statue’s front and back read, respectively, “To the more than one hundred million victims of Communism and to those who love liberty” and “To the freedom and independence of all captive nations and peoples.”

But the memorial statue is just a part of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s work. In 2009, Edwards and his colleagues created an online Global Museum on Communism, which has received 175,000 visitors from around the world—“including Communist countries like China and Vietnam,” Edwards notes, gratefully.

More recently, the foundation has developed a major curriculum on Communism for high school students, which will be available to public and private schools, as well as homeschool students, this fall. Eventually, they hope to build a full-fledged bricks-and-mortar institution, much like the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which will record Communism’s record for posterity, and help personalize its victims. “Our dream is to make it possible by 2017, which would be the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution,” says Edwards. Documenting Communism’s hundred years of evil, while honoring its 100 million victims, would be quite an achievement.

Even with these advances, however, Edwards and the foundation still have to combat the double standards, widespread ignorance, and ideological prejudices surrounding the treatment of Communism.

Examples abound. The Nuremberg Trials—thankfully and justly—punished the worst of the captured Nazi war criminals, and yet Stalin and his henchmen were never prosecuted for their atrocities. That the Third Reich’s virulence and unprecedented danger necessitated America’s wartime alliance with Stalin should not blind us to the fact that we did, on a moral plane, compromise ourselves by joining arms with a ruthless and unrestrained killer—albeit to stop another genocidal monster. One can understand the alliance without excusing it. But too often we’ve permitted selective memories. As Anne Applebaum, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Gulagnotes:

We remember D-Day, the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, the children welcoming America’s GI’s with cheers on the streets. We do not remember that the camps of Stalin, our ally, expanded just as the camps of Hitler, our enemy, were liberated. No one wants to think that we defeated one mass murderer with the help of another.

Our reluctance to accept this fact has led to some exasperating displays of revisionist history. In the late 1990s, CNN ran a series on the Cold War that not only documented American transgressions—fair enough—but also, quite unfairly, drew reckless moral parallels between the United States and Communist tyrannies.

The National D-Day Memorial cast a bust of Stalin which they were actually going to display alongside FDR and Churchill—until they were forced to withdraw it by outraged veterans and organizations. On a more popular level, certain companies continue to market and profit from t-shirts sporting images of Che Guevara and the hammer and sickle—something that would be unthinkable if it involved a Nazi soldier or swastika.

Edwards is appalled by these shirts, but doesn’t necessarily blame those wearing them. “This is more an educational problem than an ideological one. If you ask the average citizen in the street what he or she knows about the Holodomor—the Ukrainian famine—or what happened to the Kulaks, they won’t know a thing.” That’s because they haven’t been properly taught the details about Communism’s gruesome record, or learned anything comprehensive about its worst leaders. With proper edification, however, Edwards believes, “they will come around.”

The same cannot be expected of certain academics and polemicists who continue to carry on a ceaseless war of anti-anti-Communism, despite the noble and courageous fight honorable anti-Communists have waged. It’s not hard to understand why. Though American intellectuals were never, to any measurable degree, implicated in the evils of Nazism, they have, to a large extent, been implicated in the crimes of Communism—a phenomenon explored by Peter Viereck’s Shame and Glory of the Intellectuals, and later, Paul Hollander’s Political Pilgrims. Given that history, few want to look Communism squarely in the face and condemn it with the severity it deserves: That would require humility and constitute a stinging judgment against themselves.

“But I still believe things are gradually improving,” Edwards told me. In addition to the groundbreaking books by Applebaum, a new generation is discovering the classic works of Solzhenitsyn and Robert Conquest, and more survivors and chroniclers of Communism are sure to build upon their work. Yale University Press continues its impressive Annals of Communism series; and most welcome of all, a number of historians have gone against the pack and had the courage to change their minds. John Lewis Gaddis, for example, the pre-eminent historian of the Cold War, used to hold the United States largely responsible for the conflict, but now, acknowledging the incontestable evidence, places the blame squarely where it belongs—on Stalin and the Communists.

On June 12, the sixth anniversary of the dedication of the Victims of Communism Memorial, there will be a gathering at the site of Marsh’s statue and a wreath-laying ceremony for the victims. Mrs. Annette Lantos, widow of the late Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos—who survived the Holocaust in Hungary and later became one of the Memorial Foundation’s greatest supporters—will speak on his behalf, and Dr. Yang Jianli, who spent five years in Chinese prisons for advocating liberty, will receive the foundation’s Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom. It will be an important moment in our nation’s collective memory and a powerful witness against an unspeakable evil.

Dr. Edwards and all who support the foundation’s mission deserve our lasting gratitude and support.

William Doino Jr. is a contributor to Inside the Vatican magazine, among many other publications, and writes often about religion, history and politics. He contributed an extensive bibliography of works on Pius XII to The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII. His previous “On the Square” articles can be found here.

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5.28.2013 | 2:24am
Rick says:
Yes, it's true that there were no Nuremburg Trials for communist leaders, but that can be attributed to the fact that the Soviets were among the victors, not the vanquished. General Curtis LeMay once remarked that if we had lost the war, he had no doubt that he would have been prosecuted as a war criminal for the fire bombings of Japanese cities. Stalin died in bed, and the Soviet system marched on. When it finally collapsed, we could hardly have demanded a trial for Gorbachev--he was the one who dismantled the system!
If you ever get to the Czech Republic, be sure to visit the Museum of Communism in Prague. It chronicles the history of communism in East Europe and recreates such things as an NKVD interrogation room. Best of all are the authentic propaganda posters, overlaid with the museum's own slogans. Example: Stalwart factory workers and plump peasant women marching with red flags under the slogan "There was often no toilet paper in the shops. Fortunately, there wasn't much food, either."

Humor was an essential morale booster for people in communist countries. I got some howlers from a Russian Jewish family of immigrants I knew in California. Roma was a former tank commander in the Red Army (his father was a tank commander who died in the Battle of Moscow), and he told me the one about the man sitting in a crowded trolley in Kiev. Another man boards the trolley and stands next to the sitting man. The sitting man looks up and says, "Do you work for the government?"
"Are you a member of the Communist Party?"
"Are you sure you have no connection with the government or the party?"
"No, none."
"Then will you get the hell off my foot?!"
5.28.2013 | 4:27am
Michael PS says:
In his « Le Drame de l'humanisme athée » [Drama of Atheistic Humanism], Cardinal Henri de Lubac shows that Nazism and Communism are both the working out of a single presupposition.
I believe it is available in Eglish
5.28.2013 | 8:07am
Joe DeVet says:
It is surely appalling that communism (and its cousin socialism) still have such sway over the minds and hearts of so many, and that the intellectual culture of our nation continues to keep this sentiment alive and more than kicking.
I suppose it is enticing to imagine a utopia in which economics is governed by "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need." It resonates with something in the human heart. There is, one might even say, something heavenly about it. Maybe this is why there is such a pull toward Communism and socialism, and when a charlatan such as Obama comes along as a secular messiah with this message, people vote him in, and then re-elect him, against all the evidence of incompetence, corruption and malfeasance.

There's an insidious movement growing under the radar, a first cousin to socialism though it's adherents claim it to be the antithesis of socialism. It's known as distributism, a thoroughly impractical and self-contradictory idea, but one which some people think is the only "system" compatible with Catholic social teaching. Its relationship to socialism is that neither system could ever be implemented without a tyrannical, all-powerful State--a State which, if not owning everything, controls everything economic.
5.28.2013 | 12:34pm
Kent Wendler says:
"From each according to his ability, to each according to his need (or needs)" is *superficially* a very laudable sounding slogan. The joker (in the Batman sense) in this deck, and what has so sadly mislead so many millions of people, is that it says absolutely nothing about *who* gets to determine what these abilities and needs are - for others and themselves. In this post-lapsarian world no one other than Jesus Christ has the ability to do so with anything even remotely approaching justice.
5.28.2013 | 12:43pm
Eric Voegelin said it well: "There will be a latent Communist danger under the most favorable external circumstances as long as the public debate in Western societies is dominated by the gnostic clichés." These ideological clichés ("We can build a better world!"), when allied with our natural resentment of those with more than us, will .
5.28.2013 | 12:45pm
Don't jump to conclusions about "distributism" from its label or by reading only one or two people's vision of it. I'm all but certain you can't lump it in with communism if you'd have read Chesterton on the subject.

Distributism doesn't have to refer to government command and control of resources. At it's core, Distributism simpy posits that ownership of the means of production should be local and broad-based. This is the antithesis of state control and ownership. It can be brought about via intelligent implementation of law and tax policy in ways create innate competitive advantages for small, locally owned business instead of the current laissez faire approach to capitalism that rewards dehumanizing corporatization. Put in other words, who's more likely to behave morally and honorably:
1. The local coal mine owner who live in the watershed and whose kids go to school with the miner's kids.
2. The MBA administrator appointed to manage the mine for Megalith International, Inc. for the next three years on this rung of his climb up the corproate ladder? (after which he'll be relocated to another state)

Which one is more likely to cheat safety and environmental standards in order to hit the next quarterly revenue target?

Distributism posits that people are more likely to behave as decent human beings in the business world when their decisions impact their own family and personal lives. When we construct economic systems that insulate people's business behaviors from their personal lives, we shouldn't be surprised that people are more likely to sin in order to get ahead.

There may be Distributists that advocate government tyranny to get to such a model, but it need not be so. It can be achieved simply by changing the legal and tax structure.
5.28.2013 | 1:07pm
Rick says:
@Joe De Vet: "Maybe this is why there is such a pull toward Communism and socialism, and when a charlatan such as Obama comes along as a secular messiah with this message, people vote him in..."
Let's contrast this idea of "Obama, the communist" with David Brooks' analysis of Obama's economics. (Brooks is a conservative columnist trained by William Buckley):

"It’s time to entertain the possibility that President Obama is a right-wing extremist.... After all, look at where he’s taking the country over his second term. Under his budget, domestic discretionary spending would be lower as a share of G.D.P. than it was under Reagan, both Bushes and Nixon. When it comes to this category, Obama’s budget would take us back to Eisenhower levels.... His budget should put to rest those crazy claims that he is some sort of Norwegian socialist. " []
5.28.2013 | 1:28pm
Nancy D. says:
"Nazism and Communism are both the working out of a single presupposition", for once you remove God from the equation, anything can become permissible.
5.28.2013 | 3:38pm
Anne Applebaum is a great reporter on Eastern Europe. Another important contribution to the record against Communism (and American aiders and abettors of Communism) is the book "I Saw Poland Betrayed" by Arthur Bliss Lane, written immediately after he left his post as US Ambassador to Poland from 1944 to 1947. Poland was a great ally during WWII. Despite its defeat, it contributed several divisions to the Allied Cause which fought from Narvik through North Africa to Italy, Normandy, Holland and the rest of the Western Front. In addition, Polish destroyers helped the Allied escape from Dunkirk and its fighter squadrons played a key role in the Battle of Britain. The Rising of the Polish Home Army was another brave response by the Polish People that the Russians opposed as bitterly as the Germans did. Yet when Stalin demanded that the Western Allies abandon Poland to his tender mercies, Churchill and Roosevelt caved. Lane protested strongly in 1944 but once Roosevelt was reelected, Roosevelt abandoned all pretense of support for Poland and let it twist slowly in the Russian Wind.
5.28.2013 | 7:54pm
Peg says:
Rick, I lived in Prague in the early 1990s and heard many of those jokes. My favorite is this one:
Shopper: Do you have any meat in this shop?
Grocery Clerk: No, this is the shop that doesn't have vegetables; the shop that doesn't have meat is around the corner.
5.29.2013 | 7:34am
It is well-known how Poland suffered under the heel of Communism after the end of the war. Yet there are still many blank spaces to be filled, largely because relevant archives - in Russia specifically - still remain to be opened.
For example, I only found out two years ago that my uncle, Captain Edward Gajewski of the Polish Cavalry, had been murdered at Katyn by the executioners of the NKVD, acting under Stalin's orders. Of course, my family had always feared the worst but until the advent of 'Glasnost' and 'Perestroika' these fears had remained unsubstantiated. I applaud Bill Doino's article and hope that the Edwards Foundation continues to educate those who remain in ignorance of
Communism's hecatombs. 
Sử gia Bill Laurie chuyển


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