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The Victims of Communism Memorial

At a ceremony this coming Tuesday, June 12, Americans will learn about evil.

By 6.8.07

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The [Communist] revolutionary believed it to be in the nature of things that dictatorship and terror are needed if the good of humanity is to be served, just as the Aztec priests believed themselves to be entirely justified in ripping the hearts out of thousands of victims, since had they not done so, the sun would have gone out, a far worse catastrophe for mankind. In either case, the means are acceptable, being inevitable -- that is, if the theory is correct....
-- Robert Conquest, Reflections on a Ravaged Century
Historian Robert Conquest, one of the first Westerners to use painstaking research to lift the veil on the terrors of the Great Terror and other murderous purges in the Soviet Union, got the essential nature of Communism exactly right. Brutality, terror, and murder are, and always have been, essential components of Communism. And Communism proved extremely effective with those components. Worldwide, some 100 million victims have died from Communist terror, purges, forced relocations and famines -- and that number doesn't even include all those Americans and other freedom-loving people who died in noble wars (Korea, Vietnam, etc.) trying to keep Communism from spreading.

Those numbers, by the way, come not from any right-wing organization. They come from 1999's The Black Book of Communism, written by six leftist French intellectuals and published by Harvard University Press. They are numbers that stagger the imagination. And they are not just numbers but souls, 100 million human souls, whose lives and sufferings deserve commemoration.

Enter conservative scholar Lee Edwards and former Ambassador Lev Dobriansky, who conceived of and now have brought to fruition a Victims of Communism Memorial, to be unveiled in a major ceremony on Tuesday, June 12 at 10 a.m.

To be located at the busy intersection of Massachusetts and New Jersey Avenues (and 'G' Street), NW, in Washington, D.C., the Memorial will feature a statue modeled on the "Goddess of Democracy" used by the Chinese students in Tiananmen Square in 1989, that statue itself deliberately reminiscent of our own Statue of Liberty. Its inscriptions, front and back, will read as follows: "To the more than 100 million victims of Communism and to those who love liberty," and "To the freedom and independence of all captive nations and peoples."

The memorial and its lessons are long overdue.

"We're trying to do several things," Edwards told me last week. "We are memorializing the victims. This is the world's first memorial to all the victims of Communism. Number two, we are honoring those who resisted Communism. Real leaders. People like Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Harry Truman, Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, Solzhenitsyn: The list can go on and on....All of these various people who successfully stood up and resisted Communism. Third, this is part of an ongoing educational program. We want to educate people about what a terrible tyranny it was....There is not the same kind of recognition of the Communist holocaust."

Edwards continued: "It is based upon the idea that the Soviets and the Chinese and the Cambodians thought that they could create a new man, and they set about it in the most ruthless way, and anybody that got in their way, they destroyed. The got caught up in this Utopian nightmare and cut down anybody who got in their way....

"For example, in 1959, and for the next three years, Mao tried to bring about a collectivization of agriculture in China....The first year, 5 million people died. He said to keep going. The second year 10 million died. He said 'keep ahead.' The third year 20 million died, all during what was called the Great Leap Forward....

"We can certainly conclude that there is this maniacal impulse which leads them to do maniacal things like the purges, like the famines, like the mock trials.... I really think it goes back to this Utopian notion that makes them think they can remake people, which of course I think is rather insane."

The word "Utopian" itself is problematic. Edwards' point is that man is incapable of creating a Utopia here on Earth, and that all efforts to do so carry in their very nature the need for brute force to achieve it, because only through brute force can the nature of man even appear to be changed. On that point, Edwards is right.

But I think the word "purported" should be placed in front of "Utopia." In truth, what's wrong with the Communist vision isn't merely the means used to achieve it, and it isn't merely the mistaken assumptions about the perfectability of man. Instead, the goals themselves -- the very life envisioned by the revolutionary dreamers -- would be a nightmare, not a Utopia, even if realized by entirely peaceful means.

DESPITE WHAT SO MANY American lefties would say even today, the vision outlined by Marx and Engels is not wonderful but terrifying. The leveling impulses itself is a mistaken one. It is evil, not Utopia, to say that all people should forfeit their individuality, their family ties, and their unique dreams in order that the material circumstances --yes, the wealth -- of all people be the same. Granted, society should provide care for "the least of these," and none of us should treat the poverty of another as an acceptable existence. But the goal should not be equality of result, of material circumstance; instead, the goal should be the expansion of opportunity, and of the possibility for human growth and achievement.

Furthermore, that opportunity is not merely material, but spiritual. The Communists, the Utopians, belittle the human spirit, all in the pursuit of what they call a "common good." But that which inspires human striving, in the self-chosen pursuit of a greater good rather than one chosen, dictated, by the greater society, is of far more value than is any "good" achieved by the gray and enervating sameness of the Communist vision.

Marx and Engel write of their ideal "proletarian" that "Law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests," and he denounces "the bourgeois claptrap about the family and education, about the hallowed correlation of parents and child."

But family love and family ties are not claptrap. It is an ennobling facet of human nature, not a disreputable one, which cherishes the love between husband and wife, brother and sister, parent and child.

TO CLIMB DOWN A BIT from this theoretical realm, back to the realities of the horrors of Communism, one need only rent a wonderful, stark, and ultimately redemptive movie on most Blockbuster shelves these days. The Lives of Others, which won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film, is set in the Communist East Berlin of the 1980s. It tells of how the Communist secret police, the Stasi, spy on and punish anybody suspected of Western (freedom-loving) sympathies. Without giving away the plot, suffice it to say that the reality depicted in this film is ample and powerful witness to the ills that did not just happen by mistake under Communism, but that are an inherent aspect of that horrid system.

The dedication of the Victims of Communism Memorial this coming Tuesday should warn all of us against such a tyrannical faux Utopia, and inspire us to adore the freedom that is its antithesis.

"You must resist tyranny," Edwards insisted to me. "You cannot just accept it. You cannot just think it is not going to challenge me....You must stand up to tyranny with purpose and with conviction and with dispatch."

The lesson of the new memorial, and of tragic historical experience, is that Communism -- all Communism -- is by its very nature a tyranny of the sort Edwards warned against. It is certainly not the only tyranny, but so far it is the worst one this Earth has ever known. We Americans led the way in defeating it. We should not forget why the battle was necessary.

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About the Author
Quin Hillyer is a senior editor of The American Spectator and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom. Follow him on Twitter @QuinHillyer.