The Victims of Communism Now Have a Memorial – It’s About Time

Picking up on Richard’s note on the new Victims of Communism Memorial here in D.C. — My face is red from enduring the June sun for nearly three hours (security requires people to arrive early), but it was well worth it. My own family, after all, fled a then-newly installed Marxist regime in Nicaragua in the late 1970s. Naturally, I was pleased to hear President Bush list the Sandinistas among the thuggish regimes for whose victims the monument is meant.

The sacrifices of these individuals haunt history — and behind them are millions more who were killed in anonymity by Communism’s brutal hand. They include innocent Ukrainians starved to death in Stalin’s Great Famine; or Russians killed in Stalin’s purges; Lithuanians and Latvians and Estonians loaded onto cattle cars and deported to Arctic death camps of Soviet Communism. They include Chinese killed in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution; Cambodians slain in Pol Pot’s Killing Fields; East Germans shot attempting to scale the Berlin Wall in order to make it to freedom; Poles massacred in the Katyn Forest; and Ethiopians slaughtered in the “Red Terror”; Miskito Indians murdered by Nicaragua’s Sandinista dictatorship; and Cuban balseros who drowned escaping tyranny.We’ll never know the names of all who perished, but at this sacred place, Communism’s unknown victims will be consecrated to history and remembered forever.

The most….provocative moment, however, came from Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a survivor of both the Nazi Holocaust and Hungary’s Communist regime. Speaking of the new security challenges facing America, he lauded the end of what he termed the Chirac-Schroeder era in continental Europe, and proclaimed that, “We will rebuild the Atlantic alliance,”and strengthen the West’s resolve against Islamist terror. But what a memory Rep. Lantos has got! Jacques Chirac stepped down as French President only recently, but Lantos reserved special vitriol for the much-longer departed German Chancellor Schroeder, whom he called a political “prostitute” for “taking checks from Putin” to lobby for Russian energy interests.

This was, of course, a bipartisan event — the federal government ceded land for the memorial, which was built with private donations, in 1993.

Representing the Republican side of the aisle was Lantos’s fellow Californian Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who praised the event 20 years ago that set the date for the moment’s dedication today:

It was 20 years ago this week that President Reagan gave his now famous Berlin Wall speech.

A columnist in the New York Times recently noted that the foreign policy gurus of that era, as compared to the American people in general, have not acknowledged the significance of that forceful challenge by President Reagan to the Communist Party boss Michael Gorbachov to “tear down this wall”.

The columnist noted that even George Shultz did not mention the speech in his lengthy memoirs of his years as President Reagan’s Secretary of State. Well, let’s set the record straight. George Shultz and the foreign policy elite, including Collin Powell, adamantly opposed that speech. They did everything they could to pressure President Reagan not to take such a tough public stand against the wall. They insisted that it would re-ignite “ill will” and would be taken as an insult to Gorbachov.

They were wrong and President Reagan’s moral clarity and commitment to confronting evil, rather then ignoring it for diplomatic or political purposes, carried the day. Instead of antagonizing the Kremlin leadership, the speech convinced them that the wall had to come down and yes, when it did communism crumbled along with it.

Those of us who attended the dedication today can only hope that this new memorial can help bring greater moral clarity to the role of Communism in the wreckage it’s left behind in every country it’s touched.

For more on Communism, check out George Mason economist Bryan Caplan‘s online Museum of Commuism.