COVER STORY: by Dr Christopher J. WardNews Weekly
Who remembers the victims of communism?
, July 7, 2007
Too few people today are prepared to mourn the victims of communism, writes Dr Christopher J. Ward.Did you miss it? On June 12, President George W. Bush addressed some 400-500 people who had gathered in Washington DC to dedicate the Victims of Communism Memorial.
|President George W. Bush|
speaks at the dedication.
None of this was reported in the Australian media, and what little was reported in the US media - with the honourable exceptions of The Washington Times
and the lesser-known New York Sun
- was generally eclipsed by other events.
The day itself was symbolic, in that it was the 20th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan's famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, when he implored Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
Among those speaking at the Washington dedication were two Congressmen, Dana Rohrabacher, a Californian Republican, and Tom Lantos, a Californian Democrat, who currently serves as chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.Threat to civilised world
Lantos, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, recalled how he had fought against both Nazism and communism, and reminded the audience that communism "posed an existential threat to the civilised world".
In his address, President George W. Bush said that communism was responsible for the deaths of 100 million innocent people, and that the new memorial would "enshrine their suffering and sacrifice in the conscience of the world".
"The sheer numbers of those killed in communism's name are staggering, so large that a precise count is impossible," Bush said. "According to the best scholarly estimate, communism took the lives of tens of millions of people in China and the Soviet Union, and millions more in North Korea, Cambodia, Africa, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Eastern Europe, and other parts of the globe."
He went on to say said that the names of millions of other victims will never be known by the public.
He said: "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."
Perhaps predictably, the President went on to link the struggle against communism with the current war on terror. The memorial, he said, will be a warning to all who see it, that victims' memorials are the inevitable result when societies are allowed to descend into the darkness of totalitarianism and reject democracy.
The lessons of the Cold War are still relevant: freedom cannot be taken for granted, evil must be confronted, and "men commanded by harsh and hateful ideologies will commit unspeakable crimes and take the lives of millions".
The memorial dedication saw the unveiling of a 10-foot-tall bronze replica of the famous papier-mâché "Goddess of Democracy", raised in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, in 1989, by pro-democracy student demonstrators, shortly before they were massacred by the communist authorities.
The Victims of Communism Memorial Fund organisers are planning a museum and archive near to the Washington memorial.
In the evening, a celebratory gala dinner at the J.W. Marriott Hotel rounded off the historic day. At the dinner, with tables decked with red, white and blue tablecloths and napkins, two important presentations took place: a Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom was presented to conservative commentator and founder and long-time editor of National Review
, William F. Buckley, Jr., and posthumously to the late Senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson, the hawkish Cold War anti-communist Democrat.
A fellow Cold War veteran, Senator Joe Lieberman (now an Independent Democrat), presented the Medal of Freedom to Senator Jackson's daughter, Anna Marie Laurence.
Other dignitaries at the gala dinner included Yelena Bonner, widow of the famous Soviet nuclear scientist and Nobel Prize-winning human rights activist, Andrew Sakharov.
It may be nitpicking to say this, but the whole affair, apart from the presentation of two well-deserved awards, appeared to be distinctly underwhelming. The dedication ceremony was attended by fewer than 500 people (including, no doubt, the secret service detachment for the President), and the glittering gala dinner was attended by only 350.
In many respects, the meagre attendance and negligible media coverage sum up how little impact the demise of Soviet tyranny has had on the public. Even though the West was engaged, for much of the 20th century, in a titanic struggle against a murderous and ruthless foe, very few people are prepared today to celebrate the West's eventual victory over the Evil Empire.Disappointing
The most disappointing aspect of the Washington dedication was the fact that, although official memorials to the victims of communism can be found in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, the first memorial on Western soil, costing $US950,000, was paid for only out of private funds, including donations from Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Georgia and Taiwan.
It is almost incomprehensible that, at a time when Vladimir Putin's increasingly authoritarian Russia is causing deepening concern across Europe, neither the US nor UK governments saw fit to contribute to the memorial.
For the relatives of victims of communism living in Australia - and there are many - one can only feel dismay that their losses have not been recognised on the soil of their new country. Such a monument would be fitting, given these migrants' contribution to Australia's prosperity.
Meanwhile in the globalising world, it's business as usual with despots, dictators and undemocratic rulers of every stripe.
Well might we ask about the value of the West's victory over the most bloodthirsty political system known to mankind, as business and government put the pursuit of profit ahead of principles. In the words of an old saying, "they know the cost of everything and the value of nothing".
Let us hope and pray that the past is not forgotten.