The ideology that killed approximately 100 million people over a century and continues to this day to wage war on individuals’ fundamental freedoms is unfortunately often overlooked or simply not recognized for the true threat that it remains. Communism habitually benefits from, as French historian Alain Besançon observed, amnesia and amnesty, while, by contrast, one might notice that Nazism is constantly condemned and people are reminded to never again allow themselves to fall for such a wretched ideological trap. Looking back at such tragic events caused by manipulative creeds, it becomes obvious that none of them should be forgotten or be looked upon with leniency.
In an attempt to keep the world from suffering such a loss of historical recollection, Dr. Lee Edwards, historian, author and distinguished conservative thought fellow at the Heritage Foundation envisioned not only a memorial to the victims of communism, but a truly active role in keeping the memory of those victims alive. Thus the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VCMF) came to be.
In an exclusive interview with SFPPR News & Analysis, Dr. Edwards talks about how he embarked upon this quest and in what way his efforts made a difference.
What prompted the creation of VCMF?
My wife and I were having Sunday brunch in January 1990 two months after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I expressed concern that there was little discussion of why the Wall fell and who was responsible, that the Cold War was one of the most important conflicts of the 20th century, that communism was responsible for the Cold War, that the victims of communism were in danger of being forgotten. Anne said: “You know what we need? A memorial to the victims of communism.” I wrote it down on a paper napkin and resolved to call my friend and colleague Amb. Lev Dobriansky the next day. He agreed to join me in what we called “a great adventure,” the building of a Washington memorial to the victims of communism, all 100 million of them. It took us 17 years, but we dedicated the Memorial in June 2007, with President George W. Bush accepting it on behalf of the American people.
Why do you think it is necessary for people in the U.S. and around the world to understand the problems with communism?
Communism is the deadliest “ism” of the 20th century, responsible for World War II, the Cold War, the Iron Curtain, the Korean war, the Vietnam war, the Cuban missile crisis, the deaths of more than 100 million victims, the continued suppression of the people of China, Vietnam, North Korea, Laos and Cuba. Its legacy explains much about Putin and an aggressive Russia. It is still misrepresented in our schools as an economic system when it is in fact a pseudo-religion posing as a pseudo-science imposed upon an unwilling people by political and military force.
What are some of the ways in which VCMF is currently helping to raise awareness of the tragedies of communism?
Each June, VOC marks the anniversary of the dedication of the Victims of Communism Memorial to the more than 100 million victims of communism. Last June 22 foreign embassies laid wreaths at the Memorial. VOC sponsors an annual China Forum bringing together leading academics, journalists, and dissidents to discuss the current state of affairs in China and how to promote a democratic and free China. Through its blogs and newsletters, VOC tracks events in Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, Laos, emphasizing the many violations of human rights in those countries. VOC has initiated a summer program for high school teachers who learn about the ideology, history and legacy of communism, using our high school curriculum. Each year, we award the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom to champions of liberty like Vaclav Havel, Pope John Paul II, Vladimir Bukovsky, William F. Buckley, Jr., Steney Hoyer.
How are people responding to VCMF’s initiatives?
I am happy to report that VOC has become the go-to educational organization to learn about communism, past and present. Our out-reach programs to educators, students, journalists, ethnic groups, and foreign countries have produced an ever increasing audience of many thousands who visit our blogs.
What has been the biggest challenge in VCMF’s work so far?
To keep abreast of and to report accurately what is happening in the five communist countries of China, Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea and Laos. And to educate young people about the real face of communism which is not the “saintly” Che Guevara but the greatest mass murderer of the 20th century—Mao Zedong.
How do you envision VCMF’s future?
Our work will not be finished until every captive nation and people is free and independent and communism is a forgotten relic.
Is there anything people can do to help VCMF in its efforts?
They can contact our Washington offices at victimsofcommunism.org and make a monthly commitment to help us meet our goals, including, and most especially, the International Museum on Communism in Washington, D.C., which we hope to launch in the fall of 2017 on the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.
Conclusion: While it might be easy to forget past mistakes, the tragedy of a lesson unlearned is that one has no way of understanding when they are about to commit the same error. The sacrifice of so many must not become a footnote in the memoir of humanity but rather a well-defined chapter. That way it can be read and reread by generations who may understand the dangers of political systems that manipulate the mind and imprison the soul.
Lee Edwards is a Distinguished Fellow in conservative thought at the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at the Heritage Foundation and Chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
The questions were asked by:
Georgiana Constantin is a law school graduate who has studied International, European and Romanian law at the Romanian-American University and is presently a political science doctoral candidate at the University of Bucharest. She is also a contributor to the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.
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