Reviews | The Museum of Victims of Communism in Washington DC tells a vital story


Most Americans who travel to their nation’s capital as tourists are thankfully unaware of the violent rumblings that insist that American history is a long history of shortcomings. Visitors come for a joyful immersion in the celebrations of national history, told by the marble monuments, the Capitol, the White House and the museums. Many tourists, however, make time for less than pleasant moments.

The inspiring Air and Space Museum is a tourist favourite, but the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, which offers visitors the stern gift of excruciating understanding, has received more than 47 million visitors since it opened in April 1993. What Now there’s a new museum where Americans can gaze into the black sun of totalitarian evil — and can be proud of their nation’s record of continued resistance to that evil.

In part of an elegant Beaux-Arts building built decades ago for a posh downtown Washington club, the Victims of Communism Museum opened in June. It is little. What it commemorates is enormous: 100 million deaths.

And the carnage continues. Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute wrote:

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“At its height – just before the collapse of Eastern European socialism in 1989-91 and the Soviet Union – the reach of communist-style governments stretched across Eurasia from Berlin and Prague to Vladivostok and Shanghai, and from the frozen Siberian tundra to Indochina; additional communist outposts could be found in the New World (Cuba) and sub-Saharan Africa (Ethiopia).In 1980, the Seventeen Marxist States -established Leninists ruled about 1.5 billion subjects (out of a total world population of about 4.4 billion).At this peak, more than a third of mankind lived under regimes that professed “communist” intention.

Today the world population is about 8 billion, and still about 1.5 billion suffer under communism. Aside from the run-down states of North Korea and Cuba, communism is a Chinese problem, compounded by genocide (concentration camps, forced abortions, linguistic and other cultural erasures) and domestic surveillance far beyond Stalin’s low-tech dreams.

The Museum of the Victims of Communism is small because a widely but unconvincing aphorism attributed to Stalin is correct: “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic”. Our modern sensibility – in fact, our desensitized condition – challenges the museum. The Boston Massacre of 1770 left five people dead. The 1937 German bombing of the town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, which shocked the world and sparked Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, left an estimated 1,600 dead. How does a museum present the 100 million dead?

By using small things: for example, a slice of black bread which only prolongs the famine. There are also paintings of gulag survivors and recorded accounts of communism’s arc of suffering. Before museum planners knew how awfully timely it would be, they included something significant: the Soviet-induced famine, complete with cannibalism, that killed at least 4 million Ukrainians.

Communism, whose theory is that ideas are only a reflection of material conditions, is a particularly deadly idea. Leon Trotsky, who created the army that ensured the subjugation of Russia by Lenin after 1917, had unquestionable intelligence, substantial political skills and no respect for reality. In his 1924 book “Literature and Revolution”, he wrote that under communism “man will become infinitely stronger, wiser and more subtle; his body will become more harmonized, his movements more rhythmic, his voice more musical. The forms of life will become dynamically dramatic.The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe or a Marx.

Such thinking – fervor in the service of madness – has been a recipe for 100 million deaths. So far.

The foundation that runs the museum was established by Congress in 1993 but has never received government funding. It was brought to life by a relentless lawyer who turns 90 in December. Lee Edwards has been an integral part of the conservative movement since helping to found Young Americans for Freedom at William F. Buckley’s home in Sharon, Connecticut in 1960. Edwards was a senior communications officer for Barry’s 1964 presidential campaign Goldwater.

Most of the 27 million Americans who voted for Goldwater, winner of just six states, have left. One, however, planted a reminder of the Arizona senator’s anti-totalitarian legacy at the corner of 15th and I streets in DC There, anti-communism, which was and is the duty of this nation designed in freedom, is made alive.

Visitors to the museum will experience a wholesome immersion in the nation’s anti-communist success. And they will be reminded that this work is unfinished.

About Norma Wade

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