The Victims of Communism Memorial

Washington D.C. has a new public monument, the Victims of Communism Memorial. The 10-foot high bronze is a replica of the “Goddess of Democracy” statue carried by heroic Chinese dissidents in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square just prior to their being shot by Chinese soldiers in June, 1989. Designed by American sculptor Thomas Marsh, the diminutive carbon copy statue sits in a small park within view of the nation’s capital, and on June 12th, 2007, President Bush dedicated the memorial before a crowd of 1,000 people. When I first saw photos of the dedication event I thought it was an Onion magazine parody.

In an interview conducted by the conservative National Review magazine, Thomas Marsh revealed that he took no fee for the creation of the bronze, stating that “(….) when I witnessed the brutalities (via television and print news) of the Tiananmen massacre, I vowed to rebuild the statue, and to never profit from that act. I feel it is wrong to make money from human suffering.” The artist went on to say that, “I feel the emerging primary role of art in human life will be personal and social transformation. I view the Democracy statue as a moving example of this kind of art. It certainly was not an act of self-expression.”

Artist’s concept drawing of the memorial

[ Artist’s concept drawing of the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington D.C. ]

I could almost have said those very words myself, save for the fact that Marsh’s statements masquerade as artistic objectivity and disguise a rightist agenda. And herein lay the conundrum, can one easily distinguish between a genuine work of art utilized as an honest, solemn memorial, and an artwork that functions purely as political propaganda? Let’s take Maya Lin’s breathtaking Vietnam Veterans Memorial as an example of the former. It simply does not allow a single political viewpoint to lay claim to it - Lin’s granite wall serves as a poignant memorial for all who gaze upon it - opponents and supporters of the Vietnam war alike. Conversely, Marsh’s reworked “Goddess of Democracy” sculpture is the closed fist to Maya Lin’s open hand. Marsh’s bronze draws a line in the sand and dares you to cross it. There is no self-reflection in the sculpture, just a demand that the viewer adhere to its “correct” ideological reading of history. Like all works of propaganda it is triumphalist - especially so when considering who commissioned it.

Marsh’s statue was commissioned by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOCMF), and it should come as no surprise that George W. Bush is the Honorary Chairman of that foundation. Lee Edwards, Distinguished Fellow at the ultra-right wing Heritage Foundation, is the VOCMF’s Chairman. Edwards hypothesizes that 100 million people died in “the communist holocaust.” Has anyone bothered to ask Edwards how he arrived at this number? The influential militant conservative Grover Glenn Norquist serves as the VOCMF’s Director. Norquist is the fellow responsible for infamously saying that he wants to shrink government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub” (excluding of course any program to do with the military or the national security state.)

And then of course there’s Paul M. Weyrich, Chairman and CEO of the right-wing Free Congress Foundation. A backer of the VOCMF, he explained in a 2003 press statement in support of the anti-communist memorial about our needing “to hear the stories of the millions of victims who suffered and were put to death by a truly Godless regime” - as if that story hadn’t already been drummed into our heads for decades. Weyrich is also the gentleman who notoriously stated that “We are different from previous generations of conservatives…We are no longer working to preserve the status quo. We are radicals, working to overturn the present power structure of this country.”

In his interview with the National Review, Marsh said of his sculpture, “The Democracy statue is unambiguous in its meaning: It stands for man against the State. Specifically, it stood and stands for man against the most brutal tyranny ever devised, communism.” Hmmm… “man against the State.” But the VOCMF was established by a 1993 Act of the United States Congress, the same congress that now trips all over itself to help establish and expand American corporate investment in the People’s Republic of China (PRC.) It all rings rather hollow when you stop to think that Wal-Mart, KFC, Coca-Cola, General Motors and hundreds of other U.S. corporations are presently doing business in the PRC.

The following words come from the transcript of President Bush’s speech at the dedication ceremonies: “The sheer numbers of those killed in Communism’s name are staggering, so large that a precise count is impossible. 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.” Of course, the bureaucrats in Beijing heard about the memorial and Bush’s brash words, and they issued a strongly worded statement that in part read: “Some US political forces still cling to their ‘Cold War’ mentality and out of political necessity seek to provoke conflicts between different ideologies and social systems. This runs counter to the trend of the times and is unpopular.”

But the dedication of the latest memorial in the U.S. capital seemed less about the “victims of communism” and more an opportunity to push Washington’s newest crusade - “the war against terror.” At the dedication, the president said, “Like the communists, the followers of violent Islamic radicalism are doomed to fail. By remaining steadfast in freedom’s cause, we will ensure that a future American president does not have to stand in a place like this and dedicate a memorial to the millions killed by the radicals and extremists of the 21st century.” And as you might expect, no American will be counted amongst the extremists of the 21st century, but sadly there will be a memorial dedicated to the thousands of American soldiers who died because of a politician’s lie.

Excuse me for being contrarian and bringing up embarrassing facts, but for those who’ll cringe over what I’m about to say, you can always dismiss my quarrelsome nature by quoting the illustrious wisdom of Ronald Reagan - “Facts are stupid things.” And the fact of the matter is, the reds were not the only ones doing the killing. The good folks at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation have compiled quite a record that chronicles “communism’s crimes against humanity” - they just forgot to include what the other side did.

I can’t offer a full accounting of what evils the good guys committed in order to stop the advance of communism, that is after all, not the purpose of this web log. But some distressing episodes do come to mind, like the 1965 U.S. backed coup d’état against President Sukarno of Indonesia. The U.S. cold war establishment viewed Sukarno as a threat that had to be eliminated, and so unleashed the anti-communist generals of the Indonesian army - who began a bloodbath that resulted in some half a million Indonesians being put to death for purely political reasons. A 1968 report by the CIA referred to the butchery as, “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century.” But there’s no real need to be troubled by those mass executions, every last man, woman and child were dirty reds - or so we’ve been told. And in any case, we did it because we love liberty, so the victims will not receive a memorial statue.

As an example of communist barbarity, President Bush mentioned in his speech the heartbreaking tale of the unfortunate “Polish priest named Father Popieluszko, who made his Warsaw church a sanctuary for the Solidarity underground, and was kidnapped, and beaten, and drowned in the Vitsula by the secret police.” But Bush made no mention of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in 1980 by U.S. funded right-wing death squads as he gave a homily in Church. Because of his concern for the poor, Monseñor Romero was called a communist by El Salvador’s right-wing elites, who marked him for death. Even the murdered Archbishop’s funeral was attacked by U.S. trained Salvadoran army sharpshooters, who succeeded in killing dozens of unarmed mourners.

There is another fine chapter in our brave fight against the reds that begs for the raising of a large memorial in the U.S. capital - and that has to do with the U.S. engineered coup against the government of Chile. On September 11th, 1973, U.S. backed generals lead by Augusto Pinochet launched a bloody coup against the first democratically elected Marxist head of state, Salvador Allende. President Allende died in the fighting when the putschists bombed the presidential palace. Subsequently, General Pinochet proclaimed himself the leader of the country and imprisoned and tortured his opponents. Over 3,000 innocent Chileans are known to have been murdered by Pinochet’s terror squads, and thousands of others were simply “disappeared” and remain unaccounted for. But of course, this was all done in the name of fighting communism - so it was a good thing.

On September 21, 1976, a terrorist car bomb on the streets of Washington D.C., took the lives of Orlando Letelier (an ex-diplomat from Allende’s socialist government) and American journalist, Ronnie Moffet (Moffet’s husband Michael was seriously injured but survived.) As it turned out, the assassination was pulled off by agents of the Chilean government, the very regime hoisted upon the Chilean people by Washington. Pinochet’s terror squads had murdered their opponents in the land of the free. A small plaque now marks the spot on Sheridan Circle in Washington D.C., where the killing took place, but it is woefully inadequate as a suitable memorial. I propose that a life-sized model of the bomb blasted car Letelier and Moffet were killed in be cast in bronze and mounted on a pedestal along Sheridan Circle. The inscription can be the same one found on the base of Thomas Marsh’s statue - For Those Who Love Liberty.

When General Pinochet died on December 10th, 2006, Paul M. Weyrich wrote a eulogy for the fascist dictator, titled, The Pinochet legacy: a free, non-Communist Chile. In that tribute, Weyrich proclaimed that the tyrant “should go down in history as a liberator.” Weyrich went on to say, “I know it is heresy to say this but the people of Chile should thank Pinochet. He saved their nation from a brutal Communist ‘experiment.’” People everywhere who believe in democracy and human rights have denounced and scorned General Pinochet. That the VOCMF courts and embraces the likes of Weyrich, reveals not a passion for freedom, but an extremist right-wing agenda.

At the Victims of Communism Memorial dedication ceremony, President Bush said, “Communist regimes did more than take their victims’ lives; they sought to steal their humanity and erase their memory. With this memorial, we restore their humanity and we reclaim their memory.” Mr. Bush, we are still awaiting the Washington D.C. monuments commemorating the genocide of the Native Americans and the horrendous days of slavery suffered by African-Americans.

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