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Jewish World Review Nov. 26, 2002 / 21 Kislev, 5763

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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It's critical to memorialize communism's victims: 10 minutes with Lee Edwards


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Though communism's ghost still gives the thugs who run China, North Korea and Cuba the excuses they need to keep their people in chains, the ideology of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, et al. is no longer a serious threat to the free world.

But if you think it's time to forget about communism, Lee Edwards urges you to think again. Communism killed 100 million humans in the 20th century. And Edwards, a veteran conservative journalist, educator and author of a dozen books such as "Goldwater: The Man Who Made a Revolution," doesn't want anybody to forget that - ever.

Edwards is president of a foundation that aims to build a $100 million Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C., by 2007. It not only will commemorate communism's victims, it will educate young people about its true nature and serve as a permanent reminder to be on guard against its return.

Edwards's bipartisan group, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (victimsofcommunism.org), has the likes of Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lech Walesa, Sen. Jesse Helms and Rep. Nancy Pelosi on its various advisory boards and has a congressional promise of a site inside the Beltway.

I talked to Edwards by phone from Washington on Tuesday.

Q: Why is it so important to build a memorial to the victims of communism?

A: I think the defeat of communism was probably, as Vaclav Havel said, the most important historical act since the defeat of the Roman Empire almost 2,000 years ago. Despite the fact that we did defeat communism, that we did win the Cold War without firing a shot, people are not aware of it and have not properly celebrated it. That's one of the purposes of our memorial museum.

Q: I grew up reading National Review. I know how hard conservatives tried to persuade people how horrible and nasty and dangerous communism was, but they were often laughed at. What was all that about?

A: I think the revisionists were at work back in the '50s and '60s, and they're still at work. They're still in denial about the crimes and victims of communism. When we first talked about 100 million victims of communism 10 years ago, people did either laugh or challenge us. When the "The Black Book of Communism" came out a couple of years ago, they used the exact same figure and that was written in 1997 by six French intellectuals formerly of the left. So what we came up with back then has now been confirmed.

The revisionists are hard at work and we have to keep pointing out to them that the facts are in, the various files and archives are in from Moscow and elsewhere, and that, in fact, 100 million people did die under communism in the 20th century.

Q: You couldn't find three people who'd defend the ideas or actions of the Nazis, but you had many people defending communism, no matter what they did. Why doesn't everyone know the worst about communism?

A: On its surface, communism seems as though it is an attractive idea. Of course it's a utopian idea - the idea of a classless society, of sharing our goods and services and so forth. But in fact, when communism has been tried it has not only been found wanting, but has only been able to be maintained through terror, through murder, through purges, through forced famines and all the rest of it.

We know now, if we take a look at the record, that communism simply does not work. Yet there are still those utopians who think if it's just given a chance somewhere in some other country or some other century, it would. But the historical record is very clear: Communism does not work and when it attempted to be instituted, millions of people die.

Q: What should every American know at a minimum about communism's historical record.

A: They have to realize that it is a system that only works in textbooks. It doesn't work in reality. When we were in Prague earlier this year, we met this brilliant young student at Charles University who said his teachers were telling him that Karl Marx was one of the great economists of the 19th century.

Well, that was absurd. But I am sorry to say that it is not only being taught in Charles University in Prague, but at some of our universities here in America.

Q: What ultimately killed communism?

A: Well, it was a Potemkin Village. It looked to be powerful. It looked to be prosperous. It looked to be secure. But in fact it was shallow. It was riddled through with corruption, with inequities, with an inability to deliver the goods to the people.

Q: Who are the heroes that brought communism down?

A: There are so many heroes over there in eastern and central Europe and elsewhere around the world. We think of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and his great book "The Gulag Archipelago." We think of Andrei Sakharov in Russia, of Cardinal Mindszenty in Czechoslovakia, of Lech Walesa in Poland.

In the West, there were three great heroes, in this order: Margaret Thatcher, John Paul II and Ronald Reagan. They were a triumvirate who worked together in very specific cases and raised a standard of freedom which encouraged those people behind the Iron Curtain and which ultimately led to the collapse of communism.

Q: When Reagan used the phrase "the Evil Empire," he was also held up to great ridicule by the media and by the intellectual establishment of this country.

A: Certainly he was. Once again, though, it just shows how this man was able to get to the heart of an issue so quickly, so directly and so truthfully.

Q: As an expert on communism, what do you tell a 10- or 12-year-old kid when they ask, "What was it, Dad, or Grandpa?"

A: If they were a little bit older than that, I would say it was worst tyranny of the 20th century. But what I would say it was, was a group of people who tried to impose their will on free people and who after trying for decades and decades, were finally denied that. And they were defeated, because I think the impulse of the human being for freedom can never be permanently squelched.

EPILOGUE

During his talk at the Duquesne Club on Wednesday, Edwards said he'd thought some more about that last question and said this is how he'd explain what communism was to a 10-year-old: "Communism was the biggest lie of the 20th century and human history. Communists promised the people bread and gave them bread lines and forced farmers. Communists promised the people security and gave them the KGB and the Gulag. Communists promised the people peace and gave them civil wars and unending conflict around the world - resulting in the deaths of 100 million."

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald