April 2, 2004 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Lest We Forget

We are consumed today wondering about how we can defend our country against the scourge of radical, militant Islam and the terrorism it breeds, but caught up in the present as we are, we must not neglect the past. Honoring victory in past struggles, commemorating the sacrifice of human lives, will help us face today's dangers. We can all take heart when we consider that the free world did win against the ideology of Communism, which spread its tentacles to every continent.

For more than 10 years, dedicated people have working hard to give Washington a memorial to the victims of Communism. By the estimate of Hoover historian Robert Conquest, 100 million people lost their lives to Communism in the 20th century.

In the words of President Harry Truman, "Communism subjects the individual to arrest without lawful cause, punishment without trial, and forced labor as the right of the state. It decrees what information he shall receive, what art he shall produce, what leaders he shall follow, and what thoughts he shall think." We must never forget the hideous crimes committed against human beings in the name of the state.

The memorial project is now at long last within sight of completion, and could be ready for inauguration this year. But only if the National Capitol Planning Commission gives its final permission for the chosen site, one quarter acre of land between Union Station, the Mall and the Capitol, on Louisiana Ave. and 1st St., NW.

At a meeting of the Commission in December, unfortunately, members chose to kick the ball down the road and failed to reach a decision. The next meeting of the Commission is scheduled for later this spring, possibly May. At that time, the Commission should grant its approval, and allow this very important project to move forward without further delay.

Why a memorial to the Victims of Communism in Washington? For the exact same reason we now have a memorial to World War II, currently in its final stages of completion. The fight against fascism in Europe was indeed America's war, and so was the fight against Communism world wide, from the Cold War in Europe to Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa. The number of Americans whose ethnic background derives from former Communist countries is as many as 26 million; the cost in American lives and in bullion was great.

Unlike most things that happen here in Washington, the memorial project is thoroughly bipartisan, and has aroused basically no political opposition. President Bill Clinton signed the authorizing legislation for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in1993, and President George W. Bush currently serves as the honorary chairman of the foundation. It has support on Capitol Hill from Sen. Barbara Mikulski to Sen. George Allen.

The memorial's design is simple and eminently well-suited to Washington. It's a replica by artist Thomas Walsh of the Goddess of Democracy. Remember? This was the statue raised by Chinese students in Tiananmen Square in the summer of 1989, which itself was a small scale version of the State of Liberty. The memorial will also include an eternal flame and a marble panel with quotations from leaders in the fight against Communism. Most of the funding, estimated at $300,000, has been privately raised already.

So what is holding the up the Memorial to the Victims of Communism? It appears that the National Park Service, after initially suggesting the location on Louisiana Ave., is wavering, contending that others might want this site. As no one else has laid claim to it to date, it is not much of an argument. The importance of the location was eloquently described by Charles Atherton, of the Commission on Fine Arts, who stated during the discussion in December:

"The one thing we have learned over the years is that you can give a memorial enormous strength if it's in a great spot. . .And I think that the relationship with a clear view of the Capitol dome and the Statue of Freedom on top is an extraordinary relationship. I mean that's what the story's all about. And to put it in any of these other sites where that relationship is not possible, I think would really be missing a wonderful opportunity . . . to have a statement about something that enveloped the world at a very grim time."

The memorial, which will be pure white, will stand as a reminder that light conquers darkness and freedom oppression. What an appropriate reminder for all of us today.

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in The Washington Times