July 16, 2008 | Commentary on Democracy and Human Rights

Captive Nations Week: Never Forget

Nearly two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism in Eastern and Central Europe, five nations remain "captive" to communism -- China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos.

Amid all the hoopla about the Beijing Olympics and the "ohs" and "ahs" over the dozens of skyscrapers soaring above the Chinese capital, we must keep in mind that China is also a land of forced labor camps. These camps constitute a Chinese Gulag -- the laogai -- filled with an estimated four to six million prisoners, including tens of thousands whose only crime was to criticize publicly the communist regime.

These are inconvenient facts for those who want to do business with Communist China, but the truth about communism must be told.

Our Jewish brothers and sisters understand what is at stake. They understand that history must not be forgotten lest it be repeated. They keep reminding the world of the Holocaust, crying, "Never again." So too must we remember the crimes and the victims of communism.

The failure to separate fact from fiction, and myth from reality, when it comes to communism explains, in part, why it persists in Cuba, where the regime silences any opposition; in North Korea, where the people endure a totalitarian nightmare; in Laos and Vietnam, where the most elementary human rights are denied; and in China, whose leaders still pretend pro-democracy students weren't massacred in Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

What is the truth about communism? That it failed to deliver on every one of its promises from the beginning.

It promised bread but produced chronic food shortages and rationing.

It pledged peace but sacrificed young men in wars in far-off lands.

It guaranteed the peasants land but delivered them into collectives.

Wherever they came to power, communists killed -- in the "killing fields" of Cambodia, where one out of the every six civilians perished; in the "re-education" camps" of Vietnam, filled with as many as one million people out of a population of 20 million; with the tragic famines that have decimated the population of North Korea for half a century.

It is the mission of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, of which I am honored to be chairman, to educate this generation and future generations about the history, philosophy and legacy of communism.

Our first step was to build and dedicate in June 2007 the world's first memorial to all the victims of communism, more than 100 million of them. It is located on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., just four blocks from the U.S. Capitol.

Our second step is to build the Global Museum on Communism, the first museum on the Internet that will tell the complete story of communism from Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto to current events in communist countries such as China and Cuba. The virtual museum will be launched in early 2009, on the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism in Eastern and Central Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet empire.

Our third step will be the construction of a bricks-and-mortar museum -- the United States Museum and Library on Communism -- in the Washington, D.C., area.

Granted, it's an ambitious program, but the times call for boldness and commitment. Communism is not dead but alive and all too well in the captive nations of China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos.

Those who use communism to maintain their power would like us to forget the crimes and victims of communism, past and present. This we will not do, especially as we celebrate the 50th observance of National Captive Nations Week, a time to pledge anew that never again will nations and peoples permit so evil a tyranny to terrorize the world.

Lee Edwards is Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org) and chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

About the Author

Lee Edwards, Ph.D. Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought, B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics
B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics

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