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Remembering and aiding the victims of Communism

A new D.C. museum lays bare an evil and violent ideology

Andrew Bremberg, President and CEO of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, gives a tour of the museum to Olena Zelenska, first lady of Ukraine. Associated Press/Photo by Carolyn Kaster

Remembering and aiding the victims of Communism
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Visitors to Washington, D.C. have a new museum to visit: The Victims of Communism (VOC) Museum, which offers a powerfully moving testimony to the courage of Cold War victims. Today, the museum is all the more relevant due to the Communist totalitarianism of China, North Korea, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Modern Communism began with the bloody Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, ostensibly as a way to liberate the Russian people from serfdom. But, Communism just re-enslaved the Russian people—and does so in every environment where it is imposed.

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi, and others glorify the 20th century’s “golden era” of Communism, the accurate history that the Victims of Communism Museum presents is valuable because it unveils the Communist playbook. The museum also inspires by recording how the natural impulse for freedom brought down Communism in several nations.

Every attempt at Communism quickly became a revolution, torching all of society’s authentic institutions—the family, church, civil society, voluntary organizations, and government. All were replaced by a tyrannical elite who eliminated all opposition. The Russian (1917) and Chinese (1949) Communist revolutions were birthed in civil war and then imposed draconian policies.

The Victims of Communism Museum, which opened recently in Washington’s McPherson Square: “memorializes the more than 100 million people murdered by communist regimes. Today, it is estimated that more than 1.5 billion people still live and labor under communist governments that are actively hostile to democracy as well as human and civil rights.”

After World War II, Communism undermined legitimately elected governments in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Despotic Communist regimes took over in Ethiopia, North Korea, and elsewhere. One of the most horrible developments of Communism was Cambodia’s effort to return to “Year Zero” by eradicating most 20th-century improvements and returning to an impoverished agricultural economy. Cambodia’s “killing fields” resulted in 1.7 million deaths—about 21 percent of the population.

A look around the globe reveals political and economic devastation every time Communists seize power.

A look around the globe reveals political and economic devastation every time Communists seize power. No African country benefited from Communism. Every Latin American Communist experiment turned out to be an economic and moral disaster. Look at Venezuela today, the backwardness of Cuba’s economy, the criminal behavior of Nicaragua’s Sandinistas. Compare these countries to the growing, market-oriented economies of Costa Rica and Chile.

The Victims of Communism Museum is particularly helpful in balancing mind-numbing statistics with the stories of real people. The more than 100 million victims of Communism is a number that is hard to grasp unless one realizes that this means fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, grandmothers and grandfathers. One hundred million individual human beings were starved, tortured, murdered, and/or exiled to the Soviet gulags. Chillingly, gulags still exist in North Korea and China today—such as the Uighur slave labor camps in China.

The museum is also a place of much-needed hope, featuring the Heroes of Anti-Communism, brave men and women who refused to knuckle under and stood their ground in Budapest (1956), Prague (1968), and Tiananmen Square (1989). Their stores are retold along with the great anti-Communists of the West, most notably Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan. The museum also honors anti-Communist heroes such as Poland’s Lech Walesa and Czechoslovakia’s Vaclav Havel. They represent countless millions of unknown individuals who quietly resisted in whatever way they could. Nearby is Washington’s Holocaust Museum, and both museums remind us that totalitarian evil is not something of the past. In our own time, 1.5 billion people still survive under the yoke of Communism, most in Asia and Latin America.

Dr. Lee Edwards, VOC Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the museum, argues that we must teach our children the evils of Communism, including its vile degradation of human dignity, its assault on religion, and its utopian lies. We must recognize that we are living in a new Cold War against aggressive anti-democratic regimes, both Communist and not (e.g. Islamist Iran), against ideologues who would destroy the fundamental moral values of Western civilization. The good news is that tens of millions of citizens surviving under autocratic regimes know that their emperors have no clothes. It still takes guns, dogs, and barbed wire to keep those people subjugated.

Perhaps, then, the most important mission of the Victims of Communism Museum is to inspire faith that citizen resistance, assistance by those in other nations, changing political conditions, prayer, and hope will help us see the final unraveling of totalitarian Communism in this newest Cold War of our times.

Eric Patterson

Eric Patterson is president and CEO of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C., and past dean of the School of Government at Regent University. He is the author or editor of more than 20 books, including Just American Wars, Politics in a Religious World, and Ending Wars Well.

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