In a sense, the Victims of Communism Memorial, officially dedicated June 12 by President George Bush, and located within Capitol range, should be an ongoing reminder that the body-counts are still mounting.is an on-going project. Who knows how many corpses remain to be unearthed, carelessly buried in North Korea or Cuba or China? How many more are coming?
However imperfect--and what better tribute to the victims of a "perfect" system than imperfection?--the memorial is an achievement in an era where the big money goes either toward movies glorifying communists, either as stateside liberals in a hurry, or as revolutionary civil libertarians as with Oliver Stone's love note to Castro, El Commandante. From the start, the memorial leaders complained that very few millionaires of the George Soros caliber came forward with pen and checkbook out.
At first glance, the figure at the memorial, a Statue of Liberty type holding up freedom's torch with both hands, seems to undersymbolize communism's crimes. Why not a clothe-capped worker tearing a chunk out of the Berlin Wall or pulling down the statue of Lenin? Once the viewer, however, knows that it is a model of the model built by the doomed activists of Tianamen Square, it seems oddly appropriate. Having the son of a president who reacted to the tanks crushing the activists by rewarding the oppresors with most favored trade nation status seems one of history's ironies.
The quotation on the memorial from Whittaker Chambers, surely the most literate of ex-communists but a victim of communism only in the sense of his reputation among the Left and not with a bullet in the back of his head,, is appropriate nonetheless. In Lionel Trilling's Middle of the Journey, the liberal in the novel ascertains that the purge trials were a venomous monstrosity simply on the level of homicidal anger he witnesses by the American Communists toward the Chambers character's defection. His appearance in the form of the quotation from Witness about communists abandoning their faith simply because they heard "the screams" is thus both literally and symbolically poignant; literally because this phrase more than any other sums up the horror of communism and the dividing line by those who heard and those who willing turned a deaf ear and downed yet another cocktail or signed yet another petition against the Troskyites reaping havoc in the socialist motherland; symbolically because Chambers was, as in the novel, the focus of so much venomous hatred by these deaf. Had his detractors a secret police on hand, it is doubtful Chambers would have survived to testify.
Ghosts are defined as spirits who won't stay dead. If they chose to gather around this memorial, the lineup would cover the entire ideological spectrum--from the die hard believers in Stalin such as Vyshinsky and Beria--dying no doubt with a naive expression on their faces--to his opponents based on their pure Marxism like Leon Trotsky or Andres Nin or the Abraham Lincoln volunteers refusing to see fascism as "a matter of taste," to those in the Soviet Union and Tianaman Square who saw freedom as more than "bourgeiose sentimentality," to the writers in North Korea and Cuba and China today who are willing and probably are dying for the right to, in George Orwell's memorable phrase, "tell people what they don't want to hear." The ghosts coming forward would be Marxists, Troskyites, defenestrated Social Democrats, liberal intellectuals, and that most hateful foe of Leninists, the libertarian. Some would wear glasses, the mark of death for those in the hands of Pol Pot; others would contain the digested and non-digested portions of their books the Cuban Secret Police forced them to eat. Many would have bullet holes in the back of their heads. And all, toward the end, would have screamed. Within audible range, those in the Capital can either be emboldened toward tougher stances against North Korea, China and Cuba, or they can, like so many others, chose not to hear.