A Memorial to the Victims of Communism and My Tribute to Lee Edwards

Paul Weyrich

5/15/2007 3:01:00 PM - Paul Weyrich

As regular readers of this Commentary know, thanks to the late Dr. Robert Krieble, I had the great opportunity to train thousands of people all over the Soviet Union in how to participate in the political process. I did this before the fall of the Berlin Wall but while there still was a Soviet Union although after the fall of the Soviet Empire. It was a remarkable opportunity. Everywhere I went I heard about the victims of Communism. In Sverdlovsk, which I visited in April of 1990, I decided that Boris Yeltsin was okay because he permitted young people in his home jurisdiction to build a memorial to the victims of Communism. Mind you, this was while the Soviet Union still was in existence. The youth of that country calculated that the Communists had killed 70 million people. Imagine that they said this while no one could believe at that point that the Soviet Union would disintegrate. That memorial had been constructed for some years before we saw it. That Yeltsin permitted the youth of that city (now Yekaterinburg) to build such a memorial demonstrated to me that he should be backed. When we visited Siberia we learned that there were millions more who had been killed by Stalin. And when we visited the Gulag, it was clear that all sorts of others were transferred there by Stalin and if they protested often they were killed.

That was why, when I returned to the United States, I was so pleased to learn that Lee Edwards and Professor Lev Dobrianski had begun to plan a memorial to the victims of Communism. The memorial will be dedicated on June 12th at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, NW, New Jersey Avenue, NW and G Street, NW, in Washington. I first met Edwards in 1965, when I flew to Washington from Milwaukee to discuss an anti-Communist idea I had with the Member of Congress for whom Edwards worked at that time. When I came to Washington for good 40 years ago, I worked with Willard Edwards, Lee's father, who was employed by THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE, at that time a greatly admired conservative newspaper.

Over the years I had encountered Edwards in various venues. He wrote the story of the Heritage Foundation on its 25th anniversary. He is the one and only writer who got the story correct. The point is that I trusted him. Over a long period, from 1990 to 2007, Edwards worked hard, stone by stone you might say, to build this monument. He needed to raise close to a million dollars. Finally he succeeded. Then he had to persuade the Interior Department to agree to grant space for the Memorial. It is in a good place where it can be seen. Democrats as well as Republicans approved the resolution for the Monument to the Victims of Communism. The story of how Edwards managed to get even President William J. (Bill) Clinton to approve the legislative part of this effort is one which only Edwards can tell, perhaps on the day-long program on June 12th, featuring among other things in addition to the actual dedication, a reception at the National Guard Association Hall of States, an afternoon roundtable discussion at the Heritage Foundation and a gala awards dinner at the J W Marriot Hotel at 1330 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, in Washington.

The Victims of Communism Foundation has stated that 100 million were the victims of Communism, which is the number determined by the "Black Book of Communism" published by Harvard University Press. Edwards wants to be sure that the world never forgets the victims of Communism and he is absolutely correct. I was sure when I witnessed the fall of the Soviet Union there would be all sorts of movies based upon the incredible stories from the victims of Communism. We have had none. In fact, while a few books have been written about the unbelievable story of the vicious way in which the Soviets kept their people from knowing what was going on, there is far too little recognition of the terrible suffering that the poor people had to endure.

I only wish I had acted as a reporter so that when the people told me their stories in the various parts of the Soviet Union I could have written about what had happened. That having been said, I am so grateful for what Edwards has done.

It is hard to believe that any nation would have behaved as the Soviets did. I well recall what Dr. Vladimir Bukovsky told us when we gave him a special award. He told us that from Lenin to Stalin if you disagreed with the Soviet leadership you were killed. After that the Soviets embarked on an even more vicious path. When he (Bukovsky) disagreed, he was put in a mental hospital. He was given experimental drugs which often made him feel crazy. He would be kept there, usually until there was enough protest from the West that he would be released. I spoke with a general from the Ural Mountains. He told me, "Every day I got up in the morning and I said 'what are the ten things I can do to defeat America,' I had no idea I had been lied to all these years. There was no way I could tell that our leaders day after day had deliberately told us false things." This fellow, with huge hands and a burly frame, grabbed me and looked into my eyes and said, "Can you help me?" In Siberia, men built radios. When the weather was right at night they were able to pick up some news from the West. They could not discuss what they heard with anyone except someone from the West. I recall, while the Soviet Union was still in operation, that a fellow took me aside and asked if various things were true. I said they were. He said, "You understand why I ask. The authorities told us the opposite." So one of the other ways the Soviets stayed in power was to tell their citizens lies.

I well recall driving with a member of the Soviet Duma in a slum part of Washington, D.C. The member, who had stayed at my home and thought it was a great luxury, looked at the slums and said, "This is how the Soviets depict all of America." Later he said, "Would you like to see the Soviet Union fall immediately?" I said I would. He said, "Buy every member of the Soviet Union a roundtrip plane ticket to the United States." Now, these folks were those who survived. They were not "victims of the Soviet Union" as are being memorialized this June 12th. The point I am making is that virtually all the residents of the Soviet Union also were victims, not only those who were killed. They were victims because the system abused them. They sent them to mental hospitals. They told them constant lies.

Only those who ran the Soviet Union and who really knew what was going on were not victims. The kind of victims who will be commemorated next month are those who were killed. But those who lived could well be added to the list.

At any rate, the whole nation should be grateful to Edwards for what he has done. How much media do you think will cover this event? Outside of movement media I doubt Lee will get much coverage. That would be a tragedy because people need to know what the Communists did -- not just the Soviets but the Chinese, Cuban, Cambodian and Vietnamese Communists as well. Many millions since the fall of the Soviet Union have been born and probably do not know its atrocities. Think of 25 years from now? How about 50 years? If you know any media twist their arms to cover this great event.