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In Whitehall, not far from the Cenotaph, stands the National Monument to the Women of World War II. Echoing the Cenotaph in form, one has to wonder why other groups were not similarly honoured – for instance, male civilians who contributed to the war effort, or children or, for that matter, the women of the First World War?

Perhaps these too will have their turn, because as the World Wars slip from living memory, we see a growing number of new memorials. Unlike older memorials, their purpose is not so much to provide a place of gathering and recollection for those who were there, but a reminder to future generations far removed from the commemorated events. 

There are, in fact, few limits to what we’re capable of forgetting, all it takes is the passage of time. Ask most people about the Thirty Years War, for instance, and they’ll have no idea of the devastation that killed eight million people between 1618 and 1648. Writing for First Things, William Doino tells the story of Lee Edwards, who was determined that a more recent and even greater tragedy should not be forgotten:

  • “On an early summer day, six years ago next month, an event of historic significance took place in Washington, D.C. A diverse group of people—politicians, clergy, and émigrés—gathered to dedicate the Victims of Communism Memorial in honor of ‘the tens of millions of men, women and children who were ruthlessly and systematically exterminated to advance the cause of the murderous, malevolent ideology that is Communism.’”

The memorial takes the form of a bronze statue modelled on the ‘goddess of democracy’ that was briefly erected by Chinese protestors in Tiananmen Square, in those hopeful days before the massacre perpetrated by the Communist government on the 4th June, 1989.

However, it will take more than a statue to remind some people of the evils of Communism:

  • “…certain companies continue to market and profit from t-shirts sporting images of Che Guevara and the hammer and sickle—something that would be unthinkable if it involved a Nazi soldier or swastika.
  • “Edwards is appalled by these shirts, but doesn’t necessarily blame those wearing them. ‘This is more an educational problem than an ideological one. If you ask the average citizen in the street what he or she knows about the Holodomor—the Ukrainian famine—or what happened to the Kulaks, they won’t know a thing.’ That’s because they haven’t been properly taught the details about Communism’s gruesome record, or learned anything comprehensive about its worst leaders.”

To a large extent, it is the Second World War that explains why we remember Nazism and Communism so differently. Doino quotes Anne Applebaum on the subject:

  • “We remember D-Day, the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, the children welcoming America’s GI’s with cheers on the streets. We do not remember that the camps of Stalin, our ally, expanded just as the camps of Hitler, our enemy, were liberated. No one wants to think that we defeated one mass murderer with the help of another.”

The Second World War also meant that the our homegrown apologists for Nazism were purged and discredited.  The fellow travellers and useful idiots of Communism, however, would continue to fester within our body politic for decades to come. Men like the historian Eric Hobsbawm, for instance, to whom Ed Miliband was pleased to pay tribute when he died last year.  And we still see a great deal of high-brow fawning over far left intellectuals like Slavoj Zizek and Alain Badiou.

The deadly threat of Communism may have receded, but its poison is still in our veins. It does not endanger us, but it prevents us from seeing the past as clearly as we should.

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