One sure sign that academia is failing in its mission can be seen in the lack of understanding by the young of the toll taken by communist regimes around the world throughout the 20th Century, that continues to accumulate to this very day. “Ask college students, and I have, how many Stalin killed and you get the answer, ‘thousands,’” University of Pennsylvania history professor Alan Charles Kors said on June 12th at the Heritage Foundation. “That’s like saying Hitler killed hundreds of Jews.”
“Communism claimed 100 million victims,” Emil Constantinescu pointed out in the same forum that Dr. Kors addressed. “In my country, Romania, we had one million dead and one million political prisoners out of a total population of 16 million.” Constantinescu was the former President of Romania.
“I think that you talk about the 100 million victims of communism without taking account of about 300-400 million because you are not talking about their families,” Cuban Pedro Fuentes told the audience at Heritage. “My mother was told not to come to see me in prison because I was shot.”
“She fainted.” Fuentes spent 18 years in Cuba’s prison system. “So with my marriage, which was shot,” he remembered, “and my son who I had not seen since he was a baby.”
“Now he was a grown man.” Cuba is a country that college professors enthusiastically urge students to visit and do volunteer work in, labor that ultimately aids Fidel Castro’s regime which has controlled the island nation for nearly half a century.
“What about the 60’s radicals who kept pictures of Mao and Che on their walls?” Dr. Kors asks. He characterizes that act as “the equivalent of putting up pictures of Hitler and Eichmann.”
“They get to teach students about the superiority of their political philosophy,” Dr. Kors asserts. Dr. Kors is the co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) which spawned a national network of pro-bono attorneys who defend students whose civil liberties have been jeopardized by college administrators.
“No other system has caused as much death as communism has,” Dr. Kors concludes. “In the case of Nazis, we rightly hunt down 90-year-old men because the bones cry out for justice.”
“In the case of communism, we follow the advice of our educated class which says, ‘No witch hunts.’” He is pessimistic about the prospects of an enlightenment among these elites.
“Understanding of communism is going to have to come from civil society because it isn’t going to come from the professoriat,” he advises. For such an epiphany to occur among faculty members, Dr. Kors contends that “you need universities that hire pluralistically and not by political litmus test.”
“We need to stop using the Lenin and Stalin terminology that divided the world into capitalist and socialist camps,” the European Union’s Tunne Kelam insists. “The Holocaust took 15 years to receive recognition with the trial of Adolph Eichmann,” he reminded the audience.
Kelam was a leading Estonian dissident during the Soviet occupation of that country. “Even the KGB managed to have a soft landing,” he observed of the demise of communism in central Europe. “Victims of communism lack the guarantee that victims of Nazis had which was, ‘Never again.’”
“Crimes of communism should be treated the way that crimes of Naziism were.” Now that would be an unusually productive activity for the EU.
“In 1980, only Lane Kirkland threw his weight behind Lech Walesa,” the University of Maryland’s Michael Szporer recounted in another flashback at the Heritage “Victims of Communism” program.
The then-head of the AFL-CIO backed the Polish trade union boss “against the wishes of the Carter Administration and particularly its two most prominent cabinet members who were Polish-Americans,” Dr. Szporer contends. Those two holdouts would be Secretary of State Edmund Muskie and national security advisor Zbigniew Brezinski.
As former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis pointed out in his unsuccessful run for the White House, “The fish rots from the head down.” Dukakis, of course, made his famous characterization, unjustly, of the Reagan Administration.
But could it be said of the Gipper’s predecessor? When I met Muskie in the summer of 1984, I reminded him that I had seen him speak at my alma mater during the hard-fought 1980 presidential campaign.
“I may have,” he admitted. “I made a lot of speeches when I worked for what’s-his-name.” As for Brezinski, it should be noted that he was supportive of Reagan Administration policies that aided the anti-communist movement in Poland.
Dr. Brezinski’s boss, who as chief executive warned of “an inordinate fear of communism,” experienced no such revelation. That might explain why he is such an honored guest on so many college campuses.