Communism not the only totalitarianism
Dictatorships identified as “communist” murdered tens of millions of innocent people throughout the 20th century; there is no denying that. My problem with this memorial is not that it commemorates those victims, but that it ignores the other side of this story — the victims of anticommunist, totalitarian regimes. The Cold War was a geopolitical contest between two superpowers and their allies. Ideology played a role in this contest, but it did not guide it.
To define it as a battle between capitalist liberal democracy and totalitarian Marxism-Leninism ignores too many factors. Namely, that the United States aligned itself with numerous, ruthless and totalitarian dictatorships. One of these, Portugal, was even a founding member of NATO, despite being led by a fascist dictator, Antonio Salazar. The narrative that the Iron Curtain separated the oppressed from those who enjoyed freedom ignores the repressive nature of anti-communist dictatorships in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Chile, Brazil, Venezuela, Guatemala, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, South Africa, Rhodesia, Zaire, South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, South Vietnam, Pakistan and other places. All of these aforementioned dictatorships murdered thousands of their own citizens in the name of combating communism (often with tacit Western backing). Indonesia’s chief thug, General Suharto, butchered more than 600,000 of his own people.
Why not also memorialize their victims? Because that would not support the narrative of the Cold War that we in the West like to remember: good guys vs. bad guys. This narrative does not take into account how complex and confusing the Cold War often was. The United States supported communist regimes that were quarrelling with other, pro-Moscow, communist regimes (Somalia, Yugoslavia and after the Vietnamese invasion, even the Khmer Rouge to an extent). The Soviets sometimes supported anti-communist dictators when their interests appeared to align (Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi come to mind); they also had friendly relations with some democratic nations (India and Finland, for example). We think of Eastern Europe as a bastion of totalitarian repression during the Cold War, but we forget that most of the nations in our own backyard (Latin America) had it just as bad, and at times worse.
Those who were tortured or killed under Suharto, Zia, Pinochet, Somoza, Chiang Kaishek, Ngo Dinh Diem, or Franco deserve to be remembered just as much as do the victims of Ceauşescu, Stalin, Honecker and Mao. Students should learn about both Vaclav Havel and Chile’s Victor Jara; when we think of the Cold War, we should not only remember the Gulag and the Berlin Wall, but also Spain’s concentration camps and the Guatemalan genocide. Even before the Cold War, Europe and Latin America were dominated by anti-communist, autocratic regimes (aside from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy) which had horrendous human rights records.
Commemorating only the victims of communism is an injustice to the victims of anticommunist totalitarianism. This myopia also smacks of ideological motivation. If we can commemorate as broad and diverse a phenomena as communism, then why not totalitarianism instead? Chris Gilmore, Ottawa