Speaker For The Dead


Writing for CNN, David Frum makes an excellent proposal for honoring Ronald Reagan on the centennial of his birth:

“To date, the main attempts to honor Reagan in the nation’s capital have gone askew. A government office building second in size only to the Pentagon? An airport from which Washingtonians cannot fly to California? These do not seem very appropriate monuments to a president who fought bureaucracy and yearned for home.

The other ideas that sometimes circulate in Congress seem equally misplaced: Placing Reagan on the currency or building a giant statue somewhere in Washington. More than most presidents, Reagan would have wanted to be remembered for his ideas, not his image. The right commemoration would honor those.

Let me suggest something: A museum in Washington dedicated to the victims of communism.”

Frum links this piece from his own website, FrumForum.  The response from his readership, which does not exactly skew conservative, is both sad and hilarious.  The forum is filled with desperate attempts by sobbing liberals to rewrite history so Reagan had nothing to do with the fall of Communism at all.  This underscores the need for precisely the sort of memorial Frum has in mind.

The world is rightly filled with testaments to the evil of fascism, from museums to books and movies, but the butcher’s bill from communism is quietly ignored.  Communism retains a certain trendy allure on college campuses, where tenured crackpots assure their students its triumph awaits only the right dictators to implement social justice… and they were so certain they voted for such a leader in 2008, but now they’re a bit disappointed, for the exact opposite reasons as the rest of us.

The symbols of communism are not shunned, as the swastika and images of Hitler are.  There was a very mild controversy during the 2008 election, when a flag bearing the likeness of Che Guevara was photographed hanging in a Houston office of the Obama campaign.  It is inconceivable that any American political candidate would survive the discovery of a campaign office decorated with posters of Hitler.  In fact, such would be political suicide almost anywhere, except those quarters of the Middle East where they deny the Holocaust ever happened, and simultaneously wish Hitler had finished what he started.

Any student trapped in a lecture hall with an aging hippie who says Reagan made no significant contribution to the fall of the Berlin Wall should know the same guy was confidently predicting the inevitable victory of communism, a month before the Wall came down.  Anyone who wears a T-shirt of Che Guevara should be able to recite the names of his victims.  Those who think communism just needs another chance to succeed should learn how many people died to grant its previous dozen chances.

The grand truth that would be enshrined in a Reagan memorial to the victims of communism is the importance of providing a tireless moral challenge to the fundamental evil of collectivist politics.  Fascism, communism, socialism… these are all names for the same nightmare, which all head for the same bleak destination at varying speeds.  They run together into an ugly blur as they die from the same failures.  Ask the Greeks if socialism has a body count.

The practical failure of collectivism is linked to its moral horror.  There is no way to fuse a disparate population into a single collective without using massive amounts of coercive force.  Each degree of fusion requires an exponential increase in force.  The sort of power it takes to perform the final stages of fusion demands a certain sort of person to apply it… and every state run by such people becomes a torture chamber.

The socialist can impose his vision on society through entitlements, subsidies, and punitive taxation.  The communist overlord of a starving population has nothing left to use except bullets.  The span between those extremes is a continuum… a journey every collectivist system undertakes, a path of failure leading from good intentions to mass graves.

Mankind is not, and never will be, what the collectivist requires him to be.  If people were willing to live in a collective, they would create them spontaneously, and it would not be necessary to surround them with armed guards and razor wire.  The early stages of resistance to collectivism come in the form of reduced prosperity, as the avoidance of taxation causes free choice – the source of all wealth – to wither.  Eventually collectivism can no longer siphon enough wealth from a collapsing economy to pay for its promised benefits.  The next stage of its degeneration is brutal, since it cannot admit its mistakes, or return the liberty it has taken.  As Americans were repeatedly told over the past year, there is no “reverse” on the gear shift.

Ronald Reagan, along with Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, maintained moral pressure against communism, which was very good at hiding its practical failures behind a curtain of lies.  Western academics and journalists were not eager to peer behind that curtain.  The leadership Reagan provided was vital nourishment for people who were starved for liberty, as well as food.  His words rolled like distant thunder through the gulags, inspiring dissident heroes.  The thunder broke over Berlin in six words that shattered a fortress built from concrete and corpses:

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Those words will echo through history.  There should be a place we can go to honor the man who spoke them – in defiance of advice from all the “smart people” of his day – and remember the dead he never forgot, and was never willing to ignore.  Let me replay the crackdown against Iranian dissidents, and the murder of Neda Soltan, with Ronald Reagan in the White House, and I will show you what a difference moral leadership makes in the struggle against tyranny. 

Liberty is the denial of tyranny, not its absence.  That denial was not meant to be whispered.  I agree with Mr. Frum.  Let us remember a man who never lowered his voice, along with the people he spoke for.

(With respect and admiration for the writing of Orson Scott Card, whose work suggested the title for this essay.)