By: Mike Sabo
Many Americans today assume that the threat of Communism subsided with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. But “We continue to see Communist and socialist regimes pop up and spread not only in Latin America – for example, in Venezuela and Nicaragua – but around the world,” says Ambassador Andrew Bremberg, president and CEO of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC). “These regimes regularly kill their own citizens and have a devastating effect on human rights and their national economies.” In fact, over 1.5 billion people – including those living in Laos, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and, of course, China – currently live under oppressive Communist and socialist governments.
Founded in 1993 by a bipartisan, unanimous Act of Congress, VOC is “devoted to commemorating the more than 100 million victims of communism around the world and to pursuing the freedom of those still living under totalitarian regimes.”
Before coming to VOC, Bremberg served as the Trump administration’s Representative of the United States to the Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva. During his time there, which he describes as a “profound and life changing experience,” he “became aware of the challenge of China,” which was “far worse” than he had realized. He notes that the U.N. International Human Rights Council made investigating the United States’ record on racism during the summer of 2020 its highest priority – putting it above China’s appalling human rights violations against Uyghurs, among other ethnic groups within its borders.
“Communist countries by far have the worst record on human rights, past and present,” Bremberg argues. “Their brutality is only outdone by their lies and obfuscations.” Seeing this moral imbalance up close convinced him of the “need to educate Americans about the dangers of Communism today.”
American civic education, Bremberg states, entails not only understanding the structure of our form of government but also the world around us. Pointing to the competing claims of the 1619 Project and the 1776 Commission, he notes that while we should be willing to “be self-critical and examine our past,” we also need to view our nation in comparison to others, especially ones existing under Communism’s iron fist.
While Bremberg says that the United States has done an excellent job highlighting the horrors of the Holocaust in K-12 education – he recalls the effect that reading Anne Frank’s personal diary has had on generations of students – students’ understanding of Communism is weak by comparison. VOC spotlights Communism’s devastating record and the continuing threat it poses to free government by “telling powerful stories and highlighting examples of Communism’s victims.” These stories, he argues, “capture our imaginations, creating deeper connections” that will help students “learn core truths” that will stick with them.
VOC offers a number of resources to do just that. Its Witness Project is an award-winning video series featuring victims of Communism telling powerful, heart-wrenching stories. One video highlights the harrowing journey of Ji Seong-ho, who escaped North Korea by walking ten thousand kilometers on crutches. President Trump recognized his bravery and courage during an unforgettable moment during the 2018 State of the Union Address.
Other programs and content include VOC’s annual National Education Seminar for middle and high school teachers (it will be live-streamed starting next year), a complete curriculum with fact sheets highlighting what Communism has wrought on the world stage, and Communism in the World webinars featuring thoughtful presentations from experts. VOC’s three fellowship programs on China, Latin America, and Poland feature articles, reports, and books by affiliated scholars that cover all aspects of Communism. The Baltic Fellowship program should begin next year with an Estonian scholar working with VOC in D.C.
Students can visit the Victims of Communism Memorial statue in Washington, D.C., which commemorates those killed by Communist regimes. Dedicated by President George W. Bush on the 20th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s famous “Tear Down this Wall” speech, the statue depicts the “Goddess of Democracy” holding a torch – the same statue Chinese students erected during the famous protests in Tiananmen Square.
Upcoming events include the China Forum – a conference featuring scholars and speakers on the issues and challenges related to the People’s Republic of China – and an event in St. Louis to commemorate VOC’s Memorial Day, which occurs annually on November 7. Audiences will hear gripping accounts from those who experienced Communism’s tyranny firsthand.
In 2022, VOC will proudly open “a world-class, digitally integrated museum” in Washington, D.C. that will provide “a captivating visitor experience,” a goal more than 25 years in the making. Located at McPherson Square, the museum will be an “international hub of scholarship and citizen engagement for the 21st century anticommunist movement.”
“Through Western capitalism and democracy,” Bremberg argues, “we can better protect human rights and improve our system over time through self-correction by civic participation” – an approach that makes a stark contrast with the horrors that Communism has inflicted upon hundreds of millions of people in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Mike Sabo is the editor of RealClear’s American Civics portal.