Labor of love yields results

Having just handed Lee Edwards a 24-point memo on how to build a memorial in Washington, a National Parks Service official offered his own addendum: “It’s going to take longer than you think.”

That was 1995, already five years after Edwards, an author and conservative scholar who now works at the Heritage Foundation, first discussed with his wife and daughter creating a memorial to commemorate victims of communism.

Just two months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Edwards and his family worried that “people were already beginning to forget about communism,” he said.

“When you ask someone how many people died in the Nazi Holocaust, they’ll say, ‘Six million Jews.’ That number is embedded in our memory. But ask them how many people died under communism and they have no idea there were around 100 million people.”

Edwards’s wife, Anne, suggested that a memorial should be built to help people over what Edwards calls a “general amnesia” regarding the brutality of many communistic regimes.

Almost two decades after the initial table discussion, President Bush will officially dedicate the Victims of Communism Memorial in a ceremony today. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a Holocaust survivor, will give the keynote address.

The memorial, located at the intersection of New Jersey and Massachusetts avenues and G Street, is a bronze recreation of the Goddess of Democracy, the Styrofoam and papier mâché statue sculpted by Chinese student protestors at Tiananmen Square and destroyed days later by the Chinese army.

 Getting the memorial built was itself a testament to the labyrinth of U.S. regulation and the efforts of a few individuals who painstakingly went through each of the 24 steps to see that it was constructed.

Typically, the heavy lifting in Washington is in getting a bill through Congress for the president to sign. For memorials, getting the president’s signature is only Step 7, to be followed by a host of meetings with the National Capital Memorial Commission and a laundry list of other government agencies to go over site selection, environmental analysis, planning approval, construction plans, et cetera.

Step 16 lays out the following process: “After possible refinements, sponsor submits the design concept and accompanying environmental assessment to NPS [National Park Service] or GSA [General Services Administration] for approval. NPS or GSA reviews design concept, and upon concurrence, submits it to NCPC, CFA and SHPO” — the National Capital Planning Commission, the Commission of Fine Arts and the State Historic Preservation Officer, all of which also play a role.

Edwards was aided in the effort by former ambassador Lev Dobriansky. The two crafted a congressional resolution that quickly won bipartisan support.

A resolution first was introduced in May 1990, and, according to Edwards, attracted the early support of then-Sens. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), as well as Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who plans to attend the ceremony today.

Still, the resolution lagged until December 1993, when Helms and Rohrabacher forced the resolution to a measure intended to support Russian President Boris Yeltsin before a planned summit with President Clinton, according to a 15-page article Edwards penned to explain how the memorial came to be.

Clinton signed the resolution on December 17, 1993. The measure authorized the National Captive Nations Committee to construct, maintain and operate the memorial. The committee became the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which itself created an advisory board that also included Professor Richard Pipes of Harvard University, Robert Conquest of the Hoover Institution, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser.

In keeping with tradition, however, the resolution Congress authorized did not include federal money. Even more than the continuous trips to government panels, Edwards said, the main obstacle became raising money.

The commission originally had intended to build a museum modeled after the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which had cost $164 million to build.

Planners set a fundraising target of $100 million, based on the number of victims documented in The Black Book of Communism.

But Edwards said the foundation had a tough time locating a few patrons who would provide the bulk of the financing. They thought they found one in Henry Salvatori, but the businessman and philanthropist who supported conservative causes died in 1997.

“A lot of the generation, the so-called Greatest Generation who had lived through the Cold War, had died,” Edwards said.
Communism wasn’t as real of a threat for the baby boomers and later generations, which Edwards thinks hampered fundraising efforts.

A few years of work had netted $500,000. The foundation decided to downscale to a memorial, at a cost of about $1 million.

Edwards credits ethnic groups including Vietnamese Americans and other recent immigrants directly affected by communism as being critical to the success of the memorial’s development.

In 2004, Congress reiterated its support for the project. Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) spoke in favor of the resolution from the House floor. “It is vital that we as Americans remember the sacrifice so many brave men and women have made in the hope of achieving freedom from communist tyranny,” he said.

Edwards said it was his hope that the memorial would be added to school tours that typically include visits to the Vietnam and Korean War memorials.

“This is a memorial to the victims of communism and that is why we fought in Korea and Vietnam,” Edwards said.  

The foundation still has hopes of building a museum. It is also creating a virtual museum on the Internet.

While there were times Edwards grew frustrated at how long it all took, he now thinks the process is the right one.

To build a memorial in the nation’s capital should not be easy. You should be challenged,” he said.