Impromptus

Sweet Solidarity, Part I

by Jay Nordlinger

In a recent issue of National Review (July 7), I had a piece called “Living Not by Lies: A gathering of the anti-Communist tribes.” It was, is, an essay about Communism and anti-Communism. It was prompted by events hosted by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, in Washington, D.C. To read this essay, go here.

I do not intend to recapitulate it here in Impromptus. I’d like to add to it, giving you some spillover — a bit of milkshake in the silver canister, which supplements the main serving in the parfait glass. See what you think.

The world sometimes seems organized around anniversaries. Journalism sometimes seems that way, too. This year marks the 20th anniversary of VOC (the shorthand for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation). It is also the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. In November, it will be 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

VOC, by its own description, is a “U.S.-based non-profit educational organization” designed to “educate this generation and future generations about the ideology, history, and legacy of communism.” For the VOC website, go here.

The organization’s executive director is Marion Smith. When told he is from South Carolina, I said, “A descendant of Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox?” The answer is yes.

Let me quote from my essay: “The most visible achievement of VOC so far has been the erection of a memorial near Capitol Hill. It is a replica of the ‘Goddess of Democracy,’ fashioned by the students in Tiananmen Square.”

The sculptor is Thomas Marsh, “not just an artist but a believer: He waived his fee in sculpting this memorial. And let me say, in a gratuitous aside, that he is a longtime and warmly admiring subscriber to National Review.”

Indeed, and that is an honor. In conversation with Marsh, I learned that he has a couple of connections to Rodin. One of his mentors is Milton Hebald, who, as he (Hebald) likes to say, was born the year Rodin died: 1917. Hebald was taught by a woman who was taught by a man who studied with Rodin.

Marsh was also taught by Kenneth Glenn, whose mentor was Ivan Meštrović, whose mentor was Rodin. “Meštrović was truly a great sculptor,” Marsh tells me.

On the morning of June 11, there was a ceremony around the VOC statue. I report some things about this ceremony in my NR piece. I would like to add this: The clergyman gave an invocation that spoke of “those lost to the scourge of Communism.” And I will tell you what I told him:

I have heard many, many invocations at events such as this ceremony. They are almost never prayers: They are longish speeches, with a little praying thrown in for lip service. They are opportunities for the clergyman to show off: to seize a platform. This guy gave a genuine invocation, one that was short and sweet.

And his benediction was equally apt and good. A near miracle.

One of the speakers at the ceremony was Annette Lantos, widow of Tom Lantos, the congressman from California — and a Hungarian-born Jew who survived the Holocaust. He was a great champion of human rights around the world (including in Cuba, which a lot of people ignore, or lie about). Mrs. Lantos was absolutely charming. She said that she had reached an age where she is considered “a guardian of the community’s memory.” And one of “life’s little jokes” is that, as soon as you become a guardian of memory, your memory starts to slip.

She said that she is sometimes tempted to “put down my sword and put up my feet.” But she resists this temptation. Quoting Frost, she said she has miles to go before she sleeps.

Dana Rohrabacher was also a speaker at the ceremony. He is another California congressman, although I guess I’ll always think of him as a Reagan speechwriter. He told the crowd that he was wearing his brown suit, in honor of the late president. Reagan wore a brown suit, and was one of the few who did. He liked that suit a lot, and, of course, wore it well.

Everyone is all warm and fuzzy about Reagan now — ooh, the Gipper. But Rohrabacher reminded the audience that many, many people hated him when he was in office, and did everything they could to thwart him.

Before leaving the rostrum, Rohrabacher said he saw two great threats today: radical Islam and China. He does not seem too shy about either of those challenges. I like it.

At the ceremony, there were many people with Ph.D.’s, so it was “Dr.” this and “Dr.” that — “Dr. Smith,” “Dr. Jones.” You know, as in the South. (I guess Washington, D.C., is sort of the South, still.) This is a very touchy subject, of course. I once wrote a piece on it: “Is There a Dr. in the House? What’s in an honorific.”

I smiled a little when I thought of my friend Jianli Yang, who was a speaker at the ceremony. He is an important Chinese democracy activist, and a scholar. As regular readers may remember, he has two Ph.D.’s: one in math from Berkeley, and the other in political economy from Harvard. Smilingly, I thought, “Should he be ‘Dr. Dr.,’ as in Germany?”

I have told Jianli many times, “I am in awe of your heroism in the face of the Chinese Communists, but I think I’m even more in awe of your math Ph.D. from Berkeley.” He just smiles.

Following the ceremony was a lunch, at which the Hungarian ambassador spoke. He is György Szapáry. When he was a kid, the new rulers, the Communists, told him that he was a class enemy. He’d had no idea. He thought he was just a kid, getting along just fine with his classmates and everyone else. He escaped with his family, as I understand it. These days, he says, he is serving the country he loves (i.e., Hungary) in a country he loves (America) — which is nice.

After lunch, there was a panel discussion including Richard Pipes. As readers know, Pipes is a leading historian of Russia. And he is a scholar of granitic integrity. Consider this:

He was speaking to a roomful of rah-rah Reagan right-wingers like me. You know what our line is, about the Cold War and its dénouement: “Reagan said, ‘Tear down this wall,’ the pope said, ‘Be not afraid,’ Margaret Thatcher cut taxes (or something), and bam: Ivan said, ‘No más.’” Well, this is deficient, and Pipes knows it — and does not shrink from saying so.

As he said on the panel, and has said frequently, “the collapse of Soviet Communism was primarily an internal affair.” External factors had an influence, of course — and thank heaven for Reagan et al. (I’m as Reagan-crazy as they come, trust me. A college classmate teasingly called me ‘Gip,’ because I loved the president so much.) But Pipes is a real scholar, one who goes where the facts lead him, wherever that may be.

He could claim some credit for the collapse of Soviet Communism. In the last stage of the Cold War, he was not only a scholar but a political actor: the leader of “Team B,” which challenged the CIA’s view of Soviet strengths, and Reagan’s man on the National Security Council staff for Soviet and East European affairs.

But no: Pipes is stubborn for the truth. It has served him well (and often left him the odd man out). I think of him as an example.

Anyway, I’ll have more notes tomorrow, and I thank you for joining me.