June 3, 2008

Victims of Communism/Victims of Memorials

Family came to visit this weekend and naturally they wanted to see the Victims of Communism Memorial (VCM). Well, no, they didn’t really. It’s just that I’ve taken them to all the other memorials and they hadn’t seen this one yet. In fact, they had never heard of it. (It's located at Mass. Ave. and First St., NW). It was dedicated on June 12, 2007 by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, an organization established pursuant to HR 3000, sponsored by Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Senator Claiborne Pell, and Senator Jesse Helms (and signed by then President Clinton) "to construct, maintain, and operate in the District of Columbia an appropriate international memorial to honor victims of communism..." On behalf of DC, thanks.

To be fair, the VCM is far from the worst looking public sculpture in Washington DC. It’s not even the worst looking memorial. The competition in both categories is fierce and, perhaps, the subject for further discussion and disputation. (Have you ever really looked at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial at Judiciary Square?)

In case you did not gather from the image above, the VCM is a petite, intentionally crude version of the Statue of Liberty (SOL). It’s intentionally crude because, in true Society of the Spectacle (SOS) fashion, it is an imitation of a picture of a simulacrum of a representation. In short, the VCM reprises photographs of the 1989 Tiananmen Square copy of the SOL. This is beginning to sound all Iwo Jima in it’s complex relationships of copies to copies.

Oddly, onsite there is no discernible reference to the sculptor. A little research discloses its author to be Thomas Marsh of Orange, Va. According to his website, Marsh has done portrait sculpture of Betty White and Dick Van Dyke for Disney World, lots of religious statues and so on, all of which appear to be perfectly serviceable.

So much for the art and artist and on to the utterly loathsome, hypocritical, swollen bad consciousness of the whole despicable project. The VCM foundation claims that it’s a tribute to “the 100 million people who have been killed by communist totalitarian regimes worldwide,” which they pointedly describe as a 'holocaust.' On the sculpture’s base is inscribed, “To the more than one hundred million victims of communism…” (emphasis added). Well, that’s both more and less – bigger number, but 'victim' could mean anything, really – not necessarily dead. Not much here in the way of confidence inspiring precision, let alone documentation. To paraphrase Reagan, a million here, a million there, pretty soon you’re talking about real numbers. Why do I think these are the same people who would quibble over figures on Iraqi victims of the illegal US occupation down the ones column?

The difficulties with the VCM are too immense and too complex to address in one posting. Can I just say that for Washington, where creepy politicians, capitalists and bureaucrats spent half a century supporting vicious fascist regimes, sponsoring death squads, encouraging, paying for, and directly ordering countless murders of democratically inclined left wing activists, labor leaders, and human rights workers all over the globe, this should be an unbearable stain. Except, it’s so small, so over the top in it’s misguided intentions that it’s really just kind of pathetic and ridiculous. I suggest a visit soon. Maybe 10:30 AM on June 12 for the anniversary celebration. There a lunch at Georgetown Law School afterward.