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Of course, it’s customary at year’s end to share our favorite news items from the year past. As someone who teaches and writes about history, I tend to focus on historical things I fear are lost to American education.
So, my enduring “news item” of 2010 falls under the category of historical outrage, though it is redeemed somewhat by another item considerably more positive. I’d like to link them here as a teachable moment.
My outrage of 2010: the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., erected a statue of Joseph Stalin, architect of the Great Purge, Ukrainian famine, gulag, war on religion, and countless millions of deaths. We learned about this travesty thanks to the vigilance of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which created a website (www.stalinstatue.com) to call attention to this moral-historical obscenity. The site features a petition, with thousands of signatures from around the world. Addressed to the National D-Day Memorial Foundation and President Obama’s interior secretary, it demanded that the “true history of World War II must be protected from distortion and misinformation.”
Among the distortion and misinformation, as noted by the petition: “neither Joseph Stalin nor Soviet forces played any part in the D-Day landing at Normandy.”
Worse, it was Stalin, via the August 1939 Hitler-Stalin “Non-Aggression” Pact, who helped launch World War II in the first place, ultimately leading to D-Day—i.e., the horrible deaths suffered by all those American boys on those beaches in France.
Ironically, such disinformation was once the crass domain of Kremlin propagandists, of Stalin’s in-house stooges. That this absurdity would happen in America today, by educators, is breathtaking. Well, it happened in 2010.
My sources tell me that the Stalin statue has since been removed, though reportedly as part of a compromise merely to move it to another exhibit. They fear it hasn’t gone away for good. Without a stake in the chest in a sealed coffin stuffed with garlic, they dread that Stalin could rise again in Bedford, especially if we don’t stand vigilant with torches and crosses.
I’m not optimistic.
On the plus side, however, 2010 finally shed the light of truth upon one of Stalin’s most heinous acts. The light was cast not by Americans in Bedford but, ironically, by Russians in Moscow. It was a long-overdue moment of justice concerning the Katyn Woods massacre.
The slaughter at Katyn was one of the worst war crimes of the bloody 20th century, rooted in that pact between Hitler and Stalin, who in September 1939 jointly invaded, annihilated, and partitioned Poland. The Soviets seized thousands of Polish military officers as prisoners. The fate of those Poles was secretly sealed on March 5, 1940 when Stalin himself signed their death warrant, condemning 21,857 of them to “the supreme penalty: shooting.”
What happened next remained a state secret for decades. The Polish officers were taken to three primary sites, the most infamous of which bears the name of the crime: the Katyn Woods, located near Smolensk, Russia. There, these unsuspecting men were methodically slaughtered. The Bolsheviks covered their crime with a thin layer of dirt.
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