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Marching Orders: A High School Band’s Communist Celebration

Posted By Arnold Ahlert On September 26, 2012 @ 12:20 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 38 Comments

A Pennsylvania high school has put together a rather startling halftime show for the school’s football games. The New Oxford High School marching band has performed “St. Petersburg 1917,” commemorating the Bolshevik Revolution that brought the communists to power and led to the formation of the Soviet Union. The band, which performed the piece at the Friday night football game on September 14th, wore olive-colored military-style uniforms, and carried red flags–along with giant hammers and sickles. “There is no reason for Americans to celebrate the Russian revolution,” said an irate parent who alerted Fox News to the debacle. “I am sure the millions who died under Communism would not see the joy of celebrating the Russian revolution by a school 10 miles from Gettysburg.”

The parent, who asked not to be identified, attended the game with his children. He was stunned by the halftime performance. “It was Glee meets the Russian Revolution,” he told Fox. “I’m not kidding you. They had giant hammers and sickles and they were waving them around. Who thought this was a good idea?” he added.

Apparently the judges at the Cavalcade of Bands Association Inc. show at Manheim Township High School on Saturday, September 22nd did. They awarded the band first place in their category, according to District superintendent Rebecca Harbaugh, who spoke with Front Page regarding the controversy. She defended the band and the performance, emphasizing that it was not a “celebration” of communism, as some media outlets characterized it. Instead the performance was intended to “present the musical importance and the struggle during this turbulent time of world history,” she insisted. “It was never intended to be a celebration,” she added.

In an earlier story Harbaugh addressed the parent who complained, noting that she was “truly sorry that somebody took the performance in that manner, I am,” she said. “If anything is being celebrated it’s the music,” she added. “It is what it is. I understand people look at something and choose how to interpret that and I’m just very sorry that it wasn’t looked at as just a history lesson.”

Paul Kengor, executive director for the Center for Vision & Values at Pennsylvania’s Grove City College, and author of  “The Communist,” put that so-called history lesson in perspective. “The Bolshevik Revolution launched a global Communist revolution that, from 1917 through the 1990s, was responsible for the deaths of over a hundred million people…What the Russian revolution unleashed was a nightmare–a historical human catastrophe. This is something that should be condemned and not in any way commemorated or laughed at,” he said.

Harbaugh told Front Page that the Conawago Valley School District was addressing the controversy. Part of that effort included removing the picture of band members posing with a large hammer and sickle from the band’s website. That picture had been linked to many of the previous stories on this controversy. “The district decided to remove the picture to protect the students,” said Harbaugh. “They’re being caught in the cross-fire, and they’ve worked way too hard to put them in this position.” When asked if the band would continue to perform the piece in its original format, Harbaugh said no. “The hammer and sickle will be replaced with traditional color guard band equipment,” she said. As for the olive-green uniforms, “they will likely stay” she added.

So will the music of Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

Critics of the program were quick to point out the obvious parallels that could be drawn, ones virtually assured of garnering unanimous condemnation. “It would be tantamount to celebrating the music of 1935 Berlin,” an offended parent said. “If I was Lithuanian, Estonian, or Ukrainian, I’d be a little hot. I’d be really hot. It’s insulting to glorify something that doesn’t need to be glorified in America.” Another local expressed his opinion on Facebook. “I think the question is whether it is appropriate for a high school band to commemorate an event that led to unimaginable brutality of millions of Russian citizens. Stalin was just not a very nice guy. The tie to socialism is also a sore subject in this day and age,” Brian Albin wrote.

Gerson Moreno-Riano, dean of Regent University’s College of Arts & Sciences, addressed that brutality. “The Russian revolution was one of the most violent episodes of the 20th Century,” he said. “Lenin put into place a doctrine of mass terror to crush the opposition and thousands and thousands of people were murdered. It’s full of violence, terror, destruction and in some weeks thousands of people were executed–some thrown with rocks around their necks into the river to drown,” he added.

The group photograph of the band posing with the hammer and sickle rankled him equally as much. “To raise the emblems of the hammer and sickle–the emblems of so much violence, destruction and terror–is a lack of knowledge of history,” he said. Or is it? “The worst case scenario is someone who is trying to celebrate something they know about–and they’re trying to insert this into their educational agenda,” he speculated.

It is unlikely that the adults involved here are ignorant of history. Yet it is quite likely the students are. A 2010 study done by National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reveals that American students’ knowledge of history is limited at best. “It’s worth noting that of the seven school subjects tested by NAEP, history has the smallest proportion of students who score Proficient or above in the most recent assessment available,” said Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch in a statement released in 2011. “The results of this assessment tell us that we as a nation must pay more attention to the teaching of U.S. history.”

Make that history, period. Superintendent Harbaugh revealed that this program had been planned for a while. In fact, the band’s website, under the heading of “Band Camp 2012 Wrap-Up,” noted a performance of  ”St. Petersburg: 1917″ took place before the football season began, and that “everyone is excited about the possibilities for the coming season. We hope to see you at a football game or competition sometime soon!” Yet somehow no one even anticipated the possibility that a bunch of high school kids marching in olive-green uniforms, and carrying hammers and sickles, would be offensive.

Unfortunately, that lack of anticipation is eminently plausible. Despite being one of the most brutal and oppressive ideologies ever inflicted upon mankind, communism has never provoked the same level of disgust that other oppressive ideologies, most notably Nazism, have. This pernicious double-standard is easily illuminated: is there any doubt whatsoever that a high school band, playing German music to express a “turbulent time in history”–even as they carried swastikas to represent that particular period of history–would be universally condemned?

It is a badly kept secret that communism, despite the fact that it is responsible for the deaths of ten times as many people as Nazism, retains a certain level of “chic” within the precincts of the American left. That attraction is motivated by leftist visions of a socialist utopian society, despite the abject failure to achieve such a society time and time again throughout the course of history. It is also motivated by a gargantuan level of hubris: leftists remain convinced those failures can be primarily  attributed to the idea that the “wrong people were in charge.” As a result, the American left was determined to pursue “detente” with the Soviet Union right up to its collapse.

Thus, it remains completely unsurprising that there are people who believe a marching band commemorating communism is indeed a “good idea.” And while such an effort ought to offend most Americans, it should also act as a reminder of something critically important: the battle for this nation’s heart and soul is not taking place in Washington, D.C. It is taking place in public school classrooms across this nation, and it is a battle the American left is determined to win–even if America’s children are given their “marching orders” in the process.


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