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Deadlier Than Stalin? Our Profound Ignorance of the Crimes of Communism

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By Dr. Paul Kengor

“Many Millennials Think Bush Killed More Than Stalin.” Such was the surreal subject head sitting in my email box one morning. “Holy @#$%!” wrote a colleague in response. “This is mind-boggling…. This is scary, scary, scary.”

It sure is. It also isn’t surprising. Such profound, disturbing ignorance is a direct result of what Americans have learned about communism in our horrid system of education, from high schools to colleges. The failure is massive.

According to a stunning new report by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, one-third of Millennials (32%) “believe more people were killed under George W. Bush than under Joseph Stalin.” And it isn’t just those silly Millennials that we like to view as clueless. One in four Americans generally (26%) believe more people were killed under Bush than Stalin.

That is breathtaking. Truly incredible.

That rather sickening finding was just one by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which has the noble objective of trying to correct America’s ignoble ignorance of the crimes of communism.
For a sense of proportion, Hitler’s mad genocide against Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, the mentally disabled, the elderly, the handicapped, and others he deemed “misfits,” was approximately 10 million (six million of them Jews). The combined dead from World Wars I and II—the most destructive conflicts in human history—was 50-60 million. Communism’s body count surpasses both world wars combined and probably doubled.Among the basic facts that every American should know: At least 100 million people have died under communist governments. That ghastly number, tabulated two decades ago by The Black Book of Communism, the seminal work on the subject by Harvard University Press, is actually conservative. For instance, the Black Book recorded merely 20 million dead in the Soviet Union. Alexander Yakovlev, one of Mikhail Gorbachev’s top aides, was given the official task of trying to quantify the victims. In a 2002 book published by Yale University Press, A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia, Yakovlev estimated that Stalin alone “annihilated … sixty to seventy million people”—figures consistent with those estimated by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, among others. Similar levels of bloodshed were wrought by China’s Mao Tse-tung, who was responsible for the deaths of 65 million, according to the Black Book, and possibly more than 70 million, according to more recent biographical studies. And then there were the killing fields of North Korea, Cambodia, Cuba, Ethiopia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and more. Really, the death generated by communist governments over the last 100 years is likely closer to 140 million.

And yet, Americans’ knowledge of this vast sea of destruction is atrocious, which brings me back to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

The foundation is seeking to document this ignorance on a regular basis via its first “Annual Report on U.S. Attitudes Towards Socialism.” According to the report, the vast majority of Americans (75%) underestimate the number of people killed by communist regimes, and a strong majority (68%) believe that Hitler killed more people than Stalin.

Death tallies aside, not only do they not see Stalin for the killer he was, but their views on communism are not terribly negative.

Just 37 percent of Millennials had a “very unfavorable” view of communism. One quarter (25%) of Millennials have a “favorable” view of Vladimir Lenin, namesake of Marxism-Leninism, the vicious architect and godfather of the Bolshevik totalitarian state. And 42% of Millennials are flatly “unfamiliar” with Mao Tse-tung.

It gets worse: 64% of Americans agree with Karl Marx’s classic credo that underpins communist philosophy: “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

Thus, it’s not surprising that close to half (45 percent) of Americans aged 16 to 20 (first-time voters in this presidential election) said they would vote for a socialist, and 21 percent would vote for a communist.  Of course, that’s reflected in what happened in 2016, as Bernie Sanders, a lifelong self-professed “socialist,” received 13 million votes in the Democratic primary. To give you a sense of that number’s significance, Donald Trump got 14 million votes in the Republican primary, and that was a record for a Republican primary.

This is not a failure to teach history; it is a failure to teach communist and socialist history. We haven’t neglected to teach that Nazism was evil, that Hitler was a mass-murderer, that fascism is bad. We long ago failed when it came to communism, Marxism-Leninism, Bolshevism, the USSR, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Che, Pol Pot, North Korea’s crazy Kims, and on and on.

Importantly, that failure is often the result of ideological biases, especially among leftist teachers and professors. Liberals and progressives do not suffer the same historical negligence when it comes to teaching the crimes of fascism and Nazism. They do a bang-up job with Hitler’s crimes, but not Stalin’s.

And the result is seen in this study. You reap what you sow.

More death under George W. Bush than Joseph Stalin? Good grief, comrade.

First published at Center For Vision and Values

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