The Generation That Knew Not Josef

Outgoing Senator Jeff Flake—an old friend from years ago before he entered electoral politics—has roiled the waters with his recent remarks that were said (not quite accurately) to have compared President Trump to Josef Stalin. This purported comparison understandably upset conservatives (and Flake was quick to correct the Tweet-fueled mischaracterization of his point), but I naturally wondered if he wasn’t onto a brilliant bit of misdirection: Everyone knows that Trump is Hitler, not Stalin. If you’re on the left and you hear Trump is Stalin, you might think . . . oh, wait, that’s right—the Left likes Stalin. Very clever of Senator Flake, though of course CNN is exceedingly easy to fool.

In I Change Worlds, for example, the credulous Anna Louise Strong wrote that “one must not make a god of Stalin; he was too important for that.” The New York Times spent much of the last year commemorating the centennial of the Russian Revolution with an astonishingly high number of positive portrayals of life under Soviet rule. For example, the Times claimed that the sex was better under Soviet rule, which may help explain why Harvey Weinstein went so wrong, come to think of it.

This doesn’t work at all.

Of course, it was bad enough back when the left practiced self-imposed deception. But now we are suffering from amnesia, an equally deliberate self-forgetting that now manifests itself in surveys showing growing fondness for socialism, especially among the millennials who think Bernie Sanders is something new. One problem here is that lots of millennials these days don’t really have any perception about Stalin at all, let alone the phenomenon of Communism more broadly. This is the generation that knew not Josef, to borrow the passage from the Book of Exodus. “Stalin? Stalin? Who dat?  I think maybe I heard them open for Slayer at the Warfield back in 2011? ‘Stalin’ doesn’t show up on my social media—it’s all so confusing!”

Fortunately we have the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation to carry on the work of keeping historical memory alive, lest in our forgetfulness we let it back in. And the Foundation has some practical programs to help reach the net generation—specifically, they offer a summer professional development seminar for high school teachers, held in Washington DC and taught by a first-rate faculty of sensible people. If you are a high school history or social studies teacher (or you know one) you should consider signing up for one.

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