Why is a D-Day memorial paying homage to Stalin?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

AMERICANS GENERALLY avoid publicly memorializing foreign tyrants who commit murder on an epic scale. That fine custom is all the more sensible when it applies to struggling private foundations whose solvency depends on the goodwill of the public and, specifically, patriotic veterans for whom murderous dictators are not a big selling point.

Somehow, all this failed to register with the people who run the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., about 200 miles southwest of Washington. Not long ago, they installed a bronzed bust of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin to accompany those of Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. They did so despite public protests, the memorial's serious financial problems and the possibly pertinent fact that Stalin played no direct role in the D-Day landings.

The D-Day memorial was authorized by Congress and dedicated by President George W. Bush in 2001 to recognize the valor of Allied forces who fought and died in Normandy in June 1944. It's a stirring collection of exhibits: imposing statues; narrative plaques; a stylized replica of a landing craft; a sculpture depicting a soldier lying dead on the beach; simulations of the withering enemy fire that raked disembarking troops; a wall bearing the names of thousands of the dead; and a slightly grandiose arch bearing D-Day's Allied codename: Overlord. Bedford was chosen because 22 of its sons died on D-Day, more per capita than in any other town in America. But ticket sales and donations have been modest, and the memorial, with no federal funding, faces an uncertain future.

Officials of the foundation that runs the memorial note that a plaque accompanying Stalin's bust pays tribute to "the tens of millions who died under Stalin's rule." But casual visitors may assume its inclusion implies lionization, and they will be forgiven for not reading the fine print.

In the Soviet Union itself, most statues and other images of Stalin were removed from public view a half century ago in recognition of the fact that he ranks among history's most homicidally prolific autocrats. Veterans groups and others are organizing petition drives demanding the bust's removal from the memorial. The D-Day Memorial Foundation's newly named president, Robin Reed, would be wise if, in his first major decision, he acceded to their demand.

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