Monday, February 11, 2008
On this day:

Rep. Tom Lantos, RIP

Rep. Tom Lantos (D.-California) was the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the U.S. Congress. He was a liberal Democrat and a staunch anti-Communist during an era when many in his own party were all too willing to appease Communist aggression rather than stand fast against it.

Rep. Lantos was always outspoken and sometimes controversial, but he reserved his fiercest criticism for the totalitarians of all stripes who longed to extinguish freedom and human rights in the name of whatever radical and inhuman ideology they could latch onto in order to justify terror and oppression. From the San Francisco Chronicle's obit:
In 1987, then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping attacked Lantos by name for "slandering and vilifying China" over complaints about human rights abuses in Tibet. ...

When Yahoo, the Sunnyvale tech giant, was accused of providing the Chinese government with information that enabled them to track down and imprison dissidents who used the service, Lantos brought Jerry Yang, the company's founder, and the company's top lawyer to Washington last November and took them to task.

"While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies," he told them at the end of a three-hour hearing before his House Foreign Affairs Committee.

From the New York Times obit:
In October, members of the Dutch Parliament said he had insulted them by pointedly telling them at a meeting that some Europeans were more outraged by the Guantánamo detention center than by Auschwitz. And he once called former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany a “political prostitute” because of his ties to the Russian gas industry.
Rep. Lantos spoke at the dedication of the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C. in June 2007. That inspiring and controversial speech can be viewed here. Here is a transcript:
We are an ahistorical society, and it's absolutely mandatory that we remember the period of Communism which represented an existential threat to the civilized world. I salute and honor all those who played a role in bringing about this monument - so significant to the upcoming generation, which barely knows that not too many years ago, the Communists felt that they were the wave of the future, that the future belonged to them. And it took a handful of powerful political leaders in this country and elsewhere - Republicans and Democrats and individuals of all political persuasions - to recognize the difference between free and open and democratic societies, and Communist tyranny.

Since we are an ahistorical society, it is probably up to me, who spent most of his life in the 20th Century, to point out that Communism was not the only monstrous phenomenon determined to destroy free and open societies. It was my privilege to fight against Nazism and it was my privilege to fight against Communism. And it is now my privilege to fight against Islamist terrorism determined to take us back 13 centuries.

It was only a few months ago that I stood in Cleveland in front of a group of Hungarian Americans - Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts - commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Uprising. The 1956 Uprising was the quintessential rise of the human spirit against Communist tyranny. It had no chance of succeeding, people said. My view of the '56 Uprising is not that it was a failure; it was a delayed victory.

President Bush, who will be here in a few minutes, went to Budapest in November to commemorate that magnificent uprising, which is so symbolic of the human spirit which is unwilling to live under tyrannies in North Korea, in Iran, in Afghanistan under the Taliban, in Cuba, and in all these other places where monsters take control of government and are denying religious, political, human freedom to all their people.

There is not the slightest doubt in my mind, that long after the current tyrannies, exemplified by Ahmadinejad in Iran, will have been swept away by the forces of history, the United States of America - the "city on a hill" - the United States of America, of which not only I am proud to be a citizen, but every single individual who tasted Communism, from Albania to Estonia, knows that without the United States of America, this existential struggle for human freedom and human liberty would have been lost.

I am so glad that the era of Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Schroeder in Germany is now gone. I had occasion to point out to my German friends what we did for them in two generations. We saved them from Hitler. We gave them the Marshall Plan. We had a little sideshow called the Berlin Airlift - 253,000 flights to keep the people of Berlin fed and warm. And for two generations, we protected them from the Soviet Union. And when we asked Schroeder to stand with us, he told us where to go. I referred to him as a "political prostitute," now that he's taking big checks from Putin. But the sex workers in my district objected, so I will no longer use that phrase.

I told my French friends that Jacques Chirac should go down to the Normandy beaches. He should see those endless rows of snow white marble crosses and stars of David representing young Americans who gave their lives for the freedom of France. Under Angela Merkel in Germany and Sarkozy in Hungary - a Hungarian in France - relations with Germany and France will take a very positive turn. We will rebuild the Atlantic Alliance, and just as today, NATO has accepted its responsibility of fighting the monstrous evil of the Taliban in Afghanistan, NATO will be revitalized in the coming years as the military arm of the civilized world, to see to it that no Nazism, no Communism, no Ahmadinejadism, will prevail on this planet.
When Tom Lantos retired last month, he wrote:
It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust and a fighter in the anti-Nazi underground could have received an education, raised a family, and had the privilege of serving the last three decades of his life as a Member of Congress. I will never be able to express fully my profoundly felt gratitude to this great country.
The gratitude is mutual, Mr. Lantos. Rest in peace.