Wed08162017

Last update12:04:13 PM GMT

Remembering Tiananmen Square - Including the Two 'Tank Men'

A day after the Tiananmen Square massacre, on the morning of June 5, 1989, photographer Jeff Widener witnessed Chinese troops attacking pro-democracy demonstrators. Photo: AP/Jeff Widener
Tomorrow is the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre - the 28th. I'm not much for anniversaries, so I'm writing today. A young man holding grocery bags stepped in front of a column of tanks. The lead tank tried to maneuver around him, but he kept standing in the way of it. Eventually, he climbed up onto the tank. He appeared to chat with someone in the tank. Then he climbed off.

To see a video of this remarkable, historic event, go here.

At some point, two people pulled him away. And that's all we know.

Who was - who is - "Tank Man," as he came to be called? No one knows. Where is he? Murdered? Alive? No one knows. He is a hero of our times.

So is the other "Tank Man": the commander of that tank. The man who refused to mow down the other guy, despite the order from the Party: Put down the protesters by any means necessary.

Who is, or was, this commander? Where is he?

Let me pause to tell you about a man I met at the Oslo Freedom Forum the other week. A Swede, he was wearing a name tag that said "Wallenberg." "Any relation?" I asked. Yes: father's second cousin.

Raoul Wallenberg was one of the great rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust. He was nabbed by the Soviets and spirited away. For decades, nobody knew where he was (though many assumed the worst). After the fall of the Soviet Union, we learned to a near certainty: Wallenberg was murdered in the Lubyanka in 1947. That's what they do.

After the fall of the PRC, will we know about the "Tank Men" - the protester and the commander who wouldn't run him down? In the meantime, a friend of mine has started a petition aimed at learning the identities and whereabouts of the Tank Men. The petition will be presented to the boss of the CCP, the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping.

My friend is Jianli Yang, a Chinese democracy leader, a Tiananmen Square survivor, an ex-political prisoner, and the founder of Initiatives for China. He started the petition with two colleagues, two other Tiananmen Square survivors: Fang Zheng, who lost both of his legs when he pushed a female student out of the way of a charging tank (she had fainted), and Zhou Fengsuo, who, after the massacre, spent a year in prison (without trial).

All three of these men are now in the United States.

If you would like to sign their petition, concerning the Tank Men, go here.

There is another concern - it has to do with UNESCO. This body has something called a "Memory of the World Program," whose aim is to preserve photos, film, and such, lest the history they document be forgotten. Jianli Yang's Initiatives for China - along with the Newseum in Washington and the photographer Charlie Cole - has nominated Tiananmen Square material for inclusion in the program. (Cole is an American who has made his career in the Far East. He was at Tiananmen Square in '89.)

You might think that Tank Man, or Tank Men, images would be a shoo-in for the Memory of the World Program. But no: The dictatorship in Beijing is putting huge pressure on UNESCO to rule against the nomination. The CCP wants the Tiananmen Square Massacre to disappear down the memory hole. It wants to erase 1989 and all that.

They ought to be told to go to hell, early.

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