Public distrust of unchecked centralized government is a very good thing.

Consider the legacy of communism, a system that uses unbridled centralized state power in order to maintain its grip. The more than 100 million victims of communism provide ample evidence of this fact.

Among communism's chief tools is a penal system for those who resist conformity with its prescription for utopia.

In the Soviet Union, this tool was called the "Gulag." The term -- a Russian acronym for Main Administration of Camps -- is now synonymous with the methodical cruelty of forced labor as practiced under totalitarian regimes.

Today there is precious little public awareness of the crimes of the Gulag. But by next summer we will have a powerful reminder. A new exhibit in the Global Museum on Communism, a project of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation will feature an online 3-D gulag experience.

The trailer to "The Gulag Exhibit" www.globalmuseumoncommunism.com/Gulag was introduced recently at the National Press Club by journalist Jon Basil Utley whose father was executed in a Gulag camp:

"You're cold, hungry and wet. . . ."

Welcome to the Gulag.

Enter the wooden barracks after a full day breaking rocks by hand, trudging in the permafrost regions of the north. Your body struggles to adapt to a starvation diet of thin gruel and a small ration of bread. You strive to achieve any faint sensation of warmth.

You are a "non-person."

And what is your crime? Society labels you "an enemy of the people," perhaps because you told a joke about a political leader . . . or merely laughed at such a joke. You are cut off from family and friends. Yet the system works to cut you off even further -- from your very self.

Your fellow prisoners? They vie for an extra piece of bread or whatever scraps of privilege authorities may offer in exchange for informing on a peer's infractions. You soon learn that compliance could mean a promotion from prisoner to guard.

Under the banner of communism millions were sentenced to live -- and often to die -- in the thousands of prison camps that made up the Gulag system throughout the hinterlands of Soviet Union.

And yet very few people even know about it.

Preserving the memory of tyranny's victims is key to the survival of our own freedom and freedom around the globe.

Thanks to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and its chairman, Lee Edwards, that purpose is being fulfilled.

Because of the foundation's work, a monument to communism's 100 million victims now stands on Capitol Hill, the online Global Museum on Communism exists, and the development of school curricula on the subject of communism is now in progress.

"People are properly aware of the Holocaust," Edwards said. "But one American in maybe a thousand or ten thousand has ever heard of the forced labor camps of the Gulag."

"The Gulag Exhibit" will include footage heretofore buried in archives and documentation from various Gulag scholars such as Anne Applebaum, author of the monumental work, "Gulag: A History."

From such sources we learn how 2,000 men -- among them Jon Utley's father -- were executed in groups of 40 by machine-gun fire in the brick quarry of a Gulag camp in Soviet Russia.

"It's just shocking what happened, and it's shocking that so few people know about it," says independent filmmaker Marcus Kolga, who is developing the Gulag exhibit. Raising public awareness is key for Kolga, himself the grandson of a Gulag survivor.

The Gulag form of slavery was sanctioned in the name of achieving social and economic justice. Yet such utopianism always serves as the enabler of centralized power, and such centralized power has always been utopianism's natural outcome.

We too easily forget that the hunger for power, even with the best of intentions will always align with monolithic government when given the chance.

Americans are blessed with a system in which power is checked, providing an effective barrier to such atrocities.

But we must always distrust that hunger for power. And we must never forget.

Examiner contributor Stella Morabito covers issues of society, culture and education. She has a master's degree in Russian and Soviet history.