Doug Thompson

Outliving evil
By Doug Thompson
Alexander Solzhenitsyn is dead.
I’ve only read one book of his: “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.” That happened 33 years ago, but I can almost recite the sequence in which Fetiukov openly lusts for a cigarette. I remember the calls for more mortar. The rude awakening that starts the day stands out, too.
I also read novels by Dickens while I was in high school. I can hardly recall a word of any of them except for bits of “Great Expectations.”
I own “The Gulag Archipelago.” I’ve never read it. The Soviet Union had collapsed and I couldn’t get past the book’s introduction. Solzhenitsyn describes reading an article in a newspaper about an amazing find. Ancient fish frozen in ice for thousands of years were discovered. Unfortunately for science, the men who discovered them ate them.
Solzhenitsyn wrote that he knew, and once was, a man who worked in exile who had once been hungry enough to eat raw, millennium-old fish.
The man was living proof that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, at least for some people. He lived to be 89 years old. He could easily have died in those Stalinist labor camps before I was born, or of his cancer. A weaker man would have.
He had purpose. Some news report said he had a sad end, always the dissident. I don’t think any life that meant so much can possibly be considered sad. Difficult, perhaps, but he lived to see Stalinism die. Russians, as a whole, still revere Stalin. They don’t know Stalin like his victims did.
“We have to condemn publicly the very idea that some people have the right to repress others,” Solzhenitsyn wrote in “Archipelago,” according to Associated Press. “In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousandfold in the future.”
We could use a Solzhenitsyn in America.
I’d like to know what one day at Gitmo is like.
He was a nationalist and a critic. Some said he was anti-Semite. I don’t know. I know he was not simple. My impression of him from the news he made after the collapse of the Soviet Union was that he was too complex to be a bigot and too equal-opportunity of a critic to be a simple jingoist or sentimentalist for “Old Russia.”
He was a Russian living in the Soviet Union and a Russian while exiled in America. Then he was a Russian living in what was left of Russia after the Soviet Union plundered it body and soul. He never got to be a Russian in Russia, which is disappointing but not sad.
My impression is that he wasn’t often impressed. He had that right.
His opinions never mattered nearly as much as his clear observations. He never received the adulation and interest our culture of celebrity usually affords famous men while he was here. That’s because he was just as critical of us as he was of the Soviets.
In the USSR, people were arrested for being clear in criticism. In the USA, they are ignored.
He worked every day with an active mind and then dropped dead of a heart attack. He was editing a 30-volume set of his collected works when he died.
There is no better death.
He researched and exposed state terror in the 1970s in the Soviet Union. After the fall of the Soviets, researchers were amazed at how accurate he was in “Archipelago.” He did a far better job of piecing together his government’s darkest secrets than the whole free press of the United States is able or willing to do now.
What the United States has done that needs exposing is not on the massive scale of the Soviet system. There’s an ugly family resemblance, however.
He was largely ignored in later life. Sadly, he remains so relevant.
Oh, for a world in which Alexander Solzhenitsyn is no longer relevant.
That world won’t come for a very, very long time.
By that time, perhaps, there will be a Russia.

Categories: Features