Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is dead, and the world is a far poorer place. He was a giant of the 20th century. He stood up unarmed but fearless and defied the mighty Soviet Union until it had no choice but to spit him out into exile.
Amidst all of the well-deserved eulogies he has received, the greatest compliments were paid to him by the Communists. They hate him still and vomited vitriol when they heard the news of his death. The Communists, at least, recognize the man who did more than any other one man to kill their empire and expose their philosophy for the poison that it is.
After Solzhenitsyn's exposure of the gulags, not even the most cynical American Marxist could get away with the same old lies that there were benevolent things in the communist system and that Josef Stalin was anything but a paranoid killer with more blood on his hands than Adolf Hitler.
Solzhenitsyn can be best appreciated in context. He was born in 1918. His father died before he was born, and his mother raised him in Rostov-on-Don, an industrial city in southwest Russia. He graduated with a degree in mathematics and went into the army when the Germans invaded in 1941. He was a captain in the artillery. Stalin's secret police snatched him out of the front lines and arrested him for having written some unflattering things about the dictator in a private letter to a friend. He was sentenced to eight years in the labor camps.
He developed cancer, and before his sentence was complete, he was sentenced further to permanent exile. After Stalin's death, he was able to teach and continue his writing, which he had done secretly in the camps. A brave Russian publisher got his novella One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in print, but the Communists immediately clamped down.
He was a leading dissident and resorted to private printings and to slipping his manuscripts out of the country. In 1973, The Gulag Archipelago, his graphic description of the prisons and Soviet tyranny, was published. The following year, he was arrested for treason and exiled.
He lived in Cavendish, Vermont, from 1975 to 1994, when he ended his exile. While in the U.S., he made several stinging criticisms of the West's weaknesses and what he saw as capitulations to tyranny. This did not endear him to the American establishment.
Solzhenitsyn's great mind and his complex thoughts can't be summarized easily, but he is certainly worth reading. His criticisms of our Western culture were valid. He never criticized the American people but aimed at the elite who, at that time, were compromising with tyrants all over the place and spouting a materialistic philosophy.
Jimmy Carter practically dismantled America's defenses, pardoned draft dodgers, betrayed American allies, and seemed to embrace leftist guerrillas.
One part of history Americans need to know is how much material aid was given to the Soviet Union by America. The largest truck factory in the world, located in Russia, was financed by Western banks. All kinds of aid, financial and political, helped to prop up Stalin's regime.
The key to understanding Solzhenitsyn is that he was a devout Christian. That never got much play in the American press, but he never played the part of a professional Christian. Nevertheless, his Christian beliefs were deep and are at the root of his thinking.
He was an admirer of Vladimir Putin, as I am, because he recognized that Putin was saving Russia from disintegration. Solzhenitsyn believed in a moral and spiritual regeneration. Read some of his books, and I think you will see that he well deserved the Nobel Prize that he received.
Charley Reese has been a journalist for 50 years.