Sunday, August 10, 2008

RIP Alexander Solzhenitsyn

By Rick Morris

One of the greatest and most important, although underrated figures of the second half of the 20th century passed from the scene this week. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was 89.

His 1973 book THE GULAG ARCHIPELEGO helped change the world by shining a spotlight on the brutal reality that had been inflicted on Soviet dissidents over the decades, a reality that he himself endured repeatedly as a matter of conscience. As a child of the final chapters of the Cold War, it is a book that I have never read but have long aspired to set aside the time to go through. I have always admired greatly those who resisted the Communist dictatorships that served as an ugly scar on the world and Alexander “The Prophet” deserved more admiration than perhaps anyone else.

During the sickening period of “détente” in the mid-‘70s, he helped set in motion the forces that would transform America, and later, the Evil Empire itself. After he had been expelled from the Soviet Union, Solzhenitsyn journeyed to America in 1975 and was rumored to be interested in a meeting with President Ford. In a move that captured his pusillanimous administration in a nutshell, Ford capitulated to the wimpy recommendation of Henry Kissinger that Solzhenitsyn not be granted an audience lest the Russkies have their feelings hurt. Ford’s cowardly display swayed Ronald Reagan, who was on the fence about whether or not to challenge for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination. Crusading against the entire corrupt concept of détente, Reagan came within an eyelash of unseating the incumbent and ended up positioned perfectly for the defeat of the hapless Jimmy Carter in 1980. As the first president to reject Harry Truman’s defeatist “containment” policy in favor of “rollback,” Reagan’s aggressive challenge to the Soviets in the ‘80s proved too much for the decaying dictatorship and soon hundreds of millions of people were freed from their shackles.

It’s worth noting that Solzhenitsyn was also a fierce critic of the moral decadence of the West, chronicling our decline into obsessive materialism and our rejection of traditional values. In his final years after he returned to Russia, he was frustrated to find that we had exported many of our less admirable traits to his homeland. During this time, he was saddened and befuddled by what the world around him had become and many became critical of some of the conclusions he drew about the state of the world. I say that he was entitled to whatever opinions at this point he had that others might have deemed strange, inasmuch as he had done so much important work already on behalf of the world.

In a world where people are always looking to find inspiring icons, there are always a few that stand out. Many love to hold up Gandhi as an example, still others Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King, Jr., dopey stoner kids for 40 years have looked to Che, and the ones who look to Jesus or the pope find that you can never go wrong there. But if we’re going to look to a secular figure for inspiration in terms of the human spirit, I couldn’t recommend anybody any more than Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

These man-on-the-street interviews give me hope that the lessons of his life will not soon be forgotten. RIP Prophet.

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