Monday, August 04, 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, RIP

Russian author and dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn passed away over the weekend. He was 89.

Mr. Solzhenityn was one of my formative political influences. As a high school student, I read his Nobel Prize winning novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and was duly struck by the unvarnished description of a single day in a fictional, though accurately portrayed, prison camp under the Soviet Union's totalitarian regime. He had experienced such a camp while himself a political prisoner in the aftermath of World War II. As a college student, I read A World Split Apart, his commencement address delivered at Harvard University, in which he criticized both Soviet tyranny and western decadence. For his criticisms of the latter he was widely disparaged.

Later, I read Cancer Ward, a novel centering around the patients in such an institution under Soviet control. It was likely the most depressing work of fiction I have ever read. More recently, I read the first two volumes of his Gulag Archipelago, his exhaustive reconstruction of the massive and inhumane Soviet prison system. While I would never compare American practices with those of Soviet gulags, I must say that reading that work has influenced me to break with other conservatives on the use of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding by the United States.

In the 1970's, Mr. Solzhenitsyn argued that even Soviet leaders no longer believed in Marxism and suggested that the Communist regime would soon fall. He was mocked by American intellectuals for those views, but he proved prescient. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, he triumphantly returned to his homeland. However, the subsequent regime has not lived up to his hopes for the nation.


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