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02/10/2000

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Part II

As we continue our look at Alexander Solzhenitsyn, let''s turn
now to June 8, 1978. The scene is Harvard University where
Solzhenitsyn is giving the commencement address. He has been
in forced exile for about 4 years at this point. The U.S. has
emerged from the Vietnam War, depressed, unsure of its role in
the modern world. Inflation has been fueled by the power of
OPEC. And while diplomats talked of "dTtente," certainly the
Cold War was still very much in tact.

As you read my selected passages from his address, think to
today. The press (the intelligentsia) brutally panned Solzhenitsyn
for some of his highly critical comments. He seemed to receive a
somewhat better reception among the general public.

"Western society has chosen for itself the organization best suited
to its purposes and one I might call legalistic. The limits of
human rights and rightness are determined by a system of laws;
such limits are very broad. People in the West have acquired
considerable skill in using, interpreting, and manipulating law
(though laws tend to be too complicated for an average person to
understand without the help of an expert). Every conflict is
solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to
be the ultimate solution."

"I have spent all my life under a Communist regime and I will tell
you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible
one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is
also less than worthy of man. A society based on the letter of the
law and never reaching any higher fails to take advantage of the
full range of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold
and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever
the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relationships, this creates an
atmosphere of spiritual mediocrity that paralyzes man''s noblest
impulses."

"Today''s Western society has revealed the inequality between the
freedom for good deeds and the freedom for evil deeds. A
statesman who wants to achieve something important and highly
constructive for his country has to move cautiously and even
timidly; thousands of hasty (and irresponsible) critics cling to him
at all times; he is constantly rebuffed by parliament and the press.
He has to prove that his every step is well-founded and absolutely
flawless. Indeed, an outstanding, truly great person who has
unusual and unexpected initiatives in mind does not get any
chance to assert himself: dozens of traps will be set for him from
the beginning. Thus mediocrity triumphs under the guise of
democratic restraints."

Foreign Affairs...

"The most cruel mistake (that the West has made...ed., again,
Solzhenitsyn is saying this in 1978) occurred with the failure to
understand the Vietnam war. Some people sincerely wanted all
wars to stop just as soon as possible; others believed that the way
should be left open for national, or Communist, self-determination
in Vietnam (or in Cambodia, as we see today with particular
clarity). But in fact, members of the U.S. antiwar movement
became accomplices in the betrayal of Far Eastern nations, in the
genocide and the suffering today imposed on thirty million people
there. [ed., see Pol Pot] Do these convinced pacifists now hear
the moans coming from there? Do they understand their
responsibility today? Or do they prefer not to hear? The
American intelligentsia lost its nerve and as a consequence the
danger has come much closer to the United States. But there is
no awareness of this. Your short-sighted politician who signed
the hasty Vietnam capitulation seemingly gave America a carefree
breathing pause; however, a hundredfold Vietnam now looms
over you. [ed., this didn''t quite materialize] Small Vietnam had
been a warning and an occasion to mobilize the nation''s courage.
But if the full might of America suffered a full-fledged defeat at
the hands of a small Communist half-country, how can the West
hope to stand firm in the future?"

"I have said on another occasion that in the twentieth century
Western democracy has not won any major war by itself; each
time it shielded itself with an ally possessing a powerful land
army, whose philosophy it did not question. In World War II
against Hitler, instead of winning the conflict with its own forces,
which would certainly have been sufficient, Western democracy
raised up another enemy, one that would prove worse and more
powerful, since Hitler had neither the resources nor the people,
nor the ideas with broad appeal, nor such a large number of
supporters in the West - a fifth column - as the Soviet Union
possessed. Some Western voices already have spoken of the need
of a protective screen against hostile forces in the next world
conflict; in this case, the shield would be China. But I would not
wish such an outcome to any country in the world. First of all, it
is again a doomed alliance with evil; it would grant the United
States a respite, but when at a later date China with its billion
people would turn around armed with American weapons,
America itself would fall victim to a Cambodia-style genocide."

"And yet, no weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the
West until it overcomes its loss of will power. In a state of
psychological weakness, weapons even become a burden for the
capitulating side. To defend oneself, one must also be ready to
die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of
material well-being. Nothing is left, in this case, but concessions,
attempts to gain time, and betrayal. Thus at the shameful
Belgrade conference, free Western diplomats in their weakness
surrendered the line of defence for which enslaved members of
the Helsinki Watch Groups are sacrificing their lives."

I selected these passages in part because some of the current
Presidential candidates, particularly McCain, are addressing some
of these issues.

One final turn for Solzhenitsyn next week. This time comments
from 1980 which go to the heart of the issue of Russia...and I
think some parallels to that nation''s current bad straits.

Source: "The World''s Great Speeches," Edited by Lewis
Copeland et al.

Brian Trumbore


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02/10/2000

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Part II

As we continue our look at Alexander Solzhenitsyn, let''s turn
now to June 8, 1978. The scene is Harvard University where
Solzhenitsyn is giving the commencement address. He has been
in forced exile for about 4 years at this point. The U.S. has
emerged from the Vietnam War, depressed, unsure of its role in
the modern world. Inflation has been fueled by the power of
OPEC. And while diplomats talked of "dTtente," certainly the
Cold War was still very much in tact.

As you read my selected passages from his address, think to
today. The press (the intelligentsia) brutally panned Solzhenitsyn
for some of his highly critical comments. He seemed to receive a
somewhat better reception among the general public.

"Western society has chosen for itself the organization best suited
to its purposes and one I might call legalistic. The limits of
human rights and rightness are determined by a system of laws;
such limits are very broad. People in the West have acquired
considerable skill in using, interpreting, and manipulating law
(though laws tend to be too complicated for an average person to
understand without the help of an expert). Every conflict is
solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to
be the ultimate solution."

"I have spent all my life under a Communist regime and I will tell
you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible
one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is
also less than worthy of man. A society based on the letter of the
law and never reaching any higher fails to take advantage of the
full range of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold
and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever
the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relationships, this creates an
atmosphere of spiritual mediocrity that paralyzes man''s noblest
impulses."

"Today''s Western society has revealed the inequality between the
freedom for good deeds and the freedom for evil deeds. A
statesman who wants to achieve something important and highly
constructive for his country has to move cautiously and even
timidly; thousands of hasty (and irresponsible) critics cling to him
at all times; he is constantly rebuffed by parliament and the press.
He has to prove that his every step is well-founded and absolutely
flawless. Indeed, an outstanding, truly great person who has
unusual and unexpected initiatives in mind does not get any
chance to assert himself: dozens of traps will be set for him from
the beginning. Thus mediocrity triumphs under the guise of
democratic restraints."

Foreign Affairs...

"The most cruel mistake (that the West has made...ed., again,
Solzhenitsyn is saying this in 1978) occurred with the failure to
understand the Vietnam war. Some people sincerely wanted all
wars to stop just as soon as possible; others believed that the way
should be left open for national, or Communist, self-determination
in Vietnam (or in Cambodia, as we see today with particular
clarity). But in fact, members of the U.S. antiwar movement
became accomplices in the betrayal of Far Eastern nations, in the
genocide and the suffering today imposed on thirty million people
there. [ed., see Pol Pot] Do these convinced pacifists now hear
the moans coming from there? Do they understand their
responsibility today? Or do they prefer not to hear? The
American intelligentsia lost its nerve and as a consequence the
danger has come much closer to the United States. But there is
no awareness of this. Your short-sighted politician who signed
the hasty Vietnam capitulation seemingly gave America a carefree
breathing pause; however, a hundredfold Vietnam now looms
over you. [ed., this didn''t quite materialize] Small Vietnam had
been a warning and an occasion to mobilize the nation''s courage.
But if the full might of America suffered a full-fledged defeat at
the hands of a small Communist half-country, how can the West
hope to stand firm in the future?"

"I have said on another occasion that in the twentieth century
Western democracy has not won any major war by itself; each
time it shielded itself with an ally possessing a powerful land
army, whose philosophy it did not question. In World War II
against Hitler, instead of winning the conflict with its own forces,
which would certainly have been sufficient, Western democracy
raised up another enemy, one that would prove worse and more
powerful, since Hitler had neither the resources nor the people,
nor the ideas with broad appeal, nor such a large number of
supporters in the West - a fifth column - as the Soviet Union
possessed. Some Western voices already have spoken of the need
of a protective screen against hostile forces in the next world
conflict; in this case, the shield would be China. But I would not
wish such an outcome to any country in the world. First of all, it
is again a doomed alliance with evil; it would grant the United
States a respite, but when at a later date China with its billion
people would turn around armed with American weapons,
America itself would fall victim to a Cambodia-style genocide."

"And yet, no weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the
West until it overcomes its loss of will power. In a state of
psychological weakness, weapons even become a burden for the
capitulating side. To defend oneself, one must also be ready to
die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of
material well-being. Nothing is left, in this case, but concessions,
attempts to gain time, and betrayal. Thus at the shameful
Belgrade conference, free Western diplomats in their weakness
surrendered the line of defence for which enslaved members of
the Helsinki Watch Groups are sacrificing their lives."

I selected these passages in part because some of the current
Presidential candidates, particularly McCain, are addressing some
of these issues.

One final turn for Solzhenitsyn next week. This time comments
from 1980 which go to the heart of the issue of Russia...and I
think some parallels to that nation''s current bad straits.

Source: "The World''s Great Speeches," Edited by Lewis
Copeland et al.

Brian Trumbore