Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, RIP

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a rare voice in the Cold War. Decorated for service during WWII, Solzhenitsyn's criticms of Stalinist tyranny saw him quickly exiled to Siberia, then abroad. His novel, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich", which was based upon his own experiences in a Siberian gulag, as well as the movie based upon the book, presented a bleak, tragic world in which the humanity of prisoners was slowly suffocated.

This work, as well as others by Solzhenitsyn, showed a chilling vision of what could be expected if the West fell to Soviet conquest, and thus helped motivate many to stand up to fight communist expansion.

During many of those days in which he spoke, the outcome of the Cold War was far from certain. In that time, Solznenitsyn's bold words and gripping tales challenged Soviet empire, as well as challenged the West by asking if it had the will to survive:

If I were today addressing an audience in my country, in my examination of the overall pattern of the world's rifts I would have concentrated on the calamities of the East. But since my forced exile in the West has now lasted four years and since my audience is a Western one, I think it may be of greater interest to concentrate on certain aspects of the contemporary West, such as I see them.

A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society. There are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.

Political and intellectual functionaries exhibit this depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in their self-serving rationales as to how realistic, reasonable, and intellectually and even morally justified it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And the decline in courage, at times attaining what could be termed a lack of manhood, is ironically emphasized by occasional outbursts and inflexibility on the part of those same functionaries when dealing with weak governments and with countries that lack support, or with doomed currents which clearly cannot offer resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.

Must one point out that from ancient times a decline in courage has been considered the first symptom of the end?

-1978 commencement address,

Those words seem as relevant today as they were thirty years ago. The challenge he presented to the West then is the same question we face now - does the West have the will to challenge those forces which seek its downfall. Or have we lost the courage to survive, and in doing so, made that first terrible mistake that will lead to the fall of the West?

Those who ask if the West needs to fight for its survival should read some of his works, to see what kind of existence they can look forward to. Perhaps if they see the dark, cold, and soulless alternative that lies in store, then they will find the courage to resist the encroaching forces of darkness.

Solzhenitsyn had the courage and the wisdom to challenge both East and West. We can best honor his life and his sacrifices by having the courage to ask the same questions of ourselves.

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