[March 29, 2020] Thunder and rain grace the skies outside my home this morning. As Spring advances and the Coronavirus pandemic spreads, there is yet little opportunity to speak openly with my friends and neighbors. The poor weather today can symbolize the darkness of the hearts of people that is addressed by author Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn. There is no denying that the pull of evil and good is with every person. We all know this truth even if we deny it to ourselves. While commander of a Soviet artillery battery during World War II, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and became a political prisoner until his release in 1956. Serving during the war, he witnessed horrible war crimes against local German civilians by Soviet military members. The atrocities were so grotesque that he wrote a friend, writing derogatory comments about the conduct of the war by Joseph Stalin. And so begins Solzhenitsyn’s lengthy accounting of Soviet evil and how it permeated every fiber of the political and social system.
The Gulag Archipelago, Volumes I, II, and III, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, 1973
Written in three volumes between 1958 and 1968 by Russian writer and historian Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago is one of the monumental works of the 20th Century. Someone once wrote that it would be impossible to name a book that had a more significant effect on the political and moral consciousness of the late twentieth century. The lengthy book is about the most horrific actions of Joseph Stalin and his Communist government, and it is also about the good that Solzhenitsyn saw while imprisoned. And this, my good friends, is the core of his arguments against the Soviet death machine. I cannot resist a quote that supports his thinking.
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? During the life of any heart, this line keeps changing place; sometimes, it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil, and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish.” – Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, Volume I
Thanks to Stalin’s Communist ideology, the twentieth century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale calculated in millions of deaths. This evil cannot be denied, nor passed over, nor suppressed. These three volumes are an analysis of the very nature of humanity (and that scares me). The Soviets made Hitler look like a piker by imprisoning and killing more than 14 million of their own people. Solzhenitsyn does a terrific job of collecting numerous prisoner accounts and turning them into a very readable series of literature, despite the danger it brought him, and to those close to him. Solzhenitsyn will always be a hero to humanity. Through these writings, we have a window into the human soul and to witness our ability to twist and contort our morality to do the most heinous acts. This book brutally destroys the evil of utopian systems and Communist ideology and it shows how good can grow in the cracks of evil.
A classic. This book is highly recommended.
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