Aleksander Solzenitsyn, tragically misunderstood by America
By Donald Hank
Solzhenitsyn is known as a writer who addressed issues like the lack of freedom in the USSR, for example, in his novels “Gulag Archipelago” and “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.”
But few are aware that his greatest contribution to the world was his thorough fact-finding research on the early years prior to the Russian Revolution and the first years thereafter.
Solzhenitsyn would go to the local library and ask for copies of pre-revolution newspapers. He would laboriously copy out passages that contradicted the Soviet revisionist histories. He also frequently checked out any items of interest in this regard, making library officials suspicious. He was soon tailed by Soviet agents, who interrogated him and ultimately had him arrested.
He was able to hide much of this copied information from them and later use it in his novels.
Thus Solzhenitsyn was much more than just a novelist. He was a chronicler and historian. And he was the only living Soviet who did this to such an extent. He filled a dark void and it is hard to imagine a world without his contribution.
Solzhenitsyn admitted that he was, initially, just another Soviet citizen who hardly questioned the regime and its motives and agenda. Yet, his curiosity led him to knowledge, and knowledge ultimately led to freedom.
But it was a long hard journey, and few understand the sufferings he went through.
Even fewer understand his sufferings in America, where he lived for a few years while employed by Harvard University. Here he was snubbed by those who should have befriended him. And he was snubbed – ultimately – simply for being a Russian patriot.
President Reagan’s advisors wrongly categorized Solzhenitsyn as an extreme nationalist, when he was nothing but a man who loved his country.
No wonder then that he returned disillusioned to Russia and became reconciled with some of the people who were once his persecutors. Who knows what direction Russia would have taken if America had befriended Solzhenitsyn instead of marginalizing him?
And it didn’t have to be that way. American conservatives must divorce their feelings about evil regimes from their feelings toward the people who have suffered under those regimes.
How can God bless us if we do not?
I had stumbled across Solzhenitsyn’s letter to Reagan, and had long wrestled with the idea of translating it but was thwarted by 2 considerations:
1-Perhaps the letter had already been published in English;
2-Perhaps it would not change any minds or produce any tangible benefit for Americans.
But now that our dear friend of freedom is gone, I decided to investigate and found no mention of the letter in English anywhere on the Web.
And I thought perhaps someone may benefit from reading it. Not that I wish to highlight the failure of those Americans responsible for offending the writer. It is rather my desire to help Americans of our generation to learn from our past mistakes.
I have tried to help introduce to Americans a writer from Brazil whose passion for freedom and understanding of the extreme dangers that the Left poses here and in his home country remind me for all the word of Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. The knowledge we can gain from him is considerable and can be turned to our advantage.
Who knows? Perhaps how you treat Olavo de Carvalho may in some way affect our future course.
Let’s do better this time around.
Letter to President Reagan
(Published in the book “Aleksander Solzhenitsyn”, Yaroslavl, Verkhnaja Volga, 1997)
Cavendish, May 3, 1982
Dear Mr. President,
I am delighted with many aspects of your activity, and am happy for America that it finally has a president like you. I never cease to thank God that you were not killed by those malicious bullets.
However, I have never had the honor of being received at the White House — neither in the Ford administration (the question arose there without my participation), nor later. In recent months, roundabout inquiries have come to me through various routes asking under what circumstances I would be willing to accept an invitation to visit the White House. I always responded that I was willing to go for a substantive discussion with you under circumstances providing the opportunity for a serious effective conversation, but not for an open ceremony. I do not have time in my life for symbolic meetings.
However, I was offered (in a telephone call from advisor Pipes) not a personal meeting with you but a luncheon with the participation of emigrant politicians. The same sources announced that this would be a luncheon for “Soviet dissidents.” However, an artistic writer in the Russian sense does not belong to either of these groups. I cannot allow myself to be assigned a false rank. Further, the fact, form and date of the reception were sent and released to the press before I was informed myself. To this day, I have not received any information on even the names of the persons who were invited along with me for May 11.
Still worse, the press reported various hesitations on the part of the White House and publicly announced that the White House had not refuted the statement of the reason why a meeting with me was considered undesirable, namely, because I was “a symbol of extreme Russian nationalism.” This statement is offensive to my countrymen, to whose suffering I have dedicated my entire literary life.
I am not a “nationalist” at all. I am a patriot. In other words, I love my country — and that is why I also understand why others love theirs. On more than one occasion, I have publicly stated that the vital interests of the peoples of the USSR demand the immediate cessation of all global seizures by the Soviets. If people who think as I do came to power in the USSR, their first step would be to pull out of Central America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, leaving these nations to decide their own fate. Their second step would be to stop the murderous arms race, devote the country’s efforts to healing the internal nearly century-old wounds of an already moribund populace. And, of course, they would open the doors to those who wish to emigrate from our hapless country.
Amazingly, none of this suits your nearest advisers! They want something else. They call this [my] program “extreme Russian nationalism,” and some American generals are proposing selectively destroying the Russian population with an atomic strike. It is odd that in the world today Russian nationalism evokes the greatest fear both in the potentates of the USSR and in the people around you. Here is evidenced the hostile stance toward Russia herself, the country and the people, independently of government forms, which is characteristic of a substantial segment of American educated society, American financial circles and, sadly, even your advisers. This attitude is harmful to the future of our two nations.
Mr. President, it is with heavy heart that I write this letter. But I think that if a meeting with you somewhere were considered undesirable because you are an American patriot, you would also be offended.
Once you are no longer president, if you are ever in Vermont, I will be sincerely happy to meet with you at my home.
Since this entire episode has been subjected to a distorted interpretation and it is quite likely that my motives for not traveling there have already been distorted, I feel that I will be obliged to publish this letter. Forgive me.
With sincere respect,
Translated by Donald Hank
Informative article on Solzhenitsyn:
Further reading on Solzhenitsyn’s stay in Vermont: