The Best of Solzhenitsyn
By Bryan Caplan
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s passing reminds me of my favorite passage from his writings:
But let us be generous. We will not shoot them. We will not pour salt water into them, nor bury them in bedbugs, nor bridle them up into a “swan dive,” nor keep them on sleepless “stand-up” for a week, nor kick them with jackboots, nor beat them with rubber truncheons, nor squeeze their skulls with iron rings, nor push them into a cell so that they lie atop one another like pieces of baggage – we will not do any of the things they did! But for the sake of our country and our children we have the duty to seek them all out and bring them all to trial! Not to put them on trial so much as their crimes. And to compel each one of them to announce loudly:
“Yes, I was an executioner and a murderer.”
—The Gulag Archipelago
If you can read this aloud without tearing up, you’re made of sterner stuff than me.
Alas, three and a half decades after the publication of The Gulag Archipelago, it looks like we’ll never see the Russian analog of the Nuremberg trials. But if any writer can make future generations of Russians look on the Soviet era with the horror it deserves, it’s the man who stared down the Soviet Union at the height of its power – and outlived it by 17 years.