This year will go down
in history as one in which great fighters for freedom has been called
home by the good Lord. And so we bid farewell to the most important
freedom fighter of the 20th Century, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who passed away Sunday at the age of 89.
Solzhenitsyn told the
world the story of the Soviet gulags. He was in the gulag for having
“criticized” Josef Stalin in a letter to a friend from the front in
World War II. While in the gulag system as a political prisoner he
felt he had no hope. So he determined to make a run for it, figuring
that the Soviets would kill him. Just as he was about to make a break
someone came along and stopped him. That someone, he said, had a warmth
he had never experienced before. This man who Solzhenitsyn said he had
never seen at the gulag took a stick and drew a cross in the dirt. And
he left, never to be seen again. Solzhenitsyn later came to believe
that that kindly figure was Christ himself. He had no idea that as he
was thinking of escaping there was a worldwide effort to set him free.
Shortly after that kindly gentleman prevented him from escaping, he was
expelled by the Soviets, eventually to make his way to the United
In what was one of the
most disgraceful episodes in American history President Gerald R. Ford
refused to invite Solzhenitsyn to the White House. It was one of the
factors which led Ronald W. Reagan to challenge Ford later that year.
One of the first people
Solzhenitsyn asked to see in the United States was Senator Jesse Helms
(R-NC). He said he learned when he got to the West that it was Helms
and George Meany of the AFL-CIO who played the most important role in
the effort to free him. He and Helms visited many times over the years.
It is a remarkable coincidence that both died within a month of each
Solzhenitsyn settled in
Vermont because it reminded him of Russia. He remained there until the
Soviet Union fell, whereupon he returned to Russia, where he remained
an important symbol in the fight for freedom. He had documented the
repression of the Soviets based upon the information available to him
in Russia. When he gained access to the records at the Hoover Institute
at Stanford University, he was horrified to find that he had based his
writing upon false information. So he spent all of his days in the
United States feverishly rewriting his work. He completed that task
shortly before he returned to his native land.
He stayed out of
American politics except for one very important speech at Harvard
University in which he warned the West that it was in mortal danger of
disintegration if it did not maintain its principles. That speech
disappointed some conservatives who accused Solzhenitsyn of defeatism.
But a careful reading of that remarkable address demonstrates that it
is anything but defeatist. It was prophetic.
This Nobel Peace Prize
winner was perhaps the most important symbol of the struggle for
freedom. In recent days he had a Russian TV show in which he propounded
strange economic theories. An economist he was not. A fervent Orthodox
Christian he was, and from that Church he will be commended to the Lord
this week. Memory Eternal!