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Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Searching my blog archives, I see that three times in my four years of blogging I have compared the American Gulag, Gitmo, Bagram, Abu Graib and the rest of the sordid mess, to what I read about the Soviet gulag in the books of Alexander Solzhenitsyn (here, here, and here).

Yesterday, Chris Floyd did a more thorough job of making that comparison. Here's an excerpt:
When I read the passage below from Moazzam Begg's account of his years in Bush's Terror War prisons, I had a strange feeling of dislocation: it was as if 30 years had suddenly fallen away and I was back in high school, reading Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago in stunned disbelief at the hideous cruelty inflicted on the prisoners -- deliberately, as a carefully calculated instrument of state policy. And all of it done in the name of national security, of course, to protect the nation against "terrorists" and "traitors."

Solzhenitsyn's books -- not just the factual Gulag but also the deep-delving fiction of his middle years, the powerful First Circle and Cancer Ward -- were enormous influences on my own understanding of politics, power and morality. Years later, I was in Moscow when he returned to Russia from his long exile, having outlasted the system of state terror that had consumed so many of his compatriots. However much I had come to disagree with some of his political positions on certain issues, it was a still a moment of triumph for the deeper truths and moral courage that he continued -- and continues -- to represent.

How sickening, then, to find myself last Saturday reading of the precisely the same kind of state terror that Solzhenitsyn described (and survived) once again being inflicted on innocent people -- and this time in my name, under the flag of my country, at the express order of the leaders of my government. Bush is trying to turn us all into the kind of quiet collaborationists and cowed enablers of atrocity that we habitually decry when speaking of the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany: "Oh, how could they have let such awful things go on? Why did they stand silently by? How could they swallow all those monstrous lies? I would never have stood for that kind of thing!"
Actually, I think Floyd is giving a lot of Americans too much credit. They don't habitually decry the Soviets--those who do only do so because they were "communists," something they don't understand at all--just something they've been conditioned to hate. I doubt if most Americans are aware of the works of Solzhenitsyn, or that the vast majority of the victims of the gulag were neither criminals nor enemies of the state. They don't know that torture isn't a way to get information; it is a means of social control, and eventually becomes an end in itself. Even worse, they don't know that they don't know this stuff.