My first exposure to the soul-crushing realities of communism came from Yvonne. Yvonne was the woman who came in to clean the offices at the aircraft hangar in Calgary where my father worked and where as a young lad in the early 1980s I would on occasion accompany him.
Yvonne and her husband had fled one of the captive states of Eastern Europe (memory fails to recall which) and her experiences with what NBC termed a “pivotal experiment” had left scars sufficient to motivate her to tell anyone who would listen — including a 10-year old boy who otherwise spent an inordinate amount of time on his days off from school trying to sneak into the cockpit of an idle Cessna Citation to play fighter pilot — of the barbarism of the system she left at great peril to her own life. Even at an age where one’s attention was easily distracted by big noisy playthings on the hangar floor, it was impossible to escape the sense of daily pervasive terror that gripped those unfortunate enough to face existence under the regimes of the slave states behind the Iron Curtain.
Yvonne’s experiences were relatively mild as far as stories of life under the Soviet boot went. Hers mainly told of the constant, overbearing presence of totalitarian government, the seizure of property and businesses, and of friends and relatives “disappeared” by the state security apparatus. Neither she nor her husband, by her account, were ever subject to the tortures and deprivations of the labor camps that characterized enforcement of the communist “order.” Those stories are left to the likes of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, whose indictments are included in his many seminal works, chief among them “The Gulag Archipelago.”
Perhaps had this book been required reading for NBC commentators prior to heading off to cover the Sochi Winter Olympics, we might have been spared the nauseating indifference to Russia’s not-too-distant, 70-year period of institutionalized evil to which we were exposed during the coverage of the opening ceremonies. Perhaps if Meredith Vieira had bothered to read accounts from survivors of the Soviet gulags, every bit as horrific and gut-wrenching as Elie Wiesel’s recollections of life in the Nazi camps, she would have been prevented by a sense of basic decency from uttering this: “Our guide Lyubov has reappeared one last time holding on to a red balloon which represents the end of the 20th-century dream… a bittersweet moment as she lets go of that balloon as Russia says goodbye to its past but looks ahead to a brighter future.”
Maybe if Vieira had read Anne Applebaum’s Gulag: A History, excerpts of which Jonah Goldberg includes in his column on this topic in National Review, she would have realized that “20th century dream” was a nightmare of proportions we in the West can hardly fathom.
Following a brief period of contrition after the collapse of the Berlin Wall exposed communism’s depravities so clearly, the left has with the dilution of time reverted to its old habits of whitewashing and euphemizing the atrocity that was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
One popular way to do this is to attribute the worst of the horrors to the person of Joseph Stalin, as though they were simply the products of that one twisted mind. But Solzhenitsyn’s indictment in his writings is not of Stalin or any other one man. It is of the system that created Stalin and the tyrants that both followed and preceded him.
It’s an unconscionable injustice to the tens of millions murdered under the Soviet regime and the millions more exterminated by the spread of its ideology to treat the dark, 70-year history of the Soviet Union as simply an unpleasant period on which we’d prefer not to dwell, rather than with the revulsion and disdain it deserves.
This is possibly the most disgraceful symptom of the disease of relativism that has been gradually infecting western institutions — particularly academia and journalism — since at least the 1960s, when it first became fashionable to apply moral equivalence between the United States and cruel, despotic regimes such as those in North Vietnam and the USSR.
I don’t know where Yvonne is today or if she was subjected to this spectacle.
I do know Solzhenitsyn wasn’t, having died in 2008 — blessedly of natural cases rather than the bullet in the basement of Lubyanka Prison he miraculously evaded. Solzhenitsyn experienced and suffered a great deal in his life. Were he around today, I doubt this particular added insult by American TV celebrities would weigh much more on him. Instead, it would be the systemic indifference to the evil he spent his admirable life fighting, surviving, and exposing that would make him — and, I suspect, Yvonne — weep.