“When the truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.”
— Yevgeny Yevtushenko
Three decades ago I picked up Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago and couldn’t put it down. It’s a fairly massive volume of story after matter of fact story of the horrors committed in Soviet Russia under communism. Without a free press, a whole system of atrocity could exist. It was a horror, and not the way civilized peoples were meant to co-exist in “the good society.”
Solzhenitsyn detailed a brutality limited only by the imaginations of men. These are the kinds of things one imagines Kurtz was referring to in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when he uttered that verdict on the nature of his heart: “The horror.” Yet Kurtz himself simultaneously confides, “I had immense plans.”
Conrad’s story is a work of fiction, though often fiction can be a better mirror of reality than what passes for non-fiction sometimes.
The twentieth century has been filled with horror. Pol Pot in Cambodia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Ottoman Turks’ efforts to eliminate the Armenians, Mao’s starvation of 35 million Chinese peasants in the Fifties. Much of what was going down occurred because in these dark places there was no free press. There was no light.
But when the lights were turned on at Abu Graib, it made us uncomfortable to discover that our country had been similarly making horror. When the pictures hit the Internet, Americans winced. That’s because our Eighth Amendment to the Constitution states: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. This kind of thing could not be condoned. Yet in other places, out of sight and out of mind, horrors will continue unabated.
This past summer I read, and later re-read, The Cold War Killing Fields by Paul Thomas Chamberlin. The great tragedy is that America has been guilty of its own share of atrocities. In Viet Nam, the My Lai massacre was not an aberration, as our leaders attempted to portray it. It was “business as usual.”
No wonder Dylan once wrote, “I’ve seen the kingdoms of this world, and it’s making me feel afraid.”
Originally published at pioneerproductions.blogspot.com