• American Ignorance and Indifference

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    The recent
    death of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ought to be an occasion for some
    soul-searching in the United States, and indeed throughout the West.
    Solzhenitsyn was acclaimed for bringing the horrors of the Soviet
    regime before the eyes of the Western world. But how many Americans
    still remember the lessons he helped to teach? How well will the
    crimes Solzhenitsyn showed to the world be remembered?

    Around 2003
    or so, I had a class where everyone gave a class presentation based
    on a historical research paper they had done. Most of my fellow
    students were freshmen or sophomores. For my own topic, I chose
    the artificial famine that Josef Stalin unleashed to destroy the
    resistance of the Ukrainian people to his campaign of collectivization
    and cultural destruction.

    A number of
    other students had given presentations on historical crimes and
    tragedies. And yet, despite my poor public-speaking skills, people
    seemed enthralled. When I was done, everyone seemed to have questions.
    Why were they so fascinated by what I had told them? Simple: None
    of them had ever heard of it before.

    Now, the school
    wasn't exactly Harvard, but it was a respected Catholic university.
    My fellow students were not idiots or ignoramuses. And yet, the
    millions who had died agonized deaths in one of human history's
    greatest crimes were unknown to them. Further probing on my part
    revealed a similar degree of ignorance about other Communist regimes.
    Everyone, of course, knew of the twelve million victims of Adolf
    Hitler. Several even knew about the three thousand people killed
    by Augusto Pinochet. On Communism, however, they were almost totally
    ignorant. The word "Auschwitz" was instantly understood
    by everyone; words like "Kolyma" and "Great Leap
    Forward" were mysterious.

    I knew that
    the horrors of Communism did not get as much attention as the crimes
    of the Nazis, but the degree of ignorance stunned me. These were
    bright, curious kids; how could they not know? How could they get
    all the way to college without learning about it?

    Then I thought
    back to my own education. How had I learned about it? I spent
    a lot of time with my grandfather when I was growing up, and he
    encouraged my interest in history and science; I probably learned
    more from him and the books he gave me or told me about than I ever
    did in school. It was from him that I learned about writers like
    Robert Conquest, author of such books on Communism as The Great
    Terror and Harvest of Sorrow. In high school, I was good
    friends with a Ukrainian exchange student who had grown up in the
    last days of the Soviet regime, which gave me a more personal curiosity
    about Soviet history.

    I certainly
    didn't learn it from public school. We were taught at considerable
    length about the crimes of Hitler and Mussolini, and also learned
    about such figures as Pinochet, the Mendozas, and Fulgenico Batista.
    We were taught about the existence of Communist dictators, and told
    that they weren't nice guys, but the information was limited and
    selective.

    We were told
    that Communist countries didn't have democratic elections and often
    put people in prison for criticizing the government, but we were
    never told that Communists had engaged in mass murder. We knew that
    Soviet prisoners were sent to gulags, but we weren't told just how
    many prisoners there were, or that huge numbers of the gulag's prisoners
    died there. We certainly weren't told that Josef Stalin and
    Mao Zedong each had a list of victims that rivaled or exceeded Hitler's,
    or that Pol Pot had slaughtered a fourth of his own country in less
    than half a decade.

    The mass media
    was no better. If I had never gone to school or opened a book, I
    still would have picked up on what the Nazis were like through movies,
    television, or newspapers. I might be lacking in details of the
    regime's history, but I would still know that they had killed millions.
    Failing that, I would pick it up from other people; the crimes of
    Hitler occupy so large a portion of the American consciousness that
    it would be impossible not to pick up on it. Of the true extent
    of Communist crimes, I would know very little; my education would
    be as deficient as that provided by school.

    I suppose I
    shouldn't have been so shocked. The American media and intelligentsia
    have a long and shameful history of concealing, minimizing, or ignoring
    Communist atrocities that continues to this day. I don't think my
    school teachers were willfully trying to deceive me; most of them
    were probably as ignorant as my classmates. There was a time when
    ignorance was maintained by conscious propagandists like Walter
    Duranty, but that is largely unnecessary today. Once established,
    ignorance and falsehood become self-perpetuating, as the deception's
    own victims pass the lie down to the next generation.

    There are plenty
    of people who would be eager to learn the truth, if only they knew
    it was out there; the response of my classmates convinced me of
    that. Sadly, most of those who dominate the dissemination of information
    and opinion in America still have little incentive to correct the
    situation; they are, after all, the ideological kinsmen of the leftist
    Western intellectuals who worked so hard to create the problem in
    the first place. Meanwhile, thousands if not millions of perfectly
    honest people serve as unwitting accomplices in the perpetuation
    of ignorance. Despite the efforts of men like Solzhenitsyn, despite
    the tens of millions of corpses, despite historical records available
    for anyone to see if only they know where to look, despite whole
    nations turned into charnel houses, American ignorance and indifference
    endures.

    August
    21, 2008

    John
    Markley [send him mail]
    is a freelance newspaper reporter from Illinois. He maintains a
    blog at The Superfluous
    Man
    .

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