One Hundred Monkeys in Texas

August 5, 2008

‘I would be glad to be judged by God right this minute’

Filed under: Books,History,Soviet Union — alancochrum @ 6:21 am
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A story from Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who died Aug. 3, that he related in the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago amid a discussion of courage in the face of interrogation:

“N. Stolyarova recalls an old woman who was her neighbor on the Butyrki bunks in 1937. They kept on interrogating her every night. Two years earlier, a former Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church, who had escaped from exile, had spent a night at her home on his way through Moscow. … ‘All right then. To whom did he go when he left Moscow?’ ‘I know, but I won’t tell you! … There is nothing you can do with me even if you cut me into pieces. After all, you are afraid of your bosses, and you are afraid of each other, and you are even afraid of killing me.’ (They would lose contact with the underground railroad.) ‘But I am not afraid of anything. I would be glad to be judged by God right this minute.'”

There’s the key. When you can say that last sentence at any given time, half the battle is won.

July 6, 2008

“That world is gone”

Filed under: History — alancochrum @ 8:16 pm

A number of my in-laws were visiting over the weekend, and last night my wife’s youngest brother and I decided to watch a movie. We opted for The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, the 1965 version of John le Carre’s novel starring Richard Burton.

The black-and-white film opens at Checkpoint Charlie, that (in)famous connection between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. The scene is dreary and somber, and Burton’s Alec Leamas is forced to watch as one of his agents is gunned down in an effort to enter the American zone.

That was part of the geopolitical reality in which I grew up. When I was in high school, I studied German at a time when there were two Germanies, and no obvious signs that this would change any time soon. But I was reminded last night how completely that reality had evaporated.

The Berlin Wall — it was begun in 1961, my own birth year — fell in late 1989; Germany was reunified in 1990. The Soviet Union disintegrated within the following two years. My oldest child will have no memories of an East Germany or a U.S.S.R., and my other children have always existed in a world without them.

Early in the 1990 book What I Saw at the Revolution, Peggy Noonan describes her childhood and then notes: “And that was the world we pedaled past. A different time, a different place, and it couldn’t be so long ago because it was my life — but you don’t have to be old in America to say of a world you lived in, That world is gone.”

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