It was 35 years ago this summer that conservatives found themselves in a defining, epic moral struggle against…the GOP.
It was 35 years ago this summer that the conservative movement found itself in a defining, epic moral struggle not with the liberal left but with the moderate wing of the Republican Party. It’s an issue worth revisiting, not merely because it’s intriguing history, but because it reminds conservatives to always fight the good fight and be willing to stand against the establishment, even when that establishment is the GOP.
Here was the context: Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn had published (in English) his majestic Gulag Archipelago, blowing the whistle on the brutality of the Soviet system, a chilling, lengthy account by an eyewitness, himself a survivor. (See: “Witness: Solzhenitsyn vs. evil.”) It was a stirring demonstration of the power of the pen and truth, casting light upon the darkness of what another unafraid anti-communist would dub an “Evil Empire.”
Pravda judged the masterful testimony “slanderous.” For his transgression, Solzhenitsyn was arrested by the KGB, stripped of Soviet citizenship, and charged with treason. Unable to vanish or shoot him because of his international celebrity, the Kremlin’s thugs, repulsed as they were by decency, expelled the great moralist to West Germany. The writer made his way further westward still, taking residence in the United States — in Vermont.
Of course, everyone in America wanted to talk with him, to be with him, to meet with him. (Well, not everyone … more on that in a moment.) Such attention did not come naturally to the writer, more accustomed to expressing his thoughts in private — in seclusion.
Then came the intense summer of 1975. On June 30, Solzhenitsyn acquiesced to a request from George Meany, the stalwart anti-communist labor leader, to speak at an AFL-CIO dinner in Washington. There, the former prisoner cut loose, freely blasting away not merely at the USSR but at any effort to accommodate it. Solzhenitsyn told the 2,000-plus labor delegates:
I have tried to convey to your countrymen the constrained breathing of the inhabitants of Eastern Europe in these weeks when an amicable agreement of diplomatic shovels will inter in a common grave bodies that are still breathing. I have tried to explain to Americans that 1973, the tender dawn of détente, was precisely the year when the starvation rations in Soviet prisons and concentration camps were reduced even further. And in recent months, when more and more Western speechmakers have pointed to the beneficial consequences of détente, the Soviet Union has adopted a novel and important improvement in its system of punishment: to retain their glorious supremacy in the invention of forced-labor camps, Soviet prison specialists have now established a new form of solitary confinement — forced labor in solitary cells. That means cold, hunger, lack of fresh air, insufficient light, and impossible work norms; the failure to fulfill these norms is punished by confinement under even more brutal conditions.
This was naked reality. Its expression enraged the Kremlin and its hatchet-men and lackey propagandists, who viciously attacked the truth-teller in a series of brutal press releases and articles in their government-controlled media.
As this quote also suggests, Solzhenitsyn had much to say for America. He told the AFL-CIO that America was “a country of tremendous breadth of spirit; a country of generosity; a country of magnanimity.” More trenchantly, he gravely warned against “unprincipled compromises,” about sacrificing “conscience,” and about making “deals with evil.”
Here, more context is required: Notably, this was mere weeks before the Helsinki conference, where some 30-40 nations — the United States among them — met in Finland to sign a declaration to improve “relations” between the West and the communist world. On the surface, that may have sounded good. At closer inspection, however, it was capitulation.
Most hideous among the 10 points in the Helsinki declaration were the first and the sixth which, respectively, called for each side to respect the sovereign rights of the other and for “non-intervention in internal affairs.” This was the not-so-clever language incessantly employed by the communist world to silence the West, to goad the likes of America into not protesting the jailing and executing and general repressions of hundreds of millions held captive behind the Iron Curtain.
Rubbing salt into the wounds, points seven and eight of the declaration pledged respect for basic freedoms among all parties, including “thought, conscience, belief” and “equal rights and self-determination.”
The Soviets were not about to fulfill any part of the bargain.
Nonetheless, there lending support to this historical farce was America’s president, Gerald Ford, signing the document alongside Western dupes like Helmut Schmidt of West Germany and Pierre Trudeau of Canada, as attendees like the hideous Erich Honecker of East Germany and Romania’s insane Nicolai Ceausescu — among other Eastern bloc tyrants — licked their chops at the stunning display of naïveté. The pitiful scene reminded of Whittaker Chambers’ observation that communists looked upon Western elites with “sneering contempt,” cynically amazed at their willingness to fall prey to their own victimization.
Helsinki was the perfect byproduct, the wretched bastard child, of détente, perpetuated by the accommodationist Republican triumvirate of Nixon-Ford-Kissinger. This was not “rollback” or undermining of the Soviet empire, as Ronald Reagan would later pursue. It was not “We win, they lose,” as Reagan ultimately dedicated himself and his country. No, this was pure accommodation, in its most quixotic, pathetic form.
As the likes of ex-governor Reagan publicly noted at the time, all of this — Helsinki, détente, “non-intervention,” respect for sovereignty and “territorial integrity” and so-called freedom of thought — was merely a sham, a “one-way street” for the Soviets to continue to hold half of Europe in slavery and export communism around the globe without Western resistance. Worse still, it meant that the West, from Americans to Western Europeans, were complicit, essentially selling their brethren in Eastern Europe down the river. Détente was flatly “immoral,” said Reagan.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?