The book of faces

“Many were shot—thousands at first, then hundreds of thousands. We divide, we multiply, we sigh, we curse. But still and all, these are just numbers. They overwhelm the mind and they are easily forgotten. And if someday the relatives of those who have been shot were to send one publisher photographs of their executed kin, and an album of those photographs were to be published in several volumes, then just by leafing through them and looking into the extinguished eyes we would learn much that would be valuable for the rest of our lives.” – Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (trans. Whitney)

Candles in the rain

“With the exception of a very limited number of parliamentary democracies, during a very limited number of decades, the history of nations is entirely a history of revolutions and seizures of power. And whoever succeeds in making a more successful and more enduring revolution is from that moment on graced with the bright robes of Justice, and his every past and future step is legalized and memorialized in odes, whereas every past and future step of his unsuccessful enemies is criminal and subject to arraignment and a legal penalty.” – Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (trans. Whitney)

One and the same

“The God of Plato and Aristotle, of Plotinus and Augustine, of Aquinas and Bonaventure, of Newman and C. S. Lewis; the eternal immutable, infinite, ubiquitous, omnipotent, omniscient Supreme Being, Unmoved Mover, ens realissimum, whose existence is identical with His essence and who is without body, parts, or passions, is one of the sublimest achievements of the human imagination. He, not Yahweh, is the deepest mystery, for metaphysics (as His reluctant admire Nietzsche pointed out) is the subtlest psychology, the supreme fiction.” – George Scialabba, “God: A Biography”

Skeert ‘n’ compliant

“The court must not exclude terror. It would be self-deception or deceit to promise this, and in order to provide it with a foundation and to legalize it in a principled way, clearly and without hypocrisy and without embellishment, it is necessary to formulate it as broadly as possible, for only revolutionary righteousness and a revolutionary conscience will provide the conditions for applying it more or less broadly in practice.” – Vladimir Lenin, Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, letter to People’s Commissar of Justice Dmitri Kursky, May 17, 1922 (quoted by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago (trans. Whitney))

Phoenix

“There is a simple truth which one can learn only through suffering: in war not victories are blessed but defeats. Governments need victories and the people need defeats. Victory gives rise to the desire for more victories. But after a defeat it is freedom that men desire—and usually attain. A people needs defeat just as an individual needs suffering and misfortune: they compel the deepening of the inner life and generate a spiritual upsurge.” – Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (trans. Whitney)

You could line them all up over there

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn’t change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil. Socrates taught us: Know thyself! Confronted by the pit into which we are about to toss those who have done us harm, we halt, stricken dumb: it is after all only because of the way things worked out that they were the executioners and we weren’t.” – Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (trans. Whitney) (emphasis in original)

The walking dead

“How can you stand your ground when you are weak and sensitive to pain, when people you love are still alive, when you are unprepared? What do you need to make you stronger than the interrogator and the whole trap? From the moment you go to prison you must put your cozy past firmly behind you. At the very threshold, you must say to yourself: ‘My life is over, a little early to be sure, but there’s nothing to be done about it. I shall never return to freedom. I am condemned to die—now or a little later. But later on, in truth, it will be even harder, and so the sooner the better. I no longer have any property whatsoever. For me those I love have died, and for them I have died. From today on, my body is useless and alien to me. Only my spirit and my conscience remain precious and important to me.’ Confronted by such a prisoner, the interrogation will tremble. Only the man who has renounced everything can win that victory. But how can one turn one’s body to stone?” – Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (trans. Whitney)

Not like it is today

“If the intellectuals in the plays of Chekhov who spent all their time guessing what would happen in twenty, thirty, or forty years had been told that in forty years interrogation by torture would be practiced in Russia; that prisoners would have their skulls squeezed within iron rings; that a human would be lowered into an acid bath; that they would be trussed up naked to be bitten by ants and bedbugs; that a ramrod heated over a primus stove would be thrust up their anal canal (the ‘secret brand’); that a man’s genitals would be slowly crushed beneath the toe of a jackboot; and that, in the luckiest possible circumstances, prisoners would be tortured by being kept from sleeping for a week, by thirst, and by being beaten to a bloody pulp, not one of Chekhov’s plays would have gotten to its end because all the heroes would be gone off to insane asylums.” – Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (trans. Whitney) (footnotes omitted)

The treason of the exhausted

“A district Party conference was under way in Moscow Province. It was presided over by a new secretary of the District Party Committee, replacing one recently arrested. At the conclusion of the conference a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up . . . . The small hall echoed with ‘stormy applause, rising to an ovation.’ For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the ‘stormy applause, rising to an ovation’ continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who would dare to be the first to stop? The secretary of the District Party Committee could have done it. He was standing on the platform, and it was he who had just called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He had taken the place of a man who’d been arrested. . . . NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first! And in that obscure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on—six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! . . . The director of the local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. Aware of all the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left would not falter. . . . Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indestructible enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! . . . . That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested.” – Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (trans. Whitney) (emphases in original)

The end of the world and we missed it

“All too often ‘modernity’ has meant nothing more than the assault of capitalism on tradition, with enlightenment nowhere in view. Commodification, wage labor, and mass production have drastically undermined craft, regional, ethnic, religious, and even familial loyalties and virtues, substituting only the abstract disciplines of the market. Industrial capitalism may be readier than traditional societies to exploit the distinctive virtues of modernity — intellectual curiosity, originality, tolerance, social solidarity — but it does little to foster them. The result is an unanchored moral culture: shallow, fragile, manipulative, in a word, narcissistic. Modernity without enlightenment seems to be a prescription for nihilism. Premodernity, both psychic and political, must be outgrown rather than merely suppressed, as industrial capitalism tends to do. On the other hand, it is arguably only developed industrial capitalism that allows a society the economic luxury of postponing adulthood, whether through higher education, travel, or some other vocational moratorium. Between these constraints, it is difficult to see any clear path to a secular democratic-socialist utopia.” – George Scialabba, “A Prophet, Honored”

You’re a big boy now

“The infant’s and child’s outsized fantasies — of omnipotence and terrified helplessness, of rage and undifferentiated union, and so on — must gradually be worn down, reduced to human scale. And this inward, intensive identification — different from the outward-turning, assimilative identification that enlarges our sympathies — is what gives us human shape, psychically speaking, along with other, secondary identifications the same sort: with church, neighborhood, ethnic group, and their beliefs and practices. The memories of which these local identifications consist constitute us. We are our histories, in a way more precise and intimate than previously appreciated.” – George Scialabba, “A Prophet, Honored”

Seemingly willingly

“The Korean War ended inconclusively on 27 July 1953. Not until long afterward was it even dignified by the name of war—the government euphemism was Korean conflict—and it rapidly became the most forgotten war in American history. There was little in it, from near-disastrous beginning to honorable but frustrating end, that appealed to American sensibilities. Because they cannot look back on it with any sense of satisfaction, or even the haunted pride that a defeated nation sometimes finds, Americans prefer not to look back at all. Yet men forget, as always, at their peril.” – T. E. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War

The truth will out

“A diplomat’s words must have no relation to actions—otherwise what kind of diplomacy is it? Words are one thing, actions another. Good words are a concealment of bad deeds. Sincere diplomacy is no more possible than dry water or iron wood.” – Josef V. Stalin (as quoted by T. E. Fehrenbach in This Kind of War)

And to every other living being

“From the time man first raised fist to man, the lot of prisoners of war has been hard. The ancient peoples sometimes crucified captives; they invariably enslaved them, for life. From the time of Peter of Dreux, who burned out the eyes of prisoners, with hot irons, to the captives of Stalingrad and the hell camp of Cabanatuan, it has often been better for men to die fighting than to be taken by the enemy. No nation, no culture has an unblemished record in what is merely a part of the long story of man’s inhumanity to man.” – T. E. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War

Snowflakes and hailstones

“The values composing civilization and the values required to protect it are normally at war. Civilization values sophistication, but in an armed force sophistication is a millstone. The Athenian commanders before Salamis, it is reported, talked of art and of the Acropolis, in sight of the Persian fleet. Beside their own campfires, the Greek hoplites chewed garlic and joked about girls. Without its tough spearmen, Hellenic culture would have had nothing to give the world. It would not have lasted long enough. When Greek culture became so sophisticated that its common men would no longer fight to the death, as at Thermopylae, but became devious and clever, a horde of Roman farm boys overran them. “ – T. E. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War

A man could stand up

“There is much to military training that seems childish, stultifying, and even brutal. But one essential part of breaking men into military life is the removal of misfits—and in the service a man is a misfit who cannot obey orders, any orders, and who cannot stand immense and searing mental and physical pressure. For his own sake and for that of those around him, a man must be prepared for the awful, shrieking moment of truth when he realizes that he is all alone on a hill ten thousand miles from home, and that he may be killed in the next second.” – T. E. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War

How to win wars

“Under the Constitution of the United States, Congress holds the power of life and death over the military, and no one would have it otherwise. History has shown very clearly that for democracy to continue, the people, and not the generals or even the executive branch, must have control over the military. The people must dictate its size, composition, and its use—above all, its use. But control does not imply petty interference.” – T. E. Fehrenbach, This Kind of War

And the winner is . . .

“What is basic and decisive is the strategy of the nation-state, which the political class of every nation devises and then declares to be identical with their country’s interest. The various universalist appeals to the working class or to Christianity, to freedom or to socialism, are merely weapons in the strategy of the nation-state.” – George Konrad, Antipolitics

For others, it’s no so hard

“For an intellectual, it is the hardest thing in the world to be both passionate and disinterested, committed and open-minded, eager to convince and willing to listen: to be, in a word, fair.” – George Scialabba, “Why Orwell Matters”

 

No matter how little sense they may make

“Because old beliefs are not simply displaced but persist within new ones, dominant ideologies cannot be merely refuted but must be demystified, which means that their plausibility must be acknowledged and accounted for.” – George Scialabba, “Moneybags Must Be So Lucky”