The tortures included laying a man naked on a freezing cement floor, forcing his legs apart, and then an interrogator stepping on his testicles, applying increasing pressure until the confession surfaced. Imagine the consequences of no surfacing confession. Indeed, many people refused to confess to a crime they did not commit.
Daughters and sons were raped in front of their fathers and mothers — for the sake of extracting “confessions.”
These are just some of the delicacies that the Stalinist machinery inflicted on its citizenry in the hope of bringing socialism into earthly incarnation. Alexander Solzhenitsyn has shared much of this horror with us in his Gulag Archipelago — a work, mystifyingly enough, that I had never heard mentioned, except with a few exceptions, by one professor in a lecture or seminar in my entire eleven years studying Cold War history in academia. It was a work that I never saw, again with a few exceptions, on any academic syllabus — and many of my courses concerned Soviet history and American foreign policy toward the Soviet Union.
Both of my grandfathers were exterminated by Stalinist terror. Both of my parents, Yuri and Marina Glazov, were dissidents in the former Soviet Union. They risked their lives for freedom; they stood up against Soviet totalitarianism. They barely escaped the gulag, a fortune many of our friends and relatives did not share. I come from a system where a myriad of the closest people to my family simply disappeared, where relatives and family friends died under interrogation and torture for their beliefs — or for simply nothing at all.
Now try to imagine me sitting in the company of left-wing “intellectuals” in the West who think they are oppressed. This is my lifelong experience. I remember one radical feminist, whom I sat next to in a graduate student lounge, lecturing me sternly about how women in the West are oppressed because they wear bikinis on beaches; with a reprimanding tone, she explained to me that this represented the way capitalism objectifies women, marginalizes them from spheres of power, and metaphorically decapitates them as human beings. I remember asking her what she thought of female genital mutilation and honor killings in the Muslim world. To this I received a stone-cold silence and a frightening hateful stare, a stare with which I have become accustomed: I would be confined to a gulag or a psychiatric hospital if this particular individual had the power to place me there. This would be done for the good of society of course. My question was heresy: she could not, naturally, admit that evil adversarial cultures and ideologies existed — under which women truly suffer real oppression — for if she did, then she would have to sacrifice her entire worldview and personal identity.
Another colleague of mine, with great moral indignation and personal angst, once complained to me about how we are being “attacked” by Pepsi commercials. “By trying to tell us that we are not cool if we don’t drink Pepsi,” he agonized, “the capitalist machinery practices the politics of exclusion. By trying to pretend it offers us choice, it actually negates choice.”
My mom’s father was executed by the Soviet secret police. He did not have the luxury of being oppressed by Pepsi commercials.