MR. DRISCOLL: Let’s jump ahead to the mid-1970s. When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn arrived in America in 1975, he was received with a remarkable coldness by American intellectuals. And even Gerald Ford snubbed him. What was the cause of this?
MS. WEST: Well, this — this was — this was a seminal moment, really, in terms of the annals, I would call it, of capitulation and appeasement. There was always — and again, going back to Roosevelt — but pretty much steadily, with the occasional ray of sunshine, such as a Ronald Reagan, there was always a movement or a directive, a policy, to appease the Soviet Union, and more importantly to deny the truth about the system.
And indeed, you could not have such a thing as detente, which of course was the kind of appeasement du-jour in the 1970s, if you actually recognized the depravity of the system. And here was this man, this absolutely — this force of nature, who had captured the world’s attention inside the Soviet Union. And here he was coming to America for the first time.
For the — that White House to have acknowledged his achievement and what he contributed to our understanding, would have been to acknowledge that they could not possibly be involved in something like detente with these same people.
So in the urge to put over on the world this — this, really delusional kind of alternate reality of moral equivalence and so on, they had to reject the truth of Solzhenitsyn. And they did. And I think it is a real stain in our history.
MR. DRISCOLL: There’s a wonderfully ironic 1981 quote from R.W. Apple of the New York Times atop the second chapter of American Betrayal: “Some Soviet officials are evidently worried by the possibility that Mr. Reagan will find himself imprisoned by his philosophy.” Could you talk about that quote in the context of your book?
MS. WEST: I’m glad you like that one, Ed. I do to. Oh, gosh. Well, you know, this is — this is really — you know, shows the power — the mesmerizing powers of Soviet propaganda, that they were able to convince — or it wasn’t just the Soviets of course. This was the Western elite notion that if you didn’t go along with the alternate reality of a Kissinger and a Ford and the way they dealt with Solzhenitsyn, and you had an actual fairly frank appraisal of the Soviet system by Ronald Reagan, that somehow that was being a prisoner of some kind of ideology or philosophy, as opposed to just trying to make sense and bring reality to what had been absolutely topsy-turvy land.
But one thing I found quite interesting; I cite from time to time — I rely on the wisdom of Robert Conquest, who’s one of the great historians of the Soviet Union of the modern age. And he — he grappled with a lot of these people in real time, because this is the period where he was doing his most famous work about the terror famine, about the show trials and so on. And so he was up against it all the time.
And he had some very trenchant observations. And one of them was that he felt that it was a misnomer — it was a misnomer from the start to portray the Cold War as an ideological struggle, in other words between competing ideologies. Because he said the Marxist-Leninist program is indeed an ideology. Everything is preordained according to the ideological dictates, right down to the very words you use and the subjects you even are allowed to talk about.
By contrast, the Western system, the Western evolution of liberty, is not ideological. It is rule-of-law based. But there is no preconceived reaction according to ideology in such — in such a system. The individual — again, the individual liberty versus the collectivist state of totalitarianism. They are — they are as mismatched as possible.
And yet, we still think of the Cold War as competing ideologies. And in many ways this is another triumph of sort of the Marxist Leninist outlook. But I think what Apple is falling for is this notion, this same notion, that Reagan is somehow the ideological captive as opposed to everyone else.
So, yes, it is ironic indeed.