Old soldier and the fading story

They are not about the past or the present. They are about the future. And the future is what you can see on the horizon.

an old soldier

And in the final analysis, the most important thing in a true war story is not the characters, the politics, the even the language, the moral of the story, but its ability to induce the reader to envision the real future.

These are not things to be tried and negotiated. They are not considerations to be mollified or refined. They are the ends to which all work must eventually reach.

“We have here in front of us a scenario with some of the most remarkable elements of war and peace in human history—but also many of the most profound problems of history. Here we have one set of forces and those forces act on each other. We have here a single future. And here is a future with many choices. So it is that we, too, have a duty to do what we can for the future.”—President Ronald Reagan, The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Empire (1990)

I was twenty-five years old, in 1979. I was born in a small village in the north of England, in an English village where only half of the people were white and the other half were not white at all. My father was a leading light in the British establishment and my mother was a relatively successful civil servant who had served the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I have spent the last three years of my life working with both my parents, my parents’ children, and our extended family. I have seen that all of them are, like me, broadly sympathetic to Russia. I have lived in Russia and I have lived in various places in the former Soviet Union. My parents have been friends and political allies of the United States government for forty years. I have seen firsthand what democracy is, and the freedom of expression and the struggle for justice that that freedom brings.

I have never been particularly anti-American. I have long believed that all great powers must compromise, that we should understand what makes each other great and must be respectful of each other’s interests and ideas. I have always admired America. I have never been hostile to Americans, and I have never harbored any resentment toward them.

And yet, as I began to think about what it would mean to be Russian, I began to see things differently. I saw many of the conditions that had created the strength and prosperity of my own country—and that, by the way, I was now an expert in—in the Soviet Union. I saw how I had been living in the heart of that country and had seen how people had been living. I saw how the opposition had been dying and being replaced by an even stronger and more repressive force that had been forced onto the political scene. I saw how the story of freedom had been turned into a road map of oppression, from which there was no return.

I saw how the stories of heroes and heroes’ sons and heroes’ daughters had all been silenced, stripped from the collective memory of the Soviet Union, and that the people who had been living through them had been made to feel that their voices were not important. I saw how the story of the coming together of two great nations had been turned into a cruel lie. I saw how the people of the Soviet Union had been used to justify a policy that had cost so much human life, was so full of mistakes, and yet so inhumane. I saw how a story of great suffering had been manufactured for people to live through. I saw how a policy had been fabricated to justify tyranny, or to exploit those who were forced to live under it, or to benefit a tiny handful of people at the expense of a majority of the people.