Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, February 12, 2016

Solzhenitsyn on God and the First World War

More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008)
Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.

What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.

The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century. The first of these was World War I, and much of our present predicament can be traced back to it.

It was a war (the memory of which seems to be fading) when Europe, bursting with health and abundance, fell into a rage of self-mutilation which could not but sap its strength for a century or more, and perhaps forever.

The only possible explanation for this war is a mental eclipse among the leaders of Europe due to their lost awareness of a Supreme Power above them. Only a godless embitterment could have moved ostensibly Christian states to employ poison gas, a weapon so obviously beyond the limits of humanity.

Source: This is an excerpt from Solzhenitsyn's 1983 Speech,  "Men Have Forgotten God" in which he expands his theme to include the Second World War and the Mutual Assured Destruction Doctrine of the Cold War.


  1. And yet so many of the letter, diaries, and poems written by men fighting in the war reveal a wellspring of deep faith and belief.

  2. This is not much more than a simple and easy way of absolving people, politicians, leaders, the military, the intelligentsia etc of any responsibility for man made tragedies and horrific mistakes. People start and cause wars and revolutions and bloodshed. They are the perpetrators.

    And surely Solzhenitsyn conveniently suffers from deliberate amnesia when he does not mention all the wars caused by those who expressly fought for the purpose of religion. The 16th and 17th century is replete with such wars.

    I fear Solzhenitsyn simply suffers from regret at what might have been and looks for a simple solution to the cause.

  3. Many believed they were doing God's work to end rampant militarism. All believed God was on their side of the conflict.

  4. WW I started, as many wars, started from envy, greed, and a lust for power or territory over some other nation...and the belligerents were willing kill others for these reasons under all kinds of high sounding rhetoric and justifications to cover these avaricious motivations. Injured pride from previous losses in other perpetual wars is fanned by leaders and an appeal for "justice" (really revenge) is what is called for to start a war. What is forgotten is not so much formal religion that gets us in so much trouble; is just the basic forgetting to follow and practice the Golden Rule ("doing unto others as you would have them do unto you").

    We have the same problem today as we had back then with politicians trying to get elected, appealing to the worst angles of our nature...envy, greed, lust for power and injured pride. Almost every generation has those who lust for power and money and haven't met a war they didn't like and are willing to spend billions on them to achieve their ends, usually with other peoples children while they and their children stay home and get rich off of war.

    I am always struck with how God gets dragged into messes we make. The sheer irony hits home to you when you examine the belt buckle of every German soldier that has inscribed on it: "Gott Mit Uns"...translated God with us" (see: ).

    The nihilism and disillusionment after WW I and the short-lived desire for the Great War to be the war to end all wars was the product of leaders and the people of many nations giving in to the dark side of human nature. Unfortunately, we keep doing it again and again, filling VA hospitals and cemeteries with new generations of wounded or dead warriors.