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

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Solzhenitsyn on God and the First World War — A Roads Classic

Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn

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.

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. Very thought provoking, thank you. I find his 1983 Templeton address, "Men Have Forgotten God" to be worth a read. I read the "Gulag Archipelago" and the "Life of Denisovich" some years ago. Thank you again for highlighting this gem.

  2. I have not read his 1983 paper from which this is excerpted, but as presented here his argument seems a bit blinkered. To imply that only C20th wars arose from 'forgetting God' he would have to show that other massacres throughout the centuries were somehow 'approved' by God (in actuality - not just on the basis of the combatants' claims). Can't fully defend this argument in one paragraph, but I hope you get my drift.

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  3. A very clear statement of Russian conservatism.

  4. I have only read the first volume of his WW1 trilogy 'The Red Wheel', 'August 1914'. It is excellent, wonderfully written (as one would expect from a Nobel Prize winner) giving an overview of the catastrophe of the Russian campaign.