Alexander Solzhenitsyn Or John McCain?

Who are you going to believe?

You read. You watch. You Decide:

Here is a story about Alexander Solzhenitsyn from his times in the Soviet Gulags.

Along with other prisoners, he worked in the fields day after day, in rain and sun, during summer and winter. His life appeared to be nothing more than backbreaking labor and slow starvation. The intense suffering reduced him to a state of despair.

On one particular day, the hopelessness of his situation became too much for him. He saw no reason to continue his struggle, no reason to keep on living. His life made no difference in the world. So he gave up.

Leaving his shovel on the ground, he slowly walked to a crude bench and sat down. He knew that at any moment a guard would order him to stand up, and when he failed to respond, the guard would beat him to death, probably with his own shovel. He had seen it happen to other prisoners.

As he waited, head down, he felt a presence. Slowly he looked up and saw a skinny old prisoner squat down beside him. The man said nothing. Instead, he used a stick to trace in the dirt the sign of the Cross. The man then got back up and returned to his work.

As Solzhenitsyn stared at the Cross drawn in the dirt his entire perspective changed. He knew he was only one man against the all-powerful Soviet empire. Yet he knew there was something greater than the evil he saw in the prison camp, something greater than the Soviet Union. He knew that hope for all people was represented by that simple Cross. Through the power of the Cross, anything was possible.

Solzhenitsyn slowly rose to his feet, picked up his shovel, and went back to work. Outwardly, nothing had changed. Inside, he had received hope.

[From Luke Veronis, "The Sign of the Cross"; Communion, issue 8, Pascha 1997.]

Now watch this John McCain ad:

Does anyone else get the feeling that McCain's old war stories that he rattled on about during the Forum on Faith, and during this campaign, are nothing more than a heaping, steaming pile of BS? Hey! it wouldn't be the only lies John McCain told in that church last night...

Further reading for your homework pleasure:
  1. TomP: Cross in the Dirt, a recap of what we know
  2. Calouste: No "cross in the sand" for McCain in 1973
  3. Throwing Stones: McCain lies, contradicts himself on Cross story

[update] It appears that even the Freepers have known McCain's story was all a lie since way back in 2005:

And McCain had just published his latest book of embellished tales. A Freeper posted the reference to the Cross-in-the-Dirt story, and Freepers accepted it with, lets say, something less than enthusiasm.


Among some of the responses are:

Do I sense a run for president coming up? Sorry if I'm too cynical.

Perhaps McCain is making obvious Christian statements to gain support for 2008.
Perhaps??? :-)

and of course:

This guy is so full of $hit his eyes are brown. He is a sellout RINO. I would not believe a word he says.

But my jaw hit the floor when I read this:

Hmmmm. Looks like McCain has been reading Solzhenitsyn.
From The Mayor's daily posts at FR's Finest and The Canteen from the devotional "Our Daily Bread" comes Sunday's reading...

World-famous Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was sent to a Siberian prison because he criticized communism. Languishing there under intolerable conditions year after year, he decided to end his life. But suicide, he firmly believed, would be against God's will. He thought it would be better for a guard to shoot him.

So at a public assembly of the prisoners, he sat in a front row, planning to get up and walk toward an exit, compelling a guard to kill him. But to his surprise, another prisoner sat down, blocking his exit. That unknown man leaned over and, to Solzhenitsyn's astonishment, drew a cross on the dirt floor.

Here's a direct link to that response:

So... Both the left and the right seem to be in agreement that McCain is full of, ummm? Let's just say McCain has brown eyes, OK?

[update] I have already written another post on this topic, but in the interests of correcting the origins of the story for people, like
Rinehardt947, that find this archived post:
McCain Campaign and Surrogates Attack Navy Vet

The exposure of another likely plagiarism, this time plagiarizing Solzhenitsyn, by the McCain Campaign has them and their surrogates hypocritically attacking the patriotism of a Navy Veteran:

First of all, I would like to thank the people who have sent their encouragement and kind messages to me. I have been complimented on my "good citizen journalism" and have seen people take my idea and raise it to the level such that it is being talked about in the mainstream media.

Of course, along with the good comes the bad, and I have been called a traitor, a terrorist, un-American, and someone who wants to destroy Christianity. I have been called a "pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons" player who loves to "disparage a fellow countryman's memory of war from the comfort of mom's basement" by the McCain people. Because of these attacks, I feel that it is necessary to tell a bit about myself, and to highlight what it is that we are really up against in the candidate that is John McCain.

I served in the Navy as a Nuclear Plant Operator for over 14 years. I served onboard the USS Texas (CGN-39) in Operation Desert Storm. I served onboard the USS Arkansas (CGN-41) in support of Operation Desert Fox. I was a crewmember of the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) when airplanes struck the Twin Towers on 9/11, and our ship was the first ship that was flying attack missions into Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. I am a father, a husband, an active member of VoteVets, and I take personally any attack on my character or on my morality.


They have used McCain's POW history to create a firewall to shield from all criticism, and as a universal qualifier for all things that pertain to foreign policy or to the military.

Here are some examples:

- Any question of McCain's integrity is instantly an insult to all military personnel and all veterans who have ever served.
- Any opposition to McCain's ideas must be prefaced with a disclaimer honoring his military service.
- Any McCain misstep or gaffe is instantly forgiven because he was once a Prisoner of War, and must be honored as such.
- John McCain's war hero status overrides the Ten Commandments, because according to Sean Hannity, his adultery is erased by the fact that he was imprisoned in Vietnam.

The Legend of John McCainTM has been perpetuated by the Republican party and the Corporate Media to crush all dissent and create a teflon candidate that is beyond reproach.

.....snip.... (edit insert the original post above)

So far we have established that McCain has had different versions of the story to recount in more recent years - since about the year 2000 - for campaign purposes, a pretty clear indication that McCain can't keep the lies straight:
It's worth noting that pursuing the cross-in-the-dirt evangelical parable as it might have happened to McCain is in no way impugning anyone's war record. No one is disputing in any way what McCain did in Vietnam, his heroism, his sacrifice or any jot and tittle of his combat in arms and time in captivity. What we're curious about is how an urban legend in Christianist circles (attributed to Solzhenitsen but originating, so far as one can tell, in Chuck Colson) reshaped and altered an actual, utterly believable story of rare humanity in a prison camp. And how a campaign not only adopted the improved story but then wielded it in a campaign ad and as a critical message to evangelicals. If that ad is not actually true - and its depiction of the cross in the dirt we know is false (according to McCain, it was done with a sandal; in the ad it is done, as in Colson's account, with a stick) - it's a question of challenging a campaign's veracity, and what can only be called a cynical use of religion. Could the campaign confirm that the ad itself is visually incompatible with the Salter story? Or were they unconcerned with such detail, assuming no one would be foolish enough to question a war hero's unconfirmable anecdote - and eager merely to show the deeper (and true) point that McCain relied on God to survive the unimaginable?

And, clearly, many of the witnesses the right wing have trotted out to provide cover for the plagiarism charges in the last week claiming McCain told them before have been so contradictory in their stories it is laughable.

From May of this year:

“I don’t recall us talking specifically about our faith,” says Orson Swindle, one of McCain’s closest friends and a fellow POW. “We talked about our friends, families, our resistance posture, and that our country didn’t seem to have the will to win.”

Belief in a higher power helped them survive the routine torture and daily indignities, Swindle says. “It would help us endure what we had to endure. But we knew God wasn’t going to come down and wave a magic wand.”

Swindle's recollection today is here.
Spin reactionary right wing thugs. What a joke... His life and faith altering moment was so important that there is no recount in his earlier recounts of Christmas stories:
I just want to point out that there's a chapter specifically devoted to three Christmases of McCain's captivity in The Nightingale's Song, Robert Timberg's critically acclaimed 1995 book, which helped put McCain on the map as a political celebrity -- and the cross story does not appear. Nor does it appear anywhere else in the book.

The chapter is titled "'Tis the Season to Be Jolly." It says that on Christmas Eve 1968, a guard tried to compel McCain to attend a church service that was being staged for the benefit of visiting photographers. McCain decided "to ruin the picture," letting out a series of curses ("'Fu-u-u-u-ck you, you son of a bitch!' shouted McCain, hoisting a one-finger salute whenever a camera pointed in his direction"). There's certainly no mention of a cross in the sand in this account.

On Christmas Eve 1969, we're then told, McCain had a civil conversation with the Cat, the one guard he's said in other accounts was considerate to him a guard called the Cat (see Calouste's correction in comments) -- but again there's no mention of a cross in the sand. (Timberg tells us that McCain and the Cat discussed the Cat's tie clip and cigarette lighter, as well as McCain's decision not to accept early release.)

On Christmas 1970, Timberg writes, McCain was transferred to a cell with his friend Bud Day -- "the perfect Christmas present" because he'd just spent two and a half years in solitary. Again, no cross.

(The chapter also includes an account of the car accident in which McCain's first wife, whom he later divorced, was seriously injured. The accident took place on Christmas Eve 1969.)

Never mind that his rock solid faith was so affirmed by all of his experiences as a POW that as soon as he got home he cheated on his first wife repeatedly... Before divorcing her.

Do you really think anybody is believing a word that comes out of McCain or his campaign anymore?

Do you really think anybody is believing a word that comes out of McCain or his campaign anymore?

If McCain's lips are moving... He is lying:
The problem is that in an era where things can easily be verified, “I don’t remember” is sometimes passable and “I never said that” or “I never did that” is unacceptable and easily verifiable.

And that is just off the top of my head and a quick search.

So let’s start calling him what he is. A full on liar. Not only “forgetful”, not only “misinterpreted”, not only “misquoted”, not only mean-spirited and stretching the truth.

And, please remember you insane right wing nuts... That if you really want to address who started all of these plagiarism accusations in the first place: Right wingnut Freepers at the Free Republic. Yeah, that's right... YOUR OWN RIGHT WINGNUT SMEAR CAMPAIGN BUDDIES.

Can we help it if it is pretty darn clear that it is true?

[update] The long trail of this mythology/story on the conservative side of the aisle makes it pretty darned clear that any right wingnut could have cobbled this campaign lie together for McCain:

But it turns out that this episode probably never happened to Solzhenitsyn at all, and according to a Solzhenitsyn biographer it appears nowhere in his published writing. Columbia University professor Michael Scammell, the author of Solzhenitsyn: A Biography, says the episode "never happened," and didn't appear in Solzhenitsyn's book, Gulag Archipelago, either.

This only solves a piece of the mystery, but it's a key piece. It doesn't necessarily rule out the possibility that McCain or his biographer, Mark Salter, picked up the tale that this happened to Solzhenitsyn elsewhere and embellished it for their own purposes.

But it takes one well-trafficked theory off the table: That McCain, a fan of Solzhenitsyn, picked it up straight from his works. More broadly, it also skewers once and for all the cherished right-wing falsehood that this happened to Solzhenitsyn at all.

Of course, it's still possible that McCain or Salter picked this up from the sort of right-wing circles that it first originated in. After all, this tale was bandied about by Chuck Colson and many other wingnuts for years; McCain or Salter could have picked it up from such circles, as the notes from Colson's 1983 book, Loving God, explain:

"The story about Alexander Solzhenitsen and the old man who made the sign of the cross was first told by Solzhenitsyn to a group of Christian leaders and later recounted by Billy Graham in his New Year's telecast, 1977. It has been retold subsequently, most publicly by Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC)."

Those investigating this story have also pointed out that no one can find evidence that McCain referenced this episode until his 1999 book -- it didn't appear anywhere in a lengthy 1973 article McCain wrote about his captivity. It does seem odd that McCain would not have discussed such a pivotal moment until twenty-five years later.

What is becoming clear is that this is just more of the typical GOP and conservative crap that is made up and inserted into the mythology of any campaign or far right wingnut cause that wants to abuse the truth.
IOW: McCain did likely plagiarize from someone... Colson, Jeremiah Denton, Billy Graham or Helms... Who knows who else because the story is so old. The similarities to the "origins" are one thing. The inconsistencies in McCain and his own campaign's recounting of everything is simply beyond the pale.

[update] A late update on this considering right wingnuts are still using the Swindle lies to cover the McCain Campaign tracks on this long after Swindle was completely discredited while pissing and moaning that the left attacks veterans while simultaneously twisting into the hypocrisy of trying to use the notorious swiftboat liar Bud Day as their new lie to cut'nrun from the truth... Anyways, this from the Jed Report:

McCain's ghost writer Mark Salter now claims CITD wasn't a pivotal moment for McCain:

As for assertions that the "cross in the dirt" story was a "pivotal" experience in McCain's time as a POW, Salter said, "That's just plain bulls—t. His pivotal experience was his refusal of early release and the three or four days of torture he took for it, his confession, and his attempted suicide. That was his pivotal experience. He's never represented [the "cross in the dirt" story] to be that."

But on Saturday McCain said:

I'll never forget that moment.

And in October 2007, according to the Christian Science Monitor, McCain said it was the most profound experience of his time as POW (emphasis added):

For McCain, there were other moments of grace in prison. While in solitary confinement, he would be left for the night with his arms tied back in a painful position. One night, a guard walked in and loosened the ropes, then came back five hours later and tightened up the ropes again, without saying a word. Two months later, on Christmas Day, McCain was allowed to stand outside for 10 minutes in a courtyard, and that same guard came up to him. The guard stood beside him for a minute, then drew a cross in the dirt with his sandal and stood there for a minute, looking at McCain silently. A few minutes later he rubbed it out and walked away.

"My friends, I will never forget that man," McCain recounts during a town-hall meeting with voters, his voice choked with emotion. "I will never forget that moment. And I will never forget the fact that no matter where you are, no matter how difficult things are, there's always going to be someone of your faith and your belief and your devotion to your fellow man who will pick you up and help you out and bring you through."

It was, he said later, the most transcendent and uplifting experience of his imprisonment.

It's obvious that Salter is trying to minimize a story that McCain himself was hyping just two days earlier.

Keep bringing this story up you right wing fools... Even John McCain is already trying to hide from this huge lie.


Anonymous said...

If anyone actually bothered to read the book Gulag Archipelago the facts about this would be known. Not only that, according to a Solzhenitsyn biographer, Columbia University professor Michael Scammell, the author of Solzhenitsyn: A Biography, "it appears nowhere in his published writing" and says the episode "never happened, and didn't appear in Solzhenitsyn's book, Gulag Archipelago, either." Solzhenitsyn NEVER experienced or wrote about a cross in the dirt so there's no way McCain could have picked it up from his works.

Connecticut Man1 said...

I am aware of that... I have updated to include the real origins of the story already.