If our schools and universities cared about history, Anne Applebaum's magisterial work, Gulag would be required reading. Not because our children need to master the enormous body of detail concerning the infamous Soviet forced-labor system -- made famous by Solzhenitsyn's works some 30 years ago -- but because it is only by working their way through the chilling details, year by year and camp by camp, that they can begin to understand the horrors of Communism and the magnitude of our successful war against it.
The first thing that needs to be said about this rare and wonderful work is that it defines the subject. Here, for the first time, a serious scholar has actually consulted the documentary evidence. It thus takes its place alongside Renzo De Felice's work on Italian fascism and Raoul Hilberg's The Destruction of the European Jews, as an amazing work of historical reconstruction. Anyone who wants to know about the darkest side of the Soviet Empire, and anyone who wishes to pursue other inquiries into the subject, will have to start here.
Like Hitler's slave-labor and extermination camps, the Soviet Gulag was the symbol of the regime. Like the Nazi camps, the Soviet ones started to solve a particular political problem -- how to eliminate unwanted elements from the society at large -- and then took on a life of their own, sometimes becoming the driving force of policy rather than a tool of it. The horrors found underneath the rocks of silence that long protected both systems from public examination are similar, and I rather think that anyone who analyzes such a phenomenon is compelled to write -- as Anne Applebaum does -- with an almost bloodless detachment. There are very few adjectives in Gulag, as in the great works on the other monstrous regimes of the recent past, because no adjective can do justice to the subject. The only way to get at it is by piling up the evidence. Gulag is nearly 700 pages long, and yet it is not burdensome; indeed, it could easily have been longer.
Read the entire article on the National Review website (new window will open).