As we’ve oft been reminded, Senator McCain is rather reluctant to raise the matter of his incarceration as a POW during the Vietnam War. If pressed, however he will relate an anecdote, or two . . . or three, or . . . how many can you handle at one sitting?
For example, on July 9, while on a campaign swing through Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, McCain told KDKA television how the Steelers had always been his “favorite team,” and how, once as a POW, he repeated to his captors the entire staring lineup of the team, as members of his squadron. The lie becomes bald-faced because his 1999 memoir, Faith of My Fathers, recounts the exact same tale, but the team is the Green Bay Packers. But then, Senator McCain wasn’t in Green Bay on July 9, he was in Pittsburg.
Last evening, during the sit-down at the Saddleback Church, at the 15:33 minute mark, repeated this story: “I was standing outside my cell, and he [the ‘gun guard’] came walking up, and with his sandal in the dirt yard he drew a cross…”
The extraordinary coincidence that provokes the most outrageous query concerning the possible validity of McCain’s POW moment, and by definition the truthfulness of his anecdotal “little story” to Rick Warren is the fact that on August 8, 2008, no more than nine days earlier, John McCain wrote the following in the New York Sun:
Solzhenitsyn at Work
By JOHN McCAIN | August 4, 2008, New York Sun
He wrote diligently, comprehensively, profoundly, and in secret. Why? What good is a silent memory when the forgotten deserve justice? This way, he might avoid the despair of having his work confiscated and destroyed or the frustration of having his work rejected by publishers as inadequate or politically unacceptable. Worse, making public his work, his memories, might cost him the measure of happiness he then enjoyed. It might send him back to the Gulag. For whatever reason, he kept his work to himself and to his wife, Natalya. "During all the years until 1961," he wrote, "not only was I convinced that I should never see a single line of mine in print in my lifetime but also I scarcely dared allow any of my close acquaintances to read anything I had written, because I feared that this would become known."
He was a writer with unusual gifts, utterly devoted to his art, brilliant and exacting, producing work that would stun not just literary worlds but the entire Cold War political world, and he was resigned to being unread until "this secret authorship began to wear me down." Following Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 denunciation of Stalin at the Twentieth Communist Party Conference and the cultural thaw, Khrushchev encouraged at the Twenty-second Congress in 1961, [Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn mustered the courage to send One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a fictitious account of one day's suffering in a poor peasant's life in a labor camp, to the literary journal Novy Mir. The magazine's gifted editor, Aleksandr Tvardovsky, recognized it as a work of genius, compared it to Tolstoy, sent it to Khrushchev for the premier's permission, and published it. Tvardovsky said that while reading the manuscript late at night "he was so moved by its power that he got out of bed, put on a suit and tie and sat up the rest of the night reading ... because it would have been an insult to read such an epic in his pajamas."
Solzhenitsyn decided to write, in seven parts, a history of the gulags, which were not first conceived, as popular opinion held, in Stalin's malevolent paranoia, but by Lenin himself, who in the earliest days of Bolshevik rule provided the legal justification for strengthening the party's hold on power by establishing slave-labor camps. Stalin, of course, had expanded the system beyond Lenin's vision.
The writing began in fits and starts. Another round of cancer treatment interrupted him. And he had doubts that, lacking any access to official records, his own experiences — what he "was able to take away from the archipelago on the skin of my back and with my eyes and ears" — provided sufficient material on which to base such an immense undertaking. He set it aside. But after the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyn began to receive hundreds of letters from Gulag survivors, and the letters and accounts obtained in conversations and memoirs from a total of 227 witnesses gave him the material necessary to complete the work.
In 1964, he began to work diligently on The Gulag Archipelago, writing sixteen hours a day in two eight-hour shifts. He completed the second draft in two and a half months, from late 1966 to early 1967. In the spring of 1968 he wrote feverishly to finish and microfilm the work in anticipation of sending it abroad for publication. On June 2,1968, it was done. One week later a friend carried the microfilm rolled in a capsule to Paris. Five years were to pass before it was published.