A Meditation on History by Vasily Grossman

Can we call someone a great man if he has not brought into people’s lives a single atom of good, a single atom of freedom and intelligence?

Can we call someone a great man if he has left behind him only ashes, ruins and congealed blood, only poverty and the stench of racism, only the graves of the countless children and old people he has killed?

Can we call someone a great man because his unusual intelligence, able to detect and co-opt every dark and reactionary force, proved as virulent and destructive as the bacteria of bubonic plague?

The twentieth century is a critical and dangerous time for humanity. It is time for intelligent people to renounce, once and for all, the thoughtless and sentimental habit of admiring a criminal if the scope of his criminality is vast enough, of admiring an arsonist if he sets fire not to a village hut but to capital cities, of tolerating a demagogue if he deceives not just an uneducated lad from a village but entire nations, of pardoning a murderer because he has killed not one individual but millions.

Such criminals must be destroyed like rabid wolves. We must remember them only with disgust and burning hatred. We must expose their darkness to the light of day.

And if the forces of darkness engender new Hitlers, playing on people’s basest and most backward instincts in order to further new criminal designs against humanity, let no one see in them any trait of grandeur or heroism.

A crime is a crime, and criminals do not cease to be criminals because their crimes are recorded in history and their names are remembered. A criminal remains a criminal; a murderer remains a murderer.

History’s only true heroes, the only true leaders of mankind are those who help to establish freedom, who see freedom as the greatest strength of an individual, a nation or a state, who fight for the equality, in all respects, of every individual, people and nation.

–Vasily Grossman, Stalingrad, 2.30.560-561

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