Why I'm returning my Soviet medal
President Leonid Brezhnev The Kremlin Moscow, USSR
Dear Mr. President:
I write in general to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the banishment to Gorky of Andrei D. Sakharov. I write in particular, since you have stripped Sakharov of his Soviet awards, to ask you to remove my name from the list of recipients of a Soviet award.
Mr. President, we will never have peace in this world if the superpowers feel free to invade other countries to assure governments to their liking. Nor can we have peace when protests against such invasions are suppressed.
I do not believe I can be accused of a double standard in this matter. I publicly denounced and worked against the US intervention in Vietnam from 1963 until the bitter end in 1975. I also protested the US invasion of the Dominican Republic. As it happened, the US Marines landed there on the very day in the spring in 1965 when I arrived in Moscow. Since no English- language newspapers were available, every day I took a taxi to the office of the New York Times to find out what was going on in the world. When I learned what the US was doing in the Dominican Republic, I condemned the action in strong terms.
Of course, I denounced the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.
I remember well the circumstances in which I received a gold medal from the Soviet government. Despite the fact that my government was bombing North Vietnam and sending large number of troops into South Vietnam, I had gone to Moscow to discuss problems of disarmament and peacekeeping with Soviet scholars, officials, journalists, and peace activists. On the afternoon of May 10, on only about an hour's notice, I was whisked to the Kremlin and escorted to an impressive chamber inside. Several dozen others were there to receive the same decoration. We were being given the award because we were official guests of the USSR on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the victory over Hitler's armies. I was the only American there, and perhaps the only Westerner. I confess, Mr. President, that I felt very strange and wondered if I was in any way compromising myself. But I did believe in detente, and the defeat of Hitler shows what the Soviet Union and the United States can do when they cooperate.
However, with your government's invasion of Afghanistan and persecution of Andrei Sakharov, I am no longer comfortable being in the role of recipient of a Soviet medal, and I ask that my name be removed. I am greatly distressed and embarrased that I cannot return the medal itself, as it was stolen in a burglary in my Manhattan apartment some years ago. I am sorry that all I can return is the box in which it came, numbered No. 29, and the certificate for the decoration, numbered A. No. 0011690, dated May 10, 1965.
Let me conclude, Mr. President, with two quotations of Sakharov which I think indicate that his kind of thinking is more likely to lead the world in the direction of world peace than the kind of thinking now dominant in Moscow and Washington.
First, here is what Sakharov wrote in a 1974 critique of a letter Alexander I Solzhenitsyn has sent to the Soviet leadership: "I am convinced, unlike Solzhenitsyn, that no important problem can be solved only on a national scale. In particular, disarmament, which is so essential to the elimination of the danger of war, is obviously possible only on the basis of agreement and trust among the great states."
Second, this is what he said in a statement brought to Moscow from Gorky by his wife last Jan. 28: "From the article in Izvestia it is apparent that the main reason for the repression against me at this particularly anxious time was my position condemning the intervention in Afghanistan, which is a threat to the entire world, and demanding the withdrawal of Soviet troops from that country, perhaps with their replacement by United Nations units. . . ."
Mr. President, I believe Sakharov is right: the way out of this perilous situation is for all foreign intervention in Afghanistan to cease, and for a United Nations force to oversee a process of genuine self-determination for the Afghan people.