ALEXANDER Solzhenitsyn, the Russian novelist who lived in exile, once told reporters "When a country has a great writer, it has a second government."
Abraham Lincoln told Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," that her little book started the Civil War.The pen is mightier than the sword.
And one word processor trumps 50 Scuds.
I've been thinking such thoughts because of the strife in Bosnia. While the world wrings its hands, the terror continues. Everyone wishes the whole problem would just go away. And eventually it will. Leaders will wipe their brows, say "glad that's over," and go on about their business.
But over in Bosnia, 10-year-old boys and girls are feeling, thinking and saving things up. And in the future we'll be hearing from them. Somewhere in one of those bombed out villages, on those roads full of refugees, a great writer is playing witness. That "second government" will emerge - that great Bosnian writer - and then, once again, the world will be forced to look itself in the eye. Then, history will have the truth. And we'll have our shame, remorse and what little hope we can salvage.
I know this is true.
I've seen it happen a dozen times.
In Argentina, the roughnecks and louts were running the show at the turn of the century. Then a young idealist named Sarmiento wrote a book called "Facundo" that dismantled the regime and its leader, Facundo.
Said Facundo in dismay: "Why don't we have a guy like that working for our side?"
The apartheid fanatics in South Africa thought they were getting away with murder - until Nadine Gordimer wrote some books, won the Nobel Prize for literature and put a stake through their hearts.
The Nazis had their atrocities all hushed up.
Then along came Anne Frank, Primo Levi, Elie Weisel and other writers to dispatch them to hell.
Reinaldo Arenas threw a light onto Castro's Cuba, Angel Gonzales kept them honest in Spain and in Bosnia, children are taking mental notes.
Mental notes are all it takes. Fiction is 90 percent memory, and right now, those memories are being loaded.
We live in an era of timed explosives - a time when terrorists can set a bomb to go off hours, days - even weeks - from when its planted.
A bombshell of a book will go off years from now. The timer is being set as we speak.
I predict an explosion about the year 2015.
"What were we thinking?" we'll say. And: "How could we?"
"It seemed like the thing to do at the time," world leaders will say.
"If only we'd known," we'll say.
Well, the truth is we do know.
Read "Uncle Tom's Cabin."