What About the Russians?
By Ernest Partridge
The Crisis Papers
June 27, 2006
Along with all Americans, save the generation now in high-school and
younger, I grew up and lived under the shadow of the Cold War, and
behind it the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation. We all
remember it well.
But I also dimly remember a time when we thought well of
the Russians Ė our allies in World War II, a war against the stereotyped
"Japs" and "Krauts."
All that changed a mere ten months after the surrender
of Nazi Germany when, in Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill spoke these
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic,
an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line
lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern
Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest
and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie
in what I must call the Soviet sphere...
Many historians mark that speech as the beginning of the
A year later, in March, 1947, President Harry Truman
requested and received from the Congress an appropriation of $400
million to aid the Greek and Turkish governments in their struggles
against Communist rebels Ė or "insurgents," as we would call them today. This policy became known as "The Truman Doctrine," the effect of which
was an open-ended commitment to fund anti-communist regimes around the
Concerned that the American public might resist an
increase in military appropriations so soon after victory in the World
War, Truman was advised by Arthur Vandenburg, the Republican
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that in order to
succeed with his confrontational policy, the President would have to
"scare Hell out of the American people."
And so we the people have lived in fear, up to the fall
of the Berlin Wall in November, 1989, and that of the Soviet Union in
December, 1991. After a hiatus of a mere decade, the fear resumed on
September 11, 2001, to once again captivate the American people and
Though constantly preoccupied, like all Americans, with
"the Soviet Menace," in the early days of the Cold War, I rarely
encountered a "real live Russian," much less a Russian communist. On one
occasion, while enrolled in some graduate course at Columbia
University, I happened to meet a young correspondent from Radio Moscow,
and seeing an opportunity to get better acquainted, invited him to lunch
for an extended conversation. "Be careful, heís probably KGB," my
parents warned. Then, for the
next three decades, I had no further personal contact with any Russians.
Throughout that time, the dark, abstract specter, "the Soviet
Threat," chilled my consciousness, as it also dominated the news and
It is noteworthy that for the vast majority of
Americans, "the Russians," like "the Germans" and "the Japanese"
earlier, and "the Arabs" and "the Muslims" today, are perceived
abstractly, as a collective gathered under a label, without faces or
individual personalities. All the better to serve as "targets" in a war,
either cold or hot.
Even so, for several decades I wondered, "Just who are
these people, as individuals, whom we are prepared to annihilate by the
millions, as they are equally prepared to annihilate us? Surely, they
too have families that they love, and friendships, joys, griefs,
aspirations, and traditions, just as we do. And they must also have
ideas to challenge us. Is our common humanity less important than the
mutual antagonisms and mutual threats that separate us?"
I was to have my first answer in June, 1989, when I was
invited to participate in a summer seminar on "Global Security and Arms
Control" at the University of California, Irvine, sponsored by the
University of Californiaís Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation. As it happened, the seminar convened less than three weeks after the
massacre at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Assigned a dorm room with a
visiting Chinese scholar, I saw in his face and heard in his voice his
personal agony at the repression of his friends and colleagues "back
Also at the seminar were four articulate, intelligent
and personable Russians, whom we soon came to call "the gang of four."
In the discussions, it soon became clear that these individuals were not
"the enemy," but rather like ourselves,
victims of the
shared insanity that had befallen our respective governments.
A sample of that insanity was distributed to the members
of the seminar for their critical analysis. It was the 1988
edition of the US Department of Defense report, "Soviet Military Power:
An Assessment of the Threat." Primarily directed to the Congress, it
was, in effect, a wish-list and a sales pitch in behalf of the Military
Industrial Complex. After the fall of the Soviet Union, and the
subsequent inspection of the Soviet military capability, the report was
found to be, by and large, a fraud. Of special interest was the reportís
assessment of the Soviet government, three years into the Administration
of Mikhail Gorbachev and the advent of "Perestroika" and "Glasnost:"
Gorbachevís "new thinking" primarily reflects a change
in style, while his diplomatic initiatives embody new tactics. By
cultivating a less threatening international image, Moscow aims to
deflect attention away from Soviet militarism and adventure in its
foreign policy. In Moscowís view, the consequent international climate
will improve Soviet prospects for maintaining an advantageous
"correlation of forces: worldwide, especially in an era of economic
stagnation. At the same time, Moscow will aim to expand its power and
influence... (31. See also, my:
"If Peace Were
at Hand, How Would We Know It?" ).
At about the same time, George Will put it more
succinctly: "Gorbachev is Brezhnev with a tailored suit and a thin
wife." It is instructive to recall these words in the light of events in
the Soviet Union subsequent to the release of this DoD report on "Soviet
That following November (1989) I was invited to present
a paper at a conference on
"The Ethics of
Non-Violence," sponsored by the Soviet Academy of Sciences in
Moscow. This was to be the first of seven visits to Russia, during which
I presented five papers at scholarly conferences. My most recent visit
was in the Summer of 1999. I devoutly hope that it will not be my last. To this day, I remain in close contact with many Russian friends and
In June,1990, before my departure to a conference at
Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia, I happened to pick up a copy of the New York Times. There I found an article by Bill Keller: "Ex-KGB
Officer, Speaking Out, Asserts Spy Agency is Unchanged." The article
profiled Oleg Kalugin, a retired KGB Major General, who was speaking
candidly, critically and publicly against the agency that he had served
for thirty-two years. The KGB, he proclaimed, has no place in the
reformed Soviet Union. This was an extraordinarily audacious and
courageous act, and soon thereafter, Kalugin, who had resigned from the
Communist Party, was stripped of his rank, his pension, and his
decorations. He might also have lost his freedom or even his life, but
for his candidacy and election to the Soviet Parliament, and a
subsequent intervention by Mikhail Gorbachev.
Oleg Kalugin is the Radio Moscow correspondent that I
invited to lunch in New York City, some thirty years earlier. And, yes,
he was in fact a KGB agent at the time.
Soon after the fall of the Soviet Union December, 1991,
Kalugin moved to Washington, DC where, ironically, he became a close
friend of his previous adversary, William Colby, former Director of the
Central Intelligence Agency. Called to Congress to testify, he was as a
result tried and convicted in absentia in Russia for treason. This means, of course, that he can never return to Russia.
I sent a letter to Kalugin in 1993, reminding him of our
lunch thirty years earlier. We have been in frequent contact ever since. When I last spoke with him a couple of months ago, he told me that he
had become an American citizen. (Kaluginís amazing life story is told in
his 1994 autobiography, "The First Directorate").
As I relate these personal encounters, I can readily
anticipate a retort by my critics on the right: "Why all this
fascination with Russia? Arenít you aware of the horrors of the Soviet
regime? What are you, a Communist?"
I reply that I am not now nor have I ever been a
Communist (under oath, right hand raised). If I had ever
entertained the idea of endorsing communism (which I have not), it
would have been permanently banished by my encounters with Russia
and the Russians.
I have seen
Soviet Communism, and it doesnít work. And if you want to meet some individuals who, more than
anyone on the far right, hate communism, visit Russia. Yes, I am aware
of the horrors of the Soviet regime, but not as much as my friends in
Russia, who hang on the walls of their apartments, photographs of relatives
who were exiled and murdered during Stalinís purges.
I am fascinated by Russia precisely because of the
endurance of the Soviet people (less than half of them ethnic Russians)
through seven decades of Communist despotism, followed by their eventual
overthrow of that evil regime. No, Ronald Reagan did not defeat
communism, the peoples behind "the iron curtain" defeated communism:
the Poles, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Hungarians, the Lithuanians,
the Ukrainians, and of course, the Russians.
Ronald Reagan used to say that "the Russians do not
understand freedom, in fact they donít even have a word for Ďfreedom.í
in their language." Had he bothered to pick up his Oval Office phone and
call the State Department, he would have been told that the Russian word
for "freedom" is "svoboda."
"No concept of freedom?" Tell that to the Soviet
dissidents of the sixties and seventies, many of whom paid for their
defiance with prison sentences or incarceration in psychiatric
hospitals. Tell it to Elena Bonner, the widow of the great
Sakharov. Tell it to families and admirers of Daniel,
Sinyavsky, Solzhenitzyn, the Medvedev brothers, and others
too numerous to mention. Tell it to the valiant Soviet submarine
captain, Alexandr Nikitin, who was imprisoned for publicizing the
nuclear pollution of the Barents Sea. Tell it to Judge Sergei Golets,
who defied Putinís government and overturned Nikitinís conviction. And
tell it to the thousands of ordinary Soviet citizens who jammed the
streets of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vilnius and elsewhere, some putting
their bodies in front of the Red Army tanks, to defeat the Communist
Party counter-coup in August, 1991.
Iíve read of many Americans, and have met a few, who
have kindly offered "to teach freedom and democracy" to the
Russians. What arrogance! Instead, it is we who are in need of instruction.
Teach freedom and democracy to the Russians?
Who in our Congress has the courage and integrity
to openly criticize the repressive and corrupt regime, as did Andrei
Sakharov and Oleg Kalugin in the Soviet parliament? Congressional
dissenters put their offices and their convenience at risk; in the
Soviet Union, dissenters put their lives on the line.
What CIA agents will, like Kalugin, stand up and
denounce "the system" that they have served. Ray McGovern and Larry
Thompson immediately come to mind. But why must they stand alone?
Why does each and every individual in secret possession of
compelling evidence that the most recent national elections were
stolen, remain silent and thus passively complicit in this betrayal of
our democracy? Why does the mainstream media refuse to
investigate this, the most serious political crime in our history?
What prominent news media personalities will break
ranks and denounce the GOP-mainstream media "noise machine"? Tom
Brokaw, Ted Koppel and now Dan Rather have retired. Why are they
silent? Where is our new Ed Murrow?
What GOP politicians will at last pause to search
their souls and reflect upon our political legacy, and then, putting
their honor, their country and their Constitution above their party,
join a coalition dedicated to the restoration of the Constitution, of
the rule of law, and of our international reputation?
When the Soviet Communist apparatchiki attempted to overthrow
Gorbachev, glasnost and perestroika, the people of the Soviet Union
filled the streets in protest, and prevailed. So too the people of
Ukraine, when in November 2004 it became clear that the presidential
election had been rigged and stolen. Why do the streets of the United
States remain empty?
"Why this fascination with the Russians?" Because Russia
has a rich history and culture that long precedes the seventy-year
aberration that was the Soviet Union. Its contributions to science
are substantial, and its legacy of literature and music is
To be sure, Russians, like all peoples, exemplify
the full moral spectrum, from saints on the one hand, to some truly
despicable villains on the other: Stalin (a Georgian, actually),
Beria, and the ruthless scoundrels in the "Russian Mafia." But, as I
have personally discovered, when it comes to loyalty, integrity, and
hospitality, most Russians are unmatched.
Vladimir Putin, who has apparently not rid himself of
the bad habits that he acquired during his service with the KGB, is
cracking down on the dissenting media and on independent civic
organizations. Thereís a whiff of the old despotism in the air. Can the
Russian people, covetous of their new, hard-won freedom, resist and
prevail? My money is on the people.
The history of Russia in the past century offers us a
crucially significant lesson; a lesson which the ignorant and arrogant
Bush/Cheney administration has ignored, to our profound sorrow, and to
the greater sorrow of the Iraqi people.
When the German Wehrmacht invaded Russia in June, 1941,
the army posed as "liberators" from the Bolshevik despotism of Stalin. In effect, they expected to be "greeted with flowers." And, to be sure,
at first in many regions, they were. Many Ukrainian and other ethnic
units defected to join the "liberators." But soon the cruelty of the
Nazi invaders was manifest, as it became clear that this was no
liberation, it was conquest and occupation. Given the choice between
overthrowing Stalinís despotism by accepting occupation, and defending
"Mother Russia," the Soviet people chose the latter.
In March, 2003, as the people of Iraq were suffering
under the despotic rule of Saddam Hussein, the American military and its
"coalition of the willing," launched "Operation Iraqi Freedom." The
American public was assured by the Vice President, among others, that
the troops would be "greeted with flowers." In fact, there was much
jubilation in Iraq at the overthrow of the despised Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, the "liberation" soon morphed into an occupation, and
today, the occupiers are facing an "insurgency," consisting
overwhelmingly of Iraqis who apparently desire nothing more than the
departure of the US military forces from their country.
"Greeted with flowers?" As the sixties protest song
asks, "Where have all the flowers gone?"
And the song ends with the unanswered question: "When
will they ever learn?"
Copyright 2006 by Ernest Partridge
Ernest Partridge's Internet Publications
Conscience of a Progressive:
Partridge's Scholarly Publications. (The Online Gadfly)
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field
of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at
the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He
publishes the website, "The Online
Gadfly" and co-edits the progressive website,
"The Crisis Papers".
His e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org .