He’s baaaaack….!! America’s favorite boogie man has returned — yet again — to scare the living daylights out of unsuspecting citizens. He is irresistible to American politicians and captains of industry. A most perfect and reliable scapegoat.
Was it ever thus? This…irrational fear of all things Russian?
It didn’t help that Russia was traditionally viewed by the West as mysterious, neither Eastern nor Western, a series of contradictions. Suspicious. Unknown. Unknowable.
Face it: For hundreds of years Russia was perceived as, well, backward. There are plenty of reasons for this, but let’s not digress.
And then came the 1917 Russian Revolution. The Bolsheviks. That image of the Tsar, his wife, and their children, all brutally murdered.
The birth of the Soviet Union quickly followed. Lenin on a train. Stalin’s goons seizing property and shooting peasants in the hinterland. Diaspora of all who had the means or boldness to leave. Divorce via postcard. Abortion on demand. Collectivism. Famine.
But, also, free education through university level, lengthy and paid maternal leave, universal free health care. Subsidized rent and utilities. And the spread of socialist ideas traveled across Western Europe and straight across the pond to the United States. Western capitalists did not approve, though Woodrow Wilson did.
Did Woodrow Wilson praise the Bolshevik Revolution?
It would be entirely fair(as much as I dislike Wilson) to point out that he could not have known that they would go on…
Bear in mind, this was before any semblance of a government safety net had appeared. It was before Stalin’s Reign of Terror. It was the Roaring 20s in the West. Wall Street reigned supreme.
So did poverty.
Those who ran the Western show of shows naturally wanted to maintain the status quo, and peasants — particularly of the American persuasion — should not have wicked foreign ideas of a socialist paradise put into their heads.
And this is when the Russian Boogie Man was born. Here is an image of his first incarnation.
Red panic spread across the West. I mean, who wants prosperity choked?
They were coming for Western women and children!
The American way of life was threatened. The Bolshevik snake must be stopped! All the papers said so!
Bolshevik scum was even infiltrating our bathrooms!
Well, you get the idea. Before long, nearly every Westerner lived in fear of the Russian Boogie Man. Surely there was a Bolshevik hiding round every corner.
The Soviets responded via their burgeoning cinema industry with a film titled “The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks.”
The year is 1924 and Mr. West, an American YMCA director, takes it upon himself to travel to the dangerous land of the Bolsheviks, where he seeks to civilize the brutes that inhabit the largest country on the planet.
Mr. West is assisted by his good friend, Jedy, who happens to be a cowboy, complete with chaps and hat. (Little does Mr. West know that Bolsheviks — and Russians generally, then and now — are huge fans of cowboy movies and all things Wild West Home-on-the-Range).
Mr. West receives an education in Russian life and culture, and by the end realizes that Bolsheviks are just like anyone else who loves their country and wants the best for all (remember, it’s a Soviet film). Oh, and you can watch it in its entirety, with English subtitles, here:
The film, naturally, played well in the USSR, but, unfortunately, for some reason it was not distributed in Western Europe or in the United States. And so the Red Menace continued.
Socialism Sneaks Into America
While Bolshevism couldn’t catch a break in the West, socialism began to make progress. Some Western European nations slowly began to implement government programs that assisted the poor. And in the U.S., the age of FDR was dawning. Propaganda campaigns against the Soviets continued, but some of the fear-mongering went into retreat as the American government instituted a full-on program of social programs (the horror!). But, hey, times were hard and millions of people were desperate. And so the Russian Boogie Man crept back under his rock, for the most part. He would return. He always does. He’s just so useful like that.
WWII — The Split Personality Russian Boogie Man
Very early on in WWII, Hitler struck a deal with Stalin. The latter was so flattered and so bought into the “marriage” that he completely lost the plot when Hitler suddenly broke up with him and invaded Russia around two years into the war. Surprise!! Stalin was so brokenhearted and shattered that he was essentially catatonic and useless for two weeks.
The scorned and abandoned “bride” recovered himself and signed on with the Allies.
Imagine that? US and USSR are friends!
See? By the way, that business on the beaches of Normandy in June of 1944? It was made possible by our ally, the Soviet Union, whose soldiers literally held back two-thirds of the German Army while the West assumed the hero’s mantle.
D-Day, World War II, and the Soviet Union
"The first 24 hours of the invasion will be decisive...the fate of Germany depends on the outcome...for the Allies, as…
And then the war ended in Europe. And then in Asia, thanks to US possession and use of the atomic bomb (thanks mostly to German scientists. By the way, there were other countries who also had their own German scientists).
America was positively giddy. We were rather full of ourselves for a little while. The bomb was clearly a blessing from above. The United States, most favored by God.
But, wait! The Russians are our friends. Right? The headline has to be true — we ARE still ahead of the Russians. Right? What if…what if we’re not?
What if…(our government and media told us)…the Russians are coming to get us?
And so after just a brief respite, the Russian Boogie Man was called into service again. This time, he was on the march….to world domination!
Cold War, Part I
Watch how Communism spreads its diseased tentacles across Europe…
For example, the Russian Boogie Man promised to sterilize American men! American women would be forced, scantily clad, of course, beneath the “Asiatic Russian” boot! (“Asiatic Russian” sounded extra evil).
Clearly, the end of the world was at hand.
Well, we all know sex sells. Especially the Red Rape variety.
Duck and Cover
And then, the Russian Boogie Man came for American children. In other words, the U.S. government was perfectly comfortable with psychologically terrorizing and traumatizing even its youngest citizens. A frightened population is ever so much easier to control. Get them while they’re young.
Viewing “Duck and Cover” from the 21st century vantage point is both hilarious and shocking. The US government instructed citizens to cover themselves with a jacket, a newspaper, a table cloth, whatever was handy — so they would not be burned by the bomb.
They did so with the full knowledge that should one be in the general vicinity of an exploded nuclear bomb, nothing would help. Nothing. Were children encouraged to hide under their desks so their bones might be found in a neat little pile?
Would such postures and coverings protect from fallout?
No. The US populace was repeatedly told a senseless, useless tale in order to instill fear. Because, the Russian Boogie Man was coming.
The ridiculousness of it all
“New Game for American Children is ‘Drop,’ part of anti-atomic bomb training.”
Cold War Goes to the Movies
An entire industry grew up around promoting Cold War anxieties. A number of propaganda films taught generations of Americans to fear and beware of the Russian Boogie Man. Here’s a small sample:
The 10 Best Movies to Watch to Understand the Cold War
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNZaMm5q_BA The last bobsled had barely finished its run when Vladimir Putin pounced in…
A personal childhood favorite:
And don’t forget, a staple in American college classrooms to this day, Atomic Cafe:
Are you scared yet?
Russia won round one.
Their victory, of course, meant that the evil Sovs would be watching all of us shower and use the toilet from outer space. Because they were all dangerously perverse like that. Also, they would now have the ability to drop bombs on the West from space!
Russia also won round two of the space race. Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight was particularly embarrassing since only days earlier the U.S. successfully launched and returned a chimpanzee from space.
Even Cold War needs a romantic interlude…..ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev dramatically defects from the Soviet Union two months after Gagarin’s flight. His defection was a huge international story, and the West sighed with happy relief. Much hay was made of the Romantic hero bravely escaping the evil Russian Boogie Man. He actually defected for more artistic freedom, but the myth was easy to concoct,the timing exquisite, and easily convinced a population already well-trained in fear.
The Khrushchev-Kennedy Thaw
These two. Who knows, maybe they would have sorted out the East-West disconnect, released millions from irrational fear. Saved lives. It was not to be. Kennedy’s death and Khrushchev’s sudden ouster from Russia’s top job happened within months. So, we’ll never know. However, while they could, they gave it their best shot. The two exchanged regular, friendly, and insightful letters from the time of the Russian leader’s return to his homeland until JFK’s assassination.
This remarkable image rather sums it up. And remember, the U.S. had missiles in Turkey, pointed at Russia, before the Soviets ever had theirs in Cuba. But, wait, it’s Russia’s job to be the bad guy.
The American people — and the rest of the West — were reminded repeatedly by their media that despite the chumminess between the two superpower leaders, Russia was still the Boogie Man.
We will bury you? Um, no. That’s not what he said.
Convenient mistranslation. Americans ate it up with a spoon.
Insert Another Romantic Interlude
This is the era I like to refer to as: “The Russian people are good…oh, sooooo good. It’s their government that’s evil.” Dr. Zhivago instilled love and pity for the poor Russian people…how dare their Boogie Man make their lives so miserable (at least, this is what we were told. Russians were miserable. Everything was gray and sad and there was no food).
Are you sure these people are evil? Nah, it‘s their government. And anyway, Zhivago is set before the evil Bolsheviks took over, and look what has happened since then!
Detante (The Brezhnev era)
The Russian Boogie Man sunk into doldrums. Detante was actually rather boring.
But then the Soviets went to Afghanistan, and this pissed off the US
So, the U.S. decided to get involved. On the sly. By helping out this guy. Remember him? Here’s how he was pitched to the American people back in 1979. Because, well, Russian Boogie Man.
More Love, From Russia
Oh, and there was one more luscious Romantic interlude in the 70s, the defection of Mikhail Baryshnikov, and the US got to keep him for their very own (insert millions of sighs). Again, major international story. Again, the focus on “poor little escaped Russian.” Indeed, a dance magazine at the time interviewed the famous dancer, repeating throughout the article “Baryshnikov is all alone” (accompanied by several photos displaying his sad face and soulful eyes).
The 1980 Summer Olympics Fiasco
Helping out “rebels” in Afghanistan wasn’t enough shade thrown to the USSR. No, the U.S., it’s ass on its back, had to screw up the 1980 Olympics by boycotting it. And hundreds of American and other Western-allied athletes, some at the peak of their career, had to sit it out. It was a despicable and utterly useless act.
Some say there was another reason. Some say that the U.S. powers that be were not terribly interested in the American population getting a good look behind the Iron Curtain. We even strong-armed some of our allies into the boycott. That does make sense. After all, probably most Americans at that time regarded the Soviet Union as a dark, gray, dreary place where everyone was poor and miserable and the sun never shone. No question whatsoever that Western governments wanted to keep it that way.
Those were frustrating days. Fortunately, we can at least watch the stunning opening ceremonies from the 1980 Moscow Olympics on youtube.com
For a time following the reign of Brezhnev, there were two other elderly Soviet Premiers. The feeling in the Soviet leadership was that there were fewer and fewer potential supreme leaders who remembered the October 1917 Revolution. And that was a big deal. (The United States actually went through a similar sort of angst in the early 19th century). So, the Sovs trotted out the aged Yuri Andropov as their new premier.
It was once again a time of high tension between the two world superpowers. Arms deals, a Western embargo of Soviet wheat (because: Afghanistan), the Olympic boycott business, and general mistrust held sway. Westerners still quivered in fear of Soviet nuclear attack, and the Soviets still did nothing to live up to those fears.
A brief reprieve came in 1982. It took the form of a young American girl, who was living in concern and fear over U.S.-Soviet relations. So, she wrote a letter to Andropov and wound up with an invitation to visit Russia. The child goodwill ambassador became a hero and a symbol of hope in both the US and the USSR.
By now, Ronald Reagan had taken the helm of Russian Boogie Man promotion. And his rhetoric did not immediately improve relations between Russia and the West. He publicly called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” Americans, trained in fear for generations, agreed wholeheartedly.
The Reagan speech and general vibe only encouraged more Russian Boogie Man cultural motifs.
“I hope the Russians love their children, too”
Even hamburger joints got in on 80s agit-prop.
I mean, you realize now that Americans typically had no idea what real Russian models looked like, right?
Ok, she’s wearing gray here, but you get the idea. NOW, you do.
Gorby! The “friendly” Russian Premier. And Americans now knew two Russian words: Glasnost, Perestroika. And the cowboy motif. Always.
Then came “Star Wars” (not the films), and this iconic moment, which was a little odd, since, while East Germany was a client state of the USSR, one cannot help but wonder why Reagan didn’t address the East German leader, instead. It was because Gorby had star power.
And so, the Berlin Wall came down, and the Soviet Union collapsed. Americans still loved them some Gorby, though
Which, for the man himself, was a good thing, because despite this Pizza Hut commercial, he was despised in his homeland.
What’s a Russian Boogie man to do? Back under his rock. For a while. Gorbachev’s popularity, the failure of the USSR, and the enormous “brain drain” diaspora from Russia comforted the hearts of those who own and operate the United States.
Yeltsin and the Rise of Russian Mafia
The 1990s offered a Russian Boogie Man transformed. He was now merely a Russian Buffoon. A butt of jokes. The king and court jester of a collapsed empire. His name was Boris Yeltsin, and he was the first president of the Russian Federation. He came with an accessory: a bottomless bottle of vodka (or whatever alcohol was handy). On at least one occasion, his plane had to circle the destination airport for two hours while he was sobered up. He once drunkenly danced right into the Moskva River. His presence — and, um, lack of presence of mind — made it ever so easy for powerful Russian organized crime to take hold.
You can imagine the embarrassment of the Russian people. A broken down country, working for months on end with no pay, and then…this. The Russian Boogie man was no more! Universities dissolved their Russian departments. Shiploads of Russian Army surplus — what curiosities! — arrived for sale in the states.
The Russian tall ship, Sedov, went on a round-the-world tour, stopping in ports, begging for supplies; its sailors perched dockside with makeshift storefronts, selling Russian collectibles so they could buy food.
The Soviets left Afghanistan. The U.S. dropped support of Bin Laden. Afghanistan, already in rubble, quickly became a top grower of the opium poppy. The West had… won.
Except that, well, people like Bin Laden had to find, um, other things to do now. And the Russia Boogie Man morphed yet again. This time into a Mafia the likes of which no one had ever seen. Ever.
The Putin Surprise
When Boris Yeltsin “abruptly” resigned the presidency in 1999, a man called Vladimir Putin was appointed as “acting president.” Quite a few Russians had never heard of the fellow before, but there he was, and there he stayed — either as acting president, “elected” president, prime minister, then president, again. This, despite countless jokes and mocking of his flatulence-inspired name in Western countries.
Putin meant business. He was a former KGB boss, which rather frightened some Americans, to whom the fact that the first President Bush was former head of the CIA never occurred.
And anyway, George W. said he looked into Putin’s eyes, into his soul. And apparently saw that it was all good. So, there was that. Keep calm, Chicken Littles.
Gruzia, not Georgia
Now, don’t ever lose sight of the huge power vacuum left in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse. The West was watching. And hovering. Some regions of the former USSR had never been stable, not for hundreds of years. Of course, in the early years of the 21st century, the United States recognized the long-term disarray in Gruzia (“Georgia” is incorrect) and Ossetia, saw that no one was really minding the store, slipped in, and took over.
Russia, under Putin’s leadership, was of course unhappy with the US involvement, and so the bad old Russian Boogie Man was brought out of retirement. U.S. and Western media proclaimed — it is Russia’s fault! They have invaded defenseless “Ossetia!”
Boogie Man is always so convenient in such times. So…useful.
However, there were a few things the U.S. news did not cover at the time:
The U.S. media lied. (Like it does). Somehow, a woman and her granddaughter, who were visiting Gruzia, were featured on a Fox News program, insisting that it was Russian troops who helped save their lives, and that the Gruzian troops (ahem…under the direction of Gruzian president, Mikhail Saakashvili) were actually the real troublemakers. As the women revealed the details of their experience, the program presenter cut to commercials.
Fortunately, we live in the great age of Youtube, and so the moment was preserved for all time.
Now, there is more of a back story here. Saakashvili was hand-picked by the U.S. government and brought to the U.S. for university, and then put in as puppet president in Gruzia. Because…again, power vacuums are exquisitely brief and the U.S. saw an opportunity. And took it. Naturally, the Russian passport carrying Osettians were unhappy about this. Ditto the Russian government.
There is also a major thoroughfare in Tblisi, Gruzia, named George W. Bush Boulevard. Mr. Saakashvili is currently out of a job. Still, the whole Ossetia/Gruzia debacle roused the Russian Boogie Man from his tortured sleep.
Tbilisi Officials Name Street After Bush
TBILISI, Georgia - City officials in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi voted Wednesday to rename a street in honor of…
An amusing explanation of the situation
How the West Botched Georgia
The guns around Tbilisi have now fallen silent. Efforts are underway to finalize a truce between Russia and Georgia to…
Hillary’s Reset Fail: So, the following year, 2009 (pay attention!), the then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, thought it would be cute to meet with Russia’s then Secretary of State, Sergei Lavrov, and present him with a cutsey “reset” button. Because, the US and Russia were not BFFs. Or something. The button was a failure, since the Russian word printed on it did not translate to “reset.” Rather, it proclaimed “Overload,” which, may well have been more on target, as in “Overload” of bullshit.
2016 US Presidential election and post-election:
My, but the Russian Boogie Man has been super duper busy over the past year or so.
Here is where you tell me that this time it’s different.