The Making of Capitalistic Pig

I spent my youth in Murmansk, a city in the northwest part of Russia, located right above the Arctic Circle. Murmansk owes its existence to the port that, due to the warm Gulf Stream, doesn’t freeze during the long winters, providing unique access to Russia from the north. During the Cold War, Murmansk’s coordinates must have been on the speed dial of the U.S. military, as it is the headquarters of the Russian Northern Navy Fleet. Fans of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October may remember Murmansk as the home base for the submarine Red October

The city revolves around its port, and its academic institutions are geared toward producing a workforce for the fishing and merchant marine industries. It was always assumed that I’d attend either the Marine College or the Marine Academy. Both were semi-military schools where the students (cadets) had to reside in dormitories, wear navy uniforms, follow strict military-like rules, and take orders from navy officers (and ask no questions).

Russia has a draft army. It is not concerned about recruiting and thus treats its soldiers very poorly (an understatement). The pay is only high enough for soldiers to afford the postage to write home asking for money. Russian youth look at serving in the Russian army as akin to a two-year prison sentence (at least when I was there). The army avoidance in the late 1980s was not about fear of death, as the war in Afghanistan was over, but came from the dread of losing years of one’s youth and the dismay of humiliation, as the older soldiers commonly abused the younger ones. My very sane friend entered a psychiatric institution and faked mental disease just to avoid serving in the army.

My father and both of my older brothers graduated from the Murmansk Marine Academy. My father, a PhD, also taught electrical engineering at the academy for 27 years. Neither my brothers nor I had any dreams about being seamen. Quite to the contrary, my oldest brother could have been a philosopher (now he is a technology engineer); my other brother wanted to be anything but an electrical engineer (he is now a successful real estate broker in Denver). Our choices were limited: either attend one of these two semi-military schools or join the Red Army.

By the time I was finishing eighth grade, the law had changed: Cadets from the Marine Academy lost their draft exemption, but college cadets were spared. I enrolled in the Marine College and dreaded every moment I spent there, but the alternative was even worse.

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