Academics Rewrite Soviet History

Article excerpt

Victors write the history books, they say. But do they? After our life-and-death struggle with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, America admittedly didn't produce eulogies of either of these aggressor states - although it's escaped no one's attention that these two former enemies are the second and third economic powers in today's world. But we defeated both these nations in World War II and occupied them by force, tried their war criminals, and analyzed at our leisure - usually with their cooperation - the evils of their defeated societies.

But our next great adversary on the world stage was our one-time ally, the Soviet Union. Here we again prevailed (and the Soviet Union is no more), but our armies never occupied the USSR, never witnessed at first hand Soviet death camps nor the extremely repressive nature of Soviet society. Unlike that of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union's official state propaganda was utterly benign, preaching human equality and brotherhood. Moreover, basing itself on fraudulent economic reports, the USSR portrayed itself as gaining economically on the West by leaps and bounds, and confidently predicted that it would soon surpass the United States. A great issue in the U.S. presidential election of 1960, with Jack Kennedy opposing Richard Nixon, was "growthmanship," with the U.S. at 3.5 percent annual GNP growth, while Soviet reports predicted a (fictitious) Soviet growth rate of over 6 percent, seeming to destine the U.S. for the "dustbin of history."

Whereupon the United States produced what might have been a historically unprecedented phenomenon: our "counter-culture," destined to grow steadily in influence with the "flower power" children it produced during the Vietnam War (service in which they scrupulously avoided). The counter-culture's scholarly wing is still entrenched in the Soviet Affairs departments of many great universities, which recruited heavily during the heady years.

Before World War II the U.S. was a very regional country, and the only Americans who knew anything about the Soviet Union were New Yorkers, most of them having fled the Czar's "Black Hundreds" before the Bolshevik Revolution and remaining, roughly speaking, Left-Socialists. To this day, although the country is far more homogenized, Nathan Glazer has said of New York Jews that they "have the income of Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans." In the immediate post-war years, by contrast, Bobby Kennedy of Boston, younger brother of Jack Kennedy and later U.S. senator, was an aide to Senator Joseph McCarthy. But in the heyday of the American counter-culture, for children of the affluent classes, America -greedy, materialistic, power-hungry - could do no right and the Soviet Union and the pro-Soviet Third World - not motivated by greed or self-seeking - could do no wrong. Significantly, working-class Americans never bought this dream of a Soviet utopia.

In truth our affluent "flower children" were not very interested in foreign affairs, but only in personal and sexual freedom and "self-fulfillment. …