Academic journal article American Studies International

"Horrified and Proud:" Cold War Ethics in American and Russian Acts of Remembering

Academic journal article American Studies International

"Horrified and Proud:" Cold War Ethics in American and Russian Acts of Remembering

Article excerpt

In this essay I argue that the personal recollections of American and Russian intellectuals can be considered as a means of moral reflection on their emotional and cognitive investments in their national, local, and professional identifies during the Cold War. Following the strategy of reflective interpretation, I investigate the logic and irrationality of personal responses to systemic social and cultural contradictions. Feelings of moral superiority, exceptionalism, fear, pride, and sacrifice are seen against the background of contested global histories and ethical theories. Basing on theoretical understanding of the affective dimension of ethics, i.e. the way ethical aspirations are enacted in one's life, I address those whose identities are heirs of the acquired moral imaginary (1) and correlate remembering as moral practice and transformation as social practice.

   "I remember as a kid there was this brief period where you get
   lists that come out of the cities that would be the prime
   targets. And because of the SAC base, because of the missile
   silos, because there was a state capital, and there were some
   other reasons, a medical center or something, Topeka came up
   really high, like in the top ten of these sites. I remember there
   was a sort of ... everybody felt both horrified and
   proud ..."--this is how Jane (47), an American sociology
   teacher, recalls her living with her mother in the 1960s in
   Topeka, Kansas. (2)

   "He didn't at all buy into my `humanistic' preaching about personal
   responsibility of the people who made things for the war, he
   didn't want to hear what awful things could actually happen
   should one push a red button by mistake or even out of necessity.
   He seemed to be proud of working at the plant that produced the
   rocket engines and by being able to use there all his talents as
   a constructor, technician, engineer, scientist, and teacher. And
   I thought he wasn't exactly wrong ..."--this is how Ida (65),
   a Russian literature teacher, recalls her and her husband's,
   a famous military engineer, experiences in the 1960s and 1970s,
   and the life they had in the little town Nizhnyaya Salda, a
   military-industrial site located in the midst of the Ural
   mountains.

Although several decades have passed, and thousand of miles still separate Kansas and the Urals, there is an obvious similarity in the things these women, American and Russian, recall: the experience of uneasiness, anxiety, and fear, mixed with pride. I take this phenomenon to be most significant for the moral history of the Cold War, both in America and in the USSR. In the aftermath of the events of September 11, when this same mixture of emotions is again salient, it is worth exploring the difficulties and costs people endured trying to lead dignified lives in an era marked by the threat of nuclear war. The existence of Cold War mentality and emotional economy cannot be expected to have ended with the declaration of the War's end or with the beginning of globalization. It is by virtue of emotional inertia that we witness today such a mixture of ambivalent and conflicted reactions: empathy and terror; relief and recognition; moral superiority and anger; and denial and disbelief.

My comparison of American and Russian participants' recollections rests on the working hypothesis that the character of reflective distance that participants maintain between their "period" experiences and practices and their present ones depends on the dominant narratives of their respective countries, and, at the same time, on features characteristic of the common Cold War narrative which people of both countries participated in. Further, my method is rooted in the traditions of action research and qualitative research, especially those versions which are attuned to research/subject interactions, subjects' frames of reference and value commitments, and to the risks of human subject research. …

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