As an old guy who has traveled widely, I thought I had outgrown all feelings of xenophobia and the anger it feeds upon. Not so, I’m sad to say. Lately I’ve felt an upwelling of rage, not just because I’ve learned of the subversion of our 2016 election by trolls in Saint Petersburg and Kremlin bots scattered who knows where, but that Russian agents actually came to our country to stir up racial and class hatreds and spread fake news. An outrage. The Soviet Union may have lost the Cold War, but today’s Russia has been winning hands down the cyber war. How could this happen? How could we, the world’s most powerful bastion of democracy, continue to come out the loser? I’m so tired of not winning under Trump.
Whatever the answer, it has rekindled an old and smoldering fire in me. I tell myself I’m not a Russophobe. I love Russian music...I could listen to Shostakovich and Borodin and Mussorgsky twenty-four hours a day. And I’m in awe of Russian literature, Dostoyevsky and Turgenev and Chekov my favorites, towering over many other remarkable talents. But the admiration pretty much ends there for me.
Why? Memories. Our current national humiliation ignites memories of my Korean War days as a member of the United States Air Force. I was a weatherman attached to the Ninth Fighter-Bomber Squadron of F-84s, at Komaki AFB, Japan. The Ruskies, posing as North Korean pilots, were the unseen enemy then, secretly flying formidable MIG-15s against our best fighter, the F-86 Sabre jet.
My buddies and I might laugh off the amateurish propaganda broadcasts of Moscow Molly; not so the losses of our F-86s that sent so many of my fellow American airmen to fiery deaths in what was called MIG Alley, along the Yalu River. We were told then that we were winning the MIG/Sabre air war with a kill ratio of 11-1; that was later lowered, by our side, to 6-1, after the truce was made. Russian records tell the contradictory story that they won the air battle. In war, as is said, truth is the first casualty.
That war is over, I know. But I can’t ever forget it—not when I see in a photo of Vladimir Putin those icy reptilian eyes of an ex-KGB agent, barely suppressing a superior smile, so skilled at playing dog-in-the-manger when it comes to democracy. Gorbachev and Yeltsin failed in their attempts to install it in Russia; Putin has brought back the old familiar autocratic despotism, and those who resist him disappear, are gunned down, poisoned, or have acid thrown in their faces.
History confirms that Russia by any other name lacks the cultural foundation to sustain a democracy of its own. Nevertheless, under Putin, as has been lately proved, they are exceptionally skilled at undermining one, providing they have a Trump and a Nunes and sundry stooges on the right (of all places!) under their thumb.
Frankly, I’m no flag-waving patriot. But I do think the United States and democracy remain the last best hope for humans on earth. And I’m enraged that homegrown profiteers and power-seekers conspire with Putin and his oligarchs to subvert our democracy. They should be called for what they are: traitors. And face the punishment prescribed.