Tag: Soviet Union

Night Witches: The All-Female Soviet Aerial Bomb Squad

 

The name alone would strike terror into the heart of even the most battle-hardened German soldier: The Night Witches.

Although these women were not Americans, we decided that since they fought as allies against Nazi soldiers and their story is not commonly known, we would give them an honorable mention in our Forgotten Americans section. Named for the sound of their rudimentary, plywood biplanes as they cruised slowly overhead at low altitude dropping bombs, the Night Witches were the all-volunteer, all-female air raid squad that the Soviets deployed against the Third Reich. The spooky “whoosh” as they circled overhead reminded the German troops of women sweeping. The association with a broom led to them calling these night-time raiders “Nachthexen” – Night Witches.

A term of derision for the Nazis, a badge of honor for the women of the Soviet Union’s all-female bomb squad. The Night Witches were so hated by the powers that be in Berlin that anyone who could down one of their crop dusters was awarded the prestigious Iron Cross award. But who were these brave women who battled against the Nazi Luftwaffe in the freezing cold of the Eastern Front?

Running a Factory Under Soviet Socialism

 

Bitter Waters: Life and Work in Stalin’s Russia is a fascinating look at the Soviet economic system in the 1930s, as viewed from the front lines of that system. Gennady Andreev-Khomiakov was released from a labor camp in 1935, and was fortunate to find a job as a book-keeper in a sawmill. When the factory manager, Grigory Neposedov (a pseudonym) was assigned to run a larger and more modern factory (also a sawmill), he took Gennady with him.

Although he had almost no formal education, Neposedov was an excellent plant manager. As Gennady describes him:

For Want of Wild Beasts: Meet Me at the Corner of Auburn and Prescott

 

“Botany is 98% burnouts and potheads.”

The registrar, a kindly, aging woman with a sharp Boston accent, had said that to him on the first day of orientation, handing over his class schedule. Strictly speaking, a medical doctor shouldn’t have been teaching botany at all, but there had been a blank space in his teaching schedule, and the matter of various athletes and sons (and daughters) of privilege who needed science credits. Mix in a few naive humanities majors, frightened of the harder sciences and without any older friends to warn them against it, and that about made up one of his classes. If nothing else, it made his litany of pre-med modules more bearable. 

National Review artist Roman Genn came to America from the Soviet Union in 1991. In this episode, he compares the ideology he left behind with that which has gained a strong foothold in this country. His analysis, which comes at a pivotal moment, is worth hearing. And then there are the laughs, which are always plentiful when Roman and Dave have the chance to commiserate. Then, Ricochet Member Boss Mongo (a.k.a. Lt Col Brendan Welsh, US Army Special Forces Retired) drops by to discuss what sorts of national security threats await the new Biden Administration (hint: America’s adversaries are “giggling like little girls.”).

Otherwise, studio lighting issues, wardrobe changes, and unexpected guests dot the landscape of this rather unique episode. Enjoy!

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard talk with Ignat Solzhenitsyn, a pianist, conductor laureate of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, principal guest conductor of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, and son of the Nobel Prize-winning Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. They discuss his father’s legacy, his courageous work to debunk the Soviet Union’s utopian myths, and key lessons American educators and students should draw from his life, writings, and battle with Soviet communism. They also explore his warning to Western democracies in his historic “A World Split Apart” Harvard Commencement speech, about their own crippling “short-sightedness,” “loss of will,” and crisis of spirit. Ignat describes his family’s 20-year exile in rural Vermont, recounted in his father’s newly released memoir, Between Two Millstones, Book 2, in which Solzhenitsyn expounds on the vital importance of local self-government, the rule of law, liberty, and what he called “self-limitation.” Ignat describes the education he and his brothers received at home, his own impression of the strengths and weaknesses of American education, and what inspired him to become a classical musician and conductor. He concludes with a reading from one of his father’s works.

Related: 2018 op-ed by Jamie Gass: “As we mark 100th anniversary of Solzhenitsyn’s birth, we appreciate importance of historical literacy

Roman Genn arrived in America in 1991, fresh after departing his native Soviet Union, where his caricatures resulted in what he refers to as, “many unpleasant encounters with police officials.” He sat down with our own Dave Carter for a freewheeling exchange about life in the US, where his immense talent and sense of mischief have flourished on the cover of National Review and many other publications. The conversation crosses continents and covers everything from the reaction of various public personalities and US presidents to Roman’s art, to his deployments with US Marines to the middle east, and much more. Dave reports that the only thing that caught him off guard was Roman’s irrepressible sense of humor, which caused face cramps on the part of our host from all the laughing.

Ricochet Member Lois Lane was kind enough to drop by and talk about her recent post, “Eating Out in a Restaurant in the Age of COVID-19,” and share her experience as college professor, teaching history and English. It’s a captivating discussion that you’re sure to enjoy.

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The coronavirus crisis has led to much discussion of modeling. One of the largest modeling projects in human history was the Soviet Union’s attempt to manage its entire economy on a top-down basis, including the use of sophisticated and then-state-of-the-art mathematical tools. Red Plenty…part novel, part nonfiction…is about the Soviet Union’s economic planning efforts as […]

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“Miracle on Ice” Remembered

 

Can this be forty years ago? It’s hard to explain to younger people what an earth-shaking, tear-jerking win the 1980 gold medal in hockey was for us. This was no simple rivalry. This was David vs. Goliath. This was Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader. This was Hobbits vs. Mordor. And the good guys won.

To provide some necessary background for the younger readers: Western countries such as the United States and Canada were constrained by the Olympic rules, which had long mandated that athletes must be amateurs. Our teams were composed of college players who had not yet begun their professional careers. The Soviets, as usual, simply cheated. They took their very top adult players, world-class, full-time athletes with years of international experience, and gave them phony job-assignments with the military or government so that they could be called amateurs. It was like putting the all-stars of the NFL against a college squad. It was a joke. Of course, they always won the gold medal, and they always would win the gold medal; it was a fact of life that would never change, kind of like the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall. Nothing to be done, we were just supposed to suck it up. Then this team of scrappy college kids did the unthinkable. They brought down Goliath. And less than ten years later, the citizens of both sides of Berlin brought down that “fact-of-life” wall with simple tools and bare, bloody hands and tear-stained faces. It reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Lord of the Rings: “Where tears are the very wine of blessedness.” This hockey game, this “miracle on ice” was the prelude to that miracle in Berlin.

The Cuban Missile Crisis, as Viewed From a Soviet Launch Facility

 

This month marks the 57th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world dangerously close to thermonuclear war.  Several years ago,  I read Rockets and People, the totally fascinating memoir of Soviet rocket developer Boris Chertok, which I reviewed here. Chertok’s career encompassed both military and space-exploration projects, and in late October 1962 he was focused on preparations for launching a Mars probe. On the morning of Oct 27, he was awakened by “a strange uneasiness.” After a quick breakfast, he headed for the missile assembly building, known as the MIK.

At the gatehouse, there was usually a lone soldier on duty who would give my pass a cursory glance. Now suddenly I saw a group of soldiers wielding sub-machine guns, and they thoroughly scrutinized my pass. Finally they admitted me to the facility grounds and there, to my surprise, I again saw sub-machine-gun-wielding soldiers who had climbed up the fire escape to the roof of the MIK. Other groups of soldiers in full combat gear, even wearing gas masks, were running about the periphery of the secure area. When I stopped in at the MIK, I immediately saw that the “duty” R-7A combat missile, which had always been covered and standing up against the wall, which we had always ignored, was uncovered.

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October 4, the 62nd anniversary of the Sputnik satellite launch, is a good day for a review of Boris Chertok’s great memoir, Rockets and People. Chertok’s career in the Soviet aerospace industry spanned many decades, encompassing both space exploration and military missile programs. His four-volume memoir is an unusual document–partly, it reads like a high […]

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I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday. Book Review ‘Gray Day’ details uncovering a cyber spy By MARK LARDAS Preview […]

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34 Years Ago Today: Politburo Selects Gorbachev as Soviet Leader

 

Thirty-four years ago today, the revolving door that had become the entry point to leadership of the Soviet Union stopped when Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party. On that day, he became the fourth Soviet leader in under three years (Brezhnev died in November 1982, Andropov in February of 1984, Chernenko on March 10, 1985). There hadn’t been such drama on the world leadership front since, well, the dramatic and unexpected selection of KarolJózef Wojtyła as Pope in 1978, after the 33-day tenure of Albino Luciani.

A little over six-and-a-half years later, on Christmas Day 1991, and severely compromised as the result of a coup a few months earlier, Gorbachev, the last leader of the USSR, resigned and handed over what was left of his power to new Russian President Boris Yeltsin. On December 26, the Soviet Union was officially dissolved and its Republics were handed their self-governance.

From news reports (one from the BBC, and one from ABC), it appears that, thirty-four years ago today, no-one saw this coming. Well, except, maybe, Maggie (perhaps it was womanly intuition) who said shortly thereafter, “I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together.” By and large, a more perceptive and much more pragmatic observation than that George Bush the younger made years later about his sense of Vladimir Putin’s “soul.”

‘Lady Death’ the Story of a Successful Sniper

 

Lyudmila Pavlichenko was the Soviet Army’s most successful female sniper during World War II. A fourth-year history student when Hitler invaded Russia, she quit school to enlist as a sniper. In 1941 and 1942 she racked up 309 kills.

“Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin’s Sniper,” by Lyudmila Pavlichenko, is an English translation of her memoirs. She died in 1974, leaving a manuscript copy of her memoirs, which remained unpublished until this century.

In it she recounts her life, with a primary emphasis on her wartime experiences. She shows how she became an expert marksman before the war, joining shooting teams at work and in school, becoming fascinated with both the machinery of the rifle and the art of shooting.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn at 100

 

Arrested three months before the defeat of Hitler’s Germany, his first reaction was like that of the millions he would later write about: “Me? What for?” A decorated captain of an artillery battery that had fought its way deep into East Prussia, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was at the time a committed Marxist-Leninist. He even fantasized he was being whisked to a meeting with Stalin. In fact, military censors had read his letter exchanges with a boyhood friend, also in the army, in which they criticized Stalin (“the mustachioed one”) for having deviated from the path laid down by Lenin.

It was more than enough to earn Solzhenitsyn a sentence of eight years imprisonment in the labor camps, to be followed by “perpetual exile.” He served all eight years in various camps, plus three years exiled to distant Kazakhstan, where he worked as a teacher of high school mathematics before his sentence was annulled in 1956 in the wake of Khrushchev’s “de-Stalinization.”

Born 100 years ago today, Solzhenitsyn was educated in the sciences, but his lifelong love was literature and writing. In the camps, where writing was prohibited, Solzhenitsyn used matchsticks and rosary beads as mnemonic devices to preserve 12,000 lines of his verse that he would later publish. What brought him to his country’s and the world’s attention, however, was the publication in 1962 of his One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a fictional but semi-autobiographical account of a day in the life of a Soviet political prisoner (zek) in Stalin’s time.

Book Review: Hidden and Triumphant

 

Hidden and Triumphant: The Underground Struggle to Save Russian Iconography, by Irina Yazykova (translated by Paul Grenier), is a short work on how Russian Orthodox iconography, and indeed Christianity itself, survived the Soviets, found renewal in the Russian diaspora, survived the Nazis, spread into the greater Orthodox diaspora abroad, and returned home to its roots. As destructive as the Soviets were in their closure, desecration, and demolition of churches, not only were they unable to ever entirely squelch Christianity, but the very people they exiled were able to maintain the faith and provide outside inspiration and support to their people trapped within their homeland.

That traditional iconography survived the Soviets is remarkable in itself, yet that it survived at all as more than a novelty or as primitive folk art is just as significant.  Iconography, introduced during the conversion of Kievan Rus by Byzantium, developed its own Russian voice and style in the centuries after Byzantium’s conquest by the Ottomans, entering into a sort of golden age under such masters as Rublev during the 16th and 17th centuries.  Yet first, due to the schism with the Old Believers, and especially under the modernizing reforms of Peter the Great, much of that history was deliberately destroyed or hidden away.  From the time of Peter up until the eve of the disaster of World War I, Russian liturgical art was very often little distinguished from that of western European styles, save that its topics remained Orthodox and Russian in character.  Older, traditional icons, blackened with age and soot, were removed and relegated to barns or backwater churches far from the artistic centers of the major cities, and nearly the only practitioners of traditional iconography were rural artists or peasants.  Yet in that final generation before the Great War, these old masters were being rediscovered as these older panels were unearthed, cleaned, and restored, often for the first time in centuries, and Russian artists set about re-appraising their older traditions.

World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution ended that renewal at home.  And yet, as many Orthodox Russians fled the newly-created Soviet Union, they took with them these rediscovered forms, and in their communities of the diaspora, particularly in France, they laid the foundation for new schools of Russian liturgical art.  Yazykova profiles a number of such artists as they created new works for their churches in exile, and how they influenced new generations of iconographers, or changed what had been traditional roles.  In pre-Revolutionary Russia, for instance, only men could be iconographers in paint, while women were restricted to embroidered forms, yet with such a small community abroad, and the need to construct new churches in the expatriate communities, women stepped forward for the first time as skilled iconographers in their own right.  Sister Joanna Reitlinger, for instance, was a prolific artist, as was the highly skilled Mother Juliana (nee Maria Nikolaevna Sokolova), both of whom returned to Russia after the death of Stalin in order to continue their work and teach Russians (often in secret) in their own lands again.

When Spring Ended in August

 

Fifty years ago today, 200,000 Soviet troops, with reinforcements from East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria, invaded the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, and the so-called Prague Spring came to an end.

In January of 1968, Alexander Dubček, a Slovak, was elected First Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, succeeding Antonin Novotný. The latter had been experimenting with a new economic model for a couple of years (Czechoslovakia had been continental Europe’s most highly industrialized country until overtaken by Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and was less adapted to the post-war Soviet model), and this attempt at easing the Communist system had spurred writers, such as Milan Kundera, to demand more social flexibility as well.

The Dubček government set about achieving what the new First Secretary described as “socialism with a human face,” abolishing censorship and easing travel restrictions.

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I thought it would be fun to have a thread for The Americans, which began its final season this week. It is a great show, tightly written with compelling plot development, characterization, and performances. Certainly this will be a place for spoilers, so those who have not seen it – or kept up – but […]

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“They say American’s don’t play fair.” -Harry S Truman This coming from the man who dropped the atom bomb. Along those lines though, I don’t see how playing “fair” would have helped us fighting Imperial Japan or in our struggles with the Soviet Union. Preview Open

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