Back in 1961 a CIA agent and I approached Thomas Lejus, who won the 1959 boys’ singles championship for the Soviet Union at Wimbledon. We took him to Café Royal, where Oscar Wilde and Whistler and other such swells used to hang their top hats. The agent spoke first. “Thomas, if you decide to stay in the West, we will give you a Ford car with an automatic reclining roof and a large electric fridge, and make sure your life is comfortable in America.” Thomas was a university graduate and he sort of scratched his head. “You mean you want me to leave the land of Pushkin for a car with an automatic roof and a fridge?”
“Who the hell is Pushkin?” spluttered the agent. “Is he involved?” That’s when I interfered. Let me try it my way, was all I said. The lunch was effectively over.
Thomas was an educated and nice person, but got into trouble later when he caught his wife in flagrante and killed her. Having earned a Stalin order, he got only eight years in a Gulag, and I ran into him during a veterans’ tournament 30 years later in Palermo. He was a broken man. He had no regrets, he said. Typically Russian, I thought. The love Russians have for their country is something arms-rattling neocons do not always take into account. It’s a mystic love, Mother Russia, and Mother Church, along with one thousand years of suffering, deprivations, and war. A German general, Hasso von Manteuffel, once told me how inexplicable he found the frenzied and ferocious resistance to the German bombing of Leningrad by the starving populace, let alone the soldier defenders. Solzhenitsyn, no commie fan, wrote how surprised and ashamed he was when his battalion was stringing up Russians who had gone over to the German side. It was like a bad dream, he wrote later, these desperate men who had fought under Vlasov and had resisted so tenaciously, and were now being tortured and shot like mad dogs. A German officer naked to the waist was being whipped to death and he appealed to Captain Solzhenitsyn as a fellow human being. The great writer kept quiet. Russian nature is cruel, as are the people living there. But they defend the land like wild animals defend their young, something the soft Western op-ed writers will never comprehend. For Russians, the farther west into Europe their borders extend, the farther any future Napoleon or Hitler has to travel to reach Moscow. It’s as simple as that. The great George Kennan went on record saying that NATO and the U.S. were making a great mistake in bottling up Russia after the fall of communism. Kennan knew the Russian character better than the know-nothings inside the beltway. And the ludicrous unelected EU bureaucrats who sang a siren song to the Ukrainians only showed what nincompoops they are by egging on anti-Russian sentiments in a country that became the Ukraine only in 1991, having been a batted-about set of provinces until it joined the Soviet Union. As I wrote in another journal, the Ukraine choosing the EU over Russia was like a man kicking out Ava Gardner from his bed and inviting Hillary Clinton under the sheets.
What the neocons cannot stomach after all the anti-Soviet propaganda of a half-century is the fact that the Russian people are not our enemies. They are the kind of people a Russian Norman Rockwell would have depicted like those our own Norman did, peasants attending church and feeding the chickens, children playing in the snow, soldiers going off to war with their mothers left crying in train stations. Crude provocations such as Jew lists being circulated by Russians in eastern Ukraine are as false as the WMD our very own neocons put out 12 years ago in order to get us into war with Iraq.
All one had to do is watch the opening and closing winter Olympic ceremonies to see what Russia is all about. It is not about thieving and greedy oligarchs, most of whom hold dual nationalities, Israeli and Russian, but about Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Turgenev, all of whom a BBC correspondent identified as “all Russians, you know.” Gee thanks. Russian athletes won more medals and did their nation proud, and while Putin watched with pride, we, the Americans, always under the boot of anti-Soviet lobbies and the op-ed fools of the Times, watched as our team was represented by a lesbian tennis great, Billie Jean King, as an intended insult to the Russian state because Russian law forbids homosexual teachings to preteens. Go figure.
The EU is an unelected Politburo that overturns national referenda. Russia has always been and most likely always will be headed by an authoritarian government. President Obama is now showing his naïveté by trying to forge a new long-term approach that applies an updated version of the Cold War strategy. It is as useless as sending a tennis player to insult Mother Russia.
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