It's Always about Money


The Cold War I: Communism versus Capitalism

There is only one thing worse than one nation having an atomic bomb and that’s two nations having it.

- Harold C Urey
1934 Nobel, Chemistry

Money is a singular thing.  It ranks with love as man's greatest source of joy.  And with death as his greatest source of anxiety.
Over all history it has oppressed nearly all people in one of two ways: either it has been abundant and very unreliable, or reliable and very scarce.

- John Kenneth Galbraith

The Cold War extended from 1945 to 1991.  This period included the collapse of the Russian empire in 1989 it and ended with the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.  The cold war was between the US and the USSR, though on a broader theme it could be described as Communism versus Capitalism.  The US had a superior economy (a fact not often understood in the US, which tended to take Communist propaganda at face value), had never been attacked on her own soil (apart from an odd Japanese balloon bombing attempt, Pearl Harbor, and the War of 1812), had a better military, and of course, was the sole possessor of the Atomic Bomb (at least until 1949).  After World War II it was clear that the US had become a world power, replacing Europe as the centre of Western culture, whether she liked it or not.

The name "United Nations" was coined by US President Franklin D Roosevelt and first used in the "Declaration by United Nations" of 1 January 1942, during World War II, when representatives of 26 nations pledged their governments to continue fighting together against the Axis Powers.  Roosevelt felt that he knew where Wilson had gone wrong, and had high hopes that the UN would work as the old League of Nations should have.  The Dumbarton Plan (1945) set up the structure of the UN to include a General Assembly and a Security Council.  The latter consisted of 15 countries, 10 of which were chosen in rotating elections, 5 of whom were permanent members.  These 5 nations were the UK, the US, the USSR, France and China.  (Members were chosen because they were the “winners” of WWII, not because of power.  France and China in particular were there because they had backed the winning side, even if they themselves had done poorly in the war.)  China was included mainly because Roosevelt had felt that China would soon become a world power.  The UN was different from the old League in that the 5 permanent members had veto power, which Roosevelt felt would ensure cooperation.  This, he felt, should prevent future problems such as had occurred with the Versailles Treaty (had the US been a member of the League and had veto power then the Versailles Treaty would have had to be negotiated on the US' terms.)  Roosevelt also wanted to see European colonialism dismantled. 

His greatest mistake was in not appreciating the conflicts to come with Stalin.

Roosevelt had felt that he could control Josef Stalin (1924 – 1953) just as he had been able to control the big city mayors.  He didn't think of Stalin as a homicidal dictator but rather as more of a Tsar (though Roosevelt's advisors disagreed - but the president didn't listen) and so allowed Russia to keep Poland since Stalin had promised to hold free elections there.  In April 1945 Roosevelt died; he was thought by then to have become more sceptical of Stalin but lacked sufficient time to act.  No matter – his successor Harry Truman (1945 – 1953) took a much tougher line with the Soviets.

Everyone knew Russia would have troops in Eastern Europe, and nothing short of a full-on war would be able to stop that.  The Soviets had been hit really hard by World War II but despite this had managed to project an image of expanding military power.  Stalin had promised to hold elections in Poland but he didn’t; instead he began removing the remnants of the Polish government.  And the Soviet occupation of Eastern Germany was downright brutal; Russians plundered industrial factories, sometimes even packing them up and carting them back to Russia.  Was Russia indulging her expansionist tendencies?  Truman was influenced to think this by a 1946 speech delivered by Winston Churchill at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri - there Churchill coined the term “Iron Curtain.”  He said:

From the Baltic to the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.  Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe - Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia.  All these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to an increasing measure of control from Moscow.  Athens alone ... is free to decide its future at an election under British, American and French observation.  The Russian-dominated Polish Government has been encouraged to make enormous and wrongful inroads upon Germany, and mass expulsions of millions of Germans on a scale grievous and undreamed-of are now taking place.

The Communist parties, which were very small in all these Eastern States of Europe, have been raised to pre-eminence and power far beyond their numbers and are seeking everywhere to obtain totalitarian control.  Police governments are prevailing in nearly every case, and so far, except in Czechoslovakia, there is no true democracy.  Turkey and Persia are profoundly alarmed at the claims being made upon them and at the pressure being exerted by the Moscow Government...

Last time I saw it all coming ... but no one paid any attention.  Up till the year 1933 or even 1935, Germany might have been saved from the awful fate which has overtaken her and we might all have been spared the miseries Hitler let loose upon mankind.  There never was a war in all history easier to prevent by timely action than the one which has just desolated such great areas of the globe.  It could have been prevented in my belief without the firing of a single shot, and Germany might be powerful, prosperous and honoured today; but no one would listen ...

We surely must not let that happen again.  This can only be achieved by reaching now, in 1946, a good understanding on all points with Russia under the general authority of the United Nations Organisation and by the maintenance of that good understanding through many peaceful years, by the world instrument, supported by the whole strength of the English-speaking world and all its connections.

"If Only There Were No Russia."
A cartoon from the early 1960s when the Cold War was a constant underlying fear.  Source: from The New Yorker

Political analyst, advisor and diplomat George Kennan was in charge of long-range planning for the State Department following World War II.  He developed the concept of "containment" as a strategy to keep Soviet influence from expanding and maintain the status quo.  Kennan believed that the Soviet Union would eventually have to relinquish its harsh grip on its citizenry and would change its foreign policies if the West could maintain a firm and consistent posture of opposition.  Rollback (a term used by American foreign policy thinkers during the Cold War, defined as using military force to "roll back" communism in countries where it had taken root - after only a few years these uniformly unsuccessful efforts in Europe were abandoned), he feared, would require war.  The USSR felt that they needed to project power to survive – due to this, Kennan felt that it would collapse if it were prevented from expanding.

Shortly after the doctrine had been enshrined as official US policy, Kennan increasingly became a critic of the policies that he had seemingly helped launch.  Even as containment was being scorned as appeasement and timidity in the first months of 1948, a high-level staff within the State Department was devising a remarkable initiative to confront communism aggressively through clandestine action.  The secret program would start with innocuous propaganda and persuasion, and then proceed directly into sabotage, subversion, and paramilitary engagement.  While critics were lambasting what they considered the defensive doctrine of containment, its author was at work designing a massive offensive.  When the diplomatic archives were finally unsealed, they revealed the architect and champion of American covert action against east European communism to be George Kennan.

On 18 June 1948, Truman and his National Security Council formally committed the US government to an unprecedented program of counterforce against communism, moving beyond propaganda and economic warfare to authorise "preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures" and then even "subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas and refugee liberation groups."  And all of these activities were to be carried out under such ruses and deceptions, the Truman administration directed, that the US government could "plausibly disclaim any responsibility."

Thus was drawn the first battle line of the Cold War, without the knowledge of the public and, indeed, contrary to what the public believed its government's foreign policy to be.  Kennan's secret operational plan for the counterforce quickly took on a life of its own across the government, caroming wildly out of its author's control.  By the 1950s right-wing ideologists, little knowing what the defeated Democratic administration had already attempted, took up the battle cry of rolling back the Iron Curtain.  Years later, looking back in dismay on the whole sorry episode, Kennan portrayed himself as "one who has inadvertently loosened a large boulder from the top of a cliff and now helplessly witnesses its path of destruction in the valley below, shuddering and wincing at each successive glimpse of disaster."

The Truman Doctrine put containment into effect by offering US aid to any country threatened by communist expansion.  To this end, the US gave $4,000,000 to Greece and Turkey; the communist revolution in Greece was put down and the country was saved; the Turks were more stable, and weren't really being threatened at that point, but the idea was to give them money to strengthen themselves in case they ever did have a problem.  Truman received total bipartisan support for his actions.

Countries vied to see who could have a tougher containment policy, and Western Europe was no exception.  George Marshall proposed the Marshall Plan (1947), which essentially was a call for economic aid to rebuild Europe from World War II’s devastation, thereby making it a fighting force against communism, should it be needed.  The plan had two dimensions – it really helped those suffering food shortages but also helped politically.  Since Marshall invited the USSR to participate in this rebuilding exercise, but her delegates walked out of the conference, this helped to make the USSR look to be uncaring, not heroic.  It took quite a while after WWII for the Marshall Plan to be implemented.  In the meantime, life in Western Europe was pretty brutal (and, of course, it was far worse in Eastern Europe) - famine, plagues, purges, terrorist groups of Nazis (called Werewolves) roaming the German countryside and picking off Allied occupiers.  Good fun…

This brings us to 1947, when the next conflict with the Soviets arose, this time in Berlin.  The US, British, and French had a presence in West Berlin, and refused to leave – East Berlin and the surrounding area, however, belonged to the Soviets.  In an attempt to drive out the West, the Soviets sealed off the Autobahn and cut the rail lines, which they hoped would prevent supplies from reaching the troops stationed in West Germany – the Berlin Blockade (1947).  Stalin did not want to declare outright war, and Truman did not want to provoke one, so Truman instated a massive airlift campaign to West Berlin, which provided all the supplies they needed.  Since Stalin could not stop the aircraft short of shooting them down, after a year of the plan being unsuccessful, he lifted the blockades and allowed ground support again, though Berlin still remained divided.

After World War II, pre-war Czechoslovakia was re-established and the Germans were expelled from the country.  But after 1948 free elections and other political freedoms were effectively abolished and power was formally held by a coalition in which the Communists held 2/3 of the seats while the remaining were shared among 5 other political parties.  The government from that point existed primarily to implement policy decisions made within the Communist Party.  A dispute broke out between government leader Gottwald and General Secretary Slánský over the extent to which Czechoslovakia should conform to the Soviet model.  In 1951, Slánský and several other senior Communists were arrested, charged with participating in a "Trotskyite-Titoite-Zionist conspiracy", subjected to a show trial and executed.

Truman came up with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO Alliance – the ultimate entangling alliance.  Article 5 stated that “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.”  George Kennan opposed the formation of NATO, claiming that developments in Korea and Vietnam sprang from nationalism rather than Marxism.  Senator Joseph McCarthy denounced Kennan as "a commie lover".  John Foster Dulles contacted Kennan and told him he was no longer wanted by the administration.  Ironically, John's brother, Allen Dulles, offered Kennan a job with the CIA, but Kennan refused and decided to become an academic.

In response to NATO, the Soviets set up the Warsaw Pact Alliance, which was essentially the same thing only with the Communist countries.

NATO versus Warsaw Pact Nations
Source: I liked this viewpoint...

In 1949, mainland China underwent a communist uprising.  Chiang Kai-shek, the head of Nationalist China, was pitted against the Communist leader, Mao Tse-Tung (Zedong).  Truman did not like Chiang, who had problems with corruption, but Truman did not like communism either, and so decided to simply not send any aid to either side.  Before the year was out, the Nationalist Party was pushed off mainland China, and retreated to the island of Formosa (native name Taiwan).  Once there, Chiang stated that he was still the leader of China, and that the mainland was temporarily held by revolutionaries.  Truman decided that communism should not under any circumstances be recognised as legitimate so he stated that the Nationalist exiles on Taiwan still represented China.

Korea had been split into a Communist North and Democratic South.  In 1950, when Stalin told North Korea that it was okay to invade South Korea, his decision was based on the idea that Western powers would not wish to get involved – this was partly because Truman’s Secretary of State had given a speech wherein he said that Korea was outside the US’ “sphere of influence”.  However Truman decided that this was a good place to demonstrate containment, so he went to the UN and convinced the Security Council to pass a resolution to send in troops.  This was possible because Stalin was boycotting the UN after Chiang had been given the Security Council seat.

Note – the USSR had a permanent seat, and hence a veto.  Soviet boycotts let the US get resolutions through the Security Council which would otherwise have been impossible, although how useful doing so actually proved to be to the US was debatable.

The invasion of Korea (Korean War 1950 - 1953) was successful in pushing the North Korean invaders out of South Korea - but unfortunately Truman decided to try Rollback.  Just as the UN had sent in troops to repel the attack on South Korea, the Chinese Communists sent in troops to repel the invasion of North Korea, which resulted in a bloody stalemate for the next two years.  During this time, McArthur got fired for opposing Truman’s decisions regarding Korea.  (Some would say, fired for insanity.  He seemed inclined to start a full-on war with China, which wasn’t exactly US policy at the time…)

USS Missouri Firing 16" Guns at Chongjin, Korea October 1950
Source: Official US Navy photograph now in the collections of the US National Archives

Consequences of the "Forgotten" War

by Bruce Cumings

Napalm was invented at the end of World War II.  It became a major issue during the Vietnam war, brought to prominence by horrific photos of injured civilians.  Yet far more napalm was dropped on Korea and with much more devastating effect, since the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) had many more populous cities and urban industrial installations than North Vietnam.  In 2003, I participated in a conference with US veterans of the Korean war.  During a discussion about napalm, a survivor who lost an eye in the Changjin (in Japanese, Chosin) Reservoir battle said it was indeed a nasty weapon: "Men all around me were burned.  They lay rolling in the snow.  Men I knew, marched and fought with begged me to shoot them ... It was terrible.  Where the napalm had burned the skin to a crisp, it would be peeled back from the face, arms, legs ... like fried potato chips."  Soon after that incident, George Barrett of the New York Times had found "a macabre tribute to the totality of modern war" in a village near Anyang, in South Korea: "The inhabitants throughout the village and in the fields were caught and killed and kept the exact postures they held when the napalm struck — a man about to get on his bicycle, 50 boys and girls playing in an orphanage."  US Secretary of State Dean Acheson wanted censorship authorities notified about this kind of "sensationalised reporting," so it could be stopped.

From June to late October 1950, B-29s unloaded 866,914 gallons of napalm.

When the major Sino-Korean offensive that cleared northern Korea of United Nations forces began, the US air force hit Pyongyang with 700 500-pound bombs on 14 - 15 December; napalm dropped from Mustang fighters with 175 tons of delayed-fuse demolition bombs, which landed with a thud and then blew up when people were trying to retrieve the dead from the napalm fires.

At a famous news conference on 30 November President Harry Truman threatened use of the atomic bomb, saying the US might use any weapon in its arsenal.  On that same day, Air Force General George Stratemeyer sent an order to General Hoyt Vandenberg that the Strategic Air Command should be put on warning, "to be prepared to dispatch without delay medium bomb groups to the Far East ... this augmentation should include atomic capabilities."  Washington was not worried that the Russians would respond with atomic weapons because the US possessed at least 450 bombs and the Soviets only 25.

In interviews published posthumously, MacArthur said he had a plan that would have won the war in 10 days: "I would have dropped 30 or so atomic bombs ... strung across the neck of Manchuria."  Then he would have introduced half a million Chinese Nationalist troops at the Yalu and then "spread behind us — from the Sea of Japan to the Yellow Sea — a belt of radioactive cobalt ...  it has an active life of between 60 and 120 years.  For at least 60 years there could have been no land invasion of Korea from the North."  He was certain that the Russians would have done nothing about this extreme strategy: "My plan was a cinch."  Cobalt 60 has 320 times the radioactivity of radium.  One 400-ton cobalt H-bomb, historian Carroll Quigley has written, could wipe out all animal life on earth.

Source: Anderson Valley Advertiser 29 December 2004

By now, the Soviets had successfully tested an atomic bomb of their own.  The image of the nuclear mushroom cloud hovered above the thoughts of American citizens throughout the 1950s, and on into early 1960s.  Propagandists capitalised on this, creating an immediate need in the consumer mind for a bomb shelter.  The idea was planted that a bomb shelter would protect you from the horrible effects of a nuclear attack, assuming you were able to construct such a shelter.  The idea seems ridiculous today since the effects of a nuclear attack are now more-fully known.  By 1960, The Office of Civil and Defense Mobilisation, estimated that a million families had constructed their own private bomb shelters.  Shelters ranged in price from $1,795 - $3,895, and many came in kits that made assembly easier.  Advertisements were found in magazines throughout the country.  Life magazine in 1955 included a feature ad for an H-Bomb Hideaway - the sale price was only $3000.  A Michigan sheriff was heard to remark, "To build a home today without a shelter, would be like leaving out a bathroom 20 years ago."  The number of shelters built showed how thoroughly propaganda penetrated the American mind.

The Korean War ended when Dwight D Eisenhower (1953 – 1961) became president and the two sides decided to stop fighting and simply maintain the status quo.  (Stopping the war was informal as there had never been an American congressional vote in favour of sending troops to Korea to start with - the two sides are technically still at war today.)

Not long after the Korean War ended, Stalin became even more paranoid, and began a new round of purges in the last months of his life - the "Doctor's Plot" was rumoured to be the prelude to public hangings on Red Square and a country-wide anti-Semitic pogrom, to be followed by the exile of more than 2 million Soviet Jews to the Far East.  The cause of Stalin’s death was said to be cerebral hæmorrhage, though it was rumoured that he was poisoned (more about that on the page following this one).  Thousands of people across the USSR flocked to Moscow to view his body as it lay in state, culminating in a stampede that killed hundreds.

It took more than two years for a new Soviet leader to emerge: Nikita Khrushchev (1955 – 1964).  This new leader acted in a bombastic and crude manner but had political skills.  He appeared to be of peasant stock which at that time was considered a good thing from the Soviet perspective – it made him appear closer to the Worker - in some circles anyhow.  His enemies saw it as a downside.  He pounded on tables, interrupted people to shout insults, and was thoroughly obnoxious.  How much was an act was unclear.  After he interrupted a speech by Macmillan by pounding on his desk, Macmillan said "I should like that to be translated if he wants to say anything."  After a Filipino delegate politely queried the contrast between Russian criticism of US foreign policy, and the USSR’s policy in Europe, Khrushchev called the delegate "a jerk, a stooge and a lackey of imperialism.”  He was eventually removed by the Politburo, primarily because he and his mannerisms had come to be seen as an embarrassment.  The Politburo also disproved of his handling and provoking of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Senator Joe McCarthy, a Right-Wing Republican,
Claimed in 1950 that the State Department Was Infiltrated by Communists.
This started a wave of anticommunist hysteria, wild charges, and blacklisting.  He was discredited in 1954 and censured by the Senate for misconduct.
"McCarthyism" has come to represent the practice of using innuendo and unsubstantiated accusations against adversaries.  Photo source:

In February 1956, Khrushchev appeared before the Communist Party, and denounced Stalin as having a “personality cult” and as having led Russia off the path.  He claimed that Stalin had betrayed Lenin, which led to the phenomenon now called De-Stalinization, whereby portraits and literature pertaining to Stalin were destroyed, his body was removed from its position of display next to Lenin, Stalingrad was renamed Volgograd (after the river it was built on) and all public statues of Stalin were removed.  Unfortunately though, this did not represent a huge change in policy – dissidents were no longer sent to Siberia, true - they were merely sent to jail.  The Secret Police were less active, but the regular police were kept busy.

Khrushchev tried to help the economy by instituting Reform Communism, a shift away from central control, but it was not as successful as Lenin’s NEP.  In addition, he attempted to get more land into farming to bolster supplies of meat, butter, and milk, though he was not successful, both due to Russia’s undergoing a prolonged bout of bad weather and also due to his erratic rule.

Though the economic reforms were unsuccessful, Russia got much further in the realm of science, which lead to the launch of the first orbital satellite, Sputnik (the Goose), in 1957.  The final break with Stalin came when the USSR sought better relations with the US, which Khrushchev thought would reduce direct tensions, thereby making war less likely.  Because of this thaw under Eisenhower, the two countries began to have Summit meetings, which lead to Khrushchev becoming the first Communist leader to visit the US.

How Did Yuri Die?

The Mysterious Death of a Space-Age Hero

by Andrew Osborn

The first man in space gave his name to countless Russian streets and schools.  But his death in 1968 fuelled just as many conspiracy theories - and now a new petition demands that the case be reopened.

Stock Soviet icons such as Lenin or the improbably productive Stakhanovite workers that his successors dreamt up are old hat in today's Russia.  Their statues lie scrapped or neglected, their achievements rubbished, their life stories are forgotten or mocked.  Only one poster boy of the USSR remains: Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin.  The mere mention of his name sees Russian chests swell with pride.  His achievements are legendary and he is unique in transcending the country's harrowing transition from Communism to capitalism.  Any Russian school child can tell you that the Soviet cosmonaut was the first man in space.  And his mission aboard the capsule Vostok 1 won the space race for the Soviets when it orbited the Earth on 12 April 1961.

Gagarin was just 27 years old when he grabbed the headlines around the world.  The son of collective farm workers and a devoted family man with a wholesome sense of humour and movie star looks, he quickly captured the imagination of a generation.  His flight, which lasted just 1 hour and 8 minutes, was a milestone in the space race that developed between the competing superpowers and one which demonstrated in no uncertain terms that the then USSR was a force to be reckoned with.  Gagarin epitomised "Homo Sovieticus", was the apogee of Soviet Socialism and the product of a system that Moscow then believed would establish global hegemony.  Who remembers Alan Shepard, the first American in space who reached orbit on 5 May of the same year?  A deeply sarcastic poster that festoons modern-day Moscow displays a famous Russian tourist knick-knack - a Matroshka doll - and warns passers-by that if they're not careful Russia will have nothing else to be proud of.  That cynicism bounces off Gagarin.  He lives on in the Russian imagination as a reminder of one of their greatest triumphs and someone about whom they can genuinely feel good.

Only one thing clouds the golden memory of Russia's feted cosmonaut and that is how he died.  Mystery continues to shroud the fate of the first man in space: almost 40 years after his tragically premature death, nobody really knows how and why Gagarin died.  It is a riddle that continues to fascinate Russians in the same way that Americans still puzzle over who shot John F Kennedy and fans of Diana, Princess of Wales, continue to speculate about what caused the car crash that killed her.  Now a group of eminent military and space officials, test pilots, accident investigators and medical specialists have drawn up a petition asking for the Gagarin investigation to be reopened.  The petition will soon be received by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian parliament.  A new theory concerning Gagarin's demise has also been put forward by one of the surviving members of the government commission that originally investigated his death.

The bare facts of the tragedy, which occurred on 27 March 1968 just outside Moscow, have long been in the public domain.  Gagarin and his flight instructor, Vladimir Serugin, were flying a routine test mission in a MiG-15 in what were admittedly poor weather conditions.  The duo had successfully completed the day's manœuvres and were heading for the airstrip when radio contact with the plane was lost.  Rescuers would later find what was left of the MiG-15 at the bottom of a deep crater in a forest.  Both men were dead and their bodies badly mangled.

Gagarin was just 34 and, at the time of his untimely death, had been the favourite to lead the Soviet Moon-landing mission (the Americans beat the Soviets to it in 1969).  His plane appeared to have gone into a "black nosedive" from which it could not recover and the pilots seem to have lost all control.  A government commission was formed to find out what had happened to a man who was a holder of the Order of Lenin and a hero of the Soviet Union.  People cried on the Moscow metro when they heard the news and thousands of Russians queued for days to catch a glimpse of the urn containing his ashes.  About 200 experts took part in the investigation that followed but the then Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev suppressed its findings and consigned the 30-volume report to the archives.  Investigators were forbidden from publishing a summary of their conclusions on the grounds that it would "unsettle" the nation and the matter was quietly forgotten as Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring.

Even his immediate family was not told what had really happened, prompting his mother, Anna, to ask years later whether her famous son had been murdered by the Brezhnev regime, a theory which refuses to die.  Gagarin, briefly the world's most famous person, was buried at the foot of the Kremlin Wall alongside Soviet luminaries such as Joseph Stalin.  Over the years conspiracy theories flourished like mushrooms in the rain and various official theories began to leak out too.  The unkindest theory was that the two men were drunk on vodka and had lost control.  Gagarin had found fame hard to deal with in the years following his triumphant return to Earth, it was argued, and had become a heavy drinker.  However, official accident reports would show that no traces of alcohol had been found in either man's blood.  Other theories bordered on the lunatic: that he had been abducted by aliens, that he had survived the crash and died in a Soviet psychiatric ward in 1990, that Serugin had killed both of them because he was jealous of Gagarin, that Gagarin had staged his own death and had plastic surgery or that he had been shot down by the CIA.  Investigators also speculated that the plane had collided with a foreign object, a weather balloon or a flock of birds, but found no signs on the fuselage to back up such a theory.  Nor could they find anything wrong with the plane's controls or engines.  In short the accident remained shrouded in mystery.

No one could understand, for example, why the two skilled and experienced pilots had not ejected from the plane.  Russian media reports at the time had Gagarin heroically staying at the controls to ensure that the plane did not smash into a nearby school, but no real evidence was ever produced to support this.  A 1986 inquest suggested that the MiG-15 had been knocked off course by turbulence from a supersonic aircraft in the area.  That and the theory that the plane had swerved violently to avoid hitting a weather balloon have become the received versions of events.  Most surviving officials say that air traffic control at the local airfield was in a pitiful state on the day Gagarin died.  However, Igor Kuznetsov, a member of the original government commission and a retired Soviet aircraft engineer, has put forward a new theory.  "I've finally managed to get to the bottom of this," he told the Russian media.  "With the help of the latest computer programmes, I have managed to work out the trajectory and precise movements of the plane in its last moments.  "I have completely recreated the events of 37 years ago and believe that I have found the real cause of the catastrophe."

Mr Kuznetsov says someone had forgotten to close a ventilation panel in the cockpit, that the cabin lost pressure as a result and that the two men then passed out.  He said: "So judging by everything, the reason for the tragedy was the human factor, the incompetence of one of the mechanics preparing the plane for flight."  Crucially Mr Kuznetsov did not rule out the possibility of foul play, a suggestion that is likely to spark fresh speculation about whether Gagarin was actually murdered by the Brezhnev regime.  Although the cosmonaut enjoyed excellent relations with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader at the time of his historic flight, he was on much cooler terms with Brezhnev.  The former Soviet leader was said to be irked by Gagarin's continued fame, and felt overshadowed by him at public events.  Brezhnev saw him as a creature of the man he had deposed.

There are also suggestions that Communist officials were deeply embarrassed by Gagarin's purportedly increasingly alcohol-fuelled behaviour and alleged philandering.  On one occasion, for example, when he was apparently in flagrante delicto with a nurse in the Crimea, he is said to have leapt off a balcony and badly smashed up his face when his wife knocked at the door.  His faithful legion of fans say such tales have been invented by domestic ill-wishers and foreign historians eager to discredit one of Russia's greatest historical figures.  That may be true, but conspiracy theorists and the curious have other grounds to believe that he incurred Brezhnev's wrath.  It is believed that Gagarin tried in vain to prevent the launch of the faulty Soyuz spacecraft in which cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov died in 1967, an event that was a severe embarrassment to the USSR at the time.

Almost 40 years after his tragic death Russia is eager to know the truth.  "The plane crash which killed our national hero, the planet's first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, and his instructor still remains unsolved and the reasons for their death unknown," reads the petition demanding a fresh investigation.  "The official conclusions have still not been published and as a result the investigation has legally not been completed."  Whether the truth about Gagarin, a man who was received by the Queen of England, toured the world and ventured quite literally where no man had ever been before, will ever be known remains uncertain.  With Russia looking harder than ever for heroes capable of carrying the weight of hope and expectation, the ghost of the man whose hour-long stellar voyage propelled him from farmer's son to Soviet icon will not be allowed to rest quietly.

Source:  28 July 2005

The Space Race

by Robin Stringer


bullet31 July - Soviet Union announces intention to launch a satellite into space two days after the United States declared it would.


bullet4 October - Soviet Union launches the world's first satellite, Sputnik 1. The satellite, weighing 90kg, orbited the earth for three months. Industrial output in the Soviet Union rocketed during the decade, and the launch was a demonstration of the might of the Soviet system.
bullet3 November - Sputnik 2 is launched. Its passenger, a dog called Laika, is the first living being in orbit.


bulletThe US government creates the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA.


bullet12 April - Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin is the first man in space on Vostok 1.
bullet5 May - Alan Shepard is the first American in space on a 15-minute sub-orbital flight.  Nine months later, John Glenn is the first American to orbit the Earth.


bullet16 - 19 June - Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman in space, on Vostok 6.


bullet18 March - Aleksei Leonov, cosmonaut on Voskhod 2, makes first space walk.  The mission nearly ends in disaster: Leonov has trouble returning to capsule, and ship lands 1,000 miles off target.


bullet27 March - Yuri Gagarin is killed with flying instructor during MiG-15 training flight near Moscow.  Cause of the crash is uncertain.


bullet20 June - US wins round two of the space race when Apollo 11 lands on the moon and Neil Armstrong walks on the surface.


bullet26 December - Soviet Union launches Salyut 4, the first orbital space station.


bullet15 July - The Soviet craft Soyuz 19 docks in space with America's Apollo 18.  For the first time, astronauts from the rival nations pass into each other's ships and conduct experiments together.

Source: 28 July 2005

Great Leap Forward 1957 - 1960

We walked along beside the village.  The rays of the sun shone on the jade-green weeds that had sprung up between the earth walls, accentuating the contrast with the rice fields all around, and adding to the desolation of the landscape.  Before my eves, among the weeds, rose up one of the scenes I had been told about, one of the banquets at which the families had swapped children in order to eat them.

I could see the worried faces of the families as they chewed the flesh of other people’s children.  The children who were chasing butterflies in a nearby field seemed to be the reincarnation of the children devoured by their parents.  I felt sorry for the children, but not as sorry as I felt for the parents.  What had made them swallow that human flesh, amidst the tears and grief of other parents - flesh that they would never have imagined tasting, even in their worst nightmares?

In that moment I understood what a butcher he had been, the man “whose like humanity has not seen in several centuries, and China not in several thousand years": Mao Zedong.  Mao Zedong and his henchmen, with their criminal political system, had driven parents mad with hunger and led them to hand their own children over to others, and to receive the flesh of others to appease their own hunger.

Source: Up to 30 million people starved...

Despite Khrushchev's attempts to humanise Communism, the country still lacked free speech and free expression.  In late 1956, Hungary announced that she wanted out of the Warsaw pact, and in addition wanted to hold elections.  Khrushchev responded to this by proving that he was not unwilling to use Stalin’s methods - he sent in troops and 20,000 were killed because he wanted to make a statement that once you were communist, you were always communist. (note the Brezhnev Doctrine on the page following this one.)

Khrushchev’s relationship with Fidel Castro in Cuba, however, caused the world to enter a new phase in the Cold War.  The US had not really been that opposed to Castro’s military coup in Cuba when it was thought he would institute a democracy.  However, Castro was evicted from upscale accommodations because of his race.  He went to stay in Harlem.  Khrushchev personally visited him at his hotel to offer support.  Shortly after this, Castro came down on the side of the Communists.  This disturbed the US greatly, though by then it was too late to stop the process.  Castro was also influenced by one of his more prominent (not to mention, brutal, bloodthirsty, and psychotic) advisors – the hardline Stalinist Che Guevara.  A sample quote:

Crazy with fury I will stain my rifle red while slaughtering any enemy that falls in my hands!  My nostrils dilate while savouring the acrid odor of gunpowder and blood.  With the deaths of my enemies I prepare my being for the sacred fight and join the triumphant proletariat with a bestial howl!

Charming!  He also criticised the USSR’s failure to use nuclear weapons on the US during the crisis.  He said that had he been in charge, he would have done so.  Few doubt him.  How much Guevara’s rise to power in Cuba was caused by Castro’s sympathy to Communism, and how much of Castro’s communist sympathy was shaped by Guevara is unclear.

When John F Kennedy (1961 – 1963) became US president, he inherited a covert-operations plan that the CIA had come up with to try and depose Castro.  However, the plan proved fatally flawed, which was a blow to the Kennedy administration.  Khrushchev had thought that Kennedy was an easier president to push around than Eisenhower, but he discovered otherwise.

In 1961, a new crisis arose in Berlin.  Due to the rebuilding efforts, the public transportation system was back up and running, which allowed refugees from the USSR to essentially catch a bus or train out of the communist area and over to the safety of the West.  This went against the party position “once a communist, always a communist” and had to be stopped.  After some tension between the two sides, the Berlin Wall was built.  Kennedy did not protest the construction of the wall because it implied that attempts to remove the Western presence from West Berlin would abate.  A stalemate standoff resulted.

Next, in 1962, came the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Cuba had become communist under Castro, allied with Khrushchev and the USSR.  There had been an abortive attempt by the US the previous year to remove Castro.  For his protection, the USSR started constructing nuclear missile silos on the beach nearest the US; this worried the US greatly as missiles launched from somewhere as close as Cuba could reach their target before retaliation could be launched or protective action taken.  Full nuclear war was seen as a very real possibility.  In an attempt to combat this, Kennedy ordered a full blockade of Cuba and demanded that the nukes already there be removed.  This led to extreme paranoia and the construction of bomb shelters along the eastern and southern portions of the US.  There was a 13-day standoff, but Khrushchev replied that he would remove the missiles if the US promised to leave Cuba alone (he immediately sent a more belligerent letter demanding the removal of missiles from Turkey but Kennedy ignored that and Khrushchev accepted it).  The US agreed and the nuclear threat abated.

Within two years, Khrushchev was deposed and disappeared from public view.  Communication between the US and USSR was improved after the Cuban Missile Crisis by the installation of a Hotline – communication had been so bad and roundabout (spies meeting with news reporters) then that it left both sides worried that a war could start by accident.  Further, a test-ban treaty was agreed on which stated that there would be no more above-ground testing of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world.

During all this, relationships with the Chinese were deteriorating.  China was seen as more irrational than the Soviets, especially since Mao had instated communism in the Stalinist model, leading to Khrushchev’s De-Stalinization being seen as an insult to Mao.  The only time that Eisenhower ever mentioned nukes was when he suggested using them against the North Koreans.  Mao’s Great Leap Forward was essentially what Stalin had done in the Ukraine and it worked about as well (or rather as badly) for China as it had for the Ukraine.

On 22 November 1963, Kennedy was assassinated.  Communism was being contained, the Vietnam War was looming, and the Chinese were starving.  There were no normal relations with China at this point.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

The main difference for the history of the world if I had been shot rather than Kennedy
is that Onassis probably wouldn't have married Mrs Khrushchev.

- Nikita Khrushchev

In the 1970s the US stepped back from containment, and in the 1980s, reinstituted it again.  Then, the USSR collapsed…

Two Arguments against the Formation of an Independent Palestinian State

by Cody Hatch

If a new Palestinian state were to be formed from Gaza and the West Bank it would face many difficulties.  Two which would likely prove insurmountable are the fact that a Palestinian state would have available to it only resources of very poor quality and that Palestinian leadership would be corrupt and incompetent.  Few states have been able to overcome either of these deficiencies.  To expect a newly formed Palestine to succeed despite both stretches the bounds of credibility.

A state exists to serve its people.  It should educate them, protect them from crime, defend them from foreign enemies, attempt to keep them healthy and long-lived, and guarantee them rights.  This takes money, however, and money is something a newly formed Palestinian state would find in short supply.  The West Bank has virtually no natural resources and Gaza possesses nothing beyond a bit of arable land.  After a century of continual strife and warfare, few factories or industries remain.  Further, given the history (and likely future) of violence and instability in these areas.  Palestine will have difficulty finding investors.  This leaves few options.  A service-based economy, such as tourism or call centres, could be viable, but would be difficult to implement.  For years hence, tourists will be leery of the area.  Moreover, most Palestinians are ill-educated; thus, the route other countries (notably India) are taking, that of emphasising information technology, is closed to them.

Still, it is possible for countries to overcome multiple disadvantages.  Japan is the most prominent example.  It, too, has almost no natural resources.  Only a few decades ago, its industries were largely destroyed by war.  Yet today, it is one of the most successful countries in the world.  After the war Japan applied all resources and foreign aid toward building the infrastructure needed for a strong independent economy.  But a Palestinian state would be different; it would have a more serious problem to deal with than mere lack of resources: it would have a corrupt and incompetent leadership.  Given that the bulk of current aid to Palestine is stolen or misdirected by Palestine’s leaders, it is implausible that future aid would be put to use building infrastructure.

But if the formation of a new state cannot work, what will?  Perhaps there are two different answers, one for Gaza and another for the West Bank.  Gaza has the smaller population and fewer sites of religious significance; therefore, it is possible for it to be successfully absorbed into Israel.  On the other hand, the West Bank is too weak to exist independently, but is too populous for a hostile annexation to work.  That leaves Jordan as the only viable candidate to merge with the West Bank.  Since Palestinians are already in the majority in Jordan, that would limit ethnic conflict there.  Two countries would then have a claim on Jerusalem; one solution for this problem would be to split Jerusalem into two equal parts with Israel and Jordan each getting half.  With no infrastructure, virtually no resources, and no chance of a positive change coming from an external source, how could an independent Palestinian state better serve the interests of the Palestinian people?  Neither the Palestinians nor their neighbors would be better off with a failed Palestinian state.

"Save the Holy Places"
27 April 1948 published by the Washington Post Source:

During the 1948 Middle Eastern war, precipitated by a UN resolution to partition the British protectorate of Palestine into separate Arab and Israeli states, Herb Block took the view that American diplomatic interests were focused on preserving the region's rich oilfields and not its religious sites or antiquities.

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