I’m tired of simply copying and pasting long passages from the History.com website – fascinating as most of the tidbits I choose may be. What’s needed here is a dose of Bulldog commentary, the kind that makes the historical tidbit in question that much more interesting to read. Henceforth, when you plotz in front of your computer with your favorite morning beverage (and I hope it isn’t bourbon) you’ll get a dose of canine sense only The Bulldog can dispense.
On this day in 1959 (just 26 days before I was born)
The New York Times says American visitors to the Soviet National Exhibition in New York City are expressing very strong views of Russian society and economics in the “guest books” located throughout the exhibition. The generally negative, and often angry, comments indicated that cultural exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union did not necessarily bring the two nations closer together in understanding.
Cultural “exchanges” such as this one only make sense if the participants have something – anything – in common other than human biology.
The Soviet National Exhibition in New York City was the outgrowth of a new emphasis on cultural exchanges by both the United States and the Soviet Union in the late 1950s. In January 1958, the two nations signed an agreement designed to increase cultural contact and specifically cited the “usefulness of exhibits as an effective means of developing mutual understanding.”
What, precisely, was there to “understand” about Soviet “culture” that Americans at the time did not already understand? Note that in the late 1950s and even into the early 1960s, the public school system in the U.S. had not yet fallen victim to the destructive influence of the teachers’ unions; even those with an eighth grade level of education were, in most respects, better-informed than most college graduates today. Unlike the tweed-jacketed eggheads who populated the ivory towers of academia, average Americans had no illusions when it came to Soviet Communism.
At the end of 1958, both nations agreed to host national exhibitions from the other nation. The Soviet National Exhibition came to New York City in June 1959, and ran until late July. The focal point of the exhibition was Sputnik, the Soviet satellite that had gone into orbit around the earth in 1957. There were also exhibits on Soviet industry and agriculture, as well as musical and theatrical performances.
Soviet industry and agriculture!? Seriously? Anyone ever heard of a successful centrally-planned national economy? Does the name Lysenko ring a bell? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Unknown to most of the U.S. public, until the Times article of July 5, 1959, was that the Soviets had placed comment books around the exhibition hall. Americans, never shy in expressing their opinions, gladly obliged by filling the books up as quickly as they were placed. To a large degree, the comments reflected the existing Cold War animosities. A typical remark was, “I think the main perspective of this Russian exhibit is to show the average American citizen how lucky he is to be an American.” Another sarcastically noted, “I missed seeing your typical Russian home (dump) and your labor camps (slave camps).” And after a performance of Russian folk music, one “critic” declared, “Russian music is for the birds. If they’ll take it.” Other comments were considered too “coarse” to be reprinted.
I can only imagine. In those days, a coarse comment would have been “Stick your borscht where the sun don’t shine, Ivan.” I’m sure P.J. O’Rourke would have given them a piece of his mind by offering his assessment of the average Russkie:
Brutish, dumpy, boorish lard-bags in cardboard double-breasted suits. Lickspittle slaveys to the maniacal schemes of their blood-lusting Red overlords. They make bicycles out of cement and can be sent to Siberia for listening to the wrong radio station. Their Communist party cuts the balls off of high school boys to get women athletes, and shoots losing chess champions in the kneecaps. They shine their shoes with shit and spread Shinola on their wheat fields.
A few weeks after the Times article appeared, the American National Exhibition opened in Moscow. Like the Russians, the Americans placed comment books around the displays. And, as in New York City, Russians in Moscow used the opportunity to vent about American imperialism, decadence, and lack of morality.
The difference being, of course, that the “lickspittle slaveys to the maniacal schemes of their blood-lusting Red overlords” did nothing more than parrot what was little more than indoctrination – much like liberals and Democrats do today.
In the following years, more and more cultural exchanges took place. Most U.S. officials came to believe that such exchanges increased mutual understanding and decreased the mutual suspicion upon which the Cold War rested. In 1959, however, the early attempts at familiarity only bred contempt.
Mutual suspicion wasn’t decreased by a series of stupid cultural exchanges and anyone who believes this is an idiot. Americans ceased paying much mind to the Soviet Union after it collapsed in 1991 – thanks largely to the efforts of Ronaldus Magnus, the Iron Lady and JP II.