By Fred A. Reed
I may be taking some risk in writing this, now that the diabolical archfiend Putin has unleashed his Asiatic hordes upon the virginal and virtuous virgins of NATO—or, more properly, their Ukrainian stand-ins.
But, please, don’t take me for a cynic. I remain hopeful, and hoping against hope, wish that the two connected tales I will now tell might offer a slightly different perspective from the full-throated roar of condemnation that surrounds and deafens us as it would members of a lynch mob.
When I went up to Stanford in 1957, at my mother’s insistence that I continue my education at her alma mater, I had not yet elaborated an escape strategy. It would be enough, I reasoned, to choose some courses from the university’s vast curriculum, and keep myself out of anything science-related. For those were the subjects that had been selected for me, and that I had instinctively resolved to avoid.
What better could I, an increasingly rebellious adolescent curious about communism and, by extension, the Soviet Union, do than learn Russian. Thus, I fantasised, I would get to the source of a powerful counter-reality to everything that was Pasadena, Southern California, and more broadly speaking, the United States.
So I enrolled in courses in Russian, and in Russian literature, both taught by a “White” émigré professor from Ashkhabad, in what is now Turkmenistan, then a Soviet Socialist Republic. He hated the Reds and their works, of course but over the years had become resigned to his fate.
I learned eagerly and rapidly, and one morning before class wrote “workers arise!” in my best Cyrillic script on the blackboard. Professor Posen came into the room a few minutes later, surveyed my anonymous handiwork and said with a sardonic smile: “workers get up in the morning, eh?”
As a Bolshevik hater, our professor was well connected. At the center of the bucolic Stanford campus stands the tower that housed then, and still houses, the Hoover Institution, named for the 31st president of the US. Not surprisingly, since its establishment it has provided a welcoming environment to visiting scholars of the extreme right-wing persuasion. Even less surprisingly, during my two years at Stanford, one of the Institution’s most prominent ‘scholars’ was none other than Alexander Kerensky.
Yes, the self-same Alexander Kerensky who headed the Provisional Government of Russia in 1917, before it was swept away by the October Revolution. And now, in the late 1950’s, he haunted the halls of the Hoover, hoping for revenge and retribution for slights suffered.
This was the very man, semi-emaciated as I recall him, who stood before our class one fine day. He may well have lost the political struggle, but he welcomed the opportunity, in a manner of speaking, to set the record straight.
I cannot remember a single thing he said. But I do remember his close-cropped hair and military bearing, his wire-rimmed glasses and his emphatic gestures, as he struck the table in front of him with extended, rigid fingers whenever he wished to make a point. Had he, I wondered, addressed the Petrograd Soviet in similar fashion?
At the end of his lecture, he shook hands with all present. Including my then-youthful self. But Kerensky merely proved to be prologue to my finest hour as a youthful connoisseur of things Russian and/or communist.
As readers will recall, Nikita Khrushchev, then-leader of the Soviet Union, arrived in the United States on a state visit in September 1959. I had departed Stanford, but could by then write simple Russian. Though actually meeting Mr. Khrushchev was not within the range of possibilities, I vowed to carry out an agitprop action that would attract his attention.
The First Secretary’s itinerary included, of course, Los Angeles, where he was scheduled to visit Disneyland. However, the visit was cancelled ‘for security reasons’, leaving Khrushchev in a foul mood, which his meetings with actors and actresses, including Marilyn Monroe, who had been instructed by MGM to wear tight clothing, would assuage but not repair.
Not knowing this, but driven by a fierce desire to catch the First Secretary’s attention, my younger brother agreed to participate in my plan. It would consist of meeting Khrushchev’s train at the Glendale Station—a favourite of ours since our earliest boyhood—and trying to leave a small mark on events.
The plan was simple. We would join the crowd, and when the train pulled to a stop, we would hoist the large two-sided sign we had prepared, featuring my best Russian lettering. One side said, in large letters: ‘Peace and Brotherhood.’ On the other side it read ‘Autonomy for the Kazakh Socialist Republic.’
Majestic in its orange and black livery the Southern Pacific’s crack streamliner, the Coast Daylight, pulled into the station northbound to San Francisco. More than one thousand people had congregated to catch a glimpse of the Soviet leader, more out of curiosity than hostility. Khrushchev was a short, rotund man with keen sense of humour and an abiding interest in American technical prowess. He was a hard man to hate, and besides, the USSR was more than a match for the USA back then, militarily and in terms of its socialist doctrine that kept world capitalists in line.
The station was awash with signs, some hostile, and several repeating our slogan of peace and brotherhood. But none were quite so elegant, if I do say so myself. Then, when we thought we’d caught the Chairman’s eye, we flipped the sign.
Khrushchev spotted it, pointed, broke into laughter and began to applaud. The crowd was nonplussed. What had we written to tickle the Soviet leader’s funny bone?
On the following day, the Los Angeles Times described our sign as calling for ‘independence’ for one of the U
SSR’s component socialist republics. The reporters were ignorant fools (a not-uncommon occurrence in today’s MSM).
We knew better, and to our mutual delight, Mr. Khrushchev did too. Here was an international leader, a man of modest peasant background, who could and did understand and appreciate satire and irony.
Not as much could be said today of the cretins who lord it over what styles itself as ‘the Free World.’ Thrice alas!