A wise friend once told me “If you want to outthink an opponent, you need to know how they think.” For the past 20 years the Russians have spend much more time studying America, than Americans have spent thinking about Russia. Since Romania was so close to Russia, I started to think on behalf of my fellow Americans.
This led me to read 3 Tolstoy novels (War and Peace, Anna Karenina and Resurrection) and 3 from Dostoevsky (The Idiot, Crime and Punishment and Brother’s Karamasov). Unexpectedly, I found myself sharing many common values with the characters and authors. Even stranger, I found my heart drawn to the Russian peasants. As I read Tolstoy’s Crimean War stories of how Russian serfs volunteered in huge numbers for the war to escape slavery and then fought courageously despite incompetent military leadership and disgraceful medical care, I developed an admiration for the Russian people. This led me to visit Russia and meet ordinary people who live outside Moscow. I liked the people I met.
The Crimean War is still deeply rooted into Russian culture. A few weeks ago the Russian Embassy in London reopened the subject with a tweet that provoked the British people with an image of The Charge of the Light Brigade. This was a tragic maneuver where British troops were intending to capture Turkish guns on an abandoned redoubt and instead made a frontal assualt up a hill into a Russian artillery battery.
The Crimean War pitted Russia against all the major European Powers: England, France and later, Austria. It began with a Russian invasion of modern day Romania. But ultimately the war was a response by European powers against the Russian Government’s effort to threaten, mislead, confuse, scandalize and destabilize western civilizations.
In 1855, in the midst of the Crimean War, Harry Verney, a British Parliamentarian, published a pamphlet called Our Quarrel with Russians. Verney wrote:
“The Russian government is thoroughly corrupt. It seeks to obtain excellence only in the arts of war – for that there is no sum they will not pay. Russia lives on the intrigues of agents and on the reports of highly paid spies. Rather than govern it’s own country well, it disturbs countries better governed than it’s own and strives to reduce them to their own level of debasement.”
Almost 200 years later, not much has changed. The Russian government is still preoccupied with disturbing other countries, while ignoring the lives of it’s own people. The life expectancy of a Russian male, just above African countries, reflects the gross neglect of the government.
In 1947, author John Steinbeck and photographer Robert Capa traveled to Russia to see what was really behind the Iron Curtain. Steinbeck chronicled the trip in fantastic book called A Russian Journal. He begins the book with a line that has shaped my view of world exploration – “The most dangerous tendency in the world is the desire to believe a rumor, rather than to search for facts.”
The final page of Steinbeck’s Russian Journal reads;
“We have no conclusions to draw but that the Russian people are like all other people in the world. Some bad ones there are, but by far the greater number are very good. The ones we met had a hatred of war and wanted the same things that all people want – good lives, comfort, security and peace”
The Russian people and culture have much to offer the world. It is sad that the Russian government is more concerned with spreading false rumors in other countries than facing the facts of it’s own good citizens.
This is my quarrel with Russia.