What's Up With Them Russians?

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America you don’t really want to go to war.
America it’s them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia’s power mad. She wants to take our cars from our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader’s Digest. Her wants our auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations.

Whatever you think of Allen Ginsberg’s lifestyle or politics, you’ve got to admit that those lines — which he wrote more than 50 years ago in America — pretty neatly sum up this country’s foreign policy since World War II.

Back in the day, it wasn’t the North Vietnamese playing off Kruschev/Brezhnev and Mao against each other that exacerbated the chaos and corruption that characterized Vietnam. And nothing the French did before helped to create the situation. Furthermore, the ambitions of men addled by McCarthyism (not to mention their profound ignorance of East Asian histories and cultures) and the invasion of Laos they attempted, had nothing to do with the desultory situation. Oh, no. It was them big, bad Russians.

Them Russians — yeah, they wanted to knock over Vietnam so that all the East Asian countries would fall like dominoes. Them Russians put Castro in power. Yeah, them Russians. And them Chinamen helping the Ruskies whenever it suits them.

So what’s the deal with them Russians and them Chinamen, anyway?

Over the years, Russia and the US have been like pre-adolescent classmates: The US is the boy who claims to despise Russia, the girl. Yet he pays an inordinate amount of attention to her, whether by taunting her or asking for her help with his French or math homework. He claims she’s terrible and ugly and dirty and smelly, yet looks at her more than at anyone else — or his studies. If he flunks a quiz or doesn’t make the team, it’s her fault. How, he could never explain.

So now Georgia’s in a fix. Gotta be them Russians’ fault. How so? Well, it always is. Georgia is this year’s Prague or "plucky little Belgium." Has to be; why else would they be fighting those big, bad Russians? Them Russians. Them Russians, who want to take away the freedoms Georgians are fighting so hard to preserve. Hey, we can’t let those Ruskies deny the residents of Tbilisi their inalienable right to eat at McDonald’s, can we?

Or their right to rule South Ossetia. Oh, right…It’s part of Georgia. Must be: Every other country of the world thinks so. Hey, us Americans don’t want no war with nobody. Only them Russians want that. So whatever all those other countries say is theirs, is theirs. Palestine belongs to Israel. Armenia belongs to Turkey — or is it Iraq? Never you mind. Remember, we gotta help our friends keep what they say is — whoops, I mean what is — theirs. So as long as the Chinese play nice with us, Tibet belongs to them.

And if they don’t? Well, don’t you know: Whatever them Russians don’t take from us, them Chinamen will. Them Russians, they start all the wars, and them Chinamen are making all the money.

But seriously, folks: The Russians are going to do us in. How? By taking over Georgia and all those other little countries they once ruled? No, that would belie the fabled Russian work ethic. So what are the Russians doing — besides beating us at our capitalist game — to bring us down?

They’re hoisting us on our own petard. You see, one difference between Americans and Russians is the latter actually pay attention to history — in whatever slanted versions. We Americans simply aren’t known for that sort of thing and the Russians know it.

What’s more, the Russians have had to live with history in ways no American has. I’m not talking only about the tsars or the Revolution; I mean that Russia has had to deal with the many countries that straddle its borders. And those countries have wildly divergent cultures: from Germany and Poland to Afghanistan and China, the Russians have lived alongside countries that have had little in common with them. So, while Russians have made no more effort than any other country to befriend their neighbors (few major writers were ever more xenophobic than Dostoevsky), they have had — at least to some degree — to understand them and their histories.

And, to be sure, memories of the Cold War are still fresh. Russian leaders now recognize that Americans locked in escalation with the Kremlin essentially caused the Soviet Union to spend itself out of existence. Not only in monetary terms, mind you: in morale as well. The Russians were spending a much larger portion of their GDP on their military than the Americans were spending on theirs. Furthermore, the Soviet Union was hamstrung by overt as well as covert wars on a number of fronts. Contrary to notions popular in America, it wasn’t Reagan’s tough talk that brought Gorbachev to his knees. Rather, all the years of fighting and spending were exhausting the former Soviet Union.

So, what’s America doing now? Occupying Iraq, fighting in Afghanistan and getting ready for a war against Iran. So what are the Russians doing now? Letting the Georgians draw us into their conflict.

And the Chinese continue to lend us money.

Allen Ginsberg was right after all. Everything that’s wrong with the world is because of them Russians them Russians them Chinamen. And them Russians.

Justine Nicholas [send her mail] is the deputy director of the Office of Academic Achievement at York College in Queens, New York.

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