I read through a short book today, “Russia and the Battle of Liberation” by Charles Seely, a retired US Navy Commander. The book, the result of a trip that Seely took to Russia in 1938 or 1939 (in any event, before the start of the Second World War), was published by Dorrance, and went through several editions (mine was printed in 1946, after the war, presumably with no changes, except for the addition of an epilogue). it has been reprinted as recently as 2007, so there must still be, for reasons not very clear to me, continuing interest in it.
Seely does not appear to have had any particular experience with Russia before he made the trip. He seems to view his qualifications to write about his one trip to the country as stemming from his experiences as a naval officer, and as a world traveler. He made this trip with a large group of about 50, but we do not get any information about who sponsored the trip or who his fellow travelers (no pun intended) were. You can only assume that this trip was very carefully monitored and controlled by Soviet officialdom, as there was presumably no other way to travel to Russia at this time.
Seely gives his pro-American background and qualifications, and says that he went to Russia with a general negative opinion of the country, based on what he learned in America. He was surprised, however, that the Russia that he found (and I use the term Russia continuously, rather than Soviet, because this is the term Seely uses) was so different from the Russia he imagined.
Now, 1938/1939 Russia was no workers’ paradise. We are talking about the aftermath of the manipulated, massive Ukrainian famine, we are at the height of the Stalinist terror (when people were disappearing, either to be killed or exiled to Siberia in the middle of the night), we are at a time when unique ethnic characteristics were completely forbidden.
But Seely sees none of this. He believes that all of the anti-Russian propaganda that he has heard is just that, propaganda. He trusts his judgements – after all, he says, he has been in oppressed countries before; he has even been in Hitler’s Germany. And in those countries, the oppression was palpable. But he senses none of this in Russia and he believes he would, if in fact it was there.
He understands that Russia is still behind the United States in development, and particularly in infrastructure and management. And, by the way, he does not go to rural Russia or to Siberia – he sticks to Moscow and Petersburg. He sees wonderful subways (admittedly, this was so), and happy, well dressed people, who are enjoying life and having it better than they ever have. He said that, even though freedom of speech may not be equivalent to ours, they had other freedoms we don’t have – freedom not to worry about being unemployed, having no health insurance or becoming impoverished when old. All this was true (and we are still a long way from giving our citizens these benefits), but it came at the price of great terror (GREAT terror), which he was obviously unaware of. But how could this be?
It may be that the writing of Charles Seely is not that important, but it is indicative of what so many thought at the time. And this led many American progressives and liberals to support or join the Communist party. How that happened is one more mystery that I have not seen sufficiently explained.
And Clint Eastwood? Well, we saw his latest film, “The Trouble With the Curve”, about a potential baseball recruit who, it turns out, can’t hit curve balls. Eastwood (about as appealing as he was when he talked to that empty chair) is a superannuated Atlanta scout (who has macular degeneration and can’t see) and whose lawyer daughter Amy Adams joins him on one more scouting trip to the hills of western North Carolina. Adams and Eastwood have a love/hate relationship peppered with fast, clever dialogue, and on this trip she meets a young Red Socks scout (Justin Timberlake) with whom she unexpectedly (unexpected, that is, to everyone but the movie audience) falls in love. Promoted as an Eastwood film, I found that Eastwood was just a backdrop to the Adams/Timberlake romance, and attractive as these two young people are, that their romance was not worth $10 a seat. Stay away.
The specifics of what he said ab