I grew up in Siberia during the Cold War and remember my fears of the United States. Images of Hiroshima were quite frequently aired on TV, and war evacuation plans were practiced at schools and at work places. We all knew where the closest bomb shelter is. Children during school recess discussed how much longer we would live before America destroys us. The math teacher explained algebra and geometry on the example of the “Star Wars” – not the movie, but the defense system that was so much discussed in the media. I remember being scared to go to sleep at night – what if America drop a nuclear bomb, while I am sleeping?
In November 1982, all factories in my industrial hometown turned on their sirens, which no one heard before (they were made to announce a special emergency situations, like war). The cars joined in with long honks. The whole city was filled with terrifying sound. It was similar to what we saw as the beginning of the war in all those movies about WWII, that we all grew up on. Without knowing yet the reason for this sound, kids panicked. We thought that this was the beginning of the war with the U.S. Shortly after, a grave and profound voice announced on the radio the death of Brezhnev. Life continued…
Until the age of fifteen, I sincerely believed that the United States of America is the most evil country in the world, ‘the evil empire’, which already demonstrated to the world with Hiroshima that it would not think twice to drop a nuclear bomb on the civilians. Yes, the same phrase ‘evil empire’ was used in the U.S. and U.S.S.R. to describe each other.
What could Russians think of America back than? Of course, we believed it was an “embodiment of evil, that wanted to spread capitalism and destroy the country that is looking for fairness for everyone.” For most Americans it would sound familiar. Just turn it upside down: “Russia is a communist country that is determined to destroy capitalism and spread communism world wide.”
Things changed during Perestroika and Glasnost and my fears of the U.S. turned into admiration, fueled by an overload of new information, praising American achievements and criticizing everything Soviet. Young imagination runs wild and soon I had a dream – I have to go to America, to this ‘land of freedom and opportunities’!
I came to the United States in 1991 full of excitement and preconceived ideas of ‘democracy’, ‘freedom of speech’ and during my first years in the United States, I was sure that I finally came to a propaganda-free world! I believed everything I read in the newspapers. The word babushka in every news story about Russia was annoying, but harmless, just like constant images of old women in scarves were strange – there are plenty of young people in Russia, I thought. Drunk Yeltsin was praised for “doing good work bringing Russia into the circle of Western democracies,” while oligarchs and “western advisors” were rubbing millions of Russians of their savings and putting them on the knees.
I started waking up around 2000, when everything in the news about Russia started getting portrayed in the negative light – the good developments were omitted and the negative took the front raw. This twisting became systematic.
The lies that led to the war in Iraq completely opened my eyes. Most of the Americans around me believed the news and rooted for the U.S. invasion. I could not understand why they didn’t see the obvious. I guess, you have to grow up with propaganda to be able to see it – you develop the ‘sixth sense’.
Even now, when the lies about the pretext to the U.S. involvement in Iraq are known, most Americans believe their news outlets and diligently watch or read their propaganda of choice: CNN, Fox, ABC, or for more intellectual – The New York Times or Washington Post. Talking to my fellow Americans reveal the degree of delusion about the Ukrainian or Syrian events.
It is disappointing that the country, which likes to portray itself as a beacon of democracy and free speech, had turned to what it condemned over the years – suppression of information.
Perhaps, Americans are just very trustworthy people – they trust that their government will do what is best for them. Or, perhaps, American propaganda machine is much more effective than the Soviet one ever was – it is more subtle, you don’t notice that you are completely duped.
By following the American mainstream news, you are led to believe that Russia is ‘an aggressor’, but you are not told that it is the U.S., and not Russia, that maintain 800 military bases around the world, while Russia has only two, both of them in the former Soviet republics. It is not Russia, that is fueling color revolutions and deposes democratically elected leaders.
Reading statements by the U.S. presidential candidates about ‘standing up to Russia’, or the U.S. congressmen approving arms supplies to Ukraine and to the ‘moderate rebels’ in Syria ‘to fight Russians’ makes me wonder how much long it will take when the war of words will turn into a real war between two nuclear powers?
Just like many years ago, I am scared of America and its foreign policy, which might bring us all to nuclear disaster.