In 1982 a 10-year-old girl from Maine named Samantha Smith wrote a letter to Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov:
“Dear Mr. Andropov,
“My name is Samantha Smith. I am ten years old. Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to vote to have a war or not? If you aren’t please tell me how you are going to help to not have a war. This question you do not have to answer, but I would like to know why you want to conquer the world or at least our country. God made the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight.
The letter made it into the Soviet media, but its author received no response until she wrote again, asking for a reply. Then Andropov wrote back to her at some length, and invited her to visit the Soviet Union.
In the Soviet Union, Samantha became a media star (video).
In the U.S., she appeared on ABC News, the Tonight Show, the Today Show, and the Phil Donahue Show. While CBS News found a way to put a negative and frightening spin on it, nobody as far as I know ever denounced Samantha for “illegal diplomacy” or for “having ties to Russia.”
Yet, Samantha Smith did more to oppose official U.S. policy and to make public secret information than Donald Trump has ever done. Smith revealed to the people of each of the two empires that the people of the other desperately wanted peace. She promoted nuclear disarmament, and the policy of no-first-use, which to this day remains Russian but not U.S. policy.
And Samantha visited the Soviet Union, where she connected with other human beings more deeply than Donald Trump may ever have connected with anyone anywhere. Her “Russian ties” were far more significant than those denounced as evil each day now in the U.S. media.
Are 10-year-olds in the United States writing to President Vladimir Putin to question him on the myths with which U.S. television has filled them? Would their parents tolerate their doing so?
And if Putin replied with an invitation, would the U.S. media respond with even the level of openness to peace that it had in the 1980s? There is no question whatsoever that it would not.
But the effort ought to be made.
When I recently met with Mikhail Gorbachev he described the breakthrough in his talks with Ronald Reagan coming when Reagan asked how the USSR would respond to the U.S. being threatened by a meteor. It was a childish topic, Gorbachev said, but children are frank and honest and trustworthy. We should learn from children, the former Soviet leader said.
Indeed we should.
In Moscow earlier this week I mentioned to a Russian friend that racists in my town in Virginia were chanting fascist and confederate slogans plus “Russia is our friend!” He replied: “But we never had slavery; we had serfdom.” He didn’t grasp why Russia was being grouped together with slavery.
Also in Moscow I met an elementary school student who said to me, “I saw a movie, and I want to ask you, in the United States are there black people and do they always kill the white people?” When I assured him that they did not, he breathed a deep sigh of relief.
A high school student asked me, “Is it hard to live in the United States with the CIA and FBI after you all the time?” I assured her it was not.
Back in the United States people asked me if it was dangerous in Moscow. Are you permitted to just talk and say anything you want? Can you walk around without state controllers? Is it safe for women? Don’t they hate Americans? These delusions, matching any from the Russian side, might be funny if they weren’t so tragic.
Let me make a few obvious points in the case for leaving Russia the hell alone.
- The Russian people are not the Russian government.
- Any flaws in the Russian government are very poorly understood in the U.S., can be only worsened by lies, hostility, sanctions, and threats, and are quite well matched by flaws in the U.S. government.
- We have seen zero evidence that Russia informed us of how the Democratic Party was corrupting its primaries, and it almost certainly did not do so, but would have been doing us a favor had it done so.
- Most Russians understand the hostility toward Trump as driven by hostility toward Russia and have no idea that hostility toward Russia can be driven by hostility toward Trump or that there are any legitimate reasons for hostility toward Trump.
- There are tons of legitimate reasons for hostility toward Trump.
- Russia tried to disarm and make peace and join the EU and join NATO and become friends, and was repeatedly told to go to hell, its economy corrupted, its people looted.
- Russians are only mildly better than Americans at handling such disrespect well.
- Russia and the United States are loaded with nuclear missiles ready to destroy the earth at a moment’s notice.
Trump’s financial corruption is U.S.-wide and world-wide. Why focus on any bits of it that involve Russians? Why are those bits worse (or better) than any others?
Trump owns stock in the weapons companies he is enriching with illegal and immoral wars. What better way could be found to improve U.S. relations to the world than to impeach Trump for that? Want to halt Russian weapons sales? Lead by example.
Trump has unconstitutionally discriminated against refugees, been stopped by the judiciary, and immediately done it again. Want Russia to take more refugees? Lead by example. Apart from that theoretical connection, there’s no Russian involvement in this scandal.
Trump has pushed policies that will aggravate climate change, a crime against humanity that can be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court even against a non-member. While it’s true that Russia is located on earth and has fossil fuels to exploit, there are no other Russian ties to Trump’s assault on the EPA.
Trump openly sought to intimidate voters prior to his election, and fought the counting of ballots where they existed, was elected with a minority of votes, was elected with numerous votes uncounted and numerous voters blocked from voting by the partisan stripping of the rolls and by ID laws, following a nomination principally decided by dramatically biased media coverage. If you believe Vladimir Putin had a role in any of that, you need therapy, and your therapy should be private, not a public spectacle inflicted on the rest of us.
Trump told the Russian ambassador how to go after ISIS? Isn’t that what both he and they publicly say they’re doing together? I’m against their approach as counterproductive, but I’m virtually alone in that. Didn’t Bush Sr. tell Gorbachev a coup was coming and the source of the information? Didn’t Roosevelt blurt out secrets to Stalin? Don’t governments form alliances and talk to each other all the time?
You want to go after Trump for obstruction of justice? Great. Please do. But don’t imagine there’s some underlying basis that involves the Russian government in deciding the U.S. election until someone offers proof of it.
My god! The United States openly claims credit for inflicting Boris Yeltsin on Russia. Where are the apologies that should be replacing the accusations?
By Donald Trump
Translated into English by David Swanson
I am very honored to have been invited here to tell you about Islam. King Salman invited me, and I said you know I really need to go to Israel first because I have a connection to any chosen people. I was chosen by the majority of Americans last November, of electoral Americans. They love me. But King Salman — great guy, really great guy, and such beautiful houses — King Salman told me what he wanted me to talk about, and then I had to say yes. I had to. There was no question.
King Salman — and you know people in the United States are thinking of giving me that same title, King, they’re thinking about it, I won’t say they’re going to do it, but they really really want to — King Salman said to me, “Donald,” he said, “do you remember when I closed that nude beach in France so that we could have a little party, just a simple private party? Do you remember,” he said, “how the French were upset and claimed I was against nude beaches?”
That was a misunderstanding, not true at all, completely fake news of the worst sort. And I remember that the King kept the beach nude for the entire party. No question. Never any question about that. And I remembered it perfectly — I’ve been told I have one of the best memories ever found in recent years — so there was no need for the King to lift up his robes to remind me. But he’s a great kidder, King Salmon.
Now, here’s the point, King Salman, not Salmon which I do love, not Salmon but Salman, the King and not the fish, he said that what he wanted me to talk about was clearing up misunderstandings about Islam. So that’s what I’m here to do.
People back in the United States like to say that Islam is violent and barbaric. And I see what they mean. I really do. There are some nasty Islamical dudes out there. That’s the problem. They’re giving Islam a bad name. Now, let me give you the facts. In Saudi Arabia, executions use swords. They’re fast and pain-free. In Arkansas, executions use chemical injections. The victim writhes in pain for a while before dying. One way is not more barbaric than another. It’s just a cultural variation, like a style of clothing. There’s not an Islamic or a Christian way of torturing a prisoner, there’s just torturing. These things connect us all as human beings, not as religions.
When Islamic Saudi airplanes — made in the USA! — bomb Yemen and blockade that place to protect the world from the extremists that are there, and people say oh that’s so Islamic to kill so many people and starve so many children to death. And I say, look at who’s providing the airplanes, and the targeting — only the United States can provide targeting like that, let me tell you — and who’s refueling the airplanes mid-air? Have you ever seen the Chinese try to do that? It’s like watching monkeys trying to mate hanging from vines. Ugly. Sad. No, really, it’s sad.
Islamic countries are violent, it’s true. But almost all of the weapons you find there are Christian weapons. And it was a Christian weapons company that paid for that little beach party, remember, King?
So, one religion is not more advanced and powerful than another. That’s a lie. As you may know, though people back in the United States like to deny it, before I was elected with such a huge majority, the United States had a Muslim president. And he invaded Iraq, which I said no, I said yes invade Iraq but I didn’t mean that, and boom — look at the hornet’s nest he created. And now that Muslim attack on Muslims created extremist Muslims.
What we need are peaceful Muslims willing to fight the extremists. We need peaceful Muslims to say, you know, enough is finally enough, and begin killing more families. That’s why every nation that the United States bombs under my command is a Muslim nation. Because I am focused on stomping out the extremist Islamicism and replacing it with a peace-loving Islam.
I’ll tell you my vision. I won’t say I’m a visionary, but there are people, many many people who say that, and I won’t say they’re wrong. In my vision there is nothing wrong with a religion in which the women walk around prepared with sheets, you know what I mean. They just need to loosen up a little about people ripping those sheets off them. That’s how you improve relations, how you improve respect between our two peoples.
So, I stand here today, and I say to you, Mr. King, tear down those sheets! Thank you. God Bless you. And God Bless the United States of America.
Just back from a week in Moscow, I feel obliged to point out a few things about it.
- Most people there still love Americans.
- Many people there speak English.
- Learning basic Russian is not that hard.
- Moscow is the biggest city in Europe (and far bigger than any in the United States).
- Moscow has the charm, culture, architecture, history, activities, events, parks, museums, and entertainment to match any other city in Europe.
- It’s warm there now with flowers everywhere.
- Moscow is safer than U.S. cities. You can walk around alone at night with no worries.
- The Metro goes everywhere. A train comes every 2 minutes. The trains have free Wi-Fi. So do the parks.
- You can rent bicycles at lots of different spots and return them to any other.
- You can fly direct from New York to Moscow, and if you fly on the Russian airline Aeroflot you’ll get a nostalgic reminder of what it’s like to have airplane seats large enough to hold a human being.
- Everybody says that St. Petersburg and various other cities are even more beautiful than Moscow.
- Right now the sun is up from 4:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Moscow, and until 9:30 p.m. in St. Petersburg. The longest day of the year in St. Petersburg is 18-and-a-half hours.
Americans seem not to know about Russia. While four-and-a-half million Americans visit Italy in a year, and two-and-a-half million go to Germany as tourists, only 86 thousand go to Russia. More tourists go to Russia from several other countries than go there from the U.S.
If you want to visit Russia and really learn about it, go, as I did, with the Center for Citizen Initiatives.
If you want the best tour guide I’ve had in Moscow or anywhere else, contact MoscowMe.
Here are some reports on my trip:
Vladimir Posner, who spent his youth in the United States, France, and the Soviet Union, and who cohosted a show with Phil Donahue on U.S. television for years, met with a group of visitors to Moscow from the U.S. on Monday, offering his well-informed views on a range of media-related topics.
Posner said that for years he worked on Soviet propaganda aimed at the United States. The first blow to his full belief in the rectitude of the USSR came, he said, with the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. He eventually concluded that he was not telling the truth, that by telling only good things he was telling half the truth, which is a falsehood. He quit the job and he quit the Communist Party.
In the days of Gorbachev, Posner was permitted to travel, and moved back to the United States, where he co-hosted that program with Donahue until CNBC got a new president by the name of Roger Ailes. The new boss demanded the right to approve or reject topics or guests. “That’s censorship,” Posner told him. “I don’t give a rat’s ass what you call it,” Ailes replied.
So, back to Moscow it was. Posner has hosted his current weekly television show in Russia for 8 years. He says he will never again work for a government or a party, and he’ll sign a contract with a company only if it leaves him independent control.
We had heard from other Russian journalists in the preceding days who had painted a very positive picture of Russian media, telling us that there is no censorship, and that more newspapers in Russia oppose Putin than support him. Posner has a bit stricter definition of censorship, I think, as well as a television perspective. “Anyone who told you there are no restrictions on Russian media was not telling you the truth,” he said.
He said that Russia’s state television channels (1, 2, and 4, and Red TV) serve the government and dominate the audience. “There are things you cannot say and people you cannot invite on,” he said. “You cannot criticize Putin on those networks.” On smaller, private networks you can, as well as in print and on radio. “The smaller your audience, the greater your freedom.” Posner agreed that several newspapers oppose Putin, but denied that they are a majority, and dismissed their audience as no more than 1 million readers, albeit an elite readership. One of the main reasons that Putin has 80% support, Posner said, is state television. The party line in Russia and the company line in the U.S. amount to about the same thing, Posner said.
Asked later for the most common complaints with Putin, Posner didn’t offer any. Instead, he tried to explain Putin’s popularity; and the explanation may have been understood as functioning through television spin, but it also seemed factual. Posner said that people see Putin as having stood up to the 800-pound American gorilla, restoring pride to the disrespected federation of Russia. Russians were ready to be hugged when they got rid of communism. Instead they were given the rotten deals of the 1990s and now endure sanctions that have lowered incomes by 10% to 12% (while benefitting Russian agriculture) — a state of affairs that Posner predicted would win absolutely no concessions out of Russia.
Posner offered as an example of a dishonest company line Christiane Amanpour of CNN, who had never been to Crimea, reporting that people in Crimea voted to rejoin Russia only under the threat of Russian soldiers. “She was lying.”
Posner suggested that David Remnick of the New Yorker is better informed yet seemingly writes something very different from what he must know. Posner said that the New Yorker‘s ownership by Conde Nast is typical of a trend away from independence in the U.S.
Asked about Russia Today (or RT, Russian TV for Americans) he dismissed it as propaganda showing only the good in Russia and only the bad in the United States. But for those of us who ignore RT reporting on Russia and appreciate its reporting on uncovered topics in the U.S., Posner seems right only up to a point when he states that no audience will ever turn to a foreign source over a domestic one. In fact, Posner immediately offered the counter-example of the popularity of the Voice of America, the BBC, and German broadcasting in the USSR.
Posner glides effortlessly from criticizing Russian media to criticizing U.S. media and back again. The U.S. media, he says, has demonized Russia since 1918 and has done so far more than Russian or Soviet media has ever done the same to the United States. In Posner’s estimation, Putin is demonized in U.S. media in ways that even Stalin was never subjected to. He cited as an example a graphic depicting Putin’s shadow as falling over a downed airplane in Ukraine. Putin asked to join the EU, for goodness sake, he asked to join NATO, and the U.S. turned him down, explained Posner.
Posner said that when he was a kid in the United States, Americans knew that it was the Soviet Union that won World War II, and loved Russia for it. Now, Americans have no idea. Russians, meanwhile, have come to identify Americans with their government’s hostile policies to a degree not seen during the Cold War. Everyone used to like Americans and dress like Americans, etc.
Posner explains the Russian attitude as the product of Russian propaganda and of the absence of stories of Americans protesting Washington. (I gave Posner thousands of messages from Americans hoping to fill that gap.) Posner also blamed the failure of the U.S. to provide anything like a Marshall Plan in the 1990s, or to assist in the development of democracy, something Russia had never had. Asked whether the Marshall Plan in Germany and Japan had left Europe and Japan totally subordinate to the United States, and whether Russia would have suffered the same fate, Posner seemed inclined to believe that is not what would have happened.
In explaining Russia’s lack of a democratic tradition, Posner said that Putin actually believes that the U.S. president can call up the New York Times and ask them to print a story, and they will. Well, label me a Russian autocrat, but we know of many cases of the White House feeding stories to the New York Times, and many of it suppressing stories at the New York Times. The drone kill list story of 2014 comes to mind as an example of the former (or, if you prefer, the aluminum tubes story of 2003), and the NSA mass-surveillance story of 2004 as an example of the latter.
Asked why Russians are so attracted to capitalism, Posner explained that people used to wait in lines for everything, and then suddenly everything was available in stores for anyone who had money. Now, he said, nothing is more important than money. He said that young people prefer the professions that make the most money. (That’s not my limited experience with young Russians.) Posner later said that Russia is like the United States in believing it has a mission. He described the mission as being against materialism. Of course, both of these strains (money worshipping and money despising) can be present in Russians without contradiction, but which wins out seems undetermined, as well as whether both are real. Posner did not seem to believe the Russian belief in its anti-materialism was actually justified.
What advice would you give to Trump, someone asked Posner.
He would tell him that the big problems of the world (he listed climate change and terrorism, among others — one of which Trump doesn’t believe in, and both of which Trump enthusiastically engages in) cannot be solved without Russia, and without China as well.
Posner warned that Trump’s emotional reactions make accidental nuclear apocalypse more dangerous than ever.
The stories Posner told are too many for me to recount them all, but here are four.
- “There is no patriotism in journalism.” Like a doctor on a battlefield who will not stop to determine nationality before aiding the wounded, a journalist must not consider national partisan interests before reporting the truth that will benefit the public.
- Long ago, Fred Friendly gathered a group of journalists including Posner together and asked what they would do if they saw on a desk a top-secret document stating that their nation would launch a war in 10 days. He said that within 30 seconds they had all said they would do everything they could to report it. Today that would not be the same, Posner claimed. And even back then, he said, it would not have been the same in Russia.
- The first American film that Posner saw was “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” He said that he walked out of the theater a changed man. He points to the moral lesson in the main character’s comment “Well, at least I tried.” This line was spoken upon failing to rip a sink out of the floor. But only because of that attempt did a physically stronger character later attempt and succeed. Whether or not you fail, said Posner, the important thing is to try — echoing perhaps Camus on Sisyphus, or — more to the point — I.F. Stone on the only battles worth fighting being the ones that will only be won in a future generation.
- Posner visited Georgia (not the peach one) for the first time, and his friend took him out eating and drinking with a bunch of people he hadn’t met before, all of whom proceeded to toast and drink to his superior character, his wonderful admirable self, for five hours or more. Later, Posner asked why strangers would say such things about him. They seemed false and hypocritical to Posner. But his friend replied: First of all, they know that you are my friend. Second, if you are the last son of a bitch, then you will have never heard good words about yourself and maybe these words will change you.
As I was heading off to visit Russia, a friend told me of a friend who knew a Russian school teacher. I asked if I could visit the school, and I brought along a couple of American friends.
Here’s a video of what we saw there.
We met first with high-school-level students who gave us a tour of the school and then asked us all kinds of smart questions, all in perfect English. These kids were clearly very well educated and very eager to learn anything they could.
We asked them questions as well. While a leading Russian journalist has told me that young people all want to enter into the careers that make the most money, none of these students told us they did. They said things like history, biology, higher mathematics, economics, and languages when we asked them what they wanted to study in college.
Then we met with elementary-level students. They were even more eager to speak, and they asked us many more questions, ranging from “Do you have dogs?” to “Do you like Russian music?”
The teachers told us that they have brought groups of students to the United States before and would love to again. If you know of a school, organization, or group of potential host families that would like to help them out, please let me know.
If you know of anyone who pictures Russians on the basis of the information available in U.S. news reports, please send them this.
Photo by Daily Progress.
While I’ve been in Russia trying to make friends, back home in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, a group of torch-bearing supporters of Robert E. Lee has held a rally generally understood as a proclamation of white supremacy. I’ve previously written at some length about this white identity group, their humanity, their legitimate grievances, and their support for Donald Trump.
They chanted: “You will not replace us!” possibly because the city of Charlottesville has decided to replace a statue of Robert E. Lee with something less racist.
They chanted: “Blood and soil!” I suppose to express their lengthy connection to the land (although their leader is no more from Virginia than Robert E. Lee is from Charlottesville), or — less charitably — just because of the flagrantly fascist sound of the slogan.
And they chanted: “Russia is our friend!”
If the relevance of that last one confuses you, I am very pleased to hear it.
To explain: In the United States many people identify as Democrats or Liberals, or Republicans or “Conservatives” on the other hand. What these identifications entail is infinitely manipulable by the corporate media and the powers that be in Washington, D.C. At the moment, one camp has come to mean:
And Hostile Toward Russia.
The other camp means:
Destructive of the Environment,
And Friendly Toward Russia.
Both camps accept on the basis of no evidence whatsoever that Russia helped put Trump in the White House. Both camps are perfectly open to building up hostility toward a nuclear-armed government, but only one camp has been instructed to do so at this time for partisan reasons.
I mentioned this state of affairs to some Russians, and one replied: “But we never even had slavery, only serfdom.” Regardless of how important that distinction is, this misses the point. There’s no logical connection between liking Russia and wanting a city in 2017 to be dominated by confederate statues erected for racist campaigns in the 1920s. I’m not committing any fallacies by favoring some changes in Charlottesville’s landscape and favoring U.S.-Russia personal and governmental friendships.
I toured Moscow’s Gulag Museum today. I saw no crowd of gulag supporters proposing friendship with the United States. But such a display would hardly have been observable as such, since every single Russian I’ve ever met has proposed friendship with the United States — including Russians with a wide range of opinions about the gulags.
Dmitri Babich has worked as a journalist in Russia since 1989, for newspapers, news agencies, radio, and television. He says that he used to always interview people, while lately people interview him.
According to Babich, myths about Russian media, such as that one cannot criticize the president in Russia, can be dispelled simply by visiting Russian news websites and using Google Translator. More newspapers in Russia oppose Putin than support him, Babich says.
If Russian news is propaganda, Babich asks, why are people so afraid of it? Was anyone ever afraid of Brezhnev’s propaganda? (One might reply that it wasn’t available on the internet or television.) In Babich’s view the threat of Russian news lies in its accuracy, not in its falsehood. In the 1930s, he says, French and British media, in good “objective” style, suggested that Hitler wasn’t anything much to worry about. But the Soviet media had Hitler right. (On Stalin perhaps not so much.)
Today, Babich suggests, people are making the same mistake that the British and French media made back then, failing to appropriately stand up to a dangerous ideology. What ideology? That of neoliberal militarism. Babich points to the swift response of NATO and the Washington establishment to any proposals from Donald Trump to ease up on hostility toward Russia.
Babich is not naive about Trump. While he says that Barack Obama was decidedly the worst U.S. president ever, he does not predict great things from Trump. Obama, Babich explains, had incompetence to match his militarism. He imposed sanctions on Russia that hurt the most pro-Western organizations. “He became a victim of his own propaganda.”
I asked Babich why I’d heard such positive comments on Trump from so many Russians. His answer: “Unrequited love for the U.S.,” and “hope,” and the thought that because Trump won he must be smarter than he seems. “People hate to wake up,” Babich concluded.
Pressed on how people could possibly place hope in Trump, Babich said that because Russia has never been colonized (despite Sweden and Napoleon and Hitler trying), Russians are only now learning what Africans colonized by the West understood about the colonizers.
Asked about Russian journalists who have been killed, Babich said that while more were killed in the time of Boris Yeltsin, he has two theories. One is that an opponent of Putin’s is responsible. Babich named a politician who died around the time of the last killing. The other theory is that people enraged by the media are responsible. Babich said he couldn’t take seriously the idea that Putin would himself be responsible for killing someone right next to the Kremlin.
Asked about the approach of RT (Russia Today) television, Babich said that the approach of the news agency Ria Novosti of trying to imitate the New York Times gained no followers because people can already just read the New York Times. By opposing U.S. crimes and giving voice to alternative perspectives RT has found an audience. I think this interpretation is borne out by the CIA report earlier this year hyping the danger of RT. If the U.S. media were providing the news, Americans wouldn’t look for news elsewhere.
Babich and I discussed these and other topics on the RT show “Crosstalk” on Sunday. The video should, sooner or later, be posted here.