The story of Mihail Shipkov is indicative of what happened to many people in communist regimes in the years after World War Two. For his opposition to the government, he was to pay a heavy price – the disturbingly titled “Menticide”. In this article, we conclude the Mihail Shipkov story that was started here and explain American reactions to Menticide.

Richard H. Cummings returns to the site (after the podcast based on his book here) and explains.

 

Only in the contest of ideas can there be a final victory, which will yield us one world dedicated to peace with freedom.

 - Breakdown, April 1950

 

In April 1950 broadcasting to Bulgaria and other countries behind the Iron Curtain over Radio Free Europe was yet to come. The National Committee for Free Europe (NCFE), reprinted 100,000 copies of the Shipkov story in a 31-page pamphlet in the “public interest” with the long descriptive title Breakdown: how the Communist secret police are able to pry confessions of treason out of men and women who love their country, a story courageously laid bare for the first time in March, 1950. 

 

The first page contained this summary of the pamphlet: 

Telling how the Communist secret police are able to pry confessions of treason out of men and women who love their country, a story courageously laid bare for the first time by Michael Shipkov.

The cover of the pamphlet  Breakdown .

The cover of the pamphlet Breakdown.

In an April 25, 1950, cover letter to NCFE members, including future President Dwight D. Eisenhower and future CIA Director Allen Dulles, NCFE President DeWitt C. Poole wrote, “Our Committee III --the Committee on American Contacts -- has prepared ... pamphlets as part of our campaign to reach the American public ... I am sure you will agree that these pamphlets will prove useful in our struggle for victory in the contest of ideas.” 

The back cover of the pamphlet told the American public:

The Committee's members are convinced that the danger of the present crisis cannot be exaggerated. Freedom is at stake. At this very moment it is being decided what kind of world our grandchildren are going to live in.

The ultimate decision lies in the contest of ideas. Only a world relieved of totalitarian despotism and held together by the tested ideals of freedom and democracy can live in peace. In the struggle for this consummation the National Committee for Free Europe offers every single citizen the opportunity to throw in his weight.

 

Allen W. Dulles.

Allen W. Dulles.

Allen Dulles sent a copy of the NCFE pamphlet to psychiatrist Dr. George Eaton Daniels, M.D., Columbia University, and asked him if he would review it in view of a possible “psychiatric appraisal of the effect of the procedures used by Iron Curtain countries to obtain confessions from their prisoners.”

Dulles followed this up with a telephone conversation with Dr. Daniels, who turned down the appraisal possibility for professional reasons but supplied Dulles with names of other specialists who might be willing to help, including Dr. Iago Galdston.         

On April 27, 1950, Daniels sent a note to Dulles, with Galdston’s telephone number and address, and the comment: “As I mentioned, the Academy has a section on Neurology and Psychiatry from which I believe competent neurologists and psychiatrists could be selected for the study which you have in mind.” Dulles made wrote a note for the file on April 28, 1950:

Dr. Daniels, after talking with Dr. Nolan D. C. Lewis, suggested that possibly the New York Academy of Medicine would be the best organ through which to work and that Dr. Galdston at the Academy would be the appropriate man to approach. The New York Academy could, of course, bring in any nation-wide organization that seemed desirable.

 

Eleanor Roosevelt

Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt was an ardent supporter of the NCFE and Crusade for Freedom. In 1950 she wrote about this pamphlet in her national syndicated column, My Day, which was published six days a week from 1935 to 1962. In her March 9, 1950, column she wrote:

I am sure many people were very much interested in the account given by Michael Shipkov, a Bulgarian, who explained how it was possible to make individuals confess treason in a Communist-dominated court, regardless of the truth. I am sorry to say that intimidation has been used in practically every country by some of its officials who felt it legitimate because they were trying to obtain some particular kind of testimony. I have heard with concern of methods used occasionally in some of our police courts. None of them, however, seems to have acquired quite the technique that brings about these mass confessions in the Soviet court-rooms. I was sorry this morning to read that Mr. Shipkov had been taken a prisoner and now has confessed to being a spy for the Americans!

 

In her June 2, 1950 column, she wrote:

A little booklet I have just read, published by The National Committee for Free Europe, Inc., called: "Breakdown"—"The story of Michael Shipkov in the hands of the secret police." This pamphlet will give you a picture of how, under authoritarian regimes, confessions are finally extorted. One shudders to think what horrors confront people where justice no longer exists; where they live under constant espionage and where freedom is something they may once have dreamed of but no longer know as a reality.

It seems impossible for people ever to free themselves under the circumstances described in this pamphlet. Neither is it conceivable for a nation to go forward and develop economically, spiritually or socially under this type of government. Living must become so utterly futile. Even under the lash of fear one must cease to work and produce because life is so completely valueless. No one could want to bring children into a world where people are no longer allowed any personal freedom and must face moral and mental domination.

 

Dulles and the Shipkov report

On April 10, 1953, Allen Dulles, now CIA Director, made a speech entitled “Brain Warfare,” at the National Alumni Conference of Graduate Council of Princeton University. He referenced the Shipkov case: “The techniques employed in the case of Shipkov were somewhat crude but give the pattern of the later more refined methods.” 

Dulles then quoted from the Shipkov report:

Out of the jumbled memories, some impressions stand out vivid. One: they are not over interested in what you tell them. It would appear that the ultimate purpose of this treatment is to break you down completely, and deprive you and any will power or private thought or self-esteem, which they achieve remarkably quickly. And they seem to pursue a classic confession, well round off in the phraseology, explaining why you were induced by environment and education to enter the services of the enemies of Communism, how you placed your capacities in their services, what ultimate goal did you pursue – the overthrow of the people’s government through foreign intervention. And they appear to place importance on the parallel appearance of repentance and self-condemnation that come up with the breaking down of their prisoner.

 

Quite simply, that explains the terrible menticide.

 

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This article is based on a piece that originally appeared on the fascinating site, http://coldwarradios.blogspot.com.

This is the fourth in a series of articles that explore the iconic CIA and its use as a tactical weapon by the US presidents of the Cold War (1947-1991). Here we look at Lyndon Johnson and his decisions to escalate the war in Vietnam. The Central Intelligence Agency – In the Beginning, The Central Intelligence Agency – Eisenhower and Asia’s Back Door, and Kennedy’s Central Intelligence Agency are the preceding posts.

 

Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States, was not an easy man.  Bill, a colleague with whom I worked on Johnston Atoll in the 1980s, was on the Johnsons’ security detail during their Texas visits.  He spoke of loud, embarrassing, drunken fights between the Johnsons and crude behavior like throwing dishes of jelly beans and popcorn and expecting the security detail to pick it all up immediately.  Ronald Kessler’s book, In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect, confirms much of what Bill told me then.  Regardless of his personal behavior, Johnson was a political sophisticate who understood power at a fundamental level.  By all accounts, Johnson’s rise to power was steady and ruthless.

President Lyndon B Johnson greets troops in Vietnam. December 1967.

President Lyndon B Johnson greets troops in Vietnam. December 1967.

The dichotomy among historians becomes apparent once Johnson assumes the presidency following President Kennedy’s assassination.  The gulf widens through the nine years of the Johnson presidency.  Was Johnson a model for business executives and a great progressive leader as portrayed by historian Robert A. Caro, who has studied Johnson for the better part of three decades?[1]  Or, at the other end of the spectrum, was Johnson a dangerous, paranoid individual?  According to former Kennedy speech writer and author Richard N. Goodwin in his 1988 book Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties, Johnson’s behavior drove two presidential assistants to separately seek opinions on Johnson’s mental stability from psychiatrists.[2]

What can be said with certainty is that, as president, Johnson drove social engineering to new heights with his ‘War on Poverty’ and ‘Great Society’, which included legislation for public broadcasting, Medicare, Medicaid, environmental protection, and aid to education.  Johnson did not confine his activity to just the home front, though.  He was busy with the CIA, too; the US Dominican Republic intervention in 1965, the Vietnam War, the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War in 1967, and efforts to reduce tension with the Soviet Union.

 

The DCI

It took three tries to land a Director of Central Intelligence, DCI, he wanted, but Johnson finally got the job done.  Johnson inherited DCI John A. McCone from Kennedy.  Kennedy asked McCone to head up the CIA following Kennedy’s termination of Allen W. Dulles, a remnant of Wild Bill Donovan’s OSS, after the Bay of Pigs disaster.  McCone was reputed to be an excellent manager and returned balance to an agency enamored of covert activities and nation-building.  Under McCone, the CIA redistributed its organizational energy between analysis and science and technology in addition to its well-known covert actions.  Not everyone in the CIA was a happy camper with this intelligence outsider, but McCone earned his spurs during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Johnson and DCI McCone parted ways in 1965 over disagreements about the Vietnam build-up.

President Johnson, a former naval officer, replaced McCone with DCI William A. Raborn, a career naval officer whose claim to fame was managing the Polaris Missile program (submarine launched missiles).  Other than brushes with Naval Intelligence, Raborn had no directly related experience.  It appears that Johnson selected Raborn to keep the DCI seat warm while Richard M. Helms matured his administrative skills as Deputy DCI.  Raborn, according to prevailing wisdom, never really adjusted to being the DCI and offered his resignation sixteen months after assuming the role.  Without ado, Johnson quickly accepted Raborn’s offer to resign.

Richard M. Helms, the heir apparent and another of Wild Bill Donovan’s OSS operatives, became DCI in June 1966.  Helms reveled in espionage.  Between the OSS and the CIA, Helms was a very active operator.  During WWII, Helms worked out of London and shared a flat with William J. Casey, the charismatic Irish lawyer who would head the CIA under Reagan.  Together, Helms and Casey were up to their proverbial ears in WWII cat and mouse spy games. During the Cold War, Helms kept both his espionage and operational skills sharp.  He had his fingers in the Iran pot, the Soviet forgeries, Operation Mongoose, and the Diem regime in Vietnam.  Although Helms preferred espionage and stated that assassinations rarely worked in the US’s favor, he was nothing if not a company man and certainly was party to many.

Johnson was not overly impressed with the CIA and, initially, did not see much value in intelligence.  Then, too, DCIs McCone and Raborn had each bucked Johnson on ramping up American involvement in Vietnam on more than one occasion.  Johnson’s lack of respect for the CIA was reflected in the number and type of meetings to which the CIA was not invited.  In Helms, Johnson found a DCI that, if not a kindred spirit, was at least a more accommodating one.  The CIA, however, still did not come up on Johnson’s radar until the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War in 1967.  The accuracy of CIA intelligence estimates, timing, and outcome of the 1967 Six-Day War earned Helms his DCI service stripes and a seat at Johnson’s regular Tuesday lunch meetings with his advisors to discuss foreign policy.

 

Vietnam

What was it about Vietnam that propelled Johnson so hard that he eventually broke up on its shoals?  Vietnam drove Johnson’s relationship with the CIA, his advisors, and congress.  For example, Senator Mike Mansfield (D-Mt), Senate Majority Leader during the Johnson administration championed Johnson’s ‘Great Society’ programs and legislation but fought bitterly with Johnson against the Vietnam War.  The frying pan that was the Vietnam War got so hot that in July 1968 Johnson flew to Central America to meet with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and El Salvador.[3]   According to an interview I taped with Raul Castro in 2003, on short notice Johnson’s staff requested that Castro pull together the meetings because he needed a break from the pressures of Vietnam.  The staffers wanted adoring crowds, good press and a rest for the embattled president.  Raul Castro was appointed US Ambassador to El Salvador by President Johnson in 1964.   All three staff objectives were met.

Until recently I subscribed to the traditional perspective that Johnson knew exactly what he was doing as he amped up the Vietnam War.  In 1965, it appeared that Johnson was resolute in his decision to support the American configured South Vietnamese government against the threat of Communist takeover.  Johnson used the alleged Gulf of Tonkin incident to garner the congressional ‘blank check’ from the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to do what he wanted. By February 1965, the US military’s Operation Rolling Thunder was bombing North Vietnamese targets and the Ho Chi Minh trail and Agent Orange along with napalm was defoliating the jungle.  In March 1965, General Westmoreland asked for more troops.  About 189,000 American troops were stationed in Vietnam in 1965. The following year, the number doubled and casualties escalated at an alarming rate.  And, the Vietnam War got much worse.  I expected to find old familiar friends in the defense contractor community at the root of the escalation but I was wrong.

 

Anything but linear

Mark Lawrence makes a case that Johnson’s Vietnam decisions were anything but linear.  Lawrence states, “Where scholars once saw certainty and confidence, they now see indecision and anxiety.” In his article LBJ and Vietnam: A Conversation, Lawrence cites a May 1964 telephone conversation between Lyndon Johnson and McGeorge Bundy[4],[5] that illustrates the level of Johnson’s ambivalence:

In his conversation with Bundy, LBJ expresses deep anxiety about what would happen if the United States failed to defend South Vietnam from communist takeover – evidence that bolsters the older, conventional view of U.S. motives for escalation. Fearing what historians would later dub the “domino effect,” Johnson suggests that the communist powers – the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China – would be emboldened by a communist victory in South Vietnam and might make trouble elsewhere. The communists, in fact, “may just chase you right into your own kitchen,” the president says in his typical down-home manner. LBJ also provides evidence for the older interpretation by breezily dismissing other powerful Americans who urged him to negotiate a settlement and withdraw U.S. power from South Vietnam. He shows special contempt for Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, charging that the Montana Democrat, a strong advocate of winding down the U.S. role in South Vietnam, had “no spine at all” and took a position that was “just milquetoast as it can be.”

In other parts of the conversation, however, LBJ heaps doubt on the idea that defending South Vietnam was crucial to US security. “What in the hell is Vietnam worth to me?” he asks Bundy. “What is Laos worth to me? What is it worth to this country?” Most chillingly, Johnson shows keen awareness that victory in Vietnam was anything but a sure thing. He worries that full-fledged US intervention in Vietnam would trigger corresponding escalation by Communist China, raising the horrifying specter of a direct superpower confrontation, as in Korea a few years earlier, between Chinese and US forces. “I don’t think we can fight them 10,000 miles away from home and ever get anywhere in that area,” LBJ asserts. Moreover, the United States, once committed to a war, might find it impossible to get out. “It’s damn easy to get into a war, but … it’s going to be awful hard to ever extricate yourself if you get in,” LBJ asserts with remarkable prescience….”[6]

Johnson, as I said in the beginning, was not an easy man. It took him more than three of his six years in office to find a DCI he respected and would back him on Vietnam.  Even after Johnson warmed up to the CIA, his use of the agency was as enigmatic as his leadership style.  In many ways, Johnson’s choice of Helms to lead the CIA was a reflection of the contradictions exhibited by Johnson himself. Helms was smooth and adept at politics but beneath his ‘James Bond’ coolness, Helms was a ‘company man’.  He liked the freewheeling CIA style that the ‘plausible deniability’ cloak offered.  Helms became the first and only DCI to be convicted of lying to the US Congress in 1977 regarding the ousting of the elected President of Chile and the installation of the dictator Salvador Allende.[7] Note: Helms was the only DCI convicted of lying to congress.  Many of his predecessors and successors lied to Congress as the need, in their individual opinion, arose.[8]

Johnson and his relationship with the CIA really goes to the question of who Johnson was.  Was he the headstrong leader portrayed by Caro or a leader that became unbalanced, afraid, and insecure that Goodwin paints?  Probably, he was both.  We will need much more data to determine which LBJ occupied the White House for nine years.

 

This article is provided by Barbara Johnson from www.coldwarwarrior.com.

 

Want to find out more about another US President from the 1960s? Click here for our podcast on Richard Nixon.

 

References

[1] The Harvard Business Review; April 2006; A Conversation with Historian Robert A. Caro by Diane Coutu; Lessons in Power: Lyndon Johnson Revealed; http://hbr.org/2006/04/lessons-in-power-lyndon-johnson-revealed/ar/1

[2] Los Angeles Times; September 14, 1988; ELIZABETH MEHREN; Richard Goodwin’s Account of a ‘Paranoid’ L.B.J. Riles Some Ex-Colleagues; http://articles.latimes.com/1988-09-14/news/vw-1970_1_richard-goodwin

[3] Lewiston Evening Journal; Frank Cormier; July 5, 1968; http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1913&dat=19680703&id=KrcgAAAAIBAJ&sjid=U2gFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1096,396753

[4] Listen to the Johnson-Bundy conversation; (Johnson, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Vietnam Anguish, May 27, 1964: Conversation with national security advisor McGeorge Bundy. 27 May 1964. History and Politics Out Loud. Ed. Jerry Goldman. 30 Sept. 1999. Northwestern University.) http://web2.millercenter.org/lbj/audiovisual/whrecordings/telephone/conversations/1964/lbj_wh6405_10_3522.wav

[5] Transcript of the conversation (Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) Washington, May 27, 1964, 11:24 a.m.. Source: U.S., Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-68, Volume XXVII, Mainland Southeast Asia: Regional Affairs, Washington, DC, Document Number 53. Original Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of a telephone conversation between the President and McGeorge Bundy, Tape 64.28 PNO 111. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared by the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.); https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/vietnam/lbjbundy.htm

[6] Not Even Past; Mark Atwood Lawrence; LBJ and Vietnam: A Conversation; http://www.notevenpast.org/listen/lbj-and-vietnam-conversation

[7] George Washington University National Security Archives; September 11, 2013;  Peter Kornbluh; National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 437; http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB437/

[8] The American Prospect; Adam Serwer; May 15, 2009; THE CIA LIE TO CONGRESS? IT’S HAPPENED BEFORE; http://prospect.org/article/cia-lie-congress-its-happened

We started our blog back in the summer, and as we end the year, we’re sharing some of our best and most popular blog posts this week!

 

In this post we look at the East German car the Trabant, and how it was symbolic about so much of that hardline Communist country.

The author's cousin's chicken coup Trabant top

The author's cousin's chicken coup Trabant top

My cousin lives about an hour north of Berlin, in a cozy, 400 year farmhouse that leans a bit to one side. He has a couple of horses and keeps chickens for eggs. They roam around the enclosed yard, the cut-off top of his old Trabant their chicken coup.

All the cars are good for anymore, he tells me. Who says Germans have no sense of humor? Yet these noisy, unreliable, pollution spilling relics of the Cold War played both a practical and symbolic role in German reunification.

The first Trabant rolled off the Sachsenring assembly line in 1957, and over the next 34 years, over 3 million were produced. Intended to be the East German equivalent of the West German VW Beetle, a variety of models were produced in the decades that followed, including a station wagon, a hatchback and even a convertible.

In some ways, the first Trabants were ahead of their time. While the Big Three automakers in Detroit were coming out with behemoths of steel and chrome, the Trabant was small and light weight, with front wheel drive and a unified body. It got 34 miles to the gallon on the highway. Yet there, the innovation ended. Its two-stroke engine was loud. It belched more pollutants in three seconds as a Mercedes S class does in 30 miles. Its top speed was 70 miles per hour and it could barely manage 62 miles per hour in 21 seconds. Due to a lack of steel in Soviet Bloc countries, the body was made of a Fiberglas-like substance called Duroplast, which included cotton and other organic materials. Rat poison had to be incorporated into its construction, since the rodents had been known to gnaw at them. Due to shortages and the notorious inefficiency of Communist-run factories, East Germans had to wait more than a decade for their new Trabant to be delivered, and when it finally did arrive, they found that it often broke down.

Yet, because the Trabant was the only choice of car for most East Germans, and because it took so long to get one, the Trabant was often prized by its owners. They affectionately (or mockingly, depending on who you ask) called it the Trabi and took great care in maintaining them. This maintenance was made easy by the simplicity of its engine. Most owners could do their own repairs, and the motor was so light that a single person could lift out the engine single-handedly. As the saying went, Mitt Hammer, Zange und Draht, kommst du bis nach Leningrad. - With hammer, pliers and wire, you can get to Leningrad.

Leafing through my cousin’s photo albums from the DDR era, many of the pictures prominently display his Trabi – going on family picnics or a weekend of camping. Often, everyone is posed around the car, as if it was a member of the family.

 

      Still, jokes abounded:

      Question:   When does a Trabi reach its top speed?

Answer:     When it is towed away.

 

Question:   Why do some Trabis have heated rear windows?

Answer:     To keep your hands warm while pushing.

 

Question:   How do you double the value of your Trabant?

Answer:     Fill up its gas tank.

 

The Trabant was, in essence, the epitome of East German society – unreliable and inefficient, yet somehow managing to function, even if it was just sputtering along. The butt of jokes, but still cherished, because, after all, it was all they had.

In the fall of 1989, I sat in the living room of my Grandmother in Ravensburg, Federal Republic of Germany, and watched on TV as tens of thousands of East Germans flooded into West Germany from Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Some actually walked across open fields. But many drove across the border in their cherished Trabis, packed with people and luggage, the air thick with blue exhaust as they made their way to freedom. It was the beginning of the end for the DDR. The East German government could not quash this exodus, nor could it stop the protests in the streets calling for Democracy. Weeks later, the Berlin Wall fell.

In the years that followed, many East Germans had trouble adjusting to a reunified Germany based on a free market and democracy. Unprofitable and inefficient Communist run factories were closed down and millions who had once had guaranteed work now found themselves without jobs and without the skills needed to find new ones. Like the factories that built it, the Trabant was also considered obsolete. Many East Germans abandoned them once they crossed into West Germany. They could be seen left to decompose in open fields along the roadsides, grass growing tall around them. Some were even left in what had been the No Man’s land between the two Berlins. Still more were ground up and spread across icy roads to provide traction in place of sand and salt. In 1989, a new engine was developed to try to update the car, but it was not enough. It couldn’t meet the West’s strict environmental and safety standards. Production ceased in 1991.

But just as East Germany has slowly adjusted to being part of a greater Germany, so too has the Trabant. Today, it is valued by collectors. They buy them for less than 50 dollars on internet, and then put thousands of dollars into new engines, custom paint jobs and booming stereo systems. Hundreds of web sites are maintained by its devoted fans. In 2009, a prototype electric version of the Trabi, updated to look similar to a Mini, was unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show, but is yet to see mass production.

I don’t think my cousin would be interested. Nowadays, he drives a Renault. More dependable and more luxurious. I doubt it would ever make a decent chicken coup.

 

What cars have impacted countries? Share your thoughts below..

 

By Manfred Gabriel

 

Want to know more about East Germany? Click here for our podcast on ex-East German leader Walter Ulbricht.

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

In this article we preview an article in the current edition of History is Now magazine

 

Looking back from today, the Soviet Union in the 1930s may not seem like a promised land, but in Depression-era America many US citizens migrated there. Perhaps the most interesting group who made this journey were African-Americans. In this article we look at the fascinating inter-relationship between Harlem, racial issues, the Great Depression and Communism, and how these factors combined to lead some African-Americans to move to Stalin’s brutal Soviet Union.

A glorified, almost saintly, portrait of Stalin, circa 1937. Alas, behind the surface, Stalin was far from being a saint.

A glorified, almost saintly, portrait of Stalin, circa 1937. Alas, behind the surface, Stalin was far from being a saint.

Looking back from today, the Soviet Union in the 1930s may not seem like a promised land, but in Depression-era America many US citizens migrated there. Perhaps the most interesting group who made this journey were African-Americans. In this article we look at the fascinating inter-relationship between Harlem, racial issues, the Great Depression and Communism, and how these factors combined to lead some African-Americans to move to Stalin’s brutal Soviet Union.

 

In 1917, Russia was a very unstable place. Against the backdrop of the extraordinary suffering that World War I was inflicting on the Russian people, major protests against the government soon produced an earth-shattering change. That change was the Russian Revolution, in which Lenin’s Bolsheviks gained power at the expense of the centuries-old Russian monarchy. After the Revolution, the Russian Civil War broke out, and some Western countries actively supported anti-Bolshevik groups.

One of the reasons for this Western intervention in the Russian Civil War was that the West feared the possibilities for social, economic, political and cultural revolutions that the new Russia brought with it; however, such sentiments were mirrored by the Bolsheviks, who thought that the West might be a territory in which they could expand and grow Communism, although such thoughts did not last.  By the end of the Russian Civil War, the hopes that some Bolsheviks harbored about the potential for exporting revolution across Europe were largely extinguished and the ‘revolutionary moment’ in the aftermath of World War I had expired by the end of 1919. Russia, through the medium of the international Communist group known as the Comintern, found America not to have much revolutionary potential at all, despite its revolutionary tradition.

There was one exception though. Through the filter of Marxist-Leninist discourse, America’s black communities appeared to be fertile ground for the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA). Their experience of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow seemed to present the party and its leader, Earl Browder, with ideal recruits to the cause. This led to an unsuccessful project to develop an all-black Communist movement in America, and after that failed, an inter-racial party initiative to ‘raise the condition of the blacks’ began in the late 1920s. As we shall see, this initiative, as well as others, produced mixed results. This was no truer than in the place that could claim to be the center of African-American culture at the time, Harlem.

 

Communism in Harlem

The fact that in Harlem, as Mark Naison shows in Harlem Communists during the Depression, the party was largely unsuccessful in flourishing in a majority black neighborhood, would tend to suggest that while the Comintern looked to African-Americans to be their revolutionary vanguard, most African-Americans had at best mixed feelings towards Communism and the Soviet Union. One factor that played a role in reducing the influence of the CPUSA was that it had to compete with pre-existing, exclusively black organizations such as Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and Thurgood Marshall’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Naison’s history of Harlem Communism sees the party pass through several distinct phases; its inception, in the aftermath of World War One (the 1920s), the depression years (1929-34), the Comintern’s attempts at developing a Popular Front (1934-39), and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact/war years (1939-45). In each phase, Naison shows how African-American Harlemites within and outside of the party transposed their interpretations of the USSR and Soviet Communism on to the challenges facing the black community. Looking internationally for solutions to racism and poverty in America was not a new phenomenon. Marcus Garvey’s UNIA had proposed the resettlement of African-Americans to Africa, after a hypothetical armed uprising had taken place to force out white European colonists. Some African-Americans in the South even looked to Japan to be the world leader of non-white people during the 1930s, given the challenge it presented to the British, French, Dutch and Americans in the Asia-Pacific region. The focus on the USSR as a multi-racial state free of segregation or racial persecution was attractive to a broad range of non-Communist Harlemites, although there is little evidence that the core tenets of Soviet Communism penetrated deeply into the black community.

The CPUSA generated great levels of support in Harlem prior to the Popular Front years when it gained a reputation as being an ally against discrimination. It was helped in this as it championed two high profile cases, the trials of the Scottsboro Boys and of Angelo Herndon. The Scottsboro boys were nine African-American teenagers accused of the rape of two white girls in Alabama on flimsy evidence and sentenced to death. The CPUSA persuaded the families to allow the party, not the NAACP, to represent them. Herndon was an African-American labor organizer sentenced to death in Georgia in 1932 under antiquated laws dating back to the pre-Civil War era that equated such activity with slave insurrection and sedition.

These endeavors from the CPUSA did not automatically translate in to more widespread support for the idea of Communism in African-American communities though.

 

Cyril Briggs

Naison describes the experience of Cyril Briggs, a West Indian journalist who had been fired from the Harlem Amsterdam News in 1917 for his anti-war stance. Briggs founded the Crusader, a broadly Nationalist magazine espousing ideas that were: “dedicated to a renaissance of Negro power and culture throughout the world.” Briggs was suspicious of Garvey’s dominant Nationalist movement, the UNIA, and despite a strong affinity with Garvey’s emancipatory views, he began to view him with mistrust by 1919 as the anti-Communist crackdown across America gathered pace and Garvey, dismissing key leftists from the UNIA, seemed to be cooperating. His initial Crusader editorials, according to Naison, were ‘strikingly similar’ to Garvey’s views, combining black liberation and Nationalism with anti-capitalism.

Naison identifies Briggs’ initial interest in the Bolshevik Revolution as being based largely on what he saw as the Soviet Union’s ‘anti-imperialist orientation’, which was consistent with his pan-African emancipatory Nationalism; the Soviet Union might not be able to do much to prevent lynchings in the Southern states or the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, but it could potentially challenge European imperial dominance in Africa and Asia. Unfortunately for Briggs, Lenin’s interest in Africa was minimal. Beyond rhetoric and a small number of African students and revolutionary visitors to Moscow, the USSR was no threat to British, Belgian or French colonies in Africa. Briggs eventually joined the CPUSA in 1920, but his drift to the political left had begun as he moved away from the more accepted Black Nationalist positions of mass repatriation to Africa, and began to argue for a multi-racial, egalitarian America, one that could be achieved through revolution.

 

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This article is provided by Nick Shepley from www.explaininghistory.com, a site that has a wide array of history ebooks.

This is the third in a series of articles that explores the iconic CIA and its use as a tactical weapon by the US presidents of the Cold War (1947-1991). The Central Intelligence Agency – In the Beginning and The Central Intelligence Agency – Eisenhower and Asia’s Back Door are the preceding posts. 

JFK delivering a speech

JFK delivering a speech

A very tired John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was sworn into office on a clear, windy, brutally cold January 20, 1961.(1) It wasn’t an easy day. Eight inches of snow had fallen the night before, causing a monumental traffic jam. The streets were littered with abandoned vehicles.  Former President Herbert Hoover missed the entire inauguration event because Washington National Airport was closed due to the weather.  An inauguration is an important national symbol that characterizes the Republic and the all-night effort to clear Pennsylvania Avenue greeted the sun with space to accommodate the large crowd that would gather to witness the duly elected president assume the helm of the ship-of-state.  

The snowfall of the previous night and the windy, frigid temperatures of inauguration day are also apt codes for the sea change that had already gathered momentum around the relationship between the new president and his intelligence agency, the CIA.  The CIA, as authorized by The National Security Act of 1947, was still fairly young, but Allen Dulles, the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) was an old hand and seemingly enjoyed the game.  By 1961, the CIA, in its short life, had tripped the light fantastic around the globe; Col. Lansdale was merrily fighting rebels in The Philippines following which he ported his obsession with asymmetric guerilla warfare to Vietnam where he spent two-years as a houseguest and confidant of President Diem. Other CIA operatives overthrew governments in Iran and Guatemala, and raised general hell with Cuba and Chile. 

During the latter Truman and the Eisenhower administrations there was a trend to combine the Cold War objective of fighting the creep of Communism with business interests. Iran, for example, nationalized British oil interests and Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh refused to budge in spite of punishing sanctions. According to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, “Eisenhower worried about Mossadegh's willingness to cooperate with Iranian Communists; he also feared that Mossadegh would eventually undermine the power of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a staunch anti-Communist partner. In August 1953, the CIA helped overthrow Mossadegh's government and restored the Shah's power. In the aftermath of this covert action, new arrangements gave U.S. corporations an equal share with the British in the Iranian oil industry.”(2)

In Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman initiated land reforms that seriously impacted the holdings of the anti-Communist, New Orleans-based United Fruit Company who controlled over forty percent of Guatemala’s arable land.  The Truman administration came to the support of American business interests by arming the anti-Arbenz rebels.  Under Eisenhower, the CIA finished the job by overthrowing the Arbenz regime and installing Carlos Castillo Armas.  Codenamed PBSUCCESS, the coup d'état was the first-ever clandestine military action in Latin America but it was certainly not the last.(3)

 

Kennedy and the CIA

After fifty years the controversy surrounding Kennedy and the CIA obscures the landscape like the white-out conditions in a blizzard.   At one end of the opinion spectrum, Marquette University’s John McAdams’ The Kennedy Assassination site concludes that Kennedy and the CIA had some rough spots but got through them. (4) At the other end of the spectrum is Dr. Jerome R. Corsi, who maintains that Kennedy and the CIA locked horns and never retreated. (5) Excellent research and the documented citations for both perspectives leave the reader with many questions.  One corner of this argument does not appear to be disputed; Kennedy consistently refused to use the U.S. military to support private sector interests.  In this matter, President Kennedy was a traditionalist. The military, in his opinion, was to be used only in defense of national security interests.  If we can escape the white-out conditions of the never-ending controversy, the political landscape, once again, becomes hard and navigable.  

As Kennedy came to office, covert CIA actions initiated by the Eisenhower administration were in play in both hemispheres.  Two noteworthy examples are the storm clouds that were gathering around the Diem brothers in South Vietnam and the vexing problem of Fidel Castro in Cuba.  For discussion purposes I have separated these two significant events, but during the early days of the Kennedy administration they were unfolding concurrently linked through the CIA node.

President Kennedy and DCI Allen Dulles

President Kennedy and DCI Allen Dulles

South Vietnam

South Vietnam was a U.S. government construct, a nation-building exercise illuminated by the Pentagon Papers.

“The United States moved quickly to prevent the unification and to establish South Vietnam as an American sphere. It set up in Saigon as head of the government a former Vietnamese official named Ngo Dinh Diem, who had recently been living in New Jersey, and encouraged him not to hold the scheduled elections for unification. A memo in early 1954 of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that intelligence estimates showed "a settlement based on free elections would be attended by almost certain loss of the Associated States [Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam-the three parts of Indochina created by the Geneva Conference] to Communist control." Diem again and again blocked the elections requested by the Vietminh, and with American money and arms his government became more and more firmly established. As the Pentagon Papers put it: "South Viet Nam was essentially the creation of the United States."(6)

By 1961, Southeast Asia was rapidly becoming a tinder box.  During a discussion of an Edward Lansdale report on Vietnam with Walt Whitman Rostow, the National Security advisor, Kennedy lamented, “'This is the worst one we've got. You know, Eisenhower never mentioned it. He talked at length about Laos, but never uttered the word Vietnam.”  Lansdale’s report brought the deterioration of South Vietnam’s political stability into focus for Kennedy as he remarked to Rostow that the “Lansdale's narrative was 'an extremely vivid and well-written account of a place that was going to hell in a hack.'…” (7)

Diem and his brother persisted in implementing domestic policies based on impressing the Catholic religion and requiring personal loyalties that accelerated the destabilization of the country.  The prevailing religion in Vietnam was Buddhism at the time and the Diems were persecuting Buddhists terribly.  Making matters worse were two notable supporters of the Diem’s, neither of whom had a clue about the national culture of Vietnam.  Senate Majority Leader, Mike Mansfield, a Montana Democrat, lectured in Far Eastern and Latin American history in his previous life. Mansfield was also a practicing Catholic.  While Mansfield openly admitted he knew nothing about Vietnam, he very much liked Diem and he was generally considered to be Congress’ resident Vietnam expert.  The second big player who knew nothing about Vietnam was Col. Edward Lansdale, a CIA asset who befriended and used the Diems but was only committed to his concept of counterinsurgency warfare.  The Pentagon Papers revealed that, based on Lansdale’s advice, Kennedy approved secret operations to "dispatch of agents to North Vietnam" to engage in "sabotage and light harassment”.

 

Growing involvement

The Diem brothers’ refusal to cease and desist acting on their paranoia, resulted in thousands of Buddhists and dissenters being imprisoned, tortured, and murdered.  The Geneva Accords permitted the U.S. to have 685 military advisers in South Vietnam. Eisenhower sent several thousand and, under Kennedy, the figure rose to sixteen thousand with some of them taking part in combat operations. Diem was losing. Most of the South Vietnam countryside was now controlled by local villagers organized by the NLF.(See Footnote 6)  It became clear that a new government was necessary if the U.S. was to be effective in keeping Vietnam out of Communist hands.  Kennedy authorized the overthrow with the provision that the Diem brothers would be extracted to live in exile. 

Henry Cabot Lodge, Ambassador to South Vietnam, received a cable (Cable 243) outlining the issues and actions that were the next steps in changing regimes or bringing the Diem regime into line with American interests, following the midnight raids on the Buddhist Pagodas on August 21, 1963.(8)  The Diem brothers would not or could not change direction and South Vietnam’s Diem government was overthrown in a military coup d'état according to play book.  What did not go ‘according to plan’ was the murder of the Diem brothers whose desperate calls for rescue went unheeded by the U.S. government that had put them in power.  The brutal assassinations of the Diems on November 2, 1963 haunted Kennedy.  By November 22, 1963, less than three weeks later, Kennedy himself would die from an assassin’s bullet(s).

“Kennedy learned of the deaths on the following morning when National Security Council staffer Michael Forrestal rushed into the cabinet room with a telegram reporting the Ngô brothers' alleged suicides. According to General Maxwell Taylor, "Kennedy leaped to his feet and rushed from the room with a look of shock and dismay on his face which I had never seen before." Kennedy had planned that Ngô Đình Diệm would be safely exiled and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. recalled that the U.S. president was "somber and shaken". Kennedy later penned a memo, lamenting that the assassination was "particularly abhorrent" and blaming himself for approving Cable 243, which had authorised Lodge to explore coup options in the wake of Nhu's attacks on the Buddhist pagodas.  Forrestal said that "It shook him personally ... bothered him as a moral and religious matter. It shook his confidence, I think, in the kind of advice he was getting about South Vietnam."   When Kennedy was consoled by a friend who told him he need not feel sorry for the Ngô brothers on the grounds of despotism, Kennedy replied "No. They were in a difficult position. They did the best they could for their country." 

 

Cuba

While the South Vietnam pot was coming to a boil in the Eastern Hemisphere, the Cuban kettle had boiled dry with the Bay of Pigs and was heating up a second time with Operation Mongoose in the Western Hemisphere.  Without getting into the ‘why’ of it, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy left the door open to depose Cuba’s new dictator Fidel Castro during the fourth presidential debate.(9)  The New York Times the next day ran the story as the lead item on the front page with the headline: "Kennedy Asks Aid for Cuban Rebels to Defeat Castro, Urges Support of Exiles and Fighters for Freedom." James Reston wrote in the Times that "Senator Kennedy (has) made what is probably his worst blunder of the campaign.”(10)  After Kennedy was inaugurated, DCI Allen Dulles came calling to cash the Bay of Pigs check and Kennedy approved the invasion as had been planned under the Eisenhower administration except that he refused to commit the U.S. military support. 

George Washington University’s National Security Archives Bay of Pigs Chronology provides a wonderfully detailed account of the invasion and reads like a spy thriller.  Prior to the invasion factories and cane fields were fire bombed using white phosphorus and other incendiaries, E. Howard Hunt and others made covert trips into Cuba to check the lay of the land, small aircraft overflew Cuba taking pictures and reporting back to the CIA (at least one was shot down by Castro’s forces), communication stations on remote islands were constructed in preparation for command and control of the prospective invasion, and exiled Cubans were trained.  The exiles wanted to return home to the country they remembered and American business interests wanted the island playground back in their domain.

The pressure was on to execute the invasion and, in April, about three months after Kennedy’s inauguration the green light was given. “On April 15, 1961, C.I.A. pilots knocked out part of Castro's air force, and were set to finish the job. At the last minute, on April 16, President Kennedy called off the air strikes, but the message did not reach the 1,511 commandos headed for the Bay of Pigs. Three days of fighting destroyed the invading force. A brigade commander sent his final messages: ''We are out of ammo and fighting on the beach. Please send help,'' and: ''In water. Out of ammo. Enemy closing in. Help must arrive in next hour.''(11) The help never came and 1500 Cuban exiles fighters did not come back.

To his credit, President Kennedy assumed full public responsibility for the debacle although he allowed the blame to spread through leaks and rumors.  Kennedy fired Allen Dulles and threatened to break the CIA apart.  The fiasco that was the Bay of Pigs, however, did not deter the effort to rid the Western Hemisphere of Castro.  In November 1961, Operation Mongoose was born with a primary objective to identify mechanisms to get rid of the Cuban leader and the CIA was not the lead player.  Robert Kennedy and General Maxwell Taylor were the operation’s overseers.  Col. Edward Lansdale was recruited to coordinate activities between the CIA, Defense Department, and State Department. 

Operation Mongoose employed intelligence collection, sabotage operations, and identifying and recruiting leaders within Cuba who could overthrow Castro. But there were other methods used. With Lansdale’s obsession on asymmetrical warfare, a subset operation known as the Northwoods operation was developed. This considered using faked and real terrorist activities which could be blamed on Castro and used as a provocation for invasion.  It has never been decisively determined whether or not assassination plots were a component of Operation Mongoose.(12)  The Church Committee did, however, uncover a 1962 memo from Lansdale to Robert Kennedy claiming that "we might uncork the touchdown play independently of the institutional program we are spurring."  Operation Mongoose was ‘officially’ ended in October 1962 with the advent of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The ‘official’ efforts to ‘get Castro’ fade from the presidential office in October 1962 and go deep underground.  The next blip on the ‘get Castro’ radar appears in New Orleans in the rabid anti-Communist, anti-Castro corporate culture at the United Fruit Company upon whose trustee board the fired DCI Allen Dulles sat.  The United Fruit Company story must be told at another time, however.

 

The CIA and Kennedy in perspective

President Kennedy’s fractured relationship with the CIA meant, for his term in office, a reduced CIA influence on foreign policy and affairs.  Kennedy, however, did recognize the usefulness of covert operators and plausible deniability’s lack of presidential fingerprints.  Publicly Kennedy was shamed twice by CIA failures and fired the powerful Allen Dulles.  Did Kennedy really forget and forgive as some analysts portray or would his ego have driven him to keep his promise to break up the CIA?  Certainly, Kennedy attempted to dilute the CIA influence during Operation Mongoose.  Kennedy’s assassination ended all of the speculation of the CIA’s relative political standing as the status quo quickly returned under the Johnson administration.

The Kennedy administration lasted just 1036 stormy days. His last day, like his first, was preceded by a storm in Dallas, Texas.  As on Kennedy’s inauguration day, the storm cleared and Kennedy elected to have his convertible open to the people; the better to relate to the people.  That, of course, worked well for the assassin(s).  I find it interesting where the ubiquitous Allen Dulles shows up; on the United Fruit Company Board of Trustees and on the Warren Commission investigating the death of the man who fired him.  The Diem brothers may have been assassinated but Fidel Castro, the object of so much time and effort, outlived them all.

 

By Barbara Johnson

Barbara is the owner of www.coldwarwarrior.com, a site about the men and women from all the cold wars who worked so hard for something they believed in and played so hard they forgot the pain.

This article has been published as we approach the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy. We shall be posting about JFK on Twitter and Facebook this week.

To find out more about John F Kennedy’s life, listen to our podcast on him. Click here.

References

1.       NOAA’s National Weather Service Forecast Office; Presidential Inaugural Weather; http://www.erh.noaa.gov/lwx/Historic_Events/Inauguration/Inauguration.html

2.       University of Virginia; Miller Center; American President: Eisenhower Foreign Policy A Reference Resource; http://millercenter.org/president/eisenhower/essays/biography/5

3.       The Cold War Museum; Guatemala 1954; Article 1 of 2; http://www.coldwar.org/articles/50s/guatemala.asp

4.       Marquette University; Craig Frizzell and Magen Knuth; Mortal Enemies? Did President Kennedy Plan on Splintering the CIA?; http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/jfk_cia.htm

5.       Dr. Jerome R. Corsi; Who Really Killed Kennedy?: 50 Years Later: Stunning New Revelations About the JFK Assassination; http://www.amazon.com/Really-Killed-Kennedy-Assassination-ebook/dp/B00EMFH0M0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1379766666&sr=8-1&keywords=who+killed+president+kennedy+corsi 

6.       A People's History Of The United States; Howard Zinn; Chapter 18: The Impossible Victory: Vietnam; http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinnimvivi18.html

7.       George Washington University National Security Archives; The Wall; Episode 9; INTERVIEW WITH WALT ROSTOW; http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/coldwar/interviews/episode-9/rostow1.html

8.       George Washington University National Security Archives; Cable 243; http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB101/vn02.pdf

9.       Commission on Presidential Debates; October 21, 1960 Debate Transcript; The Fourth Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate; October 21, 1960; http://www.debates.org/index.php?page=october-21-1960-debate-transcript

10.   George Washington University National Security Archives; Chapter 3; Into Politics With Kennedy and Johnson; http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB116/cia/Chapter%203%20--%20Into%20Politics%20With%20Kennedy%20and%20Johnson.htm   

11.   New York Times; TIM WEINER; February 22, 1998; C.I.A. Bares Its Bungling in Report on Bay of Pigs Invasion; http://www.nytimes.com/1998/02/22/world/cia-bares-its-bungling-in-report-on-bay-of-pigs-invasion.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

12.   George Washington University National Security Archives; July 25, 1962; Brig. Gen. Lansdale; Review of Operation Mongoose; http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/cuba_mis_cri/620725%20Review%20of%20Op.%20Mongoose.pdf  

Near the center of the town of Neuruppin, not far from Berlin, sits a large if unassuming house that once belonged to the local newspaper publisher. After the Second World War, it became the local Stasi headquarters. They adorned the brick façade and red tile roof with a myriad of surveillance equipment, antennas and satellite dishes.

The better to hear you with. Even today, some locals make a wide circle to avoid passing directly in front of it.

The Stasi, short for Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Ministry for State Security) was the East German’s secret police, charged with protecting the state from enemies both foreign and domestic, real or imagined. Lesser known than their Soviet counterparts in the KGB, they were no less feared. It is not a coincidence that Stasi rhymes with Nazi. 

Erich Meilke, the man who led the Stasi for over 30 years, in 1958. He worked for  DDR leader Walter Ulbricht  for much of his tenure.   Source:  Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-60945-0005 / Ulmer, Rudi / CC-BY-SA

Erich Meilke, the man who led the Stasi for over 30 years, in 1958. He worked for DDR leader Walter Ulbricht for much of his tenure.

Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-60945-0005 / Ulmer, Rudi / CC-BY-SA

 

The Stasi began operating in 1950. Its international exploits during the Cold War included training Castro’s secret police, running brothels in West Germany for the purpose of blackmailing West German politicians and businessmen, and funding Neo-Nazi groups in West Germany in order to discredit democracy. In the early 1970s, they even succeeded in having an agent appointed as an aide to the then West German Chancellor Willie Brandt.

But it was their work as an internal secret police that kept East Germans looking over their shoulders. Their network was extensive. Most apartment buildings, neighborhoods, factories and government agencies had at least one informant, spying on their neighbors and informing on them regarding the slightest infractions, which were then documented to the minutest detail. By the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Stasi employed some 91,000 agents and operatives, and had another 173,000 informal informers from whom they gathered information. As a point of comparison, Canada today has about 2,500 security agents for twice the population.

The Stasi compiled extensive files on much of the East German population. Olympian Katerina Witt had information collected on her going back to the age of six or seven, when she first began to show promise as a figure skater. The DDR was terrified she might defect to the West and that they would lose one of their crown jewels, so the Stasi kept track of almost everything she did and said. Friends, relatives and team-mates were either convinced or coerced into keeping tabs on her. Her home contained hidden microphones to record her conversations.

Surveillance wasn’t just done on the famous or important. Everyday people were spied on with regularity. Seemingly mundane transgressions were often considered crimes against the state. One woman had a file started on her because she bought a sweater from the West. She laughs about it now, but such activities, could have dire consequences. A neighbor and informant went through one man’s cupboards to find that he had some pudding from West Germany. Shortly after, he lost his job and was unable to find another. He and his family ended up destitute.

As the Cold War came to a close, the Stasi tried to destroy these files. But when people saw smoke rising up above the Stasi Headquarters in Berlin, they stormed the buildings and put an end to the destruction. While about 5 percent of the files were destroyed, most of them remained intact. Today, they take up over 100,000 kilometers of shelf space in the Stasi Museum, located in that former Berlin Headquarters. Under German law, former citizens of the DDR can request to see their files. Some 2.75 million people have done so since the law was passed in 1991. 

Protests in Leipzig, East Germany, May 1990, demanding the opening up of the Stasi files  Source:  Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1990-0522-033 / Gahlbeck, Friedrich / CC-BY-SA  

Protests in Leipzig, East Germany, May 1990, demanding the opening up of the Stasi files

Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1990-0522-033 / Gahlbeck, Friedrich / CC-BY-SA 

The Stasi did more than just watch and listen and record. As with the man who was guilty of nothing more than having a taste for West German pudding, they acted against those they felt were a threat to the state. They had learned early on that the traditional methods of most secret police, torture and imprisonment, had a limited effect. The victims often became martyrs or heroes and it did little to discourage others. Nelson Mandela is but one prominent example of this. Instead, they employed much subtler methods, known as Zersetung (corrosion or undermining). They conducted smear campaigns to discredit people along with threats and intimidation to get what they wanted. Wiretapping and bugging were commonplace. Sometimes, they would move a person’s furniture or take a picture down from their walls - all to send the message that they were always there, always watching. Their victims were forever on edge, waiting for the next shoe to drop. Some even went insane.

Zersetung had the added advantage of deniability. With no one in prison, no one physically hurt, the Stasi could deny any involvement. This worked so well that by the year 2000, only 33 Stasi officers had been sentenced by German courts for their crimes, and of these, 28 were suspended.

When revelations about NSA surveillance surfaced earlier this year in the US, most Americans did not seem overly concerned. Germans, however, have been much more vocal in protesting what they see as an invasion of their privacy. There have been public protests, and it came up as an issue in the general election there. Learning how the East German people were intimidated into obedience by an ever watchful and secretive organization like the Stasi, it is easy to understand their reaction to what many see as an unfettered invasion of privacy. After all, the NSA data center is estimated to be able to save 5 billion terabytes of data - 1 billion times more than the Stasi kept in their notorious paper files.

That’s a lot of sweaters being bought from the West.

 

By Manfred Gabriel

Enjoy this article? Well, another East Germany related article from Manfred is here. It is about the story of how a Trabant car defined a nation. 

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

May 18th next year marks the 70th anniversary of the victory of the famous battle at the Monastery of Monte Cassino in Southern Italy in 1944. This highly significant battle was one of the most important Allied victories of the war, and had by then been raging for nearly six months. Its capture from the German Army had required four separate hard fought bloody battles involving Allied soldiers from Britain, America, Canada, France, Morocco, India, Poland, and New Zealand. However, its success and significance were largely overshadowed early the following month by the D-Day landings in Normandy which signaled the beginning of the end of WWII.

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  Soldiers of the 2nd
Polish Corps at the battle of Monte Cassino, May 1944       

  

Soldiers of the 2nd Polish Corps at the battle of Monte Cassino, May 1944     

 

For the Poles it represented the pinnacle of their wartime achievements. In the battle, members of the celebrated Polish 2nd Corps led the final successful assault and capture of the mountain top monastery. How proud it was for them - in the eyes of the world - to raise the red and white Polish flag above the captured ruins. For most of the Polish soldiers who participated it was their first combat involvement since their homeland was invaded by Germany nearly five years earlier on the first day of September 1939.

But who were those Polish soldiers at Monte Cassino? Why were they there in Southern Italy? Where had they come from? How had they arrived there? And most importantly, why were they even bothered about fighting at all? 

Polish Monte Cassino medal certificate

Polish Monte Cassino medal certificate

Most of the Poles there had originated from the eastern borderland region of Poland known as Kresy and theirs is the tragic and truly unbelievable story of the short lived 2nd Polish Army Corps.

Born in Russia's frozen steppes from the emaciated remnants of a Polish nation exiled to Stalin's labor camps in Siberia, who against all odds and despite unimaginable hardships, murder, intrigue, conspiracy, international betrayal, mystery and controversy, they developed into an elite fighting force in a hopeless struggle to liberate a homeland that would never be free. Theirs is a story that occurred during a largely unknown and poorly documented period of modern history that has been denied by successive Russian Administrations and overlooked by Western governments and media: a story hidden from most in the West.  But it is a story with long lasting ramifications - a story that continues to the present day.

Even before the victory at Monte Cassino, the allies, who had gone to war in Poland’s defense, had abandoned her to Stalin’s demands for the Kresy region to be permanently incorporated into the Soviet Union. For the disillusioned Polish soldiers there was no recognizable country of their own left that they felt able to accept. They knew that they could never return to their homes or the families they had left behind ever again.

For most of the Poles at the battle of Monte Cassino it was just the next phase in a long battle that had started in late 1939 at the start of the war. At that time, over a million Polish citizens were deported, not by German, but by advancing Russian troops. They had battled starvation and brutality just to stay alive, in prisons, in cramped cattle trucks, in the bowels of murderous ‘Slave ships’ and in Soviet hard labor camps: the dreaded Gulags. 

Ex 2nd Polish Corps combatant Jósef Królczyk

Ex 2nd Polish Corps combatant Jósef Królczyk

They received an unlikely “amnesty” in 1941 when Germany invaded Russia and Stalin was desperate for anybody to help him fight against Hitler’s mechanized war machine. On release they had to find their way to recruiting centers in an attempt to join a Polish Army being created by the charismatic General Wladyslaw Anders. They moved through Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and for those lucky enough, onto Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, and eventually to Italy. Once there, loyal to the Polish Government-in-Exile in London, they fought without fear in battles against the German Army - hoping to in vain for the opportunity to liberate Poland.

Success on the battlefield was tempered by catastrophes on the political field. The already strained Polish relationship with Russia moved to breaking point in 1943 when the bodies of thousands of military officers, academics, politicians, and doctors murdered in 1940 were discovered at Katyn near Smolensk. General Sikorski, leader of the Polish Government-in-Exile, demanded an immediate independent investigation. Stalin was incensed and severed all diplomatic relations. Within weeks Sikorski had died in a mysterious plane crash and as Stalin’s Red Army grew stronger and pushed further west towards Berlin he demanded acknowledgement from the allies for his puppet Polish Government. The allies needed Stalin and distanced themselves from the Polish Government-in-Exile, and so the fate of the Polish 2nd Corps was sealed.

For most, like General Anders, the man who was arguably the savior of the exiled Poles and millions of other Poles around the world, the fight to see a free Poland has never been won. Many, including Anders, died in exile never returning to see the country of their birth. The Poland that they knew and fought so long and hard for would never return. Even now, with Poland fully integrated into the European Union, the pre-war Polish Kresy region, lost to the Russians in September 1939, is now part of Belarus and Ukraine.

Sanctuary was reluctantly offered by Britain and as the Polish 2nd Corps was disbanded the soldiers moved through the Polish Resettlement Corps to new lives in England, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia where known as Polonia they still maintain strong Polish communities. Even the memory of the Polish 2nd Corps is kept alive with active ex-combatants groups and the name of Anders and the Polish 2nd Corps, once ridiculed and denounced in Communist Poland, has at last been recognized and honored. It is now quite rightly remembered with pride for their place in modern Polish history.

 

By Frank Pleszak

The father of author Frank Pleszak was deported to Siberia aged 19 and Frank has had the story of his journey published by Amberley entitled “Two years in a Gulag”. Frank is also finalizing a book on the concise history of the Polish 2nd Corps for publication next year and is a contributor to the Kresy-Siberia Virtual Museum.

Polish 2nd Corps Facebook – Click here | Polish 2nd Corps Twitter­­ – Click hereKresy-Siberia Virtual Museum – Click here

 

And what happened once the Soviets dominated Eastern Europe? Click here to read about escaping Poland’s neighbor, Czechoslovakia, with the ‘freedom tank’. 

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

This is the second in a series of articles that explores the iconic CIA and its use as a tactical weapon by the presidents of the Cold War (1947-1991). The first of the series was The Central Intelligence Agency – In the Beginning.

Allen W. Dulles, the head of the CIA during the Eisenhower years of the 1950s

Allen W. Dulles, the head of the CIA during the Eisenhower years of the 1950s

In the late 1940s, the CIA grew quickly as it acquired the political turf and added the expert staff required to keep the president informed on who was doing what to whom around the globe. The National Security Act of 1947 added covert operations coupled with ‘plausible deniability’ to the mix of collecting and analyzing data. Covert operations weaponized the agency. Now, not only could the CIA convert data into information, it could, at the behest of the president through the State Department, act on it with impunity; the CIA had become a tactical weapon.

Presidential elections tend to return with grueling regularity in the U.S. and by 1952 it was time, once again, for Americans to choose a leader through the Electoral College.  Truman, who announced he would not run again, took an historic step when he required the CIA to brief the presidential candidates so they would know what-in-the-world was happening. In Chapter 2 of the CIA Briefings of Presidential Candidates, 1952-1992, John L. Helgerson states, “Mindful of how useful the weekly briefings were to him, Truman determined that intelligence information should be provided to the candidates in the 1952 election as soon as they were selected. In the summer of 1952, the President raised this idea with Smith. He indicated he wanted the Agency to brief Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and Governor Adlai Stevenson, remarking at the time, "There were so many things I did not know when I became President." Smith suggested to Truman that Davidson might be the proper individual to brief both Eisenhower and Stevenson to ensure they were receiving the same information.[1] It was an unprecedented step based on Truman’s early experience in office and the beginning of a tradition that is still respected.

DCI General Walter Bedell "Beetle" Smith had served as now ‘presidential candidate’ Eisenhower’s chief of staff at Allied Forces Headquarters. Smith tried, and failed, to delegate the briefings to Meredith Davidson, a senior staff officer. It must have been a monumentally awkward situation for Smith as he served his new master and his old master. The record indicates that Eisenhower was not above playing his past relationship with Smith and did not make Smith’s job easy. Just before Eisenhower’s November election Smith resigned from active duty status and later took a lesser position in the State Department.

Eisenhower was a popular candidate and his war hero status effectively tied the opposition’s hands. Adlai E. Stevenson, Eisenhower’s opponent, was at a distinct disadvantage. The planks in Eisenhower’s platform included exiting Korea and getting rid of government corruption, which was a big deal with the bribery incidents that were uncovered among the Truman appointees. The 1952 election was odd even by U.S. standards where election time is referred to as the silly season.[2]  In retrospect, Eisenhower failed to achieve either objective and, during his administration, the U.S. stuck its nose deeply into other countries’ business through CIA actions.

Allen W. Dulles was appointed by the Eisenhower administration in 1953. He would serve in that capacity until 1961 when President Kennedy canned him following the Bay of Pigs. Dulles was from the old school, the OSS, and he came to the job with the mindset of being a major league player back-in-the-day.  “… in training Kuomintang troops in China and Burma, and recruited Kachin, and other indigenous irregular forces for sabotage as well as guides for Allied forces in Burma fighting the Japanese Army. Among other activities, the OSS helped arm, train and supply resistance movements, including Mao Zedong's Red Army in China and the Viet Minh in French Indochina, in areas occupied by the Axis powers during World War II. OSS officer Archimedes Patti played a central role in OSS operations in French Indochina and met frequently with Ho Chi Min in 1945.”…[3]

A banker and corporate lawyer between public service assignments, Dulles was connected to a power network that ran in the family. His brother, John Foster Dulles, served as Eisenhower’s Secretary of State during this same period. It was a cozy arrangement given that covert operations went through the State Department. In reading the documents, no one seemed particularly concerned with the potential for abuse or the loss of checks and balances with this banking family’s arrangement. Perhaps, and this is pure speculation, the arrangement even provided cover for plausible deniability.

The analysts who strive to make sense of the information gathered are one breed of CIA employee and the stuff of great Tom Clancy novels. Covert operators are another breed entirely. To this day covert operatives live according to the OSS creed, which places its “faith in individual initiative or “derring-do”, a willingness to act unhesitatingly in ambiguous situations, to “do something” even if it goes beyond the original mandate, a belief in the efficacy of unconventional methods, and distrust or even disdain for the bureaucratic process and structure.[4]

Under Eisenhower, CIA covert operations meddled early and often in Southeast Asia as the U.S. marched inexorably forward into what became the Vietnam War and the sacrifice of over 58,000 American lives.[5] The Vietnam stage was already set when Eisenhower took his presidential oath in January 1953. The U.S. was picking up about 75 percent of France’s military cost in Indochina (North and South Vietnam), a result of decisions made during the Truman administration. The record indicates that Eisenhower did not particularly care for the French effort to recolonize Indochina after WWII but was politically stuck with them. The spark of war ignited a fire at Dien Bien Phu, in northern Vietnam near the Laotian border. Like two pieces of flint being struck against each other, sparks flew when Giap, with the Viet Minh[6], vowed to wipe out French forces and the French were equally determined to wipe out the Communists.[7] The problem was that while General Vo Nguyen Giap was an acknowledged and experienced military genius, the French decision to lure him into a trap was fatally flawed.

The French managed to get several thousand soldiers trapped in the fortress at Dien Bien Phu, and borrowed a US Navy aircraft carrier, 10 US Air Force B-26s, several C-47s and C-119s, and hundreds of US Air Force personnel to try to dig themselves out.[8] Eisenhower was in a pickle. How much of America was he willing to sacrifice to deny the Communists a victory?  Plans entailing the use of three tactical nukes were drawn up for Operation Vulture. Eisenhower tied Britain’s approval to the execution of Operation Vulture and when Britain refused to sanction the idea it was dropped.[9] In the end, 13,000 French soldiers died[10] in the battle of Dien Bien Phu and the U.S. suffered its first two casualties of the Vietnam War. “On May 6, 1954, CAT pilots James B. McGovern and Wallace A. Buford were flying their C-119 Boxcar on a Dien Bien Phu airdrop mission. Clear weather made it easy for the Viet Minh anti-aircraft gunners to target the aircraft. The stricken Boxcar crashed behind enemy lines. Thus it was that McGovern and Buford—two pilots—became the first Americans known to have died in combat in Vietnam.” (See footnote 7)

A member of the French Foreign Legion in Indochina, 1954

A member of the French Foreign Legion in Indochina, 1954

Dien Bien Phu fell on May 7, 1954 and the French beat their feet to get out of the area. The next day, May 8, 1954, planning for a Geneva conference of the main Indochina actors was initiated. By June of 1954, France granted southern Vietnam independence. In July 1954, the Geneva conference was convened. The major players were the US, France, Britain, and the Soviet Union, while the three Associated States of Indochina, including Hồ Chí Minh 's Democratic Republic of Vietnam, were also at the table. Vietnam was partitioned into north and south at the 17th parallel. This was an interim solution pending the outcome of the 1956 Vietnamese elections, which never came.  The U.S agreed to the Geneva accords but, not liking the partition, never signed the agreement. By September 1954, the US and seven other nations signed the Manila Pact; the basis of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization and the rationale for the U.S’s Vietnam War.

While the U.S. military was busy helping the French, what was the CIA doing? Elections? Did somebody say elections in Vietnam? Elections are right up the CIA’s alley and the CIA boys and girls were very busy bees according to declassified documents released about four years ago. South Vietnam’s new Prime Minister, Ngo Dinh Diem, was a puppet who had played no role in the war or in the negotiations that ended it. Diem’s credentials were his fluent English, his anti-Communist nationalist position, and his religion, Roman Catholic. Diem was putty in the CIA’s hands.

During this period, the CIA considered itself a nation builder. It drank from the goblet of power filled by placing the Shah of Iran on a throne in 1953 and sponsored a successful military coup against the leftist government in Guatemala in March 1954. In Europe, the CIA supported the Christian Democrats in the 1948 Italian elections ensuring the survival of ‘democratic government’ there. The also CIA participated in the 1954 defeat of the Hukbalahaps or Huk Rebellion, who were labeled as Communists, in the Philippines during Ramon Magsaysay’s regime.

Drunk on the wine from these victories, the CIA entered Vietnam certain of another success. Unfortunately, they did not understand the Vietnamese people, their culture or their history. Diem was inaugurated in July 1954. He won the presidency by dubious means and the CIA knew he did not have the support of the people. Toward that end they had been grooming his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, for several years. By that time, the CIA had been busy in Vietnam for four years. The Agency first reestablished the covert action section in the Saigon Station, which had its plug pulled when the French found out about its activities in Hanoi. Secondly, Colonel Edward Lansdale of the USAF, renowned for his work as "kingmaker" in the Philippines, was to find a Vietnamese equivalent of Ramon Magsaysay. Lansdale’s assignment was approved about the time that Harwood arrived in Saigon. Colonel Lansdale followed him in June, assigned to the Embassy as Assistant Air Attache.[11] Paul Harwood was the CIA’s Saigon Chief of Covert Operations and very good friends with Ngo Dinh Nhu. And Diem soon became quite the dictator. By the time his administration was drop-kicked and Diem was assassinated during the Kennedy administration, Diem had killed thousands and extended his hatred of Communists to include political and religious dissidents, such as Buddhists, and anti-corruption whistleblowers. 

President Eisenhower greets South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem in Washington, 1957

President Eisenhower greets South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem in Washington, 1957

The CIA in Vietnam, spearheaded by Lansdale and Harwood, failed both in providing accurate information and in nation-building. When Diem was overthrown and assassinated, Hồ Chí Minh reportedly stated: “I can scarcely believe the Americans would be so stupid.” But stupid we were. In 1963, Lyndon B. Johnson dropped the pretext of plausible deniability when he admitted to the murder of President Ngo Dinh Diem.[12]

The U.S. had its CIA nose under the Vietnamese tent for twenty-five years before it finally accepted it had lost. Vietnam was a political war, not a military war, and it cost millions of lives, including tens of thousands in the U.S. military services, trillions of dollars and the loss of the American ‘good guy’ innocence.

Instead of opening trade and freeing markets following WWII, the U.S. pulled in, went underground, and embarked on an imperialistic march through the back alleys of the world. Where trade was allowed to flourish, countries recovered and thrived after WWII; Japan, Hong, Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan come to mind.  Those early CIA victories in Iran, Guatemala, and Italy did not lead to long-term stability or democracy. The Philippines did better, although it appears we slew the wrong dragon there. The Dulles dynasty in the CIA and State Department was weighted by numerous disasters offset with very few victories. Perhaps bankers look at the balance sheet from a different perspective. In the end, it is the President of the United Sates, Eisenhower in this case, who must take responsibility for the CIA; it was his baby and his choices.

For the years I served the government as a member of the contractor community, my least favorite agency to do business with was the CIA followed quickly by the DEA. While I wrestle the bias to the ground most of the time, it still manages to creep into my writing on occasion. We, each of us, had a job to do for the United States government and most of us took that responsibility very seriously. Our oaths were pretty much the same and have no expiration date; to uphold and protect the U.S. Constitution. How we go about doing that, however, is very different.

 

By Barbara Johnson

 

Barbara is the owner of www.coldwarwarrior.com, a site about the men and women from all the cold wars who worked so hard for something they believed in and played so hard they forgot the pain.

 

To find out more about the Vietnam War, why not listen to our audio podcast on that war? Click here. 

References 

[1] George Washington University NSA Archives; John L. Helgerson; CIA Briefings of Presidential Candidates, 1952-1992; http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB116/cia/CIA%20Briefings%20of%20Presidential%20Candidates.htm

[2] Kennesaw State University; Political Sciences and International Studies Department; 1952: The Election of a Military Hero; http://www.kennesaw.edu/pols/3380/pres/1952.html

[3] Wikipedia; Office of Strategic Services; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_of_Strategic_Services

[4] CIA Library; The Way We Do things; http://www.foia.cia.gov/sites/default/files/document_conversions/48/5_THE_WAY_WE_DO_THINGS.pdf

[5] National Archives; Statistical Information about Fatal Casualties of the Vietnam War; http://www.archives.gov/research/military/vietnam-war/casualty-statistics.html

[6] The term "Viet Minh" is an abbreviation for VietNam Doc Lap Dong Minh-the Vietnam Independence League-the national front created by Ho Chi Minh in 1941 to resist the Japanese occupation and the Vichy French colonial regime that collaborated with it. South Vietnam as a separate, provisional entity came into existence as a result of the Geneva Accords. The other two Associated States, which together with Vietnam made up French Indochina, were Cambodia and Laos. Under the terms of the ceasefire, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) was to take control of all Vietnamese territory north of the 17th parallel, while the French Expeditionary retired to the south.

[7] Bernard B. Fall; 1961; Street Without Joy: The French Debacle In Indochina; http://www.amazon.com/Street-Without-Joy-Indochina-ebook/dp/B001GIPFD2/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1376831015&sr=1-1&keywords=street+without+joy

[8] Air Force Magazine; Rebecca Grant; August 2004; Dien Bien Phu; http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/2004/August%202004/0804dien.aspx

[9] Google Books; Nathan Miller; 1977; The U.S. Navy: A History;  http://books.google.com/books?id=aJhgcoxbjLoC&hl=en

[10] About.com Asian History; Kallie Szczepanski; The Battle of Dien Bien Phu, 1954; http://asianhistory.about.com/od/timelinesofvietnamwar/a/Battle-of-Dien-Bien-Phu-1954.htm

[11] George Washington University; National Security Archives; Thomas L. Ahern, Jr.; House of NGO covert Action in South Vietnam, http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB284/2-CIA_AND_THE_HOUSE_OF_NGO.pdf

[12] Youtube; November, 1, 1963; LBJ Admits Murder of South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqyklafeXpY

 

The history of a car and a country.

My Cousin’s Chicken Coup Trabant Top

My Cousin’s Chicken Coup Trabant Top

My cousin lives about an hour north of Berlin, in a cozy, 400 year farmhouse that leans a bit to one side. He has a couple of horses and keeps chickens for eggs. They roam around the enclosed yard, the cut-off top of his old Trabant their chicken coup.

All the cars are good for anymore, he tells me. Who says Germans have no sense of humor? Yet these noisy, unreliable, pollution spilling relics of the Cold War played both a practical and symbolic role in German reunification.

The first Trabant rolled off the Sachsenring assembly line in 1957, and over the next 34 years, over 3 million were produced. Intended to be the East German equivalent of the West German VW Beetle, a variety of models were produced in the decades that followed, including a station wagon, a hatchback and even a convertible.

In some ways, the first Trabants were ahead of their time. While the Big Three automakers in Detroit were coming out with behemoths of steel and chrome, the Trabant was small and light weight, with front wheel drive and a unified body. It got 34 miles to the gallon on the highway. Yet there, the innovation ended. Its two-stroke engine was loud. It belched more pollutants in three seconds as a Mercedes S class does in 30 miles. Its top speed was 70 miles per hour and it could barely manage 62 miles per hour in 21 seconds. Due to a lack of steel in Soviet Bloc countries, the body was made of a Fiberglas-like substance called Duroplast, which included cotton and other organic materials. Rat poison had to be incorporated into its construction, since the rodents had been known to gnaw at them. Due to shortages and the notorious inefficiency of Communist-run factories, East Germans had to wait more than a decade for their new Trabant to be delivered, and when it finally did arrive, they found that it often broke down.

Yet, because the Trabant was the only choice of car for most East Germans, and because it took so long to get one, the Trabant was often prized by its owners. They affectionately (or mockingly, depending on who you ask) called it the Trabi and took great care in maintaining them. This maintenance was made easy by the simplicity of its engine. Most owners could do their own repairs, and the motor was so light that a single person could lift out the engine single-handedly. As the saying went, Mitt Hammer, Zange und Draht, kommst du bis nach Leningrad. - With hammer, pliers and wire, you can get to Leningrad.

Leafing through my cousin’s photo albums from the DDR era, many of the pictures prominently display his Trabi – going on family picnics or a weekend of camping. Often, everyone is posed around the car, as if it was a member of the family.

      Still, jokes abounded:

      Question:   When does a Trabi reach its top speed?

Answer:     When it is towed away.

Question:   Why do some Trabis have heated rear windows?

Answer:     To keep your hands warm while pushing.

Question:   How do you double the value of your Trabant?

Answer:     Fill up its gas tank.

The Trabant was, in essence, the epitome of East German society – unreliable and inefficient, yet somehow managing to function, even if it was just sputtering along. The butt of jokes, but still cherished, because, after all, it was all they had.

In the fall of 1989, I sat in the living room of my Grandmother in Ravensburg, Federal Republic of Germany, and watched on TV as tens of thousands of East Germans flooded into West Germany from Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Some actually walked across open fields. But many drove across the border in their cherished Trabis, packed with people and luggage, the air thick with blue exhaust as they made their way to freedom. It was the beginning of the end for the DDR. The East German government could not quash this exodus, nor could it stop the protests in the streets calling for Democracy. Weeks later, the Berlin Wall fell.

In the years that followed, many East Germans had trouble adjusting to a reunified Germany based on a free market and democracy. Unprofitable and inefficient Communist run factories were closed down and millions who had once had guaranteed work now found themselves without jobs and without the skills needed to find new ones. Like the factories that built it, the Trabant was also considered obsolete. Many East Germans abandoned them once they crossed into West Germany. They could be seen left to decompose in open fields along the roadsides, grass growing tall around them. Some were even left in what had been the No Man’s land between the two Berlins. Still more were ground up and spread across icy roads to provide traction in place of sand and salt. In 1989, a new engine was developed to try to update the car, but it was not enough. It couldn’t meet the West’s strict environmental and safety standards. Production ceased in 1991.

But just as East Germany has slowly adjusted to being part of a greater Germany, so too has the Trabant. Today, it is valued by collectors. They buy them for less than 50 dollars on internet, and then put thousands of dollars into new engines, custom paint jobs and booming stereo systems. Hundreds of web sites are maintained by its devoted fans. In 2009, a prototype electric version of the Trabi, updated to look similar to a Mini, was unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show, but is yet to see mass production.

I don’t think my cousin would be interested. Nowadays, he drives a Renault. More dependable and more luxurious. I doubt it would ever make a decent chicken coup.

 

What cars have impacted - or defined - countries? Share your thoughts below..

 

By Manfred Gabriel

 

Want to know more about East Germany? Click here for our podcast on ex-East German leader Walter Ulbricht.

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

In this article, we look at a very odd museum in the former Soviet Socialist Republic of Kazakhstan.

Earlier this week, I came across this article (1) on the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty site. The article describes how the Museum of Political Oppression in Dolinka, Kazakhstan, formerly head of the KarLAG prison camp system through which hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens passed during the Stalinist-era terror, had recently begun conducting ‘night time tours’. To provide visitors with an ‘authentic’ Gulag experience, the article went on to describe how:

“… actors performed a mock interrogation scene in which a young woman is pressured to denounce her father. The group also witnessed performances that included an inmate who was hanging by his hands while being mistreated by a guard. To have a better taste of being a prisoner at KarLAG, the visitors were also offered gulag-type meals. The museum initially planned to offer visitors the chance to become “Stalin-era prisoners” for one night, but museum director Svetlana Bainova told RFE/RL the plan was scrapped following a request by local officials. She said the officials argued that such an experience could scare or even psychologically traumatize the participants”. 

 

Museum employees at
 the  Museum of Political Oppression in Kazakhstan  demonstrate  how prisoners were
 tortured  to extract confessions. Photo by Elena Weber, RFE/RL. See the original
 article  for the full photo gallery here:  http://www.rferl.org/content/kazakhstan-gulag-tour/24991694.html

Museum employees at the Museum of Political Oppression in Kazakhstan demonstrate how prisoners were tortured to extract confessions. Photo by Elena Weber, RFE/RL. See the original article for the full photo gallery here: http://www.rferl.org/content/kazakhstan-gulag-tour/24991694.html

The photo gallery that accompanies the article shows that the museum’s exhibition hall contains a number of informative displays including prison files and information about the impact of the great Soviet famine of 1930-33, while the Hall of Remembrance pays tribute to those individuals who died in KarLAG. However the photos also depict real life ‘actors’ – museum employees – playing the roles of prisoners undergoing interrogation, torture and demonstrating hard labor, while others play the role of the uniformed prison guards.

I must confess to feeling somewhat uncomfortable at the thought of this. I realize that dark tourism (or ‘thanotourism’, defined by the iDTR as ‘the act of travel and visitation to sites, attractions and exhibitions which have real or recreated death, suffering or the seemingly macabre as a main theme’) will always be a subject that evokes controversy. Sites that commemorate and educate about the ‘darker’ aspects of human history play an important role – speaking as a ‘tourist’ who has actively visited numerous such sites, including Auschwitz Birkenau, The Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, the former Stasi headquarters in Berlin and the controversial TerrorHaza (Museum of Terror) in Budapest, I do agree with the often cited argument that while visiting the sites of former atrocities can be a rather harrowing experience, the experience can help bring these historical events alive in a very different way from studying academic texts, or even reading the memoirs of those who experienced these terrible events first hand.

As a historian, I recognize the importance of acknowledging, remembering and commemorating the darker aspects of human history, as well as celebrating our more glorious achievements. And – stepping down from the moral high ground and speaking as a realist – I also understand that ‘money talks’. Economic benefits must be taken into consideration, as popular demand for thanotourism is potentially lucrative, with high visitor turnover injecting much-needed cash into the local economy. But does the Museum of Political Oppression risk crossing the line between education and schadenfreude? Having actors playing the part of tortured and exploited Gulag inmates and offering tourists the chance to experience ‘authentic Gulag conditions’ feels like unnecessary theatrics, designed to create an environment akin to a macabre theme park, which is particularly dangerous given that the horrors of the Stalinist-era remain within living memory for many today, including those who experienced the hardship and suffering of KarLAG first hand and survived to tell the tale and out of respect for the memories of the many who lost their lives.

An employee of the
Museum of Political Oppression in Kazakhstan depicts a tortured KarLAG
 prisoner . Photo by Elena Weber, RFE/RL. See the original article for the full
photo gallery here: http://www.rferl.org/content/kazakhstan-gulag-tour/24991694.html

An employee of the Museum of Political Oppression in Kazakhstan depicts a tortured KarLAG prisoner. Photo by Elena Weber, RFE/RL. See the original article for the full photo gallery here:http://www.rferl.org/content/kazakhstan-gulag-tour/24991694.html

However, the Museum of Political Oppression is not the only Gulag-related ‘attraction’ to blur the boundaries. Grutas Park sculpture park (also known as ‘Stalin’s World’) in Lithuania, combines extensive exhibitions featuring Soviet sculptures, artwork and museum artifacts with a mini-zoo (‘fun for all the family!’). The park also features a recreated Gulag camp, complete with wooden paths, guard towers and barbed wire fences, among its exhibits, but original plans to transport visitors to the park packed into a ‘Gulag-style train’ were blocked. In 2006, Igor Shpektor, Mayor of Vorkuta, – one of the most infamous outposts of Stalin’s Gulag where over two million deportees passing through the camp 1932-1954 – was criticized for plans to charge foreign tourists over £80 per day to ‘holiday’ in an ‘authentic’ Soviet-era prison camp. Shpektor’s plans to renovate an abandoned prison complex, complete with watchtowers, guards armed with paintball guns, snarling dogs, rolls of barbed wire, spartan living conditions and forced labor were condemned by camp survivors as ‘sacrilege’. But Shpektor defended his plans, arguing this would provide a much-needed cash injection for the depressed Vorkuta region as: ‘The chance of living in the Gulag as a prisoner is attractive to many wealthy foreigners … A whole trainload of people turned up in autumn last year wanting to go to such a concentration camp, for money”.

In 2006, a re-created Stalinist-prison camp near Vilnius, Lithuania hosted 400 students from 19 EU countries in a role playing exercise designed as a ‘live history lesson to foster deep reflection of the common past of European nations and people’. During their stay in the camp:

“The students are “forced” to travel for one hour in an “authentic Soviet truck ZIL157K” to a forest bunker … Then, for the next two hours, they live through the experience of being “political prisoners”, which includes being interrogated by NKVD (security service) officers, shouted at and insulted by the guards. The roles are performed by professional actors. The “excursion” ends with the announcement of Stalin’s death and subsequent amnesty.”

Of course, it would be foolish to suggest that a couple of hours of role-playing equates to the ‘authentic’ reality experienced by Gulag inmates, many of whom endured lengthy sentences spanning several years or even decades, having been interred for imaginary or fabricated crimes, not knowing if they’d ever live to see release, or what the fate of their families had been. Some of the student participants seemed to agree, with one participant (rather worryingly!) commenting that:

“I think that everybody can do this. We really enjoyed the deportation day, but I would prefer something more difficult, with more blood and maybe lasting for one week and not just one day.”

So, why does the idea of ‘experiencing’ the Gulag – an instrument of repression, fuelled by brutality, where millions of Soviet citizens lost their lives – hold such appeal for many people? Would you want to spend ‘Saturday night in the Gulag’? What limits – if any – should be applied to the ‘performative aspects’ of tourist attractions such as these?

 

By Dr Kelly Hignett

Kelly is the owner of The View East blog – here.

For more great updates and information on blog posts from the likes of Kelly, join us by clicking here.

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones