Cold War: The Khrushchev Thaw

24 September, 1959,
in Pittsburgh, Pennslyvania, a godfather who manages parking lots makes a clandestine deal with a hotel owner, and so a little boy who is interested in dignitaries slips in through the security guards. USSR leader Nikita Khrushchev moves past signs like "Khrushchev Go Visit the Moon", past the shouting crowd, and comes in through the lobby. There, squished between bodyguards and TV journalists, stands the small, thin boy with his back ramrod and arm stuck straight out.

Khrushchev's denouncement of Stalin has been playing continuously on Europe Free Radio, broadcasting 24 hours a day throughout the Eastern Bloc. He smiles and walks to the 11-year old, shakes the outstretched hand, and the pats the redheaded kid on the head kindly. The next day in the local newspaper the boy has a gigantic smile, and a picture with his small fingers splayed: "boy who bypassed heavy security!", "hands which shook with the leader of one of the world's two greatest powers!"

Today, that little boy is a sweet and loud old man who spends his days shouting history as if our lives depend on it, SENDING EMAILS WITH EVERYTHING IN CAPS, and waiting quietly in his office for someone to come visit him.


中國: 秦始皇帝

西的土地下,有一 個 墳墓。
Beneath the dirt flow rivers and seas of silver mercury, stand armies of thousands, lay the skeletons of servants, officials, of wives, of virgins, of the workers who constructed this grave of theirs: a necropolis which was once the largest city in the world. Above ground its dead king once created an entire nation, built out of war and terror. His legacy is a unified people which to this day would fight tooth and nail rather than be torn apart.

Nobody is inspired by 嬴政. An early stint with death made him paranoid and untrusting. Everything he did, he did out of fear, of being forgotten, of dying, out of a desire to be immortal. The expanse of his conquests, accomplishments, memorials -- that bloody wall which I climbed a quiet path up, dead people on the bottom and peach trees on the sides -- just belie an awesome depth of terror, desperation, and uncertainty. What a megalomaniac. He died 210 BCE, poisoned by the elixir which was supposed to give him everlasting life.

Satellites of the Soviet Union

I was really happy, scooping up sweet potato fries, to discover that I can practice Russian at work with both the girl from Mongolia and the new boy they hired, who's from Ukraine. And so for a day or so, I held in my hands the thought that maybe geopolitical hegemony and imperialist traditions aren't so bad. From the beginning, empire was unification was cohesion was solidarity was forced aggregation into some larger identity.Violence, domination, coercion -- even the kinship that brings us together is blood.

The next day, August 8th, Georgian troops moved into South Ossetia.