communism

August 13, 1957 – Syria Ousts American Diplomats

Afif al-Bizreh

Syrian Army Chief of Staff Afif Al-Bizreh, assassination target

On August 13, 1957, the government of Syria expelled three American Embassy officials, Vice Consul Francis J. Jeton, Second Secretary Howard E. Stone, and Army Attaché Colonel Robert W. Molloy.  The previous day, Syria had announced their discovery of an undercover plot by the United States to assassinate top government officials and overthrow their regime.  Jeton, Stone, and Molloy, they alleged, had contacted dissident members of the Syrian military and offered money in exchange for their assistance, including purging leading loyalist officers in the Syrian army.  They had also allegedly promised the US would block Israeli aggression, settle the Arab-Israeli conflict, end the arms race in the Middle East, and provide substantial unconditional economic aid.

Syrian Director of Intelligence Abd al-Hamid al-Sarraj, assassination target

Following the Suez Crisis in 1956, when Egypt’s attempt to nationalize the Suez Canal led to an invasion by Britain, France, and Israel, and hard on the heels of the USSR’s invasion of Hungary, President Eisenhower promulgated his Eisenhower Doctrine in January of 1957.  The Doctrine, in an effort to halt the spread of communism, offered American military and economic aid to nations in the Middle East who wanted help to resist the advances of nations dominated by “international communism.”  Developments in the Middle East had led President Eisenhower to fear that Syria was becoming a Soviet “outpost,” an escalation of the Cold War, and had acted accordingly.  Internal government reports informed Eisenhower that Syria was “more inclined to accept Soviet influence than any other country” in the Middle East and that “the Soviets are making Syria the focal point for arms distribution and other activities.”  He believed the Syrian government was dominated by a radical, pro-Soviet faction, that direct Soviet control was imminent, and ordered the CIA to execute Operation Wappen, spearheaded by Jeton, Stone, and Molloy.

On the day following the expulsion of the three embassy officials, Eisenhower responded by denying U.S. participation in an anti-Syrian government plot and expelling the Syrian Ambassador and his second secretary.  The American ambassador to Syria, home on leave, would remain in the United States.  Did the Eisenhower administration order Operation Wappen?  In The United States and Arab Nationalism: The Syrian Case, 1953-1960, author Bonnie F. Saunders states, “Other documentary evidence indicates almost certain State Department knowledge of the plot and perhaps its cooperation with the CIA in perpetrating it.”  From Encroachment to Involvement: A Documentary Study of Soviet Policy in the Middle East, 1945-1973, offers the same conclusion by author Yaacov Ro’i.  “The fact of the establishment and maintenance of secret contacts by the American Embassy in Damascus with a number of Syrian military personnel as well as with political dissident groups, with the possibility in mind of overthrowing the regime, seems proven.”

Image Credits: syrianhistory.com

July 3, 1957 – Khrushchev Ousts Molotov, Malenkov, and Kaganovich

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The coffin of Joseph Stalin is carried by (on the near side, front to back) Premier Georgi Malenkov, General Vassily Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov, Marshal Nikolai Bulganin, and Lazar Kaganovich. 1953

On July  3, 1957, Nikita Khrushchev took control of the Soviet Union with the ouster of three hard-line Stalin loyalists whose failed coup attempt earlier in the year sealed their fate.  Vyacheslav Molotov, Georgi Malenkov, and Lazar Kaganovich were opposed to Khrushchev’s policies of reform, including easing repression and censorship, releasing millions of Stalin’s political prisoners, promoting economic reforms and increased international trade, and allowing cultural exchanges and sports competitions with non-Communist countries.

Khrushchev spent years building his power base; he recruited Marshall Georgy Zhukov and groomed Leonid Brezhnev for the day when he could take the reigns of the Soviet Union in his hands.  He waited for Stalin to die, then slowly built his coalition.  In 1956, Khrushchev denounced Stalin in a speech which angered his pro-Stalin enemies in the ruling presidium  A year later, Molotov, Malenkov and Kaganovich believed they had enough votes to remove Nikita from the government.  They were wrong.  Zhukov, Breszhnev, and a host of other carefully positioned and cultivated men within the communist hierarchy threw their support behind Khrushchev.  Nikita was reaffirmed as First Secretary and his adversaries were voted off the presidium and demoted to minor government positions.

The United States looked favorably on Khrushchev, at least in the beginning.  Seen as much more moderate than the Stalinist hard-liners, Nikita’s purge of the presidium was welcome news to US officials hoping for a thaw in the Cold War.

June 23, 1957 – Mike Wallace Interviews Defector David Hawkins

David HawkinsOn June 23, 1957, 23-year-old Korean War defector David Hawkins appeared on the Mike Wallace Interview television show.  Born in Oklahoma City to a overly controlling mother and a father who spent six years in Europe during World War II starting from the time he was age six, David enlisted in the Army when he was 16 years old.  He was captured by the North Koreans at age 17, served as a prisoner of war for three years, and chose when the armistice was signed in 1953 to remain in Communist China.  Hawkins changed his mind and returned to the United States after he learned of the brutal repression and coverup of the Hungarian Revolution by the communist Soviet Union.  During the interview, Wallace forcefully confronted Hawkins with his actions, repeatedly calling him a “turncoat.”  Hawkins, for his part, was ready to admit his defection was a mistake and expressed feelings of guilt and shame.

Hawkins disagreed with Wallace that he had come from a good home, that in fact it had felt like a broken home; he had missed his father and his mother had been very rigid and restrictive (which she admitted on his return).  Hawkins felt he hadn’t sufficiently understood or appreciated the freedoms available in America and the sacrifices made to preserve them.  He had been easily convinced by expert Chinese indoctrinators that Socialism was the best system to improve the lives of the imperially-oppressed Chinese.  When Wallace accused him of being an informant against his fellow soldiers, or committing crimes in Korea that prevented him from wanting to return, Hawkins firmly denied both.  He had been labeled by his peers as “progressive” for his curiosity about socialism and was an easy target for such allegations.  “At the time,” he stressed, he felt that going so far away from home to fight on a “barren rock,” getting involved in another country’s civil war while  not knowing what he was fighting for, believing the United States had made a “big mistake,” was a “raw deal”. The military had not prepared him, Hawkins explained, to face interrogation by the Chinese, whom he was told instead were our friends.  His three years in China were somewhat sheltered ones, but he liked the Chinese people and felt no reason to doubt that Socialism could work.  He was regularly the subject of brainwashing in what the Chinese called “criticism meetings.”

Then the Soviets crushed the Hungarian people as they fought for freedom.  Hawkins saw that he had been wrong.  He wanted to come home.  He arranged without trouble for he and his wife to leave through Hong Kong.  He believed now that Communism was truly a threat to world freedom and needed to be stopped.  He had two warnings for the viewing audience. He, and his fellow defectors, some of whom still remained in China, had been trained to return to the United States to help in an eventual people’s revolution against the “war-mongering” government. And – ignoring mainland China, a “formidable power” which had made “great strides” to improve the lives of ordinary Chinese, was a mistake on the order of refusing to see the “elephant in the room.”

Wallace summed up the interview thus: David Hawkins was an illustration of the need for “faith and courage” as the ultimate weapons against communism.  Because faith and courage “couldn’t be issued by the army,” it was up to homes, schools and churches to instill them.  “In that sense,” Wallace said, “David Hawkins’ problem has certainly become our own.”

Image Credit: Harry Ransom Center/The University of Texas at Austin

June 7, 1957 – Ronald Reagan Commencement Speaker at Eureka College

 

Ronald Reagen GE Theater

On June 7, 1957, future Governor of California and President of the United States Ronald Reagan delivered the commencement address at Eureka College.  Reagan was currently appearing on television as the host of General Electric Theater, a popular weekly drama series.  As part of his contract with GE, Reagan spent ten weeks each year touring company production facilities, speaking a conservative, pro-business message to employee groups up to fourteen times a day.

At Eureka College, Reagan reviewed the history of America’s fight to “make the world safe for democracy and advance the cause of freedom for all men”.  From the Declaration of Independence, to World War I, World War II, and now the Cold War, the United States fought the same battle, he explained.

“And now, today, we find ourselves involved in another struggle, this time called a “cold war”.  This Cold War between great sovereign nations isn’t really a new struggle at all.  It is the oldest struggle of human kind, as old as man himself.  This is a simple struggle between those of us who believe that man has the dignity and sacred right and the ability to choose and shape his own destiny and those who do not so believe.  This irreconcilable conflict is between those who believe in the sanctity of individual freedom and those who believe in the supremacy of the state.”

Reagan’s speeches often championed the conservative ideals of anti-communism, free markets, lower taxes, and limited government.  These themes were featured prominently in the speech that launched Reagan’s political career.  Often called the “Time for Choosing” speech, Reagan delivered it in support of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign.

Image Credit: CSU Archives/Everett/Alamy

Where Were They Then? Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin and Maria Putin: Photo from Vladimir Putin's personal archive

Vladimir Putin and Maria Putin: Photo from Vladimir Putin’s personal archive

Like the President of Russia himself, Vladimir Putin’s early years are somewhat shadowy. Most sources agree that he was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) on October 7, 1952. In 1957, young Putin would have been five years of age (done toddling and ready to run – for a ball, in a footrace, for an elected office). According to Gale Biography in Context, Putin’s parents were basic working class people. His father, Vladimir Spiridonovich, was a decorated war veteran and metal factory foreman. His mother, Maria, did not work outside the home, which was uncommon at that time. The Putin family shared a communal apartment with two other families. Maria had her son secretly baptized as an Orthodox Christian. Religious practice was not permitted in Stalin or Khrushchev’s Soviet Union.

Putin (or one of his minions) maintains his own personal website. Here Putin explains that, “I come from an ordinary family, and this is how I lived for a long time, nearly my whole life.” His mother was “a very kind, benevolent person”, who cooked “cabbage soup, cutlets, pancakes, but on Sundays and holidays my mom would bake very delicious stuffed buns (pirozkhi) with cabbage, meat and rice, and curd tarts (vatrushki).”

Dad, Putin says, “worked as a security guard, and later as a foreman at the carriage works.” His family’s communal apartment (kommunalka) on Baskov Lane was on the fifth floor (no elevator).

The pirozkhis, vatrushkis, and treks up five flights of stairs eventually led the undersize Putin to teenage acclaim as an expert in a martial arts discipline called “sambo”, a combination of judo and wrestling. He was capable of feats of mental gymnastics, as well. His prestigious high school, School 281, accepted only the best students and emphasized chemistry and technology studies. Putin acknowledges turning himself around in the sixth grade. Previously an indifferent student, he began applying himself to his studies and joined the Young Pioneers, a pro-communism, pro-atheism youth organization. “It became clear that street smarts were not enough,” Putin recalls. “I realized that I also needed to study well.” The events in today’s headlines make it clear that Putin’s subsequent studies added to, never supplanted, those street smarts.

In 1957, at age five, Vladimir Putin was a small but growing force getting ready to unleash itself on the world.