by Paul Paolicelli
In 1975, as a Senate staffer, I was able to make an unusual trek for that time and spend a couple of weeks in the Soviet Union; specifically Russia; Moscow, Kalinin and what was then Leningrad. It was an eye-opener to say the least. Just a few years before this trip I’d been a soldier in Germany so, while hardly qualifying as a military expert, I was quickly able to see that we were far better equipped than our Russian counterparts. Our uniforms for cold weather were clearly better, the Russian soldiers wore cheap and thin wool and seemed to always be under the hood of some stalled or broken-down vehicle. It struck me that much of their military bluster was really a paper tiger and, absent their nuclear capability, they really weren’t a threat. Another major takeaway was the reaction of the Russian “man on the street.” We were treated with curiosity and kindness, it was clear that the people weren’t our enemy but they were timid in approaching us as we knew we were under constant surveillance. During a train ride to Leningrad, one older man made a point of cornering me between cars and, in our mutually bad German, thanked me and the U.S. for having provided him with an airplane in World War Two to fight the Germans. And memories of that war absolutely haunted and permeated every public arena with monuments and memorials. Watching the current events in Ukraine I can’t help but feel sorry for those millions of Russians who have consistently been manipulated and mis-lead by their own government. I truly believe that if it were up to the average Russian, they’d never send their sons into needless harm’s way for political dominance of a country they consider their cousin. The Russian people deserved better than the Soviets, they deserve better than Putin. We need to find a way to help them….
Paul Paolicelli, is a veteran broadcast journalist and the author of two books on the Italian-American experience, “Dances with Luigi: A Grandson’s Search for His Italian Roots,” and “Under The Southern Sun: Stories of the Real Italy and the Americans it Created.”