soviet

Heroes & Villains - Nikita Khrushchev

You know, when I started planning this series of posts, I didn't mean to go hurling myself straight at the Soviet Union. And yet here we are. I start the series with a badass Soviet marksman lady, and now I'm moving right on to a hardass Soviet premier guy. Nikita Khrushchev.

Allow me to take a first turn that few American writers would, and *start* with something that establishes Mr. Khrushchev's status as a Hero. This photo is of Khrushchev comforting a fellow Soviet in Stalingrad, 1942. I don't exactly have specific criteria for "Hero" status. That being said, participation in the Battle of Stalingrad immediately makes someone eligible for that title by my metric.

Allow me to take a first turn that few American writers would, and *start* with something that establishes Mr. Khrushchev's status as a Hero. This photo is of Khrushchev comforting a fellow Soviet in Stalingrad, 1942. I don't exactly have specific criteria for "Hero" status. That being said, participation in the Battle of Stalingrad immediately makes someone eligible for that title by my metric.

Khrushchev was born in 1894 in Kalinovka, near the Ukraine border. This may or may not explain why he was one of, like, two Russian leaders who even vaguely gave a shit about the Ukrainian people.

After spending his teens as a coal miner, Khrushchev got involved with the communists in 1918, just in time to be involved in the Russian civil war. His first wife, sadly, succumbed to typhus at this time, meaning he had two children to look after alone while fighting for the Bolsheviks. Soon, Khrushchev was rising through the ranks of the party. Let that be a lesson to us all. It's a short leap from being cursed to serve The Man and being The Man. One day, you're mining coal and raising your kids and the next, you're lining up revisionist sympathizers and shooting them in the head (and they might not even deserve it this time).

So, depending on how you look at it, he got in with the wrong crowd, or got dragged into the wrong crowd. He was in the wrong crowd, in any event.

Khrushchev with Stalin, 1936. For those of you not familiar with Stalin's HR policies, there are very few people ever photographed this close to Stalin who were ever seen or heard from again.

Khrushchev with Stalin, 1936. For those of you not familiar with Stalin's HR policies, there are very few people ever photographed this close to Stalin who were ever seen or heard from again.

Khrushchev came into the confidence of Joseph Stalin. This was a very precarious position. On the one hand, the great and powerful leader of the USSR recognized and valued his skills as a leader and member of the party. On the other hand, being close to Joseph Stalin was a great way to disappear from the space/time continuum, so efficient was he at disposing of those who fell out of favor.

The man on the right is Nikolai Yezhov. He is one of the lucky few whose even vaguest memory can be recalled after one of Stalin's purges. Before vanishing himself, Yezhov helped facilitate some of Stalin's purges. A good communist doesn't believe in Karma. Heh.

The man on the right is Nikolai Yezhov. He is one of the lucky few whose even vaguest memory can be recalled after one of Stalin's purges. Before vanishing himself, Yezhov helped facilitate some of Stalin's purges. A good communist doesn't believe in Karma. Heh.

Compounding on the complexity and peril of Khrushchev's life, Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa in late June, 1941. This was the beginning of the Ostfront of World War II, or, as the Soviets would later call it, the Great Patriotic War. Khrushchev was involved in coordination and planning during the Battle of Stalingrad, which meant he had one of the most important and least fulfilling tasks of the war. During this time, he made good friends with Georgy Zhukov. Rumor has it that Khrushchev accidentally became involved in the then-secret plans for Operation Uranus (A push to encircle and eliminate German units in late 1942) when proposing a counteroffensive of his own.

Khrushchev with Zhukov (right). Taken in 1956, slightly less perilous times.

Khrushchev with Zhukov (right). Taken in 1956, slightly less perilous times.

The Soviet Union's troubles, sadly, did not end with the war. They stopped the Nazis at the cost of putting Eastern Europe under the control of Stalin. The Allies saved the world, but the price for doing so was to split the world in half. In March of 1953, all of creation breathed a thorough, but tentative sigh of relief as Joseph Stalin was declared dead. There are some theories that Stalin was poisoned, but that is the topic of another article. No doubt calling on his experience crushing fascists, Khrushchev crushed a brief coup attempt and was appointed the Premier of the Soviet Union.

Khrushchev's ability to hold the Union together and consolidate it into a true world Superpower surprised the West. The United States did not anticipate such organization and power to come from Stalin's legacy. Meanwhile, that same year, dissidents in an Asian nation called Vietnam began a communist uprising against French occupation. The soviets began lending increasing amounts of support to this movement. The United States, in turn, lent increasing levels of support to the residing government, hoping to halt the advance of communist power and doctrine.

In February of 1956, Khrushchev called a secret meeting of the soviet 20th Congress. In this session, he shocked the Communist community by decrying the legacy of Joseph Stalin. Khrushchev drew upon recent discussion of the dangers of "cults of individualism" within the party. From this, he highlighted that Stalin himself had fostered a powerful cult of personality around himself. With the power granted by this social status, Stalin had engaged in evil, destructive acts that were contrary to the purposes of the Communist party.

Khrushchev's speech began a process of de-Stalinization. Stalin's crimes were made apparent, and his infallible demi-god image was erased. Countless prisoners of the infamous gulags were released, and draconian laws restricting expression and speech were loosened. Of course, the Communist party still asserted absolute dominance of the Soviet Union.

Despite rising tensions between the USSR and the USA, Khrushchev did his part to reach out and became the first Soviet leader to visit the United States.

1959. Khrushchev meets US President Eisenhower. Sure, they look friendly, but I have the strangest notion that the only people in this picture who trust each other are the President and his wife.

1959. Khrushchev meets US President Eisenhower. Sure, they look friendly, but I have the strangest notion that the only people in this picture who trust each other are the President and his wife.

During an American exhibition in Moscow, 1959, Khrushchev (left), argues about production and supply with then US Vice-president Richard Nixon (right).

During an American exhibition in Moscow, 1959, Khrushchev (left), argues about production and supply with then US Vice-president Richard Nixon (right).

Khrushchev enjoying a hot dog in Iowa, 1959. In his own words, it was "Wonderful, but not enough." He declined having a second one, though. He was a good Communist.

Khrushchev enjoying a hot dog in Iowa, 1959. In his own words, it was "Wonderful, but not enough." He declined having a second one, though. He was a good Communist.

Khrushchev's relationship with Eisenhower was irreparably damaged in 1960. A Lockheed U-2 Spyplane was downed over Russia. The pilot, Gary Powers, along with equipment and photographs from the plane were recovered.

Eisenhower claimed the plane was an off-course weather surveyor. The Soviets didn't like that, and produced evidence that Powers was alive and in custody, along with equipment from the downed plane which was inappropriate for weather forecasting, but very good at photographing nuclear assets.

It's customary to paint weather planes low-viz black. It's important the weather doesn't see them at night, so as to not contaminate the science.

It's customary to paint weather planes low-viz black. It's important the weather doesn't see them at night, so as to not contaminate the science.

The united states would somewhat rebuild Khrushchev's trust after the transition to the Kennedy presidency. But things would never really be okay between the East and West. Especially not with escalating warfare in Vietnam, with each superpower backing their respective interests.

1961, Khrushchev meets with President Kennedy in Austria.

1961, Khrushchev meets with President Kennedy in Austria.

Closer to US soil, in 1961, American operatives utterly failed to ruin the rising Communist government in Cuba. In the wake of that failure rose Fidel Castro. Castro was a mangy, cigar smoking pile of evil, and also super cool and possibly invulnerable to the puny weapons of man. He and Khrushchev had an understanding.

Khrushchev (left), models a Soviet gas mask for Fidel Castro (right). There are a surprising amount of candid photos of this Soviet Premier. In a similar vein, that jacket makes Castro look the frumpiest he ever looked.

Khrushchev (left), models a Soviet gas mask for Fidel Castro (right). There are a surprising amount of candid photos of this Soviet Premier. In a similar vein, that jacket makes Castro look the frumpiest he ever looked.

In 1962, American spy planes were once again photographing suspicious Communist activity (all communist activity is suspicious). Their findings were more alarming this time. Soviet freighters were moving cargo to their Cuban allies. This cargo was quickly determined to be nuclear warheads and launch equipment.

In response, the US went on full alert, since someone was moving nukes right off their coast. Cuba was blockaded, and the entire world hit the dirt, prepared for everyone in possession of nuclear weapons to start using them.

Fortunately, neither the United States nor the USSR actually wanted a nuclear war.

Khrushchev and Kennedy talked it out. The US made some minor concessions over in Europe, and Khrushchev withdrew the nuclear weapons from Cuba. The World avoided nuclear war, but to this day, most people agree that the Cuban Missile Crisis was too damn close.

Between 1963 and 1964, Khrushchev's control over the Soviet government began to diminish. When US President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Khrushchev lost a friend and a connection to the West that he could rely on. At the same time, his attempts to revise domestic agricultural policies failed, resulting in shortages and dissent.

Not even his close friendship with corn was enough to recover the failure of Khrushchev's agricultural policy.

Not even his close friendship with corn was enough to recover the failure of Khrushchev's agricultural policy.

Poised to take control was an old guard Soviet, cut from the cloth of Stalin. His name was Leonid Brezhnev, and he had the support of the military, which was enough to fill the gaps in Khrushchev's waning political power. Khrushchev stepped down in October of 1964, and Brezhnev took control.

Khrushchev meets with Leonid Brezhnev (right). Date unknown, but I suspect it's late 40's or early 50's.

Khrushchev meets with Leonid Brezhnev (right). Date unknown, but I suspect it's late 40's or early 50's.

Brezhnev's power and militaristic leaning rolled back many elements of Khrushchev's de-Stalinization policies. He also continued the escalation in Vietnam, leading to a full-on war between the Communist backed NVA and the US backed South Vietnam, a war that would last another decade.

As for Khrushchev, I think history is still deciding where he sits in the spectrum of heroism and villainy. He participated in a government that was often cruel and oppressive. When he came to control that government, he tried, with limited success, to undo the damage. He reached out to his ideological enemies in the west, and the west reached back, for a brief moment, anyways.

As for my assessment, I'll just say this: Nikita Khrushchev was not a bad man, but he *was* a good Communist.

 

Main sources for this article were as follows:
"Nikita Khrushchev." Biography.com. Biography.com, n.d. Web. <http://www.biography.com/people/nikita-khrushchev-9364384>.
Khrushchev, Nikita. "Speech to 20th Congress of the C.P.S.U." Marxists.org. Marxists.org, n.d. Web. <https://www.marxists.org/archive/khrushchev/1956/02/24.htm>.

Heroes & Villains - Lyudmila Pavlichenko

As my first article of the year, I'd like to announce the launch of a new series that I will be focusing on creating for 2017. I like how I use the term "announce", like I have a following that merits that sort of scale. But anyways, that's not the point.

When I was a young LT, my parents would read me bedtime stories. Sometimes, these were the typical fare about Mr. Grumpy and Little Miss Perfect having a mediocre day at the beach or something. Most of the time, however, they read to me from Greek and Norse mythology. I didn't See Jane Run, I saw Jane become blessed by Athena and break into a sprint towards the Minotaur, cleaving its head from its shoulders with a blade crafted by Hephaestus. I believe it is this that was the beginning of my true passion in life.

In the broad sense, my passion is History. More specifically, my passion is the Heroes and Villains of history. I love to learn and teach the stories of people who were true paragons of humanity, as well as people who highlighted our worst qualities. I especially like the people who blurred the lines between those two things.

In this first installment, however, I'll be talking about someone who pretty thoroughly falls into the "Hero" side of things. Her name is Lyudmila Mykhailivna Pavlichenko. Or, in her native Ukrainian: Людмила Михайлівна Павличенко. Though to most, she'd likely just be "Ma'am" or "Major Pavlichenko."

THIS is what a Nazi-killing feminist looks like, in case you were wondering.

THIS is what a Nazi-killing feminist looks like, in case you were wondering.

Pavlichenko was born in the Ukraine region of the Russian Empire in 1916, which was just in time for the Russian Empire to become the Soviet Union.

While living with her family in Kiev in her teens, she focused on three main things in life. The first was working at the Kiev Arsenal Factory, where she no doubt became what kids today refer to as "swole", since you kind of had to be that to work in a Soviet munitions plant. The second was earning a degree in history at college. And the third was becoming a highly qualified sharpshooter in the Soviet equivalent of the Junior Marines.

Just as a side note, according to Pavlichenko herself, she took up shooting after hearing a boy boast about his skills. She wanted to show him that a girl could shoot, too. Soon, she'd prove that to everyone, including a personal demonstration to around 300 fascists.

In 1941, Nazi Germany decided to try and cure Russia of communism the same way a doctor might try to cure a fever with bloodletting followed by total body immolation. Pavlichenko decided to put her scholarly studies on hold and join the Red Army.

Originally, they were planning on putting her in as a nurse since that's what you did with women back in the day when they weren't considered real people. Even her marksmanship certificate from OSOAVIAKhIM (aforesaid Jr. Marines parallel) wasn't enough. Eventually, she demonstrated her skill to the Red Army's satisfaction by shooting two enemy Romanian soldiers dead.

According to Pavlichenko, her nerves did get to her in her first real engagement, in Odessa. These weren't under-trained Romanian coalition soldiers she was facing this time. These were bloodthirsty professional Wehrmacht killers fielding some of the finest military equipment in the world. When a young Russian man was shot right next to her, she found new resolve, and started shooting back with devastating efficiency. Her first Nazis killed were a pair of scouts, who were probably not terribly happy they found her.

After Odessa fell to the Nazis, Pavlichenko moved with Soviet forces to Sevastopol. There, she found herself frequently assigned the unenviable task of counter-sniping operations. Normal sniping is where the shooter makes surprise attacks against an enemy force after sneaking to covert positions. Typically, a sniper is obligated to engage high value targets above all else, focusing on Officers, emplacement and vehicle crews, machine gun operators, and so on. A sniper on the job will follow a pattern of shoot-move-shoot, never making a shot from the same position unless the situation both warrants it and still permits exfiltration before the enemy can return fire.

Counter-Sniping operations are focused explicitly on enemy snipers, so as to keep them from sniping. The sniper is obligated to engage enemy snipers, and only enemy snipers, who are themselves on the lookout for snipers. It is a duel between two units specialized in stealth, camouflage, and surprise attacks enabled by those two things. A sniper duel, especially on the Ostfront, could last several days, in which one or both snipers could spend upward of 24 hours staying in the same position, waiting for any indication of the others' presence. Pavlichenko defeated a total of 36 better equipped Nazi men in counter-sniping operations.

Pavlichenko on the job. Well, I think she probably got a bit cleaned up for the photo. She's holding an SVT-40 semi-automatic rifle. They didn't give those to just anyone.

Pavlichenko on the job. Well, I think she probably got a bit cleaned up for the photo. She's holding an SVT-40 semi-automatic rifle. They didn't give those to just anyone.

On hitting 257 confirmed kills in May of 1942, Pavlichenko was given a citation of recognition, to which she responded with "I'll get more".  Worth noting is that the 257 did not include the two Romanians she had to kill to be let in the army in the first place. She considered them her trial run. Her final confirmed kills against the Nazis was 309.

That's 309 pieces of evidence against segregation in the military. It's also 309 pieces of evidence that Lyudmila Pavlichenko is nobody's bitch. There were many Soviet snipers with higher kill scores in roughly the same period of time. However, they were all men, and had to only deal with bullshit in the form of Nazi munitions and Stalin's logistics, while Pavlichenko had to also put up with the bullshit of people not taking her seriously because she was a woman.

To the Soviets' credit, they were better at taking Women seriously than most at the time.

To the Soviets' credit, they were better at taking Women seriously than most at the time.

After finally getting the Nazis to take her seriously enough to wound her (only slightly seriously) with mortar fire, Pavlichenko was withdrawn from the front lines to become an instructor for other snipers. This was only partially because of her injury, which was not terribly incapacitating. The real reason for this shift was to keep Pavlichenko safe, as she had become a powerful icon of Soviet propaganda.

Around this time, the Germans actually tried to tempt Pavlichenko into defecting with, no shit, chocolate rations and an Officer position. When that didn't work, they resorted to threatening her directly in propaganda, stating they'd rip her into 309 pieces, one for every German she'd killed. Pavlichenko's response was an enthusiastic "They even know my score!"

A slightly more formal photograph of Pavlichenko. Like most living soviets in the '40s, she didn't often put her rifle down for very long.

A slightly more formal photograph of Pavlichenko. Like most living soviets in the '40s, she didn't often put her rifle down for very long.

Pavlichenko was sent on a propaganda tour to the other allied nations. In America, she was patronized by reporters about her lack of usage of beauty products in battle, the drabness of her uniform, and her appearance. Americans have long had a reputation for being terrible at survival instincts, hence, they harassed a lady who has killed 309 harder men.

Yes, there's lots of time to apply makeup while keeping the Fascists out of Ukraine so they don't take the rest of Eastern Europe and then the world.

Yes, there's lots of time to apply makeup while keeping the Fascists out of Ukraine so they don't take the rest of Eastern Europe and then the world.

Pavlichenko took it in stride, brushing away stupid questions and occasionally chastising the exceptionally obnoxious. She made friends with Eleanor Roosevelt, and was presented a Colt handgun by FDR. Actually, she got rather a lot of guns from foreign representatives on her tour.

S.C. Associate Justice Jackson, Major Pavlichenko, First Lady Roosevelt

S.C. Associate Justice Jackson, Major Pavlichenko, First Lady Roosevelt

The message she carried with her was reflective of the greatest qualities of the Soviet Union.

“Our women were on a basis of complete equality long before the war. From the first day of the Revolution full rights were granted the women of Soviet Russia. One of the most important things is that every woman has her own specialty. That is what actually makes them as independent as men. Soviet women have complete self-respect, because their dignity as human beings is fully recognized. Whatever we do, we are honored not just as women, but as individual personalities, as human beings. That is a very big word. Because we can be fully that, we feel no limitations because of our sex. That is why women have so naturally taken their places beside men in this war.”

The majority of this tale references the following source:
King, Gilbert. "Eleanor Roosevelt and the Soviet Sniper." Smithsonian.com. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/eleanor-roosevelt-and-the-soviet-sniper-23585278/.