Monday, April 24, 2006

Vitaly Tretyakov: "Never Been Any Aggression Against the USA"

Vitaly Tretyakov: USA obtained state system thanks to Russia’s support

From Regnum, portions of a debate between Richard Perle and Vitaly Tretyakov at the Restoration of Post-conflict Societies discussion at The 5th Eurasian Media Forum in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan.


Richard Perle is a research fellow of the American Business Institute, former Chairman of Commission of US Defense Policy, and former US Assistant Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan. Vitaly Tretyakov is editor-in-chief of Moscow News and founded Nezavisimaya Gazeta in 1990 until dismissed in 2001. He also is the author of the book "How to Become a Famous Journalist". Apparently that involves having a rather distorted view of history.
Debating with Richard Perl, Moscow News newspaper Editor-in-Chief, Russian Vitaly Tretyakov mentioned that Americans, to whom, as a rule, organizers of various political panels let have the floor as first, evaluate behavior of other countries as they wish, in particular, speaking about development of Russia “in a wrong way,” even politically, not to mention mass media. “Being absolutely free, we – Russians have to react somehow. I am not going to justify before any audience development of the Russian press. I assure you, we have free press. As for state establishment, it is quite strange to hear from representative of the country, which is not even 300 years old, reproaches to the state with a 1000-year long history, i.e. to Russia, it develops wrongly,” stressed Vitaly Tretyakov.

According to the journalists, at its time, the USA received state independence with support of Russia. "I want to stress, that for last 500 years Russia has been absolutely independent state, it has not been obeying to anybody except for short time of occupation, which was successfully eliminated every time. Meanwhile, the USA took some part in occupation of Russia during WWI, but Russia has never participated in occupation of the USA. “In such way, I want to say, that the Russian state proved its historical stability,” stressed Vitaly Tretyakov.

Also, according to the journalist, having proved its internal prosperity, the USA has not proved its external stability, because there have never been any aggression against the USA
Well ... where to begin. I certainly hope this isn't the history that they teach in Russia.

First, saying that Russia has a history of 1,000 years is a bit like saying the US has a history of 18,000 years because that is the first evidence of Native Americans in what became the USA. The current Russian Federation formed in 1991 and it certainly seems either irresponsible or deliberately misleading for Mr. Tretyakov to equate the Russian Federation with the history of organized Slavic/Rus' peoples.


As to this idea that the history of the US is "less than 300 years old" - my own ancestors settled in an area of what we now call Quincy, Massachusetts around 1643, meaning there have been Shedds in the English colonies that became the United States of America for 363 years. I suppose the Russian version of US history involves large numbers of English suddenly arriving in the New World sometime around 1775 and declaring themselves independent in 1776.

It is just as distorted a historical viewpoint as declaring the current Russian Federation as having a history of 1,000 years - Mongols and Monarchs and Bolsheviks were just a small distraction on the course to the Russian Federation. This reads like some sort of Third Reich propaganda of history, to be honest. Hitler was fond of speaking in terms of a thousand year history of German peoples also - from Holy Roman Empire to the Third Reich in an unbroken string. Next
Mr. Tretyakov will be suggesting that Vladimir Putin defeated Ghenghis Khan.

Lastly, the statement that the US has not proven it's internal stability, because there has never been aggression against the US - is a gross distortion of history. I am sure even Russians are taught in history class about
one or two attacks against the United States. Surely at least one is within recent memory.

Perhaps Mr. Tretyakov forgot about the
  • French and Indian Wars ...
  • War of 1812 ...
  • Mexican wars including the Alamo (1836) and leading up to the Mexican-American War (1846 - 1848) ...
  • US Civil War where the Confederate States were supported by France (among other European powers) ...
  • Spanish American War (Spain declared war upon the US) ....
  • Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor and other bases at the start of World War II ... and
  • Various fundamentalist terrorist attacks upon US soil or US personnel leading up to ...
  • September 11, 2001.
This is the response to the suggestion that perhaps Russia is moving in the wrong direction and that state-owned Gazprom retaining ownership of nearly every major news outlet in Russia (including rumors of buying Kommersant earlier this year) might not be a good idea. That is quite a distorted world view in defense of actions which smack of old-school communist control of information.

11 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Tretyakov's comments (judging from your excerpt) are indeed silly. I do think, though, that in your examples you overstate the extent of aggression suffered by the US. Compared to European countries, the US went through very little military aggression from other countries. The French/Indian War do not qualify since they were fought before the US existed. 1812 War? Perhaps. The Alamo? That was a Texas war at a time when Texas was not part of the US. During the Mexican War the US was the instigator and aggressor. The Civil War does not qualify since it was an internal affair. No foreign country, as far as I know, attacked the Union troops. The Spanish War was provoked and instigated by the US. In my view, only the 1812 War and WWII (after Pearl Harbor) qualify as caused by states attacking the US. 9/11 was also an attack against the US, but it was really only a pin prick and there was no state involved in it. During the same time period (last 225 years), think of all the attacks endured by countries such as France, Russia, Turkey, Poland, etc.

So, although I disagree with Tretyakov, I think you overstated your case.

Kolya

Alex(ei) said...

Technically, you're right, but substantially, no foreign power has threatened the very existence of the US since 1812, and no foreign power has invaded mainland America since (Mexico doesn't count as Texas wasn't part of the Union until 1846). The latest real war on American soil (with houses burned and looted, women raped and civilians executed) ended in 1865. That's a sharp contrast to France, Germany and Russia.

W. Shedd said...

The Russian Federation has only existed for 15 years. Don't suggest otherwise - that is the very point of why other nations, western and otherwise, have advised Russia. It's (Russian Federation's) existence has never been threatened. Mr. Tretyakov suggesting a 1,000 year history of the Russian nation is absurd, as the nations of the Russian peoples have been formed, broken, and cast asunder many, many times in those 1,000 years.

The fact that some of these wars were before the formation of the current US government is accepted. If we can't count these wars as acts of aggression against the USA, than neither can we count WWII as an act of aggression against the Russian Federation. You can't have it both ways. That was the point of mentioning those battles.

The fact that the US has fought wars on the soils of other nations only is to our credit - France, for example, is twice indebited to the US. Italy, most of North Africa, and much Germany, the Netherlands, etc. are as well. The US also allowed these nations their own governments and didn't park 20,000 tanks on foreign soil. But this direction of discussion all leads down a well worn path.

Regarding 9/11 - I'm not sure that you can call the largest terrorist attack in history, that resulted in almost 3,000 people's deaths and the destruction of billions of dollars of property in one of the world's largest cities - as a "pinprick". In such a context, Beslan would be less than a pinprick, the Moscow Theater crisis would be less than a stubbed toe. In terms of a greater war, it isn't that. But all terrorist attacks are less than the total loss of lives from an extended war.

Mr. Tretyakov's own statements essentially discounted the entirity of US history, suggested that the US has not been proven to be a stable nation, and further suggested that the Russian Federation is the oldest nation on earth (as no nation on earth has a 1,000 year history). The history of the Russian Peoples is not the history of the Russian Federation. I don't think this is a technicality.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised by your response. In essence I was agreeing with you about Tretyakov's silly remarks. But, as I wrote, I do think that you overstated your point. In the scheme of things, the 9/11 attack was a pinprick. And so was Beslan and others. I have the feeling you are not reacting to my comments, which were quite limited in focus, but to something else.

Kolya

Alex(ei) said...

Still, the essence of Tretyakov's second remark, "because there have never been any aggression against the USA," must have been pretty clear to his audience: no foreign power has ever threatened the very existence of the US by massive military intervention (though the British attack of 1812 may have been an exception). Compared with Napoleon's and Hitler's onslaughts, all military or terrorist activity against the US can be discounted as pinpricks indeed.

W. Shedd said...

I don't think the historical ability to sustain military invasion is representative of the nation's "external stability". In fact, I would question the validity of such an argument, when discussing another nation's internal politics.

Essentially, he was saying the US and its citizens should shut their mouths about Russian politics, because Russia has been historically invaded and the US has not. I don't see the correlation ... it just sounds like occidentalism.

Lyndon said...

Guess you're not familiar with the "Moscow - the Third Rome" concept. Extolling the lengthy roots in history of the Russian state and speaking in exceptionalist terms has been something the Tsars, Soviets, and post-Soviets have all done. Just because it's patriotic and somewhat nationalistic doesn't mean you need to equate it with the Third Reich.

After all, nearly every nation has a formation mythology of some kind (e.g., talk to Moldovans about "St." Stefan the Great), which is often dressed up pretty for the schoolchildren, and I don't think it's outrageous to state that the identifiably continuous roots of Russian history (with the same linguistic, cultural, and political traditions - though the political tradition sometimes seems to be one of screwing things up) go back substantially longer than anything you can reasonably call "American" or "US" history. Yes, there may have been people in North America 18,000 years ago, but even the ones here 500 years ago had less to do with present-day America than the Muscovites of 500 years ago had to do with the present-day RF. We should be happy about that - the US is a young, dynamic nation that looks to the future, whereas some Russians spend a lot of time making excuses based on the past.

The Russians' need to put down America is often a result of their own inferiority complex, IMO, so I tend to filter comments like these. In this case, Tretyakov's comment about how Americans always get to speak first is a dead giveaway that he was experiencing a moment of superpower envy. And there is certainly truth to the oft-repeated conventional wisdom that America has had the geographic good fortune of being bounded/buffered by oceans and (less so) weaker neighbors - not that Russia doesn't have its own fair share of geographical good fortune.

"The fact that the US has fought wars on the soils of other nations only is to our credit - France, for example, is twice indebited to the US. Italy, most of North Africa, and much Germany, the Netherlands, etc. are as well. The US also allowed these nations their own governments and didn't park 20,000 tanks on foreign soil."

You're saying we didn't station massive military forces in Europe for the second half of the 20th Century? Obviously we did it a bit more tactfully than the Soviets, but our presence in Germany was not entirely popular with the locals in the 1980's, for example, and it continues to this day. I'm not making an equivalency argument, just pointing out that there were two sides in the Cold War, and while we were the good guys, that doesn't mean we didn't have guns and stuff.

Anyway, I agree with your your general rejection of Tretyakov's comments - the statements by this guy are similar in their ridiculousness to statements I've heard Russians make about how the US has no "culture" of its own - but I think you're overreacting. Let the guy have his pride, misplaced though some of it may be. Maybe he was just irritated at seeing Richard Perle (who is no model of transparent American "good government" practices) fly however many thousand miles to shoot his mouth off about the Russian media and about how the US is giving the gift of democracy to the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq.

W. Shedd said...

First want to touch on this idea that the US occupied Europe. The US had a relatively small number of soldiers in Germany. None in France (the last of US troops were ordered out of France in the 1960s - given 48 hours to evacuate by Charles DeGaul. I had an uncle who died in the evacuation to Germany at that time. Almost none in Italy. A few in the UK. France and the UK also had troops stationed in Germany - the US was only in southern Germany. And contrary to what you cite, the US soldiers were mostly welcomed in Germany, even in the 1980s. I was living in Germany at that time.

You can't equate the Warsaw Pact with the US presence in Europe at that time. As cited elsewhere, Warsaw Pact outnumbered the entire NATO forces by 3 to 1 and the Soviet to US troop ratios were even higher than that. To compare US troops in southern Germany to Soviet forces in East Germany and Poland and Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia and Bulgaria and Romania and Moldova (not to mention Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) isn't really valid.

Back to the 'Third Rome' vs 'Third Reich' - I am familiar with it, but should I really go there? All it does is strengthen the comparision with Russia and Nazi Germany. On the basis of Slavophilism and Volkish movements alone and their mutual roots, I can strengthen that comparison considerably. Both are occidentalism that equates the West with an evil soul-less entity and seeks to demonize outsiders. Both are based on pure myth, with very little historical basis created to incite nationalism. Tretyakov's comments have their basis in these myths.

He can have pride, but I see no reason that his pride should result in gross historic inaccuracies regarding the US and Russia.

Alex(ei) said...

Tretyakov is an intellectual, and his target audience is made up of intellectuals. Accordingly, he uses a sort of a code to deliver his message, and if one takes this code literally, one may easily find fault with the facts. My feeling is that Tretyakov's message was, "These are spoilt rich kids who have never really suffered -- what right do they have to criticize us?" "Foreign aggression" signifies suffering in this context (and the lack of it signifies "rich"), and "not even 300 years old" signified "kids". On foreign aggression, I'm essentially (not technically) with Tretyakov; on "300 years old," America's political tradition goes back to Magna Carta or earlier so Tretyakov got it wrong.

Soviet school textbooks gave a pretty accurate (though ideologically scewed) picture of US history until the 1900s, with lots of enthusiasm for Jefferson and Lincoln.

Lyndon: the question is not what is myth and what is reality (and what is reality with the status of myth); the question is how myth influences rational actors -- not so much masses as leaders -- and becomes a tangible force of history. Comparisons between the Third Rome and Third Reich doctrines are mostly superficial -- the former originated in the 15th century when the Second Reich was alive and well. Likewise, original Slavophilism (which should not be confused with the Third Rome doctrine) was not created (by a group of Moscow dilettantes in the 1830s and 1840s) to incite nationalism, rather, to try to find Russia's place in history or outside it (read Herzen's Byloe i dumy if you don't believe my word -- a radical Westernizer's account). This is where the primary difference between early Slavophilism and early zapadnichestvo probably lies -- is Russia going to develop along the same lines as West -- being part of it as it were, and should it? Original Slavophiles did not see the West as evil ("the land of holy miracles," wrote Khomiakov), only as being in decline (just as Western conservatives have done since time immemorial). This line of thought was akin both to French conservatism (de Maistre) and German pre-nationalism (Schelling), and as such was a legitimate offspring of Western thought. It is true, though, that history, especially Russian history, was the early Slavophiles’ weak side. Towards the end of the 19th century, a terribly vulgarized mix of Slavophilism and Third-Rome-ism emerged but it was so weak intellectually and so removed from original Slavophilism that it hardly deserves this name.

W. Shedd said...

That was a rather good comment Alex(ei), thanks for that.

I've been reading up on Slavophilism and Ivan Kireyevsky recently. I find many current Russian ideas and views of the West ... to exist in his writings. What I get from his writing though, sounds rather the same as any group of disenfranchised individuals in the last 150 years. It is found in the rhetoric of occidentalism, where Reason is seen as detracting from the Soul. The fruits of this tree have yielded both nazism and fundamentalist Islam (which also warp history to support their beliefs). In this sense, I see Slavophilism as early frustration with the "other" - the West, that which is outside the Slavic, and an application of labels that I think are inherently biased and misleading. Within the US, there are similar debates by religious types who seek to dismantle the teaching of certain aspects of science in schools. These arguments are also framed as Reason (or Science) vs. Soul (or Religion).

Kireyevsky (to me) seems to mix his language and ideas though, perhaps because they were evolving, citing Reason as above all, as a pinnacle of the spirit. But his language also lapses into these ideas that peoples of "The West" are somehow distinctly different than Slavic peoples. The peoples of the West are full of Reason, Slavic peoples full of Soul, etc.

I see such language as inherently false, however and it never leads to anything good. To be honest, my time spent in Russia (not Moscow) usually reminds me most of my grandparents life in rural Vermont - I find nothing inherently soulful or alien or non-reasoning about it. In fact, it feels rather familiar in most respects. I feel the language that "these outsiders are different than us" is rather dangerous and usually leads to more problems than benefits.

Still, I read these things hoping to understand the seeds of modern Russian thoughts.