WOSTER: Russia: The same old bully

I wrote a while back about what a hero former astronaut John Glenn was to people of my generation. When he rode Friendship 7 into space, orbited the earth three times and returned home safely, he made us proud. We were relieved, too. We could com...

Terry Woster

I wrote a while back about what a hero former astronaut John Glenn was to people of my generation.

When he rode Friendship 7 into space, orbited the earth three times and returned home safely, he made us proud. We were relieved, too. We could compete with the Russians in the space race. Glenn's successful space mission boosted American morale in a big way. In those days, communist Russia, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, loomed as a threat to free people everywhere.

School kids of my generation grew up fearing Russia. We didn't know any Russian school kids, but we were pretty sure they wanted to destroy us. Nikita Khrushchev said as much during a meeting with western ambassadors in Moscow. As newspapers around the world famously reported - some in headlines normally used only for "war declared'' events - the Soviet premier said, "We will bury you.''

That was in 1956. I was 12. That's when I really started seeing the Russians as the world's bully. When they beat us, the United States, into space by launching the unmanned satellite Sputnik in 1957, I knew if they stayed ahead of us, they would only use the space platform for military purposes. I knew that as well as I knew how to curl up under my school desk in case of a nuclear attack.

By the time I had graduated high school, Khrushchev had gone his attention-grabbing, fist-pounding rant (maybe even banging a shoe on his desk) at the United Nations. That was in 1960. In 1961, the Berlin Wall went up. The bully grew bolder by the day, it seemed to a teenager. In the fall of 1962, as I was adjusting to the whole notion of freshman life at Creighton University, the United States caught the Soviets building missile sites in Cuba. President John F. Kennedy ordered our Navy to stop Soviet ships from delivering possible weapons to the island. A convoy of Soviet ships steamed toward a line of American naval vessels, and the world held its breath. At Creighton, students hit the kneelers at St. John's Chapel, as did people around the country, I suppose. Newspapers of the day used the expression "eyeball-to-eyeball'' to describe the Kennedy-Khrushchev standoff.


When the Soviets began dismantling the missile sites, St. John's filled with students offering prayers of thanks, and of great relief. So that's my young history with the Soviet Union. It probably helps explain my concern over the reports that the Russians were involved in data hacks that could have affected the election for president of my country. The old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is no more, but I have trouble not seeing the same bully, only now with high-tech capabilities.

In this "post-truth'' world of fake news and opinion-as-fact, it's difficult to know what to make of the whole hacking thing. From what I gather, the CIA believes the Russians did it to help Donald Trump's candidacy. Others are not as sure. And on the social media sites, discussions often morph into a continuation of campaign rhetoric. It's either Trump cozying up to the Russians or the other side whining about losing. Look, I'm not particularly political. Trump's the winner now. My only dog in this fight is my country. I want a dispassionate discussion of findings and conclusions of any investigations. If an intelligence agency is convinced the Russians were behind it, tell me why you're so sure. If another is unsure, tell me why you have doubts about placing blame.

This is actually one place where Congress - the folks you and I elect to represent the best interests of our shared nation - could play an important role. Congress has the power to pull the facts and findings together, if its members will only drop their partisanship and self-interest long enough to care together about their country.

Much as I grew up distrusting the Russians, I want to know more than if they meddled. I want to know exactly what happened, how it happened and what can be done to keep it from happening again. I want assurances that my country's elections are secure.

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