CAN WE HANDLE THE TRUTH?

Last week I was invited to speak to two classes of Russian students (teenagers) on basically the same topic I wrote about in my last blog—differences in secondary education in Russia and America. Obviously the talk went in the opposite direction of the blog because I was explaining the American system to Russians. When I began the class I asked them how many had ever communicated with an American before. None of them, except one daughter of a personal friend, had. These students have been studying English in this small Russian town for years but have never talked to anyone whose native language was English. I didn’t know whether to feel honored or worried!

I was amazed at how attentive they were. There were about 20 present, and they showed a lot of interest in how the experiences of young people in America are similar to and different from their own experiences. I talked for over an hour and a half to each class, and no one whispered, wrote notes, or fell asleep. When I finished I thanked them for being so attentive. Three young ladies seated directly in front of me all looked surprised. The older one said, “Thank you! We’ve never heard any of this before!”

The next day I noticed on my blog feed that the number of views had gone up dramatically. This was about three days after I posted it, and the number of people viewing it more than doubled. WordPress allows me to see what country the people are from who read it. The increase was due to a far larger than normal readership in Russia. In fact, there were more Russians who read it than Americans. I have explained that I started this blog for friends in America who asked me to write about life here. Now I have discovered that not only is my blog being viewed by people I don’t even know in America, but it also has been translated by someone into Russian. I am not saying that my blog is a blockbuster nor that I am even close to being almost nearly famous. I am saying that there is far more interest on the part of both Americans and Russians in how life is viewed here by an American than I thought. Americans seem interested in what life—normal and political—is really like here, and Russians are interested in how an Amerian perceives life in their country.

There were some negative comments on the Russian blog, particularly on a place where there was a mistranslation. Now, I’m not critisizing whoever translated my blog. He or she did a far better job than I could ever have done! There were, however, criticisms of my logic at the point where the mistranslation occurred. K-5 “kindergarten” in English was translated as детский сад (“children’s garden”) in Russian, which is really “daycare” in America. The English term kindergarten, however, refers to an actual public school class for 5 year olds in a public elementary school. Both the Russian and English are based on the German, which does mean “children’s garden,” so the mistake was completely understandable. Again, I’m not critisizing the translator or the people who thought my statement was “illogical” at that point. What I am impressed with is that the people reading it were reading it so carefully. They realized something was wrong. I think it is important to let American readers know that someone believed it was important for other Russians to read about educational differences in Russia and America. Then they went on to go to the trouble of translating other blog entries on my site. I am thankful to whomever translated it; I am also thankful for people who read, analyze and think through what I write—even those who disagree.

What frustrates me is presently we are also seeing a “crackdown” on the information available to Americans about or from the people of Russia. My wife’s Twitter account was taken down by the folks at Twitter. Acting General Counsel of Twitter, Sean Edgett, recently testified before a Senate Intelligence Committee that they look into anyone who logs on from Russia or has a Russian IP address. If anyone has a Russian phone number or e-mail address they are also suspect. Then last week the Russian news outlet RT had to file as a foreign agent in America since it is supported by the Russian government. It also lost its Capitol Hill press credentials. Other government supported news outlets from China to London do not have to register or suffer any restrictions. Further, no one from RT was allowed to appear before any representatives to answer questions or complaints, nor was there any mention of false reports coming from RT. Their affiliation with Russia was sufficient reason to restrict them. Google has introduced algorithms that reduce the possibility that information retrieved will come from Russian sites. In the area of politics it was widely reported that President Donald Trump did not meet privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin while both were in Vietnam because the U.S. press would have immediately turned it into a news story that Trump was caving in to Putin.

The major news right now is focused on the fact Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election has led to Trump’s former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, admitting he lied to the FBI about his communications with Russia before Trump took office. According to information recently released, in December of 2016 Flynn apparently had two conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. In the first conversation he was responding to a request from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to block a vote in the U.N Security Council to censure Israel. Obama had decided to abstain, rather than veto, the vote. So Flynn tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the Russians not to support a censure of Israel. So if there was any “collusion” going on, he was colluding with the Israeli’s to convince the Russians to back off. On Dec. 29, not long before Trump would be sworn in as President, Flynn spoke with the Russian Ambassador about a second matter. Obama had placed more sanctions on Russia because of the claim Russia had interfered in the election. Obama was a lame-duck president with no hard evidence that Russia interfered, but he was determined to impose more sanctions anyway. While on vacation Flynn called Kislyak and in the course of the conversation he requested that Russia not escalate tensions between the countries as a result of the sanctions. When Flynn reported the conversation he did not mention that request. The NSA had provided the FBI with transcripts of the conversation, so they already knew what Flynn said before they questioned him. Thus, they concluded he was being dishonest with the FBI. Two issues are not addressed. First, Flynn was charged under the Logan Act of 1799 which prohibited private citizens from interfering with U.S. foreign policy. Flynn was the National Security Advisor designate. Treating him as a “private citizen” in the sense the act intended seems disingenuous at best. When you are the designated Natural Security Advisor scheduled to take over in three weeks, the “private” part of your citizenship has been nullified. Interestingly, until now no one has ever been charged with anything under the Logan Act of 1799.

Second, what did any of this have to do with what Mueller was appointed to do, that is, investigate Russian interference in the election? The election was over before either conversation took place. I find the most likely explanation to be Mueller knows there is nothing to be found on Russian interference, so he has chosen to “keep fishing” to justify his appointment. There was a time you could depend on liberal Democrats to raise a furor of such exploitative violations of the judicial system, but their animus toward Donald Trump goes far beyond their concern for juridical integrity. When it comes to Russian relations right now, the rules are being made up as we go along.

I have mentioned on several occasions that I grew up right in the middle of the Cold War. One of the main criticisms of the USSR was that it did not allow freedom of the press. Those poor people over there could not really get access to different sources of information so as to make informed decisions for themselves. The criticisms were justified. I have learned since moving to Russia that people over here complained about “no truth in Pravda [The Truth] and no news in Izvestia [The News]” back then as well. They were not being duped by their government. Now I live in Russia, and I access news from a variety of nations and a variety of sources. The pretense that the mainstream media in America is open, free, and objective is ridiculous—and most Americans agree. I would contend a majority of Americans no longer trust their press or their “government agencies.” Trump’s bald claims of his intent to “drain the swamp” in reference to the powers in Washington would not have rung true with so many if it were otherwise. The recent decisions that any news coming from Russia must be censored only exacerbates the mockery.

Why are the politicians in Washington so afraid of anything that hints at Russian influence? Do they believe my wife’s tweets about Russian recipes are really coded information that will crumple the government in Washington or, God forbid, cause some American to form a deeper friendship with a Russian? Is our government really afraid of lies coming from RT or are they afraid that if Americans hear reports from RT, those reports are going to have the ring of truth that is lacking in the MSM in America? Why is the American government so afraid of information? Does Col. Jessup’s (Jack Nicholson) line, “You can’t handle the truth!” describe how our own government thinks of us Americans today?

Writing blogs can become an exercise in self-absorption. You write about yourself and hope you get a whole lot of people interested in you. I pray to God I do not succumb to that approach. I have no delusions of grandeur. I know I am an unknown person living in a small, somewhat obscure, Russian town. I do believe, however, that there are powers way beyond me who put forth every effort to make sure my two worlds never come together in a relationship that is mutually beneficial. That seems to be the only issue right now that both Republicans and Democrats agree on. I am far from having a big enough platform to stop them, but I refuse to yield. Based on the feedback I’ve gotten, someone’s listening.

9 thoughts on “CAN WE HANDLE THE TRUTH?

  1. Thank you for your “exercising in self-absorption”… I believe you should continue to “write about yourself”, perhaps it is the best way the two worlds can come together… by refusing to yield…

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  2. Thanks for writing Hal. I’ll surely read more. I’d like you to comment further on the difference in information. We took our new grandson to Volgograd a couple of years ago to meet his Russian grandmother (Baba). It was a wonderful visit and we can’t wait to return. I was blessed to serve in St. Katherine’s in Moscow as well. She’s about my age (babyboomer 60’s). What I wanted to know from Tatiana was what it was like growing up in Russia during the cold war. It was a challenging conversation, with a translator and a bottle of vodka, but I came away with the distinct impression that “I” was the one who was propagandized as a child….not her. I’d love to know what you’ve learned about this. – jmb

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  3. Thanks for reading! Sounds like a very interesting trip. Never been to Volgograd. Your question is an interesting one. I can’t say my conclusions are set in stone yet, but I’ve thought a lot about the issue you raise. My wife was raised in a VERY Soviet family & we’ve had many discussions on the differences of who believed what. Looking back, I realize that I really did believe our govt. was truthful & allowing us to make our own choices, and those in the USSR were deluded and misled by their government. The truth is they were not deluded. They realized what things were really like and knew the propaganda that they were being fed. They went along with it in most cases, but they were pretty good at sorting out truth from fiction. And they were just as scared of us bombing them as we were of them. Now, looking back I do not view my own govt in the same light as I did when I was younger. As I’ve mentioned before in blogs, the Vietnam war (which I supported and signed up in the USMC to fight in if necessary) really changed me. I came to see things were not as I was told. So, I think both governments were using propaganda to “fit” the news into what they needed their people to believe. But I think that many of us were more trusting (apparently) than our counterparts here. So in that sense yes, I think I was more “propagandized” than my wife. As the events unfold (or unravel) in the States right now, I really question how long all of this has been brewing.

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  4. Over the past few years, I’ve lost nearly all faith in the press in the US. I’ve been told by people who were close to federal politicians that all of the major media outlets report no news that is out of line with the narrative given to them by the federal government (whether it be Fox, MSN, CNN, etc). While each corporation is owned by different people with different motivations and ideals, on major national and international issues, they’re getting their script from DC. I’m sure it is not much different in many other countries, including Russia. We Americans simply need to face up to this fact. Many people refuse to do so.

    I think of St. Silouan the Athonite who rebuked a monk for keeping up with the news, telling him most of what can be found there is either incomplete or false. For those of us who aren’t clairvoyant as he was, I suppose we should take everything with a big grain of salt and try not to get wrapped up with what is going on in the news. We can also read independent journalists, blogs such as yours, and we should pray, pray, pray!

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  5. You know, for most of my life the media in America had at least a somewhat adversarial relationship with the govt and politicians. Not to the point of rude or distasteful, but still they asked tough questions. It was considered one of the good things about our freedom of the press. Now, however, as you point out, that day is over. Silouan was right! The odd thing is as much as people talk about the TV and News here being “government stations” (which technically many are), there is far more diversity of opinion expressed here than in the MSM in America. The Communists, the Liberal Democratic Party, United Russia (Putin’s party) and others participate in round table news discussions. One even features an American, Michael Bohm, who is very well-known here in Russia. He usually presents a rather pro-American perspective in his comments. He is fluent in Russian, btw. He also writes for the Moscow Times. Not saying everyone is totally objective, but at least you can hear reasonable discussions of the issues from different perspectives without all the screeching and screaming.

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