The Book on Cold War II
- By Mark H. Teeter
- Sep. 15 2008 00:00
|To Our Readers|
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Finally! A galvanized Republican party has launched its very own "change candidate" for president, a straight-talkin' septuagenarian with a shoot-from-the-hip, run-against-Russia platform plank that'll stop all this shilly-shallying around with the twin pit bulls in the Kremlin.
At long last, patriotic Americans can pry the quotation marks off "Cold War II" and get down to the business of winning it.
I'm here to help, by cracky, and I know where we need it. OK, I can't gut a moose at 40 yards, but what I can do is almost as crucial. Let's be smart, people. The logical place to resume hostilities, as Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" reminds us, is at your opponent's strongest point.
And as everyone knows, Russia's hideous strength, the one thing this country has always produced more of and better than anyone else, is long novels.
No other nation boasts a collection of strategic doorstops with the megatonage of Russia's. If "War and Peace," "Anna Karenina," "The Brothers Karamazov," "Demons," "The Master and Margarita" and "Doctor Zhivago" are front-loaded into a FedEx bag and dropped on your foot, it will hurt twice as much, minimum, as the classics of any other country. And they may be writing more as we speak.
But it's not just the weight. These novels are the key to the national character -- and character can beat you when you're arm wrestling the Bully of the Caucasus. OK, that's where I come in.
I've read the big ones. I've learned the entire Russian character from its entire cast of characters. I can decode a 400-, 600-, or hell, a 1,200-page Russian masterpiece faster than a liberal can spell Zbigniew Brzezinski. I've nailed two diplomas in Russian philology to the wall of my den and, believe me, you don't get those things by being a community organizer.
Say the word and I'll defuse the whole Russian big-novel arsenal by Thanksgiving for the next national security team's boot-camp syllabus. That's right, everything but the Symbolists, delivered in short-burst, large-print text messages perfect for crowded trenches or shouting across the front line through a bullhorn. Go ahead, lock 'n' load these for starters:
"War and Peace." The granddaddy of "character builders," the novel Russians cite when they want to brag about their fortitude, endurance, blah-blah-blah, in the face of serial unpleasantness from their usual suspects -- yep, the "near-", "far-" and "middle-distance" abroads, all of which are chock full of freedom-loving peoples who like them even less than we do. Whose fault is all this enmity? Hey, check out Russia's priorities: It's not called "Peace and War," is it?
"Anna Karenina." Prime Minister Vladimir Putin began a recent address to the Commonwealth of Independent States by subtly paraphrasing the famous opening of this one: "All happy families are alike," Putin said, "but unhappy families might want to try a little sovereign democracy." The point was clear: If you don't like our CIS "family," you can always join the Russian Federation outright -- or you might fall under a train. Yeah, he's subtle.
"The Brothers Karamazov." The key brothers aren't hard to decipher. Ivan yaks away publicly about "law" and "reform," while half-brother Smerdyakov, a real bastard, puts a shot of the old legal nihilism on the back of Karamazov senior's head -- so much for your proto-oligarch. And "hero" Alyosha's youth gang? Today's Nashi.
"Doctor Zhivago." In the latest film version, the Doc's father-in-law asks him why he doesn't skip all the Civil War chaos and open a practice in New Jersey. Warning: New Jersey doesn't figure in the actual novel, whose key point is that war settles things a lot faster than poetry. The hero is provoked into churning out more and more verse until Pasternak kills him off with a trolley-tank.
Forget nuances -- we are all Zhivagos now.
There, four rounds from a sawed-off lit-crit launcher should hold 'em through November. Meanwhile, a critical Civil Defense question: Should ordinary citizens take a whack at the Russian literary stockpile too? OK, every reclaimed bomb shelter should include a good reading list, sure. But be careful, this stuff isn't "Moby Dick." Russian classics can go off unexpectedly and leave a lasting impression.
Please read responsibly.
Mark H. Teeter teaches English and Russian-American relations in Moscow.