Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Happy Anniversary, Sputnik!
...not to be confused with "spudnik," our local delicacy...I'm happy to pay tribute to Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev and the l957 launch of the Sputnik satellite. It was a huge coup for the Soviet Union, and ultimately a huge plus for their opponents across the ocean. The U.S. was more than chagrined to be one-upped, so it did a lot of soul-searching and began pouring huge amounts of $$$ into science and area studies education. A couple of generations went to college and graduate school on money earmarked for the training of scientists and Russian linguists/historians/area studies people. It was really important, in other words, not to be outdone by the Soviet Union, and to know the Soviet Union. My grad advisers, Mr. and Mrs. Jelavich--the founders of East European studies in the United States--always reminded all their students to get down on their knees and thank the Lord for Lenin, Stalin and Sputnik. Without them, none of us would have a job!
For Soviet people, I think it's safe to say that was the next to last time they would feel hopeful about the future. Give him credit--Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev had the best of intentions towards them. He really wanted to deliver on all those promises of a better life, of the eventual withering away of the state in Communism. It was hard for him to do anything about a lot of the Soviet Union's problems, but he DID make it possible for a lot of people to live in their own apartments, and he DID give them a lot to shout about by pouring $$$ into high-profile, prestige items like space exploration. The entire Soviet Union rejoiced in Sputnik and they went gaga for Iurii Gagarin in l961. After that, i think it's safe to say the nation sank slowly into pessimism and lethargy(and alcoholism). They lost hope that their revolutionary state would ever raise their standard of living...
So I'll raise an imaginary glass to Nikita Sergeevich, his bluster and bragging, and Sputnik! They have made my life so much more interesting.
The illustration is from a booklet published in l961, "USA-USSR in figures." It purports to show the Soviet people taking off in a jet airplane in terms of their industrial output and living standards, while the Americans stand in slack-jawed disbelief. Oh well, I guess it made people feel better at the time.