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Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets by Lila Rajiva, Will Bonner

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Ivan's War

The Brits are not the only ones prone to misrecollection.

Russkie vets seem to remember World War II in their own peculiar way, too—in a sentimental haze of vodka and pierogies.

Was ever there a group of people so hapless, so luckless … so witless? There they were, up to 30 million of them in the heartland of Eurasia, some 6,000 years after civilization began, 20 centuries after the birth of Christ, 200 years after the industrial revolution began, and during the living memory of many people reading this reflection. They listened to Debussy and Chopin on record players. They tuned into the radio, ate food that came in tins, used condoms, and enjoyed nearly painless dentistry, at least in Moscow. How did these poor Soviet grunts get themselves into such a fix?

And here we add an aggravating detail. They thought themselves not backward, but in the very vanguard of human progress. They were men who had chosen to follow the prophets, Vladimir and Josef, into the land of scientific socialism. Gone were the old traditions. Gone were the old rules. Now, the Soviets had a new religion of collectivism, new rules shaped by the Communist Party, and new traditions enforced by the Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (NKVD) or the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs.

Readers may have relaxed by now, like parishioners at a sermon who see the preacher's accusing finger pass them by. But not so fast. While the victims in this story are the Soviets, the protagonists—the dramatis ...

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