FLYOVER COUNTRY—Remembering the Evil Empire
With USC fans gloating uncontrollably over the star magnitude of their 2012 recruiting class, I found myself dragged to the past for a moment. I could almost hear the Soviet leader during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Nikita Kruschev, screaming into a UN microphone, “WE WILL BURY YOU!” For a few moments this week, the Trojans fans brought to mind that in the Pac-12 anyway, the Evil Empire is alive and well despite the NCAA’s attempt to cripple it.
Anyone who truly knows me in real life knows that I am a veteran of the so-called “Cold War,” between the Soviet Union, and really all of the “Second World” under the thumb of international Communism, and “The West,” led by the United States.
Youngsters today can scarcely believe there was a time when the “world could end” in the span of half an hour, and not due to zombie outbreaks or Mayan calendars, but from pushing the buttons on several thousand nuclear missiles.
The coming Olympic Games in London next week also brought the Cold War to mind. From the end of World War II on through the late 80s, either version of the Olympics, when both worlds bothered to collide that is, became proxy nationalistic battlefields over who was superior.
The United States would send college hockey players to wage the Cold War against full time Red Army soldiers whose jobs were to play hockey all over the USSR and its satellite countries, such as then-Czechoslovakia, a hockey power in its own right.
I even remember back to the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal, Canada. What made those games memorable to me, an impressionable child? No, it was not the array of perfect scores from the ever-corrupted women’s gymnastic judges showered upon a Romanian gymnast. It was a 13 year old East German “female” swimmer named Kornelia Ender, who not only had a voice as deep as a guy’s, she had bigger muscles than most men too.
It was my father, a Vietnam War vet himself, who had the scoop for me on this puzzling girl, “That’s what they do son.”
“Who does what, Dad?”
“The Communists. They’ve treated that girl like a race horse. They probably have her pumped full of some witch’s brew that no one can detect. They’re evil. They parade their tanks and missiles every May. They throw souped up professional athletes at amateurs. They’ll give anyone who hates America AK-47s enough for him and all of his buddies. . . .”
This rant went on for awhile longer, but the further details are unimportant because I served in the Cold War myself and got to see many of the same things first hand: The self-congratulatory showmanship and bluster, the hubris of Soviets when in superior numbers, and even had some of their wayward AK-47s fired my way by their “friends” in Third World places. In the end, I also got to see how hollow it all was.
Therefore, when I see USC fans going off all over the internet about how we are through and that “Daddy’s back!” boasting, all I see is Soviet style bravado.
The Soviets took the cream of their population and tried to turn them into unstoppable athletes by any means necessary, or is that USC football’s modus operandi?
The Soviets worked hard to create the impression that no matter where one looked to try and beat them, they were always viewed as a juggernaut. They had more troops in Germany than you. They’d brag that they’d faced and defeated the best the Nazis ever offered. They were cranking out fighters and missiles faster than you. They’d park obvious surveillance ships off of every major port in America. They ran more spies than you too.
By contrast, America relied mostly upon self-selected volunteers who were not called, but who had to be convinced to join. Be it amateur athletes in the Olympics or the outnumbered troops in the Fulda Gap, the only way they were expected to prevail against the might of the Red Machine was through a superior commitment to an inspiring ideal, through the flawless execution of a more imaginative strategy, through risk taking and individual initiative, and finally, by being better equipped and supported for ultimate success than their counterparts were.
Anyone who has known me at all also knows that I am not into crafting perfectly fitting analogies to make a point about athletics.
In the lead up to WWII, during the 1930s, the American Army had to issue some soldiers broomsticks as simulated rifles and then send these troops on maneuvers with armored cars with TANK temporarily painted upon on them.
Looking back at where Ducks football came from, and fully appreciating the implacable, sophisticated, and innovative force it has become, if there is a “Team America” between us and USC, we all know who the Red Army is, with their constant parades of potential prowess.
The Oregon car that once simply had “tank” written on the side trying to compete with the heavy machinery of their Pac-10 brethren has been upgraded year after year for the past two decades into a hi-tech M-1 Abrams unstoppable moving force, one that can go toe-to-toe with any weapon thrown its way and counter-punch with the best of ’em.
Maybe someday we too will spend them into oblivion. . . .