‘To the Edge of the World,’ about Trans- Siberian express

In the mid-19th century, Perry McDonough Collins, an adventurous New Yorker, set out to cross Siberia in winter, convinced that this could be a new frontier for American traders. With the backing of senior Russian officials, he traveled the 3,545 miles from St. Petersburg to Irkutsk at what was considered to be breathtaking speed, changing horses 210 times, with almost as many drivers. Despite an accident when his sleigh was thrown into a ditch and his horses bolted, he arrived in Irkutsk after 35 days. He then proceeded farther east, sailing down the Amur River.

Camouflaged as Humane Concern, Anti-Semitism Flourishes

Much of my research and writing has concerned World War II, and as a result I try to steer clear of discussing Hitler or Nazis in any context other than that era. Use either word in the context of contemporary politics at your peril: Invoking them almost invariably has the effect of trivializing monstrous crimes of the past in the service of scoring cheap rhetorical points—and cutting off all rational discussion.

Childhood's End

Simon Sebag Montefiore is best known for his monumental biography Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003), which offered a mesmerizing, richly detailed portrait of the Soviet tyrant’s inner circle—and how he could alternately, even simultaneously, ooze charm and terror in his dealings with them. In that volume, he briefly mentions the murder-suicide of two teenage children of this super-elite, which led to the arrests of 26 schoolboys, including one of Stalin’s nephews and two sons of Politburo stalwart Anastas Mikoyan.

The Downed Airliner, Putin and History

On September 1, 1983, I was spending the night in an outpost of Fijian UN peacekeepers in Southern Lebanon when I tuned in my shortwave radio to the BBC. For the first time in days, the lead item had nothing to do with the Lebanese civil war and the predicament of the U.S. Marines protecting Beirut's airport, which was to be my destination the next day. Instead, the news was of the downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007 with nearly 300 passengers on board.

Warsawgate Rocks Poland

In early June, Poland celebrated the 25th anniversary of the partially free elections that brought Solidarity to power, triggered the collapse of communism throughout Eastern and Central Europe,  and ushered in a new age of democracy and growing prosperity. Chronic partisan bickering largely gave way to a rare moment of well-deserved self-congratulation. Also for a brief moment, when Barack Obama addressed the Polish people and European leaders assembled in Warsaw’s Castle Square, the U.S.

Poland's Warmed-Over Cold Warrior

At his final meeting with the press before stepping down as Poland’s last communist leader in late 1990, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski was in full charm mode. Dressed in a dark blue suit and wearing his famous tinted glasses, he played the part of the perfect Polish gentleman, kissing the hands of the women journalists. “What was the best moment for you?” asked one woman. “Meeting you,” the outgoing president replied with a slight bow.

Poland's Example May Offer Ukraine A Way Out

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991, Ukraine has tried — and repeatedly failed — to transform itself into a stable, prosperous democracy. The presidential elections on Sunday, May 25 offers another opportunity to make that happen, for Ukraine to come out from Russia’s shadow and the shadow of its own corrupt post-Soviet limping economy.

Book review: God and the Nazis

At the first of the Nuremberg trials, Justice Robert H. Jackson, the chief American prosecutor, delivered one of the most powerful opening statements in modern times. Speaking of the 22 top Nazi leaders brought before the International Military Tribunal (and Martin Bormann, who was tried in absentia), Jackson declared: “They have so identified themselves with the philosophies they conceived and with the forces they directed that any tenderness to them is a victory and an encouragement to all the evils which are attached to their names.”

Putin is the Cold War Comeback Kid

As in Soviet times, the bigger Moscow’s empire, the more it claims it’s threatened. Nobody should fall for that argument, but some influential Western voices still do.

A political joke made the rounds of cynical Muscovites during the early 1980s, a time when the Soviet Union was fighting its war in Afghanistan, pressuring the Polish communist government to declare martial law and outlaw the Solidarity movement, and incessantly complaining about how the United States and NATO were responsible for the tense state of East-West relations.


Putin’s Patriotism is Phony, His Desperation is Real

Russia’s president is gambling the future of his country to consolidate his grip on power. But his economy is a wreck and the people who support him today may well revile him tomorrow.


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