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Old 11-25-2019, 09:24 PM
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Cold War Dopers, how much did Americans and Soviets *personally* dislike each other?


As you can guess, I am a Millennial Doper, born in the very last days of the Cold War.

How much did Americans and Soviets really - personally - dislike each other and each other's nations during the Cold War? Was it real hatred, or was it more like, Washington and Moscow couldn't get along, but American and Soviet private citizenry didn't really feel any antipathy?
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Old 11-25-2019, 09:40 PM
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As you can guess, I am a Millennial Doper, born in the very last days of the Cold War.

How much did Americans and Soviets really - personally - dislike each other and each other's nations during the Cold War? Was it real hatred, or was it more like, Washington and Moscow couldn't get along, but American and Soviet private citizenry didn't really feel any antipathy?
As an Russian-speaking American who lived in the Soviet Union in 1988 and 1990-1991, I have to say that Russians were generally the most friendly, hospitable, generous, and welcoming people I have ever met. Of course, that was at the tail end of communism, and most people saw through the Soviet state's propaganda. Friends who traveled there earlier, say in the 60s or 70s, encountered more politics. I remember a friend describing a Leningrad metro ride in the early 80s where a woman, upon realizing my friend was American, started shouting, "Why do you want to kill us?"
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Old 11-25-2019, 09:48 PM
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I don't think I ever met a Russian during the entire cold war. I never had any reason to hate a Russian. The people I knew from the communist countries during that time were escapees from their respective countries. Some of those people held grudges, most definitely.
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Old 11-25-2019, 10:10 PM
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I don't think I ever met a Russian during the entire cold war. I never had any reason to hate a Russian. The people I knew from the communist countries during that time were escapees from their respective countries. Some of those people held grudges, most definitely.
There wasn't much (if any) interaction between normal American civilians and normal Soviet civilians for most of the Cold War. I never met a Russian/Soviet while I was growing up in the 1970s/1980s, either; there were a few defectors who wound up in the US, but not many.

My memory is that the antipathy was mostly at the national level -- that is, we were opposed to the Soviet Union, as a country and an ideology, and I think it's safe to say that a lot of Americans would have said, at that time, that they "hated" the Soviets; but, we simply didn't ever hear much about what individual Soviets thought or felt.

There was certainly a recurring theme in fiction and comedy about how the Soviets always had to deal with shortages, and incredibly un-stylish clothing and consumer goods, due to the inadequacies of centralized economic planning. For example, this Wendy's ad from the mid 1980s is still one of my favorite ads, and is the sort of humor about the Soviet Union that was pretty common in the U.S. at that time.

Last edited by kenobi 65; 11-25-2019 at 10:13 PM.
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Old 11-25-2019, 10:34 PM
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My recollection is that the attitude was mostly that the Russian people were being oppressed by their horrible government, and had to spend all their time standing in lines for food that wasn't there anyway.

We were supposed to be afraid of, and opposed to, the USSR; but I don't remember that being aimed at the people. We knew Hungarian refugees, and my mother's parents were Russian (Ashkenazi) refugees, although it was the Tsar they were refugees from. That of course was unusual, and I don't know how much it influenced my particular perception.
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Old 11-25-2019, 10:37 PM
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Yeah, even growing up and being a young man in Washington DC I'm not sure I met a heck of a lot of actual Russians during the time of the Soviet Union.

Would a Pole count? I was on a trip to the middle east in the late 80s and a woman was there from Poland. She was, IIRC, a chemist of some sort. Her opening conversation gambit - her English was good and she seemed old as hell to my Olympian 22 years - was 'Have you ever met someone from a socialist country?' This seemed a bit odd to me at first but she was nice enough to talk to.
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Old 11-25-2019, 10:44 PM
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There wasn't much (if any) interaction between normal American civilians and normal Soviet civilians for most of the Cold War. I never met a Russian/Soviet while I was growing up in the 1970s/1980s, either; there were a few defectors who wound up in the US, but not many.
It all depends. I was a kid in day camp at the local JCC then, and the camp was very generous with scholarships for newly arrived families. I think half the camp was recently arrived Soviet Jews. Really, the only thing separating us was a couple of generations (most of my ancestors were from the FSU, and all of them were from the former east Bloc). Except for the obvious linguistic issues and, to a certain extent, girls' hairstyles, we weren't that different from each other. There were several thousand arrivals a year in Chicago during that time, I think.

That was when I decided I had to learn Russian when I grew up. Then I got the real Soviet experience at the tail end of its existence, but that's a whole other story.

I never did believe that actual Soviet people wanted to see all Americans dead.

P.S. Of course Chicago was chock-full of Poles, Serbs, Croats, Romanians, and other east Europeans. I knew a few - most didn't live in my suburb. I know lots more now.

Last edited by Eva Luna; 11-25-2019 at 10:45 PM.
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Old 11-25-2019, 10:49 PM
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It all depends. I was a kid in day camp at the local JCC then, and the camp was very generous with scholarships for newly arrived families. I think half the camp was recently arrived Soviet Jews. Really, the only thing separating us was a couple of generations (most of my ancestors were from the FSU, and all of them were from the former east Bloc). Except for the obvious linguistic issues and, to a certain extent, girls' hairstyles, we weren't that different from each other. There were several thousand arrivals a year in Chicago during that time, I think.
That's a fair point; I lived in the far western Chicago suburbs when I was a small child, and then spent the rest of my childhood in Green Bay. We had few, or no, immigrants or refugees from the Soviet bloc in either area, so I suspect that people who lived in bigger cities (or at least cities which did have immigrants from Eastern Europe) had a different perspective than I did.

in Green Bay, we had a fairly large number of Hmong refugees at the end of the Vietnam War, but that's another story.

Last edited by kenobi 65; 11-25-2019 at 10:49 PM.
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Old 11-25-2019, 10:53 PM
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Personally? No dislike for individuals at all. No particular like, OTOH, either. I don't make that determination until I know something about the person.

This did remind me of a song from the time. Sting - Russians
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Old 11-25-2019, 11:09 PM
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Never met a Soviet during the Cold War, most of us didn't. A few years later I worked with a Russian, nice guy, programmer. Left Russia first chance he got.

You could check out the documentaries like "The Russians are Coming" or "Moscow on the Hudson" or "Hunt of Red October".
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Old 11-25-2019, 11:17 PM
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I remember the overall perception being that Soviets all wanted to leave, but couldn't. I think mostly people felt sorry for the oppressed Soviet citizens. On the other hand, there was real fear that the Soviet government was dangerous and the possibility of war was always present.
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Old 11-25-2019, 11:39 PM
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I remember the overall perception being that Soviets all wanted to leave, but couldn't. I think mostly people felt sorry for the oppressed Soviet citizens. On the other hand, there was real fear that the Soviet government was dangerous and the possibility of war was always present.
As I read that (and I agree, that was the general sentiment that I remember from that time), I'm reminded of how a lot of Americans probably think about North Korea and North Koreans these days.
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Old 11-26-2019, 03:53 AM
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As I read that (and I agree, that was the general sentiment that I remember from that time), I'm reminded of how a lot of Americans probably think about North Korea and North Koreans these days.
This. The people were trapped in an inhumane society, and shot if they tried to escape. The Soviets built walls, not to keep an invading army OUT, but to keep their own citizens IN. We had nothing but sympathy for the people themselves.
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Old 11-26-2019, 04:23 AM
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That's the difference between a cold war and a hot war. If American and Soviet soldiers started killing each other, Americans would start hating Soviets (and vice versa).
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Old 11-26-2019, 04:34 AM
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I remember the overall perception being that Soviets all wanted to leave, but couldn't. I think mostly people felt sorry for the oppressed Soviet citizens. On the other hand, there was real fear that the Soviet government was dangerous and the possibility of war was always present.
Some elements of the Soviet leadership had real fear that the American government was dangerous and the possibility of war was always present.... And the people were misled and exploited by capitalists , of course
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Old 11-26-2019, 08:21 AM
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I don't recall any disliking on either side. But, this was pre-internet days. We just didn't have any information of the common Russian folks.

But, there was fear. And fear breeds negative thoughts. My neighbor; a taxi driver, not rich by any means, built a fallout shelter in his backyard. At that time, in the fifties and sixties, fallout shelter kits and supplies were sold. I always have wondered what became of that shelter. Would have been a cool fort for kids.
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Old 11-26-2019, 08:47 AM
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I had a relative that traveled several times to the USSR.

There were two extremes. Mainly separated by whether there was a chance that an informant might be around or if the person you're interacting with was directly involved in the monitoring system.

An ordinary person in a safe environment would be quite friendly. After all, they wanted to buy your Levis. Extremely curious about the US but often believed some Soviet propaganda points. Esp. regarding the horrible poverty the majority of US citizens lived in.

But the ladies assigned to each floor of a hotel to monitor all the guests (and steal their toiletries) were definitely unfriendly. They had to report to the state and didn't want to go to Siberia. The watchers were being watched.
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Old 11-26-2019, 09:00 AM
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Robert Heinlein had a pretty good article about his travel to the USSR. I think it was in Expanded Universe. The trip was around 1960.
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Old 11-26-2019, 09:30 AM
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Like others have said, our dislike was mostly aimed at the Soviet government. We generally felt sorry for the Soviet people who had to live under that government.
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Old 11-26-2019, 09:48 AM
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My recollection is that the attitude was mostly that the Russian people were being oppressed by their horrible government, and had to spend all their time standing in lines for food that wasn't there anyway.
That's the perception I recall; the whole hostility wasn't for "Russians", it was for the "Soviet Union", "Soviets" and "Communists", because they presumably (according to their propaganda anyway), were bent on overthrowing our democratic/capitalist way of life and instituting a communist, atheist, unfree system of government and social order.

The general consensus was that the poor Russians were groaning under all this, and weren't bad people, but were governed by some right assholes.
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Old 11-26-2019, 09:52 AM
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Like others have said, our dislike was mostly aimed at the Soviet government. We generally felt sorry for the Soviet people who had to live under that government.
My recollection as well. Born and raised on NW side of Chicago. Knew many people of Russian and eastern European heritage. Just recently looked at my HS yearbook and was surprised at the number of ethnic clubs - Ukrainian, Serbian, etc. Never thought anything negative about any of them as people.

In college, I majored in international relations, with a concentration of nuclear deterrence. (Yeah - really marketable! ) Read a lot of Russian history. All manner of party corruption, ineffective social policy, and expansionist policies. But nothing negative about the people. (Other than that they were all drunks! )
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Old 11-26-2019, 03:59 PM
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I agree with the other posters, I never saw much hostility towards Russians for being part of the USSR, the hostility was towards the Soviet Government. Slogans like 'Better Dead than Red' highlight that, and I don't remember people being especially bothered by the idea of a defector coming over. While I didn't know any emigrants from the USSR growing up, I'm quite confident that they would get less personal hostility than a black immigrant or most 'brown' immigrants, especially non-English speaking ones, and that if they were Jewish that would likely be a bigger point of contention than 'former Soviet'.
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Old 11-26-2019, 04:50 PM
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I was a Cold War Kid and a military/space nut. My impression of the Soviets were that they were a worthy enemy with cool/interesting tech. If we'd ever actually had a shooting war it would have been bad for all involved and nobody wanted that. Far better to saber rattle and try to out-do each other with who had the baddest weapons. MAD made sense to me as a kid. Never held any attitude other than curiosity/fascination towards the Soviets as a people.
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Old 11-28-2019, 01:33 PM
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I toured a bit of Russia in 2014 and asked the guide what they were taught or thought of the U.S. during the cold war, expecting that they too thought of us as evil. I was surprised when she replied that they thought of America as the ideal.
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Old 11-28-2019, 02:20 PM
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My family isn't a good one to judge by. Grandpap was a White and the family got split after that little war, Dad got called up for Korea and spent it in New Jersey because no-one trusted someone of our ancestry who spent WW II in China (he was a "security risk") -- so we had axes to grind. Communists/Soviets we hated but we knew enough to know that the actual Soviets were a small part of the population. And spending the closing parts in an area everyone knew was targeted ---- well we never went as far as a shelter but we did have bug-out plans. You almost have to separate it between 50-60s and then the 70s. By the 70s the real fear was more of the few at the top on both sides and a sense of kinship with the younger generation of Russians.
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Old 11-28-2019, 02:23 PM
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In the middle to late 1980's a Soviet fishing processor boat had some kind of damage event and came into Astoria, Or. for repairs. The Sulak it was. Most of the crew were allowed limited shore leave and quickly ran out of money. Me and two other local people met a couple in a local bar and they invited us down to visit the Sulak. I thought they would have been more restricted but they were just some young people fishing for hake (pacific whiting) before the US got into the market.

We went down to this rather large ship. We met a guy at the bottom of the ramp, I think they referred to him as 'uncle' or some other similar term, English was a little spotty, uncle is probably wrong, these were just 20 something year old people working on a fishing boat. At the top of the ramp we met another official of some kind, and then we went to their room and had shots of vodka. A few minutes later another guy came into the cabin who pretended not to understand English, but it was clear to me, and the Russians who invited us, that he was there to monitor the conversation. No problem. The young woman who invited us and spoke the best English said that she was out on this ship hoping to bring home enough money to buy a car.

Shots of vodka and these tasty little sausages. I asked her what they were and she just looked at me like I was stupid and said...Safeway! Even those guys who were obviously apprehensive about our visit were the most normal people you could imagine.

It was just about the time for the Berlin Wall to fall and these people already knew that the US was not a real threat to them. Their feeling of envy and friendship was what I came away with. I hope she got her car.
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Old 11-28-2019, 02:27 PM
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I never knew any Soviets during that period, but...

I did meet several US citizens in the 60s and 70s who had emigrated from Latvia and Poland. They hated each and every Soviet on a personal level.

Two years ago, my wife and I spent two days in Moscow on a return trip from Cyprus. My FIL, who served in the US Army in Germany in the 50s, was truly upset that we were spending time there. I was shocked about this. He actually asked us to change our plans. It was obvious that he just didn't like or trust anybody in the (former) USSR.

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Old 12-03-2019, 04:38 AM
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My neighbor; a taxi driver, not rich by any means, built a fallout shelter in his backyard. At that time, in the fifties and sixties, fallout shelter kits and supplies were sold. I always have wondered what became of that shelter. Would have been a cool fort for kids.
Ah yes, the good old nuclear powered people incinerators! Sorta funny how we were told the Russians hated capitalism but wanted our stuff (and they'd burn it all for the chance to get at it); and we were told we loved capitalism, even as it found in us a very fertile resource for exploitation. I never got the idea that it mattered whether or not we liked or disliked each other. There were enough barriers to us ever meeting in large numbers that they might as well have been from Mars.
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Old 12-03-2019, 05:45 AM
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Another kid from the Cold War chiming in. Definitely, there was a sense that the people in the soviet union were that much different from us, they just lived in a very different government/economic system. The hostility was between the governments and the ideologues, not the common people.
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Old 12-03-2019, 08:45 AM
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I guess the Russians loved their children, too.
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Old 12-03-2019, 09:06 AM
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That's the perception I recall; the whole hostility wasn't for "Russians", it was for the "Soviet Union", "Soviets" and "Communists", because they presumably (according to their propaganda anyway), were bent on overthrowing our democratic/capitalist way of life and instituting a communist, atheist, unfree system of government and social order.

The general consensus was that the poor Russians were groaning under all this, and weren't bad people, but were governed by some right assholes.
I tend to agree with this assessment. The same sort of distinction we had to make during WW2 where Americans were supposed to hate the Nazis, not the German people. The Japanese, however, during this same period were regarded as sub-human. No issues with throwing them in a cage, or using atomic weapons on that species' cities.

Last edited by Cardigan; 12-03-2019 at 09:07 AM.
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Old 12-03-2019, 09:56 AM
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Not American (at the time) but growing up in Holland during the Cold War. We were subject to conscription, and it seemed clear to some of us that for many of us our function was going to be to slow the Russians down for a couple hours when they eventually came through the Fulda gap. Being a human speed bump made us negatively inclined to both those who were to hit the bump, and those who put it there. The dislike for “our side” was limited to the government of both the Netherlands and the USA, for the other side it was more broadly “the Russians”, but I don’t think we ever thought it through enough to decide whether that included regular Joes or not.
A few years before the fall of the wall, my encounters with Russians were invariably friendly, except when the subject of soccer came up (Soviet teams played execrably boring, defensive, soccer - a point I probably made more often than needed).

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Old 12-03-2019, 10:44 AM
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I tend to agree with this assessment. The same sort of distinction we had to make during WW2 where Americans were supposed to hate the Nazis, not the German people. The Japanese, however, during this same period were regarded as sub-human. No issues with throwing them in a cage, or using atomic weapons on that species' cities.
Just as an anecdote, I remember during high school (1987-1991) having something of a Eureka! moment after having read a few books about the Soviet Union, including Suvorov's "Inside the Soviet Army", Steinbeck's "A Russian Journal", and some basic history about the Eastern Front.

Basically it all fell into place; the Soviets were TERRIFIED of the US/NATO after having suffered through WWII, and pretty much everything they'd done since 1945 was engineered to NOT have to fight a war like that ever again. Of course, our governments were equally terrified of them, because a lot of what the Soviets were doing was viewed as provocative or aggressive- placing huge numbers of troops in East Germany and the Warsaw Pact in general; spending HUGE amounts on weaponry , and keeping a huge peacetime draft in place in order to maintain a colossal military. I imagine the thinking was "Why do they have such a huge military and tens of thousands of tanks, if they don't plan on using them?" and that spooked us.

Even the Hungarian Uprising and Prague Spring made a sort of sense when viewed through the lens of the Russians thinking of the Warsaw Pact states as a sort of buffer vs. NATO- better to crush those uprisings than to have NATO troops potentially stationed on their borders.

Now none of that is meant to imply that the Soviets were decent, but misguided. That's absolutely not true. But it is illuminating as a lens to view history through.
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Old 12-05-2019, 10:14 AM
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As an American kid in the early-mid '80s, I remember the general attitude being that we didn't like their government, but that wasn't the average citizen's fault. They weren't telling us "these are bad people" in school. Quite the opposite, in fact - when the subject came up in Social Studies classes, it was generally something along the lines of "here's a day in the life of Natasha Ivanov, a child living in Smolensk. She loves her mama and papa, and they love her. She goes to school while Papa goes to work in the local tile factory and Mama stands in line for bread. See how alike we are? Isn't it too bad that she has to live where she does?" Not even my dad, a cold warrior who'd served with the SAC, had anything bad to say about the people themselves. The only real antipathy I ever heard was from my grandparents, and that was pretty easily chalked up to them being, well, grandparents.
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Old 12-05-2019, 12:03 PM
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Another kid from the Cold War chiming in. Definitely, there was a sense that the people in the soviet union were that much different from us, they just lived in a very different government/economic system. The hostility was between the governments and the ideologues, not the common people.
I think there is a "not" missing.

Basically that's true. My wife spent a month in the SU in the summer of 1960 and the people she met were uniformly friendly. She was about to start teaching Russian in HS and this was a kind of finishing school so meeting people and talking to them was encouraged.
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Old 12-05-2019, 01:00 PM
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Basically it all fell into place; the Soviets were TERRIFIED of the US/NATO after having suffered through WWII, and pretty much everything they'd done since 1945 was engineered to NOT have to fight a war like that ever again.
It didn't help that it was politically impossible for NATO to adopt a strategy of defense in depth and position troops accordingly, because people in Germany (and other countries) would not continue to support NATO if they said 'in the event of war, we're just going to let the Red Army take these cities'. To keep the objections down, NATO had to have a strategy of giving up no ground and so deployed troops right at the border. But from a military perspective, that is a stupid deployment for defense, but exactly what you want if you're planning to attack. Like you said, this doesn't mean 'the Soviets were innocent and misguided', but does shed some light on how each side viewed the other as more hostile than they were.
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