Tag Archives: USSR

Explaining American Politics to Non-Americans – Part II: The Republican Party

Welcome again readers, to Culture War Reporter’s second installment of “Explaining American Politics to Non-Americans” [Part 1 here], in which yours truly attempts to explain the chaotic carnival that is our great democracy.

This week, we’ll be looking at the Republican party. Or parties, if things keep progressing as they do.

But let’s dive right in.

I won’t pretend I don’t have my own bias but I will try to be as fair as possible.

To say that the “Grand Old Party” has made itself unpopular abroad would be an understatement. The Bush-era wars, sanctions, and seemingly indiscriminate use of military force has created an international image of Republicans as blood-thirsty imperialists. While Obama has been far more liberal (pardon the pun) use of drone strikes, others point to the Republicans shaky relationship with environmentalism, science, and women’s issues to cast the GOP as backwards and puritanical.

But how fair are these assertions? If they’re true, where do they come from?

The History

The “Grand Old Party”, as it was once called was established in 1854, just prior to the American Civil War. Evolving from a number of groups, the Republican party came to stand largely for federal power and industrialization, contrasting with the emphasis on state’s rights and agriculture that the Democrats had (who we’ll get to next week). Indeed, while now struggling now to rid themselves of the accusation of being an “old, white guys’ party”, the Republicans of old were actually the more progressive, liberal and inclusive of the two parties. Although racism would remain an issue across the political spectrum, it was Republicans who could often count on the African-American voter demographic throughout much of the late 1800s.

Exactly when and why that stopped being the case is still a matter of heated debate.

Some would cite that the “Red Scares” (anti-communist witch hunts) of the 1950s pushed the party increasingly towards aggression, militarism, and social conservatism. Others might argue that as issues of civil rights, poverty, and the war in Vietnam caused many African-Americans to shift towards the Democrats, leaving the party almost exclusively in the hands of the white tycoons.

In spite of this shift, Republicans nevertheless have consistently managed to gain and often dominate American politics, the Reagan-era in the 1980s seeing massive cuts to government spending while increasing intervention in Latin America, the Middle East, and Afghanistan. The short-lived presidency of H.W. Bush, however, would see the abrupt end to the Republican Golden Age, with economic downturn and issues from within the party leading to Democrat victories in the 90s.

And then came “W”.

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Where I Try to Explain Red Dawn

I’ve begun seeing trailers on TV, and apparently it hit theatres two days ago, so I figure now’s as good a time to talk about Red Dawn as any.

For those of you who don’t know, Red Dawn is a remake of the 1984 film of the same name. In the original the United States is invaded by both the Soviet Union and its Cuban allies. A group of plucky high schoolers bands together to form a guerrilla fighting force, named the Wolverines after their high school mascot.

In remaking the film the studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), realized that they needed to modernize the invaders in light of the current political climate, and chose China. Keep in mind that in the original film that country was apparently America’s only ally, with the following exchange taking place:

“…Well, who is on our side?”
“Six hundred million screaming Chinamen.”
“Last I heard, there were a billion screaming Chinamen.”
There were.”

Production was going smoothly until the summer of 2010 when the Global Times, a Chinese state-run newspaper, got a hold of leaked excerpts of the script. This prompted such headlines as “U.S. reshoots Cold War movie to demonize China” and “American movie plants hostile seeds against China.” In early 2011 the LA Times reported that the film’s villains were changed from Chinese to North Korean to “[maintain] access to the Asian superpower’s lucrative box office.Continue reading

Fame Day: Vasili Arkhipov

This Fame Day, I’ll be continuing my past line of praising men and women who have shaped our world and yet remained largely uncredited. There is perhaps no man more deserving of our admiration and respect in this regard than Vasili Arkhipov (1928-1998): “the man who saved the world.”

Arkhipov, born to a peasant family in what was then the USSR, joined the navy, participating in World War II, and further earning distinction as being a survivor of the K-19 submarine. Yeah, as in K-19: The Widowmaker.


The Widowmaker (also called The Hiroshima), for anyone who doesn’t know, was a nuclear submarine created by the USSR. Midway through it’s maiden voyage, The Widowmaker‘s nuclear safeguards failed, forcing the crew to heroically sacrifice their lives as they took shifts to rectify the problem, Vasili among them (the crew, not the problem). This event also inspired a movie.

Now the fact that he willingly exposed himself to radiation to help save his crew mates is a feat in and of itself, however, Arkhipov’s true claim to fame was to come a year later, in October of 1962.

This was the height of Cuban Missile Crisis, and Arkhipov was serving as second-in-command on a Soviet nuclear submarine bound for Cuba. While in international waters, the submarine came into contact with a number of American vessels, which began dropping depth charges in an attempt to scare the submarine off. The submarine captain, having been without any contact from Russia for days and suspecting that a war between the US and USSR may have already started, ordered the launch of a nuclear torpedo. Arkhiphov stood up the captain, and after a heated debate, convinced him, along with the other submarines they were traveling with, to stand down. The simple result of Arkhipov’s refusal to let this torpedo be launched was the prevention of a nuclear holocaust and the saving of billions of lives. Without this man, it is almost certain that none of us would be alive today.

So here’s to Vasili Arkhipov, one of the unsung heroes of human history to whom we all owe an unimaginable debt. Thanks for being the sole barrier between mankind and its own bloody self-annihilation!