Monday, September 17, 2012

The Soviets Put On Some Good Parades!

Celebrating the October Revolution

Red banners in parade past Lenin’s Tomb on Red Square

[NOTE: This blog is an updated version of one that appeared Nov. 7, 2011.]

          Every year on November 7th, the Soviets put on a massive celebration honoring the Great October RevolutionWhen the Soviets changed their calendars to match those of the western world, the date of the October Revolution in 1917 fell on Nov. 7th.
            In the two years we lived in Moscow, watching this huge Bolshevik celebration was something to behold.  The Soviets prepared for this for days in advance, because it involved many thousands of Soviet soldiers, sailors, airmen, as well as still more thousands of civilians.  For us military and naval attachés, it was also an opportunity to see whatever the Soviet Union wanted to show off in their latest weaponry. 
            We were invited to come in uniform and sit in reserved seats, right below the tribune where General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and all the Politburo and all the Soviet generals and admirals stood to review the parade.
            However, in the years I was there, we were directed to show American disapproval with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, so we did not accept the invitation to sit in the stands just beneath all the Soviet leaders.
            Instead, we  showed up heavily wrapped in warm civilian clothing, in the crowd with hundreds of thousands of Russians. 
            [Isn’t it strange that twenty years later America would invade Afghanistan?]
            This day was a day to observe Russians celebrating the birth of their Communist State, to watch the marching troops, and hopefully, to discover a new missile or other weapon the Soviets were producing.  It was a tremendous celebration, even though it could be pretty chilly.  Millions of Russians would drink quite a lot of vodka before the day was over.
            For American and allied military attachés in the Embassy, after several hours of standing in frigid weather watching the parade, we’d show up at the home of one of us for plates of steaming hot American chili, Danish or Czech beer, and Swedish Glögg (a lethal concoction of akvavit, red wine, port, cinnamon and other spices).
            Watching an event in Red Square is one of life’s exciting experiences, I think, because your mind can take you back to grainy black-and-white images of Marshal Stalin standing atop that tribune, as the Red Army troops, the same ones who had defeated the Nazis at Stalingrad and many other battles, marched in review.  On one end of the square is St. Basil’s Cathedral, and all along another side are the onion domes of churches inside the Kremlin. 
Red Square parade, 1941

            As we were walking from our Embassy toward the parade, my 20-year-old son Mark was with me.  He had been studying at the University of Maryland in Munich, but he was in Moscow on holiday.  He spotted an older Russian woman on a stepladder, trying to hang a Soviet flag on the street. Mark saw that she was having trouble doing it, so he gallantly took her place on the ladder and hung it up.  It’s a good thing that had not happened during the days of Senator McCarthy!
            Mark later got a job as a security clerk at the construction site for the new American embassy in Moscow.  He had to check the identification badges of Soviet workmen coming to work on the site.  It did wonders for his ability to speak Russian!

            American  Army Marching in Red Square: What a fascinating experience it was in 2010 to see pictures of an American Army unit marching in Red Square, to help the Russians celebrate the Allied victory over Germany May 9th, 1945. (America, Great Britain and France celebrated on May 8th, but the actual German surrender happened after midnight Moscow time, hence May 9th.)
U.S. Army helps Russians Commemorate Victory over Germany May 9th, 2010



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