The USSR military had extremely accurate maps of almost the entire world. This is their 1982 map of New York City, with Lower Manhattan in the upper right-hand corner, and Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty in the mid-left side. The map even includes the dimensions, and building materials, of the bridges.
In the 1970s, after years of tension, formal relations between the communist states of China and the USSR began to break down. Early in the decade China decided to start a “thawing” with the US government because they perceived the Soviets to be that much of a threat to China’s security. By 1976, China and the USSR had no diplomatic communications. An armed conflict was feared. And then China was hit with one of the deadliest earthquakes in history.
Called the Tangshan Earthquake, it started at 3:24 am on July 28. Most of the buildings in the city of Tangshan collapsed. At least 240,000 people were killed and many more injured. Many of the survivors from Tangshan and the surrounding towns immediately thought it was the dreaded Soviet attack, and it made sense: Tangshan was an industrial city, an obvious military target. Plus, shortly before the earthquake, survivors reported that they could see big flashes of light in the sky. Although those flashes were an obscure natural phenomenon, “earthquake lights,” it was reasonable to think they were caused by a nuclear explosion.
Although the earthquake was not the result of a nuclear bomb, it had the power of one. It is estimated that the event released the same energy as 400 Hiroshima atomic bombs.
Linus Pauling received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry and a Nobel Peace Prize. He remains the only person to get two, undivided, unshared Nobel Prizes.
He got his Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954 for using quantum mechanics to understand and describe chemical bonding – e.g. the way atoms join together to form molecules. He got his Nobel Peace Prize in 1963 for his international activism against the Cold War nuclear arms race.
Laika the dog was the first animal sent into orbit around Earth. Pretty amazing for a stray dog plucked from the streets of Moscow! Unfortunately for Laika, a stray dog was used because the Soviets never planned for the dog to come back. The spacecraft, Sputnik 2, was launched into orbit, tracked to check it was successful, then abandoned. Laika died after about five hours in space.
Fifty-one years after her flight, in 2008, a memorial was put in place to celebrate Laika’s flight. Placed outside a military research station, the statue shows Laika perched on a rocket which transforms into a hand cupping the dog.
Lithuania’s Hill of Crosses has been a site of peaceful protests since 1831, when indigenous peasants began to stage rebellions against their Russian overlords. Even when they lacked bodies to bury they erected crosses on the 33-foot mound as memorials and as symbols of peaceful resistance. The region was freed after World War I but then captured by the Nazis and later incorporated into the U.S.S.R.; again the local population planted crosses of defiance, though they were mown down three times by Soviet bulldozers. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the hill has become an important symbol of political and spiritual self-determination. It now bears an estimated 100,000 crosses.
From late 1932 until mid-1933, the Soviet Union experienced a major famine largely due to the disastrous policy of forcing peasants to work in collective farms. In Soviet Ukraine, the situation was deliberately exacerbated by teams of activists who removed food from peasant homes. They would go from village to village, entering each house and demanding grain, corn, squash, roots, the seeds for the next year’s crop – everything edible. Then the state closed the borders of Ukraine. The policy was designed to quash Ukraininian separatism, but in reality took away both food and the ability to grow more food, while preventing Ukrainians from leaving their villages to find food elsewhere. Millions died. Today, the famine is known as the Holodomor.
Of course the Soviets tried to cover up how many Ukrainians died. They prevented journalists from visiting the region, forbade publication of the national census in 1937, and then altered the census for years afterward to hide the impact of the Holodomor.
Recently, though, Ukrainian demographers have gone back to look at birth and death records, which were largely unaltered by the Soviets. By estimating how many people should have died and should have been born, they can estimate how many Ukrainians went missing from late 1932 to mid-1933. Using this method, the number of “unnatural deaths” during the Holodomor is 3.9 million.
Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu – Romania’s longstanding communist leader and his wife – were arrested after the country revolted in 1989. On Christmas Day they were shown into a dilapidated lecture hall at the Targoviste army barracks, north of Bucharest. It was a makeshift courtroom, where the couple’s military captors planned to hold their trial. They were to be tried for armed action against the people, trying to flee with US$1 billion of public money, and a host of other charges. But the trial was a charade. It lasted less than an hour, and though the whole thing was filmed, the camera showed nothing but the two defendents. After a five-minute recess, the judge pronounced the verdict: death. Elena Ceausescu wept, but Nicolae stayed calm.
The couple were bound with ropes and taken into a courtyard, where they were lined up in front of a row of paratroopers. The couple were swiftly executed. After the paratroopers were finished, more soldiers poured in, filling the corpses with bullets. They wanted to be sure that the hated dictators were dead. By the end of Christmas Day, 1989, the two bodies were buried under false names.