When I was in my early teenage years my parents gave me a Lafayette short-wave radio for Christmas. A classic that many from my generation remember, it came in a kit that was full of vacuum tubes, analog dials, electronic components, and wire. It was a bit intimidating for a young mind that was, at the time, more interested in discovering girls and watching the Beatles and Dave Clark Five on the Ed Sullivan Show.
It was the kind of gift I was used to getting from my dad, an engineer with Sperry UNIVAC in the early phases of developing modern computing technology. Dad was a techie, and by golly his eldest son was going to follow in his footsteps.
With my father performing the role of quality assurance engineer, I built the 4-band short wave radio pretty much on my own. Finally, with minor rework here and there my radio was operational – and then the adventures began.
My ears were opened to a world of exotic broadcasts from every part of the world, particularly during the nighttime when radio signals travel and reflect off the ionosphere with more clarity. I would lie in bed when I supposed to be sleeping, surfing the radio dial. I would listen to radio broadcasts from Europe, exotic music from the Middle East and across Asia and the Pacific, transporting myself to places I was determined to some day visit.
Nearly 60 years later, I can say with significant pride and satisfaction that I have done exactly that. I’ve traveled to more than 50 countries on six continents and done business in approximately 30 of them.
I was particularly drawn to the English language broadcasts from Radio Moscow, the official international broadcasting station of the USSR. Each night the program content would be more or less the same, and probably not much different than the news citizens of the Soviet Union heard each night on government-controlled radio and TV.
Often there would be a glowing review of the Soviet Union’s five-year or ten-year economic development plan. Each one-hour broadcast would conclude with an interview with an American who had, reportedly, relocated to the Soviet Union to escape the evils and darkness of capitalism. He or she would talk in glowing terms about utopian Soviet society, of having everything a person could possibly need or want.
As a child of the Cold War, I was accustomed to frequent air raid drills when my fellow classmates and I would cower under our old wooden desks for “shelter and protection.” I didn’t believe any of what I heard in those Radio Moscow broadcasts and viewed it as propaganda, The Kremlin’s version of Tokyo Rose. It was fascinating nevertheless, especially when regular broadcasting would be replaced with solemn violin music for several days when a prominent leader in the Communist Party leader had passed away.
When the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union broke up, I remained skeptical. I instinctively felt that the Russian political apparatus was simply scheming to exploit the West to quickly modernize. I felt that it was not an enduring peace, but simply a pause to “pick the West’s brains” and bring Russia’s infrastructure into the late-20th century.
In those days I was a marketing and business development executive for a leading U.S. manufacturer of film and photographic equipment used primarily for reconnaissance, surveillance, and mapping . With the technology export market into Russia opening up, I strongly felt that our company should never offer to sell any of our technology or products to the great “Red Menace”.
Fortunately, the U.S. Government largely made that decision for U.S. industries by not allowing exports of military products or “dual use” technology that could potentially be used in the development and production of military equipment.
As private citizens watching the Russian aggression on Ukraine play out in our living rooms, it is quite clear that the Russian military is waging a mid-twentieth-century war in the 21st century.
It has become tragically apparent that many of Russia’s strikes against civilian targets appear to be intentional – opting for barbaric psychological warfare from the wars of the past. It is also possible to consider that many of their civilian strikes are random due to the deployment of dated weapons technology, as speculated by Pentagon officials and Western think tanks, and reported by Reuters, Forbes, and other news outlets. In a way, the use of so-called dumb bombs and artillery demonstrates even less regard for human life.
It appears we have come full circle to a new Cold War with Russian leadership that seems to be intent on reconstituting at least some of the Soviet Empire. To those of us who have been around long enough, the new Cold War looks a lot like the old Cold War, with the same Soviet-style propaganda machine brainwashing the Russian people and spreading misinformation around the world. Not to mention the threat of nuclear annihilation hanging in the balance.
But there are some notable differences, mainly that the Internet and social media have replaced Radio Moscow and economic globalization has weaved together the economic fortunes of the entire world order.
One question remains: Will the Russian people tolerate the loss of civil liberties, free press, and absence of Western-sourced products they have enjoyed for the past 30 years? An entire generation of Russians has known nothing else, and despite the best efforts of the Kremlin, is able to access outside sources of information that were much more difficult to access thirty years ago. It is not easy to put the genie back in the bottle, so to speak.
A change in leadership must come from within Russia, from the Russian people. Time will tell whether that can and will happen.
Richard Zacaroli lives with his wife, Lori, in Sacramento, California. Originally from Utica, NY, Rich served in the U.S. Air Force from 1971-1975 and was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal. He has enjoyed a successful career in the private sector, serving in financial, marketing, operations and general management roles in privately owned and Fortune 500 companies.