"And we still lost the Cold War. Go figure."
May 16, 2015 8:03 PM   Subscribe

 
Everybody knows the war is over,
Everybody knows the good guys lost.


The older I get and the more I learn about the Soviet Union, the more I realize that the above quote is largely true. The American Dream sucks.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:19 PM on May 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes, because the Forced Censorship/Gulag dream fucking rocks.
posted by Punkey at 8:31 PM on May 16, 2015 [51 favorites]


I've met more than a few people who lived in the Soviet Union, and I have yet to find one who shares your opinion, Meatbomb. I'm with you on the American Dream, though, and of course I'm with Tom Waits.

My wife grew up in Switzerland, and their PE in elementary school was similar to the description here, especially the cross country skiing and ice skating. My other favorite detail of her schooling is that they'd go into the bunkers under the school and use the facilities for various lessons, like learning how to properly brush teeth at the giant communal sinks.
posted by incessant at 8:37 PM on May 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think we can probably agree that both systems had/have more than their fair share of issues.

I think what is amazing is how long the Soviets stuck in there despite being horribly behind in terms of initial infrastructure and economic development at the beginning of the soviet era and also having to deal with a massive disruption during the Stalinist period and other events like WW2.

Consider the relative head start the US (and it's western allies) had at the beginning of the cold war it's remarkable that they were able to give it the old college try until the middle of the 80s although you can definitely argue the cracks were appearing by the 70s.

There is definitely something to be said for the Soviet and Chinese olympic recruiting and training efforts. It's kinda remarkable that our more or less haphazard support of olympics athletes is even able to compete with these sorts of nationalized athletic systems.
posted by vuron at 8:40 PM on May 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dang, right out of the gate with the pro-USSR angle! This thread is going places!
posted by Greg Nog at 9:00 PM on May 16, 2015 [30 favorites]


It's kinda remarkable that our more or less haphazard support of olympics athletes is even able to compete with these sorts of nationalized athletic systems.

I was thinking about that too. My bet is that the resources available to a young person who discovers a great deal of physical ability here outweighs a lot of pure rigor in training. Also, a US olympian probably choose to pursue a certain sport and took on all the unpleasantness associated instead of being told at a young age that you'll be good at THIS sport or whatnot. Also, my personal survey with a sample size of one tells me that all olympic prospects are very wealthy. I'm guessing that holds true for most olympians, especially in the less common sports like weightlifting and synch swimming and whatnot.

America has it's issues, but at least they've never intentionally starved my entire family to death for not being Russian like the Soviets did. I got no issue saying that the US was the good guys and the Soviets the bad. We were shitty, they were worse.
posted by neonrev at 9:01 PM on May 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


[Let's stick to the athletic training angle here, rather than debating the overall question of US vs USSR, since the post is about elementary school gym classes?]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:08 PM on May 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'd bet that proper nutrition and healthcare do more to allow athletes to succeed than the training they receive once identified.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:13 PM on May 16, 2015


It's kinda remarkable that our more or less haphazard support of olympics athletes is even able to compete with these sorts of nationalized athletic systems.

State University System. It's more than two hundred years old at this point.

Only relatively recently we have come to believe that athletics are an entirely inferior pursuit of human excellence, and therefore question its cultivation by our tax-funded colleges.* Yet, even in the most learning-oriented institution, there is going to be an athletics department. Students, alumni, and the politicians funding them, and voters supporting them, like student athletes and generally are in consensus in supporting them in their endeavors.


(* Sort of recently:
“Academe, n.: An ancient school where morality and philosophy were taught.
Academy, n.: A modern school where football is taught.”
- A. Bierce )
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:14 PM on May 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


As someone who has a deep-seated loathing for cross-country skiing, I loved the Finn in the comments describing how he had to "lug [his] stupid fucking hate planks with [him]" to school in their -45 winters.

Stupid Fucking Hate Planks

That's either a great name for my new anti-x-country noise band, or an even better sock puppet username.
posted by Kreiger at 9:24 PM on May 16, 2015 [9 favorites]


Pavel Tsatsouline, Spetznaz veteran & popularizer of the kettlebell, was shown an article about Moscow squirrels coming out of the trees in a park and killing a dog.

"Even your squirrels are badass! How did you guys lose the Cold War if you had kettlebells?"

Pavel replied "Look more closely at the article. The forests were bare of acorns & the sqierels were starving & deaperate.

"That explains both the source of Russian strength & toughness… and why we lost the Cold War. "
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:32 PM on May 16, 2015 [21 favorites]


My first wife trained in the Polish socialist sport system, she was going to be a long-distance runner in the Olympics but ended up with health issues. I have extended (ex) family both in Poland and in ex Soviet Central Asia, as well as many friends in former DDR and have spent long stretches of my adult life in these places.

The sport system in the excellently funded and supported public schools was one of many aspects that people from that era look back on with nostalgia about the old ways. One thing to keep in mind is that the people who leave are going to be self selected as people with a beef against the system.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:33 PM on May 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


"And we still lost the Cold War. Go figure."

And I guess the pull quote, which is the last sentence of the article, is an allusion to the larger issues around the structure of these two competing societies, their strengths and weaknesses.

Physical fitness and people's health and physical well being, as this article demonstrates, is something that was taken more seriously in the socialist world. These days you will see the results of modern capitalist diet and lifestyle starting to take hold, but just the physical builds and weights of the general populace from the 1970s through to the 1990s is a testament to this.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:44 PM on May 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Physical fitness and people's health and physical well being, as this article demonstrates, is something that was taken more seriously in the socialist world.

No, it was given a lot of lip service, and international athletic competition was pretty much a Potemkin village. Only the Cubans took nationwide health seriously, and even they lagged far behind places like Canada and Western Europe.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:50 PM on May 16, 2015


It's pretty easy for everyone to seem healthy and athletic when overeating is an impossibility.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:03 PM on May 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


Rich Hall used to joke that the Soviet Union lost the Cold War because of snack foods. The system that could not only create Twinkies and Ding Dongs and Sno-Balls, but make them cheaper than real food, would always be more appealing than the one where you had to line up for bread.

So, in a way, you could say that obesity wins.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:04 PM on May 16, 2015 [10 favorites]


Only the Cubans took nationwide health seriously, and even they lagged far behind places like Canada and Western Europe.

But, notably, not the US.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:25 PM on May 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, it seems like comparing Cuba's health care to Canada and Western Europe is stacking the deck a bit -- I'm not an expert in their health care system but I thought that the impressive thing was more how it was able to achieve a pretty high life expectancy, on par with the USA, for a really small fraction (this article has it at 4 percent) of the per capita cost. To be fair, comparing the per capita cost of any other country's health care system to the USA's is stacking the deck in the other direction, but it looks like something broadly similar held vs. the UK.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:40 PM on May 16, 2015


Anyone watched the hockey documentary, Red Army?

I know very little about hockey, but this film was really fun, and had a fascinating perspective on the Red Army National Hockey Team. The team trained hard for 11 months out of the year, and were intentionally isolated from their families. They didn't do it for the money, but because they wanted to do well and to represent their country and the Soviet system.

In their own words, the level of play in the US NHL at the time was lower than the Soviet Union. The American players were all about raw strength and showmanship. The Soviet players emphasized finesse and teamwork. When the Cold War ended, the Soviet players got to play for the US and didn't really fit in at first because of this.

And yeah, American hockey has that one glorified game-- the Miracle on Ice, but Soviet Union hockey has pretty much every other Olympic and world championship.
posted by FJT at 10:56 PM on May 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's kinda remarkable that our more or less haphazard support of olympics athletes is even able to compete with these sorts of nationalized athletic systems.

It's a function of overall wealth. Even in a haphazard way, a wealthier society is going to be able to devote more resources to an elite activity like athletics. There's a couple areas here greater resources don't matter as much, but overall, wealth helps.
posted by happyroach at 11:09 PM on May 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


In their own words, the level of play in the US NHL at the time was lower than the Soviet Union. The American players were all about raw strength and showmanship. The Soviet players emphasized finesse and teamwork.

NHL/North American ice hockey is a different game than the one played in Europe. The rink is smaller, the players larger, and giving hard knocks to your opponents is how the game is played. Blame the Canadians, but North American ice hockey is simply a more physical game. Better teamwork and finesse and nutrition and proletariat fervor of the Soviet players didn't have anything to do with it. I seem to recall this same Soviet team a few years later leaving the rink in Philadelphia during an friendly exhibition match with the Flyers.
posted by three blind mice at 3:20 AM on May 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I remember reading in Misha Glenny's book McMafia, about modern day global crime, that a lot of what is the current Russia Mafia was recruited the big guys who used to train at wrestling / weight-lifting / judo clubs and sports halls that I think had funding cut in the post-Soviet era.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:04 AM on May 17, 2015


There is definitely something to be said for the Soviet and Chinese olympic recruiting and training efforts. It's kinda remarkable that our more or less haphazard support of olympics athletes is even able to compete with these sorts of nationalized athletic systems.

I recently read an older book about figure skating—I think it was Inside Edge by Christine Brennan, published in 1996, but am not 100% sure. One of my reactions was that it is, indeed, amazing that skaters from anywhere else in the world were able to compete with skaters coming out of the Chinese and Soviet systems. In those systems, promising skaters were removed from their families at ages as young as 5 or 6, and trained in facilities where all they did was ice skating. They worked with their coaches for 5, 6, 7, 8 hours a day, whereas skaters in the US and Canada might work with their coaches for an hour or two and then practice on their own the rest of the time, coaching time being so expensive. In communist systems, their whole lives were aimed at producing champions.

The "thing to be said" for these systems is that it is indeed true that much can be accomplished when the state has the power to remove children from their families against their will, force them to devote their lives to figure skating (or other sports, or academics) whether it's what they want or not, and apply powerful sanctions against them and their families if they resist. It is heartbreaking to read an interview with a legendary skating champion in which she explains that she never wanted to be a skater, but was given no choice because of the potential she showed as a young child.

There is no reality in which we can agree that the United States and the Soviet Union "had/have more than their fair share of issues." The United States has issues. The Soviet Union...jesus, where to start? Exiled, imprisoned, and killed people for things they wrote in the privacy of their own homes, or things they said, or things their relatives said or did. Routinely. It believed in killing people when they could get good results by doing so, to paraphrase George Orwell. It controlled the speech and actions of their citizens, and their access to information, in ways that I don't think most Americans understand. Do you remember marathon-watching the news on 9/11? Or maybe being part of that epic thread here, as people discussed what they'd heard and seen, shared rumors and information? In the Soviet Union, they'd have shut down broadcasting and the internet when the first plane hit the tower.

The Soviet and Chinese systems didn't have "recruiting and training efforts." They had (and in China, likely have) kidnapping, imprisonment, and an athletic version of forced labor.
posted by not that girl at 7:12 AM on May 17, 2015 [13 favorites]




Marksmanship in grade school is a good idea. It teaches total respect and control over a deadly power and eliminates the need to teach it to later recruits when it might be less effective. The typical Tea Party guy overreacts and collects dozens of assault rifles out of a paranoia that developed by learning to condescend to all others, because they think nobody else can defend America, and an ego distortion gives them a sense of mastery over everyone else by simply collecting guns. This notion would have been dispelled in fifth grade with a co-ed marksmanship program.
posted by Brian B. at 9:28 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


> of course I'm with Tom Waits

Psst: Leonard Cohen
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:21 AM on May 19, 2015


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