Rutgers professor says U.S. uses Russia as a scapegoat
David Foglesong, a professor in the Department of History, spoke about U.S. and Russian relations and provided some insight about the relationship the U.S. has with its greatest opponent.
Foglesong’s book "The American Mission and The Evil Empire," was a main interest and discussion point on Russia Today on Oct. 13. There are two major themes central to Russian and American relations since the late 19th century which are in the title of his book, Foglesong said.
“Ronald Reagan called Russia an ‘Evil Empire,’ and that’s important to have in mind because I think that we have gone backwards," Foglesong said. "Now we have seen a deterioration of relations in the last ten years back to the point where we are almost as tense and hostile as we were in the 1980s when Reagan called them an Evil Empire."
The word “mission” in his book meant Americans felt they had a duty to try and make Russia free, he said, which meant free of three different things.
“They meant converting Russians from the superstitious and corrupt church to a more protestant religion, making Russia more free for capitalist enterprise and economic development and political freedom,” he said.
Americans first regarded the Russians as evil when it was under a monarchy and czarist autocracy, not a communism autocracy, Foglesong said, but up until the 1880's the U.S. and Russians had very good relations.
“There was the phase of positive relations when the two fought together in World War II against Nazi Germany, but it keeps coming back to periods of tension, hostility and mutual demonization,” he said.
Mutual demonization is a major key to the reasons behind tense American and Russian relations, he said. There is a long history of vilification of Russian leaders and a demonization of Russia and the Soviet Union as an Evil Empire and a foe.
“One way of looking at it is to treat Russia as a scapegoat or whipping boy to divert attention away from the sins of America’s history,” he said. “One way to divert attention from the problems the U.S. had in its history is to say those problems pale in comparison to the horrible problems in Russian history.”
U.S. calling the Russians an "Evil Empire" and the Russians using propaganda to frame the U.S. as an aggresive, imperialistic power, were the scapegoat tactics used, he said.
Russians and Americans are more alike than they seem, Foglesong said.
“I think it’s correct that Americans tend to regard Russia as an imaginary twin, an alter ego, as a mirror image for the United States,” he said.
Both America and Russia had a frontier experience, he said. While America emancipated the slaves in 1863, the Russians had already emancipated the serfs in 1861.
Despite all the tension between the two nations, there have been periods where the U.S. and Russia have been able to get along without banding together because of a mutual enemy.
In the 19th century they had a mutual opponent, Britain, but Foglesong said this was not the only basis for a friendly relationship between the American republic and the Russian tsardom.
“For a variety of reasons Americans set aside the differences and focused on areas where Americans and Russians had common interests," he said.
Americans saw Russia as a place they can do business and the most friendly of the European powers, Foglesong said.
Even in the midst of the Cold War rivalry, there were times their relationship was not as hostile.
In 1959, the Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, came to the United States and met with President Dwight Eisenhower.
The aftermath of that visit caused the climate in Soviet/American relations to improve so much that President Eisenhower planned to follow up and go the the Soviet Union in June of 1960, he said.
In that period, the Soviets shut down their anti-American propaganda and it appeared like a period of time the two sides might develop a more cooperative relationship by agreeing to ban tests of nuclear weapons, Foglesong said.
“That was short lived because in May, 1960 the U-2 pilot was shot down on an espionage mission over the Soviet Union, but there was a brief point between September 1959 and May 1960 when it seemed the Cold War was on its way out,” he said.
For U.S. and Russian relations to improve, they have to stop the name calling, Foglesong said.
“I think the use of the other nation as a scapegoat and a target for propaganda, that kind of name calling and use of the other country as a political football has to stop,” Foglesong said. “If the United States and Russia can focus on potential areas of cooperation and mutual interest in conflict resolution, there is a lot they can do together.”
Nick Huber is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies. He is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. He can be found on Twitter @njhuber95Huber.