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Ticking off the Russian bear - Bob Paslay

Am I the only American who remembers hiding under our little wooden desks at school as part of a drill in case the Russians dropped atomic bombs. I didn't know much about science even back the, but as an 11-year-old I had this nagging feeling that that desk wasn't going to fully protect me against the atomic fallout.

We lived with this giant threat of dying in an attack and spending millions on weapons and spying to contain this red menace. Some in my hometown, those with lots of money, went nuts and built actual bomb shelters deep in the ground at their homes. They stocked them with all kind of food and blankets in case they had to survive as the nation cooled down from being nuked. When I was a little older and in high school, our fears seemed like they might be coming true as we went toe to toe with Russia over Cuba. If Russia had not blinked, we knew we might be involved in the world's first, and probably last, nuclear war.

Of all the unexpected things that have happened in my lifetime, the Soviet Union collapsing has to rank as the biggest surprise.

But even though its reach has shrunk, it is still a very large and powerful country.

That is what upset me about the president's visit for the 60th anniversary of V-E Day. This visit came with what the Russians perceived as a snub by visiting countries still under the sphere of influence of Russia. Russia lost 25 million soldiers and civilians in World War II and this was their time to remember the sacrifices and to honor those who served. It was the time for a very proud nation to show off.

I think we need to keep Russia moving towards democracy. We need to spend some of the money we have saved on state-of-the-art weapons and help their economy. We need Russia as a friend and not as an enemy. We need their support to help stabilize the world as more nations move towards trying to develop nuclear technology.

I think trying to rein in Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin by embarrassing him or making him mad is not a very wise strategy.

Yes, we all know that Stalin was a mean, viscous dictator who didn't mind killing his own people as quickly as he killed his enemies. We all know that the big boot of Russia stomped down on countries after World War II. The Russian people know this too. Do we have to act like redneck Americans and rub their noses in it at the time they are celebrating their big victory in World War II?

It would be like Putin coming to America for a state visit and stopping in Florida to visit with the Palm Beach election officials before going on to Washington. Yes, many of us believe that Bush was installed rather than being elected president for the first time four years ago. But it is not politically savvy to raise that issue on a state visit.

It seems that we spent a whole lot of time worrying about Russia and the spread of communism and now that the Soviet Union has fallen apart we think we can treat them as a lesser nation.

I, too, fear that Putin could be eliminating some of the advances and reforms made after the fall of communism. But we can't mandate an American style democracy to every country in the world. I don't like the fact that you can be put in jail in England for insulting the queen or that freedom of the press is not as extensive in Israel as it is in the U.S. But each nation has got to develop its own style of democracy.

One hundred years after the end of the Civil War, America was just coming to grips with making this one nation with the same rights for all its people. But we didn't need other nations coming over here, lecturing us and telling us how to work out this situation. We worked it out on our own.

Except for that stupid experiment, communism, there was never any reason the Russian people and the American people couldn't be good friends. We have so much in common. I, for one, would love to go visit there and now that Delta is unveiling a direct flight from Atlanta to Moscow, I might just do that.

Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor for the News Daily and Daily Herald and can be reached at bpaslay@News-Daily.com or at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257.