Is America’s view of ‘evil’ Russia merely projection?

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Former CIA officer, author and Emmy award-winning creator, Joseph Weisberg. Photo courtesy of Twitter.

The relationship between the United States and Russia has been troubled for more than half a century, most notably during the decades-long Cold War that, despite never turning “hot,” led to many deaths on both sides as well as in countries such as Afghanistan, Cuba, Vietnam, Indonesia, and others that were caught in the crossfire between the two global powers. To this day, assumptions about the Soviet Union color Americans’ view of modern-day Russia, as well as seem to justify U.S. atrocities committed during the Cold War. Yet, some Americans, like Joseph Weisberg, are intent on reshaping the American perspective on Russia, in part to keep the two nuclear powers from entering another conflict. 

A former CIA officer and Emmy award-winning creator of the hit FX series “The Americans” about two Soviet agents living secretly in Washington during the Cold War, Weisberg offers a refreshing perspective on the tense relationship between the two countries throughout his work. He joins Robert Scheer on this week’s “Scheer Intelligence” to talk about his latest book, “Russia Upside Down: An Exit Strategy for the Second Cold War,” in which he examines how he, like so many Americans, got Russia wrong. 

The author tells Scheer about his childhood growing up in a liberal Jewish household in Chicago, Ill. before studying Soviet politics at Yale University and joining the CIA, eager to do his “duty as an American” and fight what he considered then to be the “evil” Soviet empire. Now, after years of writing fiction about the Soviet Union in novels and TV scripts, Weisberg has decided to reflect on the historical events that he briefly played an active role in during his brief time at the CIA as the Soviet Union was collapsing through a more critical, factual lens. Based on both his personal experience as well as detailed research, Weisberg dispels common misconceptions about Russia that he once held to be true in “Russia Upside Down.” 

In his conversation with Scheer, he also unravels what he describes as “black and white, uni-dimensional thinking” which led him and the majority of his compatriots to view the Soviet Union as “evil.” 

“We [Americans] wanted to view ourselves as pure, as good, as virtuous,” says Wesiberg, “and if we took everything nasty or bad in our history or our politics or our souls and essentially projected all on to the Soviets, then we could view them as evil and in reflection of that, we were all good.” 

Weisberg goes on to stipulate that he believes both countries were guilty of this form of projection, but adds that, as Americans, we must try to understand and take responsibility for our own country’s role in the conflict. Listen to the full conversation between Weisberg and Scheer as the two discuss why the U.S. seems to need enemies like Russia and what the Cold War with the Soviet Union has in common with a new conflict taking shape today. 




Joshua Scheer