Can the average person tell the difference between the USA and the USSR?
Have We Forgotten Recent History Already?

These questions were recently asked on the History Enthusiasts Group on LinkedIn.

Here are the selected answers by the members of the group.

– Vasco Phillip de Sousa,

“Can the average person tell the difference between the USA and the USSR? Have we forgotten recent history already?”

– Nicholas

“Yes, the average person knows America, with all its virtues and warts. They have, more’s the pity, largely forgotten the USSR and the millions killed by the Soviet state in the name of an experiment in constructing a utopia that soon went awry.”

– Olga Verro

“I was wondering about this when I recently resurrected and published the book “Voices From The Past: …Russia–Soviet Union: 1917-1971” by Orest M. Gladky. It is an anthology of short stories written by my father about the life of average people during those terrible years in Russian history. Do you think that the average American would be interested in reading it?”

– Vasco Phillip de Sousa,

“The book looks interesting. Will the average American be interested? I think some of the stories are of universal appeal. The section “I believe” will probably be quoted in churches. Other sections would be of great interest to American writers. The stories could interest [other] people, too, if they find the book.

…I don’t think the average person lacks interest, but I do think that a lot of academics and journalists are uncomfortable with examining the details. I don’t know if the rising generation is learning much about the Soviet Union. As the textbook is ‘dying’ (or being replaced by hand-outs), it’s harder to tell what is being taught in school.”

– Stewart

“The average person? Who’s that?

I would think the ‘average’ American doesn’t know anything much about the USSR save the caricature of it given …by our press, a caricature part true and part false. … [I think the] ‘average’ American man thinks that the Soviet state was evil incarnate… Stalin was indeed a monster

“But talking to foreign nationals visiting the US from authoritarian states, they laugh about the comparison between American ‘freedom’ and what they experienced at home. That’s because living in an honest-to-goodness dictatorship is something that most Americans in fact experience the same thing every day–in their jobs. The experiences are not so much different.

“People in the US think that if you’re in a dictatorship, some goon from the government comes over first thing in the morning to beat you up, then returns several more times a day to beat you up again, and you’re just so friggin’ miserable. That’s not true at all. You have a private life, you might privately joke or grumble about El Presidente or the Great Leader of All the People, but you’re also smart enough to be guarded about your public speech and to give the ‘right’ answers when asked and to toe the line when necessary and, certainly, not to step out of line and to publically raise a fuss.

“And tell me, how is that really different than what 99.9% of Americans experience every day at work? Our workplaces are dictatorships too. We too are guarded in our answers when questioned by our boss. We too know when it’s time to time to say the ‘right’ things and when to toe the line. We too know what happens to troublemakers.

“I predict that most Americans would get along fine in any modestly repressive dictatorship.”

– Olga Verro

“Dear Stewart, what is a ‘modestly repressive dictatorship?’ You are the average American man and with your words you are confirming that you don’t know anything about socialist-communist-Bolshevik-Soviet-Stalin’s dictatorship that killed millions of their own people; you don’t know anything about the State secret police that arrested the suspected ‘enemies of the people’ at night and they disappeared forever in the gulags… I suggest that you compare the life of ordinary people in USA with the life of ordinary people in the ‘socialist paradise,’ the former USSR. You don’t need to read academic history textbooks – start with the stories written by the survivor of that regime, Orest M. Gladky: ‘Voices From The Past: …Russia—Soviet Union: 1917-1971.’ You don’t have to spend lots of $$, either. You can download an e-reader FREE from and to buy on this eBook for $9.99 and start reading on your computer. Then come back and comment again.”

–Vasco Phillip de Sousa,

“I’m talking about everyone who’s not an ‘expert’ in this era of history. Someone who learned about things in school, watches the news, but doesn’t look especially for things in a particular area. …I wanted to know if there was widespread knowledge of the USSR, or if our memories were too short. Do we remember?”

–Olga Verro

“It seems that no one has noticed that the difference between USA and USSR is obvious: the USA allows us to have this conversation without expecting to be grabbed tonight by the State secret police and disappear forever somewhere in the gulag.”


“I think Olga Verro is right on in her commentary and reading her comment about how the conversation here moved as she stated… The origin being can the average armchair citizen, recognize the difference between the USA and the USSR. I made note of the fact that this was not a question asked of historians or even armchair historians, but of average people. It also presupposes that a historian would have a different view than the common man or woman.”

–Vasco Phillip de Sousa,

“I remember in the latest Indiana Jones, the Soviet woman had no doubts about her femininity, but she was different than American women (the men were different too.) In any case, the Soviets appear to be willing robots, rather than controlled by a despotic regime. There is no evidence of resistance to the political norm. The difference between the two countries is implied to be cultural, psychological, part of the person involved, and not political.

“Is that the perception we now have of the difference between the two countries?”


“I don’t think Americans know much about the difference [between the US and the USSR], unfortunately. I watched a movie (The Proposal – a comedy involving deportation and getting married to stay in the US) and between segments they asked people in Massachusetts, where the movie was actually made, some basic questions…”

–Vasco Phillip de Sousa,

“This goes back to my original question. Do people misunderstand the differences put in front of them between the USA and USSR?”


“If you don’t think things are different in the US than the USSR, then go to live there for a while. You will find many differences in everyday life… like a lack of choice at the grocery stores, not being able to demonstrate or speak freely if you disagree with the way the country is being run just the tip of the iceberg, look at the lines you stand in to buy basic needs. Those are huge differences. I think you see what you want to see based on your experiences. But how many people who have emigrated to the US want to go back to the country they came from? I think that statistic says it all…”

Posted September 29, 2011

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