balls of something encrusted in white layers of congealed fat.
Four years later, the year before Presi-
dent Carter cancelled U.S. participation
in the Olympics, we visited Scandinavia
and Russia with another tour group.
When we saw the inefficiencies in Len-
ingrad and Moscow, our group, which
was a church group, realized Russia was
on its last legs. Enemies? They could
barely feed themselves, let alone Ameri-
can tourists. They may have beat the
U.S. into space with Sputnik, but beyond
sophisticated armaments they were a
pathetic nation, able to hold onto what
they had only by brute force and intimi-
dation—the same tools Old Joe McCar-
thy used in the U.S. Senate.
Going Down to Go Up
For example, in our Leningrad hotel
the restaurant was on the 17th floor, and
there were two tiny elevators. Our room
was on the fifth floor, so by the time an
elevator might stop, it was already full.
Generally it didn’t stop at all. So I’d walk
down to the first floor, ask to get off at the
fifth, and when the door opened my wife
got on and we’d get to the 17th floor. Why
we even bothered going I’m not sure.
Breakfast consisted of tiny, wormy apples
and thick coffee with hard black bread.
At GUM, the famous Moscow department store, it took five people to sell one
pair of shoes (not that we were buying
shoes, but it was fascinating to watch).
One clerk took the order. A second hunted up the shoes. A third clerk wrapped
them up, while a fourth made out the bill,
and the customer handed the rubles to a
fifth person while the third handed over
the shoes. There were no supermarkets.
There was one long line on a street for
cabbages, another for beets, a third for
potatoes, and so on. No lines for meat,
of which there wasn’t any. Shopping was
an all-day event, standing in line. The
quality, even if there was availability, was
awful. Russia had “full employment,” but
nobody really had a job to do. We came
home wondering why Americans would
be fearful of this poor, inefficient nation.
Sure, they had a big army, but were they
really an “enemy”?
Today we have declared places like
North Korea and Iran as enemies. It
seems like we always have to have someone to hate and fear. I’ve not been to either nation, but I was in China before
China discovered capitalism. Our CPCU
International Seminar group, holding
joint educational conferences with the
People’s Insurance Company of China, attended a banquet at the Great Hall of the
People in Beijing, across from the Emperor’s Palace. We even traveled on Chinese
Air Force transports. I didn’t see an “
enemy” on the whole trip. I recall a conversation with one of the vice-chairmen of
the P.I.C.C. who told me (in perfect English) that for decades prior to America’s
recognition of China he had operated an
office on Maiden Lane in New York City,
near AIG, where the P.I.C.C. arranged
their reinsurance. It was the Chinese who
The Conch Republic