It was another of those “who-woulda-thunk-it?” events — something so outlandish that to predict it four decades ago would have prompted sympathetic looks indicating that the one doing the predicting was a few bricks short of a full hod.
American soldiers marching through Red Square? Hah! If you believe that, I’ve got a Soviet submarine I’ll let you have for five rubles.
But, lo and behold, there it was in today’s New York Times: a photograph showing a unit of the U.S. Army, members of the 170th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, parading through Red Square on Sunday as part of celebrations marking the 65th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
But in the early 1970s, during some of the most frigid days of the Cold War, when I was a correspondent in Moscow for The Associated Press, the Soviet Union was the West’s No. 1 bogeyman.
On quite a few occasions — on the Nov. 7 anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution; on May Day; or on Victory Day, marking the end of what the Soviets called the “Great Patriotic War” — I stood in Red Square beside the tomb of Vladimir Lenin and watched goose-stepping Soviet soldiers, tanks and armored personnel carriers, bus-length missiles and garlanded, rent-a-crowd proletarians parade along those ancient cobblestones as symbols of Soviet power and a “workers’ paradise” realized in Russia.
But American soldiers in Red Square? That would have been as unthinkable as dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov hosting a news conference in the official press center for the Moscow summit meeting of Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev.
But that happened in 1988. And I got to witness that, too, on a return visit to the U.S.S.R. for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. That officially sanctioned news conference, in which Sakharov called for the release of political prisoners still being held by the moribund Soviet regime, was for me the best evidence that profound change was taking place in Russia.
And it all came crashing down in 1991, when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics disintegrated and was no more. The Evil Empire exposed for the sham it was. “Upper Volta with rockets” was one description I recall from that time.
Who woulda thunk it?
“This is a world-changing event,” Sgt. Mark Kupiec, 23, of Detroit, one of the U.S. soldiers who paraded through Red Square, told The New York Times. “In years to come, they are going to be reading about this in the social studies books.”