Brian Benoit


About Author: 

Brian Benoit has indexed maps, newspapers, and government documents at Readex’s Chester, Vermont office since 2002. For five years he worked with rare performing arts material at Harvard College’s Houghton Library. He is author of the recently published Crustacean Vacation (Islandport Press, 2012).

Posts by this Author

Volatile Hydrocarbons, Volatile Politics: The Historical Context of Venezuela’s Economic and Social Crisis

Bandera_de_Venezuela_en_el_Waraira_Repano 2.jpgVenezuela wasn't always burning out of control. Even before the rise of Hugo Chavez nearly twenty years ago and the tangible abundance brought about through his social welfare initiatives, Venezuela had a reasonable claim as a model of economic success in Latin America. Further, it was blessed with an abundance of a key natural resource, petroleum, as can be seen below in maps found in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set.

Detail from Map 24. Hydrocarbon mineral products (petroleum, natural gas, etc.). [Resources and the Caribbean region. January 1, 1905]

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Special map showing producing [oil] fields, Venezuela, 1930.

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Volatile Hydrocarbons, Volatile Politics: The Historical Context of Venezuela’s Economic and Social Crisis

Social Issues, Socialist Countries: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

The propaganda from socialist countries during the Cold War would have the reader believe in fairy tale endings. Revolutions were necessarily unpleasant, but the outcome of full employment, efficient central planning, and a reaffirmation of the dignity of man was held to be worth all the drama. Stalinist purges and peasant starvation were presented as aberrations on the path to an economy and social order that was neither too hot nor too cold, but just right.

However, the reality on the ground often differed from the official narrative. How was the quality of life for the mentally ill? For racial minorities? For religious persons? In this month’s highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, we'll consider the social challenges that persisted in socialist countries.


On the Composition and Disposition of Patients in USSR Psychiatric Institutions

Zhurnal Nevropatologii i Psikhiatrii imeni S.S. Korsakova (Journal of Neuropathology and Psychiatry imeni S.S. Korsakov) Moscow, Vol. 57 No. 1, 1957.

This report relates the status of nearly 100,000 psychiatric patients across 193 institutions in the Soviet Union. Character of debility, morbidity, demographics, and general forms of treatment are given.


Moslems in the Soviet Union and in China

The Country of Iman al-Bukhari: Its Past and Present

[pamphlet] Tehran, 1960.

Social Issues, Socialist Countries: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

Secular and Religious Contradictions during the 'Age of Anxiety' as Found in Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

Age of Anxiety.jpgIn 1947, the poet W.H. Auden published a book-length poem entitled “The Age of Anxiety,” which later inspired a symphony by Leonard Bernstein and a ballet by Jerome Robbins. It includes these lines spoken by Rosetta, the Jewish protagonist: “Lies and lethargies police the world/ In its periods of peace.”

This couplet could be a fitting characterization of the Cold War, a time when each superpower tried to bluff and coerce the other into accepting its socioeconomic hegemony and credo—all the while loudly proclaiming its benevolent, apolitical intentions. Were we at war? Not quite. At peace, then? No, something in between.

Whether framed as detente, containment, peaceful coexistence or mutually-assured destruction, the governing ideologies of the Cold War carried the spiritual weight of established religions, sometimes exerted against religious practice itself, or set in opposition to the breathless consumerism attendant upon late-stage capitalism, even as a foil to  communism's categorical insistence upon no religion at all.

The reports that follow—all found in Joint Publications Research Service Reports, 1957-1995—span that range. We have communist critiques of mainstream Christianity and mysticism, Islamic pushback against communism in Indonesia, and two secular examples of intractable bourgeois tendencies in the Soviet Union and in America.


What is the Harm of Baptism?

Agitator (Agitator), Moscow, No. 20, November 1960 

Secular and Religious Contradictions during the 'Age of Anxiety' as Found in Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

‘Paper Tigers’ and the Hair of the Dog that Bit You: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

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In this month's release of newly digitized JPRS Reports, we have sympathetic American and Yiddish-language commentaries on Chinese communism—including a first-hand account of the origin of the term “paper tiger.” We have a pointedly anti-communist pamphlet penned by Russian émigrés. And we have an extensive exploration of the often-discounted problem of alcoholism in the Soviet Union, with one report discussing specifically the phenomenon of curing a hangover by having yet another drink.


A Great Truth of the Present Era

Shih-chieh Chih-shih (World Knowledge), Peiping, No. 22, 22 November 1960. 18 pages

American journalist, author and progressive activist Anna Louise Strong certainly lived up to her surname. Born in Nebraska in 1885 and educated at Bryn Mawr, Oberlin and the University of Chicago, Strong travelled the world, met many world leaders of the day, and wrote a number of books. Here we have her interviewing and dining with Mao Zedong at his home in Yenan in the summer of 1946. During the course of their conversation Mao used the term “paper tiger” to describe the impermanent nature of imperialism:

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This fascinating report is but one chapter in the legacy of this remarkable woman.

‘Paper Tigers’ and the Hair of the Dog that Bit You: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

Mishin Control: The Political Turbulence that Grounded the Soviet Manned Lunar Program

Lunar 9.jpgThe conspiracy theory that the United States falsified the Apollo moon landings in order to score points on the Russians is well-known. What is less well-known is that following America’s realization of President Kennedy’s vision for a human presence on the Moon, the Soviet Union officially disavowed any research or intention to effect their own manned lunar landings. This attitude may have contributed to the persistent notion that the Apollo program was a hoax since at the time there was nothing to which it could be compared, and the Soviets diminished the practicality and purpose of the Apollo program at every turn. On the American side, reconnaissance information about the Soviet effort couldn’t be released without compromising national security. So the true nature of Soviet ambitions in space were not revealed until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In two complementary reports from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995“Mishin Monograph on Failure of Soviet Manned Lunar Program”by V.P. Mishin (JPRS-USP-91-006, 11/12/1991, 21 pages), and “Development of Soviet Spacecraft for Manned Missions” by I.B. Afanasyev (JPRS-USP-92-003, 5/27/1992, 29 pages), we discover that not only were the Soviets working feverishly on a lunar landingthey were designing spacecraft for a manned orbital rendezvous with Mars. It’s no coincidence that these monographs only came to light during the “glasnost/perestroika” (openness/restructuring) period in the early 1990s.

Mishin Control: The Political Turbulence that Grounded the Soviet Manned Lunar Program

Israel in the Balance: Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) Daily Reports on the Modern Jewish State

At the passing on 29 November 1947 of “United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 (II), Future Government of Palestine,” which sketched the outlines of the future State of Israel, the UN was itself in its infancy and seeking a permanent home. So it was that the Partition of Palestine can be traced to the Sperry Gyroscope Plant on Long Island at 1111 Marcus Avenue, in Lake Success, New York.

 

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It seems fitting that Resolution 181’s three-axis balancing of the “Independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem” has its roots in a former defense installation devoted to manufacturing instruments to serve exactly that purpose.

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Israel in the Balance: Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) Daily Reports on the Modern Jewish State

‘All revolutions bring their own laws’: Selections from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

Reports from the Joint Publications Research Serviceacting as a unit within the Central Intelligence Agencywere published to provide wide-ranging insight into geo-politics, global threat assessments, public policy, foreign intelligence, national security, the Cold War and more.  These were among the newly digitized reports released to the Readex digital edition in November and December 2016.


Comments on the TU-144 Supersonic Aircraft

Skrzydlata Polska (Polish Aircraft), No. 33 (788), 14 August 1966. 8 pages

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Over two years before the first successful flight of the supersonic commercial aircraft Concorde, you could have learned the details of its Soviet counterpart from A.N. Tupolev himself in this Polish technical journal. The TU-144 shared the general configuration and iconic “drooped” nose of the British-French aircraft, and was the first such aircraft to exceed Mach 2. It was in production until the early 1980s.


Rare Phenomena: “Vision” in the Fingers of Rosa Kuleshova

Priroda (Nature), No. 5, 1963. 22 pages

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‘All revolutions bring their own laws’: Selections from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

‘Godspeed, John Glenn’: Notes on the Passing of a Great American

The late Senator John Glenn embarked on his life of public service literally and figuratively at the tip of a spear. As a Marine pilot he flew combat missions during World War II and the Korean War; as the first American to orbit the Earth, he flew into history atop a repurposed Atlas missile. Glenn—the last surviving Mercury 7 astronaut—died on December 8, 2016, at the age of 95.

 

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In peacetime, he readily transitioned to playing a constructive role in science and government. During his career as a four-term Senator from Ohio he supported legislation proffering an official apology to those Japanese-Americans who suffered internment during World War II. He also championed limitations on strategic missiles.

 

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He was forward-thinking in many other ways. For example, 2016 saw the opening of the National Museum of African American History & Culture, in Washington, D.C. Senator Glenn had proposed such an institution in his home state in 1976, on a site that had been part of the Underground Railroad.

 

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‘Godspeed, John Glenn’: Notes on the Passing of a Great American

Iran Finds Its Revolutionary: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on Law and Politics

Ruhollah_Khomeini_speaking_to_his_followers_against_capitulation_day_1964.jpgHe ended a 2500-year monarchy in his country, deposing Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the process. He coined the term “Great Satan” in response to American intervention in Iran. Under his regime Iranians stormed the American Embassy, taking (and ultimately releasing) 52 hostages in 1979-1981. He was Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” in 1979. He issued the fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie, and he invited Soviet President Gorbachev to consider Islam as an alternative to communism. Khomeini was clearly a man of strong opinions who was not afraid of the spotlight.

In the selections below from the Translations on Near East and North Africa series in Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, Khomeini appears in a more distilled form, no less zealous but further from the barricades. His firebrand rhetoric is still here, but his early writings especially show him to be a serious legal and religious scholar, devoted to his people and his faith.


Islamic Government, by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeyni

No. 1897. (Publication data not given. Arabic, [1969-1970]) 78 pages

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Iran Finds Its Revolutionary: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on Law and Politics

‘In the Green Hell of the Amazon:’ From the Rediscovered Notebooks of an Early Russian Explorer of Brazil

Grigori-langsdorff 2.jpgThe 2016 Olympic Games and mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus have drawn the world's attention to Brazil recently. Even the Russians attending the Rio games may not be aware that one of their illustrious forebears, Grigory Langsdorff, was present as the first Russian Consul General in that city over 200 years ago. The story of this important naturalist and explorer is told in “Russian Scientists in Brazil, A Forgotten Expedition,” published in 1963 in Nauka i Zhizn' (Science and Life), and found in English-language translation in Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports.

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Langsdorff served as consul in Rio from 1813-1820. By then he had already circumnavigated the world and spoke five languages including Portuguese, hence his appointment to the then-Portuguese colony of Brazil. His official duties in Rio were eclipsed by his scientific passion, however, and mosquito-borne complications from tropical diseases ultimately took his mind and ended his career.

Langsdorff returned to Russia in 1820, was granted 200,000 rubles for expeditionary support from Czar Alexander the First. He returned to Brazil in 1822 with a team of scientists and artists. Their three excursions along the coast and into the heart of the country extended over the next seven years.

‘In the Green Hell of the Amazon:’ From the Rediscovered Notebooks of an Early Russian Explorer of Brazil

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