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

Game of Zones: How Austria Unraveled the Iron Curtain

Austria 1.pngI’m thinking of a city, the glittering capital of a German-speaking people. It was the seat of monarchs and dictators before being bombed into submission during World War II. It was divided into four administrative districts by the victorious Allied powers following that war, and so came late to democracy. It was an island of independence and intrigue deep within territory under Soviet control. Adolf Hitler haunted its streets and harangued the crowds from its balconies. Perhaps you've heard of it? Berlin? No, I'm thinking of Vienna, Austria.

At the end of World War II all the pieces were in place for Vienna to suffer the fate of Berlin: a prestigious urban capital; strategic and economic importance; symbolic significance as an exclamation point marking the end of the Nazi program of German reunification. Yet Vienna and Austria were granted independence in 1955, while Berlin and East Germany labored under communism until 1990. Why such different outcomes?

 

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Game of Zones: How Austria Unraveled the Iron Curtain

Han Sorya: North Korea’s Literary Lion

North_Korea-Pyongyang-Grand_People's_Study_House-Books-01 sm.jpgIf you could choose a single novelist to represent the legacy and aspirations of twentieth century America, who would it be? F. Scott Fitzgerald? William Faulkner? Toni Morrison? John Steinbeck? Admittedly, the choice is artificial; there are no wrong answers here, only degrees of emphasis.

For a North Korean confronting a similar question, one name would readily spring to mind: Han Sorya (1900-1976). And further, there is one particular work, a short story, with which Han is especially identified: Sungynangi [Jackals] (1951), one of the few North Korean works of literature available in English translation.

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Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, includes two reports of literary criticism of Han Sorya’s work: Modern Korean Literature and Han Sor-ya (JPRS 5745); and Han Sol-ya and his Literature (JPRS 5874). Translated directly from original North Korean sources, they convey a sense of how Han’s work is viewed in his native cultural context.

Han Sorya: North Korea’s Literary Lion

History Real and Imagined: Russians at War in Art and Life from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

JPRS Aug 2017 4 sm.pngAmong the many interesting aspects of Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, is the inclusion of full-length novels. This month we have such two works by Vasiliy Ardamatskiy, similar in scope and subject matter to Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago.

JPRS Aug 2017 8 sm c2.pngAlongside Ardamatskiy’s fictional accounts of revolutionary Russia we pair historical nonfiction relating to Soviet naval warfare and military communications during World War II. Finally, we’ll add excerpts from a 1972 monograph that requires little interpretation, on the all-too-real technology of ballistic missile launch and control systems.


Vozmezdie [Retribution], by Vasiliy Ardamatskiy; Moscow, Molodaya Gvardiya 1968

Born in 1911, Ardamatskiy was a child of the Russian Revolution who wrote adventure fiction and who was reputed to be linked to the KGB. His career as a radio journalist brought him close to the battle lines during World War II, especially during the Siege of Leningrad.

In Retribution he gives compelling characterizations of the real-life terrorist Boris Savinkov, and of Felix Dzerzhinskiy, head of the feared Cheka, precursor to the KGB. Among other honors, the KGB Prize of the USSR in the field of literature and art was awarded to Ardamatskiy.

History Real and Imagined: Russians at War in Art and Life from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

Americans-looking-at-Russians-looking-at-Americans: The ‘USSR Report. USA: Economics, Politics, Ideology’ Series from JPRS

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In highlighting this month’s release of Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, we shift our focus from monographs and shorter individual reports to a single series, USSR Report. USA: Economics, Politics, Ideology. This will allow us to indulge in the meta-perspective of Americans-looking-at-Russians-looking-at-Americans across a broad range of issues.

Along with the shift in focus, we’ll travel forward in time as well, from the 1960s of our most recent releases, to 1980. Communist Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev was in the last years of his life, the Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan, and the economy stumbled along at the tail end of what has been called the Era of Stagnation.

Meanwhile, the United States was boycotting the Moscow Summer Olympics in protest against the Soviet-Afghan War, Ronald Reagan was elected President, and the Iran Hostage Crisis was fresh in the nation's memory. Three Mile Island was still hot. It wasn't quite “morning in America’ (from Reagan’s 1984 campaign), but the Reagan presidency hinted at resurgence. What did the Soviets make of that?


Shift to the Right—Imaginary and Real

SSHA: Ekonomika, Politika, Ideologiya, Moscow, No. 12, December 1979. 17 pages

Americans-looking-at-Russians-looking-at-Americans: The ‘USSR Report. USA: Economics, Politics, Ideology’ Series from JPRS

Cooperatives and Cooperation: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

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Two of the fundamental tenets of communism at the international level were that communist countries worked together to achieve their mutual ends, and that their economic and political development was peaceful rather than imperialistic.

From 1957 to 1960, as the dust settled from uprisings in Hungary and Poland, things were relatively tranquil within the Eastern Bloc. At a greater remove—and especially with regard to China—fraternal relationships and a unified front were a bit more difficult to maintain. Still, prior to 1960 the Sino-Soviet argument over communist “peaceful coexistence” with capitalist countries had not yet reached a critical point.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a few years off, the U2 Incident (May 1960) was just over the horizon, the echoes of Secretary Khrushchev’s 1956 threat to “bury” the West had largely subsided, and he had not yet pounded a UN podium with his shoe. So in this month’s highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, we’ll witness communist countries generally playing nicely on the international stage.


The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, Charter and Convention

Vedomosti Verkovnogo Soveta Soyuza Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik (Gazette of the USSR Supreme Soviet), Moscow, Vol. XXIII No. 15, April 1960. 19 pages

Cooperatives and Cooperation: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

The Russia Connection: Historical Proposals to Reestablish a Land Link across the Bering Strait

There’s general agreement that as recently as 11,000 years ago the Asian and North American continents were connected by a land bridge over which hominids and other animals crossed. Today, the Bering Strait is only about 50 miles wide at its narrowest point, and less than 200 feet deep.

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Two small islands are situated midway between the continental land masses. Big Diomede Island belongs to Russia; Little Diomede Island belongs to the United States. The islands are separated by approximately two miles—and the International Date Line.

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For reference, the English Channel, between the United Kingdom and France, is about 20 miles wide and similar in depth to the Bering Strait. An undersea tunnel was proposed there during the 19th century, and has since been completed. The Suez Canal, linking the Mediterranean Sea with the Indian Ocean, was built in 1869. The Panama Canal was completed in 1914. In keeping with these ambitious projects, some structure across or beneath the Bering Strait has long been suggested as both practical and possible.

The Russia Connection: Historical Proposals to Reestablish a Land Link across the Bering Strait

The Culture of Communism: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

State_Emblem_of_the_Soviet_Union_svg.pngSo much of communism is given over to building more and better widgets—collectively, of course, according to a centralized plan stretching over a number of years. Beyond the tractors and satellites, it’s worth noting that the communists were also building their people by exercising strict control over the national culture. Indeed, the real flavor of communism can more readily be experienced through its cultural expressions rather than its production schedules.

In this month’s highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, we’ll explore popular culture, religion, psychology and the communist approach to enforcing orthodoxy in all of the above.


Radio and Television—The Weapons of the Party

Kommunist (Communist), Moscow, No. 5, March 1960. 18 p.

Don’t look for independent journalism here, this is sled-dog journalism—no time for reactionary excursions, and everybody pulling in a line—the party line. And no child is left behind with youth programming about tractor operators, industrial brigades, and the series “Follow the Example of the Communists.” Consider the title of this report: a political elite wielding mass media—as a weapon against the heterodox members of its own social order.


Peculiarities of the Development of Literature in Socialist Countries

Kommunist (Communist), Moscow, No. 12, August 1959. 17 p.

The Culture of Communism: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

Pivot to the East: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

Pyongyang_Arch_of_Triumph.jpgPresident Obama's 2011 “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region refocused American foreign policy away from the intractable conflicts in the Middle/Near East towards the challenge of Chinese hegemony. In this month's highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, as President Trump rebalances U.S. strategic assets to East Asia and seeks to consolidate his diplomatic credibility with China, well turn our attention in that direction as well.


On Party Leadership, Training, and Policy Implementation in North Korea

Inmin Kyoyuk (National Education), Pyongyang, No. 11, November 1959.

Tang Kanbudulege Chunun Chamgo Charyo (Reference Materials for Party Cadres), Pyonyang, Nos. 10-12, October-December 1959. 101 pages

This topical report (multiple authors/sources) touches on industrial development, agriculture, education, and of course, political orthodoxy. Whatever the drawbacks of life in North Korea, one can admire the consistency and perseverance with which they pursue their particular take on the socialist project.


Eulogy on Ho Chi Minh on his 70th Birthday

Lao Dong (Labor) [n.p.] Nos. 746-747, May 1960.

Thoi Moi (Modern Times), Hanoi, No. 2298, 19 May 1960. 30 pages

Pivot to the East: Highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

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

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