This transcript appears in the September 24, 2021 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.
What the U.S. Elites Don’t Know About War, Russia Knows Profoundly
This is an edited transcript of the dialogue between Ray McGovern and Helga Zepp-LaRouche at the Schiller Institute’s conference on September 11, “The Path Forward from September 11, Afghanistan, and the Surveillance State.” McGovern is a co-founder of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) and was an analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency for many years. Zepp-LaRouche is the founder and chairwoman of the Schiller Institute.
Now, to clear up a few things about Russia: I’ve been studying Russia for 60 years now. I’m ashamed to admit I’m so old, but that’s how long I’ve been with this study.
I also want to say something about my friend, Julian Assange, since his exit from that embassy in London, in his disheveled state, accounts for my disheveled state: this [long grey beard] is two and a half years of trying to express solidarity with Julian. I mention Julian, because if WikiLeaks were up and running, 9/11 would never have happened. I’ll say that again: If WikiLeaks were up and running, 9/11 would never have happened.
How do I know that? I know that, because the FBI people who worked in the Minnesota office with Colleen Rowley were asked that! [FBI agent Rowley had warned FBI HQ about Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called “20th hijacker,” and after 9/11 became a whistleblower about the FBI failure to investigate her strong warning.] They were asked: “If you had a chance to get your message out to the public, other than sacrificing your career, would you have gone to WikiLeaks?” And they said, “Yes.”
And so did Bogdan Dzakovic, who led the Red Teams for the Transportation Security Agency [to search for vulnerabilities in the TSA security system], and he could penetrate any airplane, any airport, and they were tearing their hair out, because they knew what was coming, but they couldn’t get a hearing anywhere. And I asked Bogdan, “would you have gone to WikiLeaks?” and he said, “Surely, I would have.” So that’s what’s cut off now. That’s why Julian Assange is so important. That’s why they want him to—well, to just go away.
And I want to just say a word about Julian in comparison to the most famous Russian poet, Aleksandr Pushkin. Because Pushkin himself was saying untoward things, publishing untoward things, and he was sent to prison in Kishinev. He wrote a poem called “Uznik” which means, “Prisoner.” So, he’s sitting in this dark, dank cell in Kishinev, which is now in Moldova, and he’s composing this poem and he says [recites the poem in Russian and then gives this free translation]:
I’m sitting in this dark, dank cell, in the darkness,
And I see outside my window, a crow.
It’s got some kill and it’s throwing it around,
A very bloody kill.
And he looks into the window,
As though he’s thinking the same as what I’m thinking.
He looks at me, and with a scream,
He says, “Look! Let’s get outta here!”
Let’s get outta here.
Let’s go to where, beyond the clouds,
You see the snowcapped mountains,
Where you see the blue sea outside there,
Where only the wind, and I (this little crow)—
Where we can kind of walk around at our leisure.
The last phrase is, literally, “to wander around on a Sunday.”
I say that, because Pushkin was in the same kind of prison situation as my friend Julian Assange. Julian has been in prison much longer than Pushkin—Pushkin got out.
But when you think about the Russians, and the gift that they were to humanity in the 19th century—Pushkin is universally recognized as one of the greatest poets of the 19th century.
I also want to put a gloss on what we understand about the Russian experience, because there’s so much misunderstanding about Russia. I spend a lot of time in Germany, and there’s a [lapel] pin that the Germans have, it’s called “Putinversteher”; now, verstehen is “to understand.” So a Putinversteher is somebody who understands [has empathy for the position of] Putin. Now, I would think that’s a pretty good quality! But it’s a real pejorative in Germany! A Putinversteher? No, no, you’re like one of those Trump people, right? You’re like one of those people who thinks that Trump is in Putin’s pocket.
So, there’s so much misunderstanding. I want to point out just a couple of things from my experience in the Soviet Union, and then in Russia, during my career and after.
In 1972, I was there for the signing of the first Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty, the ABM Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which was the cornerstone of strategic stability for the next 30 years; count them, three decades.
I got around there, and I was harassed: the KGB was all over me. The people were very nice, but the regime was not—it confirmed my suspicions, it confirmed my view of what the Soviet system was like.
Now, if you fast forward, many years after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the breakout of Russia into its own, I was there, in 2015, and it was the 70th anniversary of the meeting on the Elbe. The Elbe was the river going through Germany, where Soviet forces and U.S. forces finally met—that was April 25, 1945. This was a big anniversary. And I was asked to give a little talk, which I did. There was somebody from the embassy that also talked. And then there was this big, big, 6ʹ5ʺ general, one-star, 92 [year-old], and he talked. And as soon as we’re finished with the formal proceedings, he came up to me and he said: [in Russian accent] “Studebaker! Studebaker! SSStudebaker!!!” And I’m thinking, “Oh, sure!”
Not many people know that Studebaker wanted to fulfill the mission of supplying the Russian armies, Soviet armies, with trucks. They retooled their whole machinery and made what we later in the Army called, “Deuce-and-a-halves.” Two-and-a-half-ton trucks. How many did they make? Would you believe, 200,000? And what was this General referring to? He was a one-star, so he saw the battle, and he knew how essential it was, through Lend-Lease, to get “Studebakers,” to move his troops, to move his ammunition, to mount machineguns, to carry the fight to the Nazis—and defeat them! So what am I saying here? I’m saying, “Studebaker” to this general was a very big deal.
Now, when I was called to active duty in the ’60s, we were still using those deuce-and-a-halves, those two-and-a-half-ton trucks, manufactured by Studebaker.
The next year , a citizen delegation and I went to Yalta in Crimea. It was the first U.S. group of its kind to visit Yalta, or Crimea, since the big fracas about the coup in Kiev and the downing of MH-17, the Malaysian aircraft, which killed 298 people. So we were treated with great joy; here we are visiting Crimea, which had opted to rejoin Russia, and it was the anniversary of another very infamous date: It was the date on which the Nazi German armies pounced on the Soviet Union: June 22; this was 2016, minus 1941, it was the 75th anniversary.
The people in Crimea and Yalta were delighted we were there, and they asked if someone from our delegation would say some remarks. I volunteered, and it struck me, given the people there, there were hundreds of people, many of them were older than I. And I was born one week before the Nazi armies invaded Poland, so I was alive all during World War II. These people were older than I; as a matter of fact, some of them looked like they had husbands, uncles, whatever, who died in World War II.
So, I looked around, and I said, “I think I will recite the poem that I learned in college, by the Russian poet Nikolai Nekrasov. He was called [gives Russian name], “the poet of Russian pain,” really. He’s about the same time as Dostoevsky, in the 19th century. Here’s the way this one goes. The title is now, “War.” So, it’s almost onomatopoeia: “Paying attention to it’s horrors.” So, “Regarding the Horrors of War” [recites in Russian and then in English]:
Regarding the Horrors of War
Paying attention to the horrors of war,
At the fall of each hero on the battlefield,
I feel very sad, but not so much for the wife,
Not so much for the friend of the fallen,
Not so much even for the fallen victim himself.
His wife will be consoled,
And best friends forget their best friends.
But uniquely, there’s one spirit, one soul,
Who will not forget, who will remember to the grave.
Among all the frivolous and mundane things
Of everyday life, unique among all these things,
Have I found the tears of mothers.
Those are the tears of mothers,
Who don’t forget their children
Who perish on the bloody battlefield.
Just as a weeping willow tree
Can never lift up its branches,
So, too, it is.
What am I saying here? I’m saying that the Russians have had a historical experience, that is very, very different from us Americans. They spent two and a half centuries, mind you, under what they call the “Tartar yoke,” where Genghis Khan and his friends dominated Russia for two and a half centuries. And when they got freed from that—it was Ivan Grozny, Ivan the Terrible, who finally got things together—then they were attacked by the Swedes, and then by the Lithuanians, and then by the Hanseatic League. And finally! They get into better shape, and what happens? They’re invaded by Napoleon, and later the Nazis.
Now, how many people did Russia lose in World War II? The figures are firm: It’s 26 million people, plus; 26 million people, plus. Where’d they come from? They came from the same areas of Europe where U.S. and NATO forces are building up strength right now. So you don’t have to be a 75-year-old Russian to understand from Russian history what that means.
Last thing I’ll say is, it doesn’t help to demean the Russians, to say that they’re a “third rate power,” or as one of our Presidents said, “you know, Russia is really a gas station, posing as a country.” So image this, please: Aleksandr Pushkin pumping gas, or Tchaikovsky changing oil. Yeah. Or, Dostoevsky keeping book. Yeah, right. “A gas station posing as a country.”
So we have to get rid of these myths. We have to accept the Russians for what they are, and what their historical experience has exposed them to.
The last thing I’ll say about their historical experience: They know full well, and Putin has said so, that most people who are running American foreign policy, not only have never served in any war, but have never worn a uniform. That’s about 9 out of 10! That means something, if you don’t know what war is like, you don’t take it as seriously as you should.
Speed: We want to now ask our panel to make various comments. I want to start with you, Helga, for what you’ve seen Ray do.
Zepp-LaRouche: I’m always delighted when I hear Ray recite poetry, because he does it so well. It’s an example: If you really want to study other countries and understand something about them, read their poetry. Try to understand how they express their most inner feelings and thoughts. And I think that that is actually a beautiful way of getting at what is the alternative to the endless wars.
This period of the last 20 years in particular, has been erring—we have lost the way. We have completely gone in the wrong direction. And I think the alternative to it is not only the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, but the Dialogue of Civilizations. And I can only say, every time you start to enter the culture of another country—it can be a big culture with a long tradition, 5,000 years or more, or it can be a relatively new country, or a small country—but if they produce something which is a poet, a culture, a literature, they have a soul.
And if you want to discuss it in religious terms, the Creator allowed for so many nations and so many cultures to emerge, because it is more beautiful. Because on the one side, they are specific, they have developed their own language, their own traditions, their own culture, their own poetry, their own music. But on the other side, you can find the universal principles which unite them all. And I find, I have been extremely enriched in my life, and I can say that for my late husband as well, who was a complete world citizen, and in a certain sense, could immediately communicate with the patriots of all countries on an equal level, because he was not arrogant. He didn’t come as somebody who would look down on them, or talk down to them. But people respected Lyn as an American patriot, because they recognized that he was a world citizen.
And once you start thinking that way and give up this stupid arrogance, and “America First,” this is really a wrong way of thinking. You have to love all of mankind, and love other nations, and get involved and find out something about them. And then it would be so easy to make the world peaceful, and that’s why I really appreciate what Ray does, and the way he does it is indeed very creative and unique.
Helga Zepp-LaRouche continued this train of thought in her closing remarks:
Zepp-LaRouche: I think that we are in a period where many people sense that we are—or, let me put it this way: This is now my absolute, starkest conviction: There’s all this talk about the competition with China, the big systemic rivalry. Well, the Chinese are doing a lot of things which the West is not doing. For example, they just—and even Tucker Carlson brought it up, and that’s why I think it’s worth mentioning as one element—Xi Jinping just forbade that children and young people could watch more or play more than three hours a week on internet gaming. And the argument for it is that it’s a virtual reality, and this is a waste of time, because during that time, people are not studying, they’re not paying attention to their education, and since China wants to have a future of scientists, engineers, teachers, artists, that it’s a waste of time, if people spend all their time playing internet gaming.
Now, I full-heartedly agree with that! Because, it’s just one of the things which has gone completely wrong. People become addicted to these kinds of internet games; it’s terrible for their cognitive ability, it’s terrible for their social behavior. We have seen in the past that there are many times connections between violent gaming and school shootings, and even terrorism, and violent videogames. So I think it’s a good thing to do that, and I’m glad that Tucker Carlson made that point, because it’s important when people start to realize that what they have demonized may not be so terrible, at all. It’s a first baby step.
Then the Chinese are correcting many other things. They are curbing real estate speculation; they’re doing all kinds of things to correct, permanently, even if they make mistakes, they somehow then make it better. I have not seen in the West anything like that! The West has been in such an utter disaster. We have so many collapses in infrastructure, in inability for flood control—Germany just had this 100-year flood, which was not climate change, it was just no investment in water management infrastructure! And that’s why almost 200 people drowned in Germany! This is not Bangladesh; this is supposed to be the fourth-largest economic power on the planet. Are they correcting it? Well—not really. The people who are living in this area are extremely bitter that there is no coordination from the government, at all.
I could make an endless list, where things have gone haywire in the West, but people don’t want to correct it, the politicians don’t dare address it because of elections; and in general, if we don’t get enough people to do what Ray McGovern did tonight, by reciting poetry from Russia, or any other country, if we are not willing to overcome this terrible mediocrity into which the West has fallen, for the price, for the sake of individual liberties—it’s not freedom. There is a big difference between liberty and freedom. Freedom is what Schiller talked about: to do with passion what is necessary, to find your freedom in necessity. That is freedom. Or what Beethoven said, “So streng wie frei” [“As strict as it is free”]: you follow the rules and in a creative way you enlarge the rules in a lawful way. That is freedom.
What is not freedom is “everything goes.” And the West has gone in the direction of this exaggerated individuality, where everything is allowed! You have now 50 sexes—oh no! tomorrow, we have 75 sexes. And if you don’t obey the rules to follow that strange geometry, you will have 120 sexes, the next day. And so forth and so on.
In music: They’re composing now noise and they call this music. They even have the audacity to re-write classical compositions, like from Beethoven, which in my view is a sacrilege for which people should go to the dungeon, not just to jail. They should sit in the dungeon for many years for such a crime.
There are so many things which are the result of the so-called liberal values system, that nobody has any more the authority to say, “this is the truth, this is a Socratic dialogue for how we can arrive at the truth.” No, if you say that, you’re already an authoritarian, because you insist that there is a knowable truth. And the next thing, you are a Nazi and a fascist for sure.
I mean, this has gone haywire!
And I think we have to, really, if we want to get out of this crisis in the West, there is only one way: We have to go back to the best thinkers in our tradition, like Plato, Socrates, Augustinus, Nicholas of Cusa, Kepler, Leibniz, Lessing, Schiller, the great Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Einstein. And then you add those figures of universal history from other cultures and you start to consult with them, and you throw away almost all the secondary literature, all the footnotes of these academics, or quackademics. And you go back to the sources. That’s what humanists always did when they wanted to get out of a crisis. And that method, going back to the sources, is true for philosophy, for science, for music, for poetry.
And in that sense, music is simply the most easily accessible, because it is an international language, and if a Classical composition does touch the heart and the mind and the creative power of the audience, it doesn’t matter which language you speak, because the human mind is a universal existence.
So, I think the only way I can imagine that we find again the right way, is that we have to go to the highest traditions of our cultures: the Italian Renaissance, the German Classical period, the American Revolution, and also other high points which fit that characterization. And we have to start reading again. We have to start thinking again—serious questions, about ontologically relevant questions, like natural law, like what is the faculty of the mind from which true innovation—which increases the power in the universe—comes? What is that creative process? What are the life sciences?
There are so many areas where we get to the fundamentals, and a lot of things can be cut out, and need to be cut out, but in that sense we are in a competition of the systems, because the Chinese are doing a lot of that; the Russians are doing a lot of that; and they’re wasting much less energy on totally superfluous things than we do.
So, it’s up to us.