Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports


“An Alluring Magnet”: The Cold War, Martian Exploration, and the Pull of the Red Planet

 

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More than a thousand years ago, Egyptians noticed a shining red object that seemed to wander through the night sky. Fascinated, they painted the celestial body onto star charts and the ceiling of tombs. Chinese, Greek, Roman and other ancient astronomers also tracked the red planet, making up stories about it and attributing it with an array of astrological powers.

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In more modern times, too, people obsess over Mars. It has stunning topography, with a volcano three times higher than Mount Everest and gorges four times deeper than the Grand Canyon. Massive windstorms shape its sands into ever-shifting, otherworldly dunes. Its surface temperature is 138 degrees Fahrenheit colder than Earth’s, and its atmosphere deadly thin. Although liquid water once pooled and coursed across the surface of Mars, that water seems largely locked up as ice today.

“An Alluring Magnet”: The Cold War, Martian Exploration, and the Pull of the Red Planet

“As if Moved by a Ghostly Hand”: CIA Monitoring and the Emergence of Modern Robotics

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The word robot comes from the Czechoslovakian word robotnik, meaning “forced labor,” or “slave.” And indeed, since it was coined by Czech writer Karl Čapek in 1920, people have both feared and fantasized about robots. Friendly ones, like The Jetsons’ housecleaner Rosie or Star Wars’ C3PO, exist to make our lives easier. But lurking behind their helpfulness is the prospect of malevolence, a suspicion that the machines we’ve built in our image could turn on us. As Bladerunner artfully captured, becoming too dependent on robots could make us—not them—the real slaves.

Yet while pop culture reflects society’s conflicted feelings about automation, the scientific fields of robotics and artificial intelligence have marched forward with less ambiguity. Robots have transformed from clunky, bumbling machines to sleek, capable devices that deliver packages, vacuum our floors, and manufacture items we use every day. As these machines encroach deeper into our lives, the question of how we got here is increasingly relevant to scientific historians and other researchers. What philosophical, technical and cultural advances led to the automated world we now inhabit?

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“As if Moved by a Ghostly Hand”: CIA Monitoring and the Emergence of Modern Robotics

Duck and (Dis)cover: Strategic Information Hiding in Plain Sight in Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

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Do you remember the “Duck and Cover” drills from the 1950s? The Soviet people practiced similar civil defense maneuvers in case the unthinkable happened. What follows is the entire table of contents (omitting the authors) of Soviet Military Translations, No. 368, 24 January 1967, drawn from Voyennyye Znaniya [Military Skills, Moscow, No. 12, December 1966] and found in Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports:

  • Civil-Defense Services must be Perfected
  • The Actions of Civil Defense and the Armed Forces must be Coordinated
  • Efficient Utilization of Machinery in Rescue Work
  • Civil Defense at a Khar’kov Plant
  • The Methods of Civil-Defense Training are very Diverse
  • Methods of Compensating for a Shortage of Shelters
  • Training of Civil-Defense Commanders is Financed Partially by the Enterprises
  • Average Norms for Loading Casualties on Vehicles
  • England’s Reliance on Evacuation of the Population

Civil defense was far from an abstract concept in the Soviet Union. Consider how granular their concern was, extending to the “norms for loading casualties” onto vehicles, with several articles using the imperative mood. Beneath the Cold War saber-rattling about communism “burying” capitalism and the bravado surrounding the U-2 Incident and the Cuban Missile Crisis, it isn’t much of a stretch to see in this list of articles a nation that is terrified of being nuked.

Duck and (Dis)cover: Strategic Information Hiding in Plain Sight in Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

Distilling the Essence of Communism: Retrospective Highlights from Readex’s Final Release of Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1994

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Here’s a question to ponder as Readex completes its digitization of JPRS Reports: what have we learned about socialism from the totality of this collection? What can we characterize as the grief and promise of Marx’s and Mao’s and Lenin’s legacy based upon the material that the U.S. government has painstakingly gathered through open-source intelligence over almost forty years?

If Lenin’s own deathbed wishes had been heeded for Trotsky’s ascension to power over the headstrong Stalin, things would have turned out far differently for the Soviet Union, and so as well for the rest of us. The Soviet people demonstrated epic bravery and resolve during the Great Patriotic War, only to squander their achievement through an insistence on literally iron-clad borders in Europe and the Soviet republics. When Yeltsin and Gorbachev dragged the Politburo screaming and kicking back to reality, the empire was finally undone in true Hegelian fashion by the negation of negation, which is to say, glasnost [openness].

And what of China? The Chinese chose a different path to power, hardly less authoritarian but more pragmatic, certainly more measured and flexible. China holds much of the sovereign debt of the United States today, and is America’s rival for superpower status. China began to diverge from the Soviet model back in the 1960s. China’s dictatorship of the proletariat was more modest in scope, more willing to adjust to external circumstances, and their success is plain to see.

There’s certainly more to JPRS Reports than China and the Soviet Union, of course. But in saying that, one has to recognize that everything the United States collected was colored through the prism of the Cold War; Red is the most visible wavelength of that era.

Distilling the Essence of Communism: Retrospective Highlights from Readex’s Final Release of Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1994

Fostering Understanding—and Children: Pearl S. Buck Interprets China for Americans and Chinese Alike

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Pearl S. Buck inhabited many roles over the course of her life. Following the publication of her bestselling novel The Good Earth in 1931 she was widely known as a writer who crafted a compelling narrative of life in a Chinese village. After she won a Pulitzer Prize for that book in 1932, and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938, she was regarded as a celebrity and a public intellectual as well.

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To many women she was a beacon of the equal rights movement; for many mixed-race children she was quite simply a savior. To the Chinese among whom she lived she was Sai Zhenzhu (賽珍珠, Chinese for “Precious Pearl”). The communists feared and hated her, but her reputation has since been reappraised and her homes in China are now tourist attractions.

Fostering Understanding—and Children: Pearl S. Buck Interprets China for Americans and Chinese Alike

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

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

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