Challenge this analogy...

John Simkin

The first person to challenge my Cold War analogy was John Simkin, who runs the famous Spartacus website.  John is a libertarian socialist and a very good historian.   This is what he wrote:


I do not think that John’s analogy is a fair representation of the Cold War.   I think it was more like an analogy that Sam’s mother would have come up with.   As the PRO excellent website points out, the Cold War began in 1917 and not 1945.   To understand Boris we need to understand what happened before he was old enough to go to school...   


This analogy is deeply flawed and should not be used in a classroom with any age group.   Students would become more confused than enlightened by the suggestion that Boris and Sam are playing roles similar to the Soviet Union/ Nikita Khrushchev and the USA/Kennedy during the Cold War. 

       There are many flaws but I would just highlight one.   John’s analogy includes the passage that “Boris was bringing a knife for his psycho friend Fidel to attack Sam with.”   This I assume refers to the Soviet Union placing nuclear missiles on Cuba.   To describe Cuba or Fidel Castro as being a “psycho” will obviously provide an unappealing picture in the minds of the students.   It is also a complete distortion of what happened.   The missiles were never under the control of Cuba/Fidel.   The knife was still being held by Boris.   The anthology leaves [out] important aspects of the crisis.   What about the weapons placed on Turkey and Italy before they were placed in Cuba.   What about Guantanamo Bay?   Sam had already placed weapons with Fidel (but of course not under his control).  I think the students would get a much clearer understanding of the crisis by sticking to the facts of the story.   Otherwise you could be accused of providing a very subjective (political) interpretation of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

History Teachers' Discussion Forum (28 July 2003)



Evgenia Plotnikova-Doumerc

More recently, I was contacted by a GCSE pupil who felt that the tone of my analogy was not fair to Russia.   I was delighted to be challenged (I think, fairly) by Evgenia, who is a Russian native.   This is what she wrote:


...being a Russian native, I was also sometimes unpleasantly surprised by a few of your comments, which to my mind appeared as a one-sided perception of the events. Although your footnote indicates that the purpose of the story is not to affect students’ history perception, this is certainly not true for the students unfamiliar with the motives of countries-participants or situations in which they were formed.

In your third paragraph you write, “Boris had neither money nor tact”. Yes, I do understand and agree that communism has never been defined by democratic methods (as you say “Boris’ method was just to intimidate people”). I also agree with the fact that Russia seldom managed to build an economy that would make her significantly competitive on the world market. However, as it was stated by Mason (historian, whose books you greatly appreciate), “by 1913 Russia was the world’s fifth largest industrial nation” and as the result of its five year plans “by 1940 USSR was the world’s second largest industrial power (behind the USA)”.

In your tenth paragraph you state, “as time went on Boris became increasingly aggressive” referring to the situation in Poland and Hungary as an act of hostility from the Soviet Union. Without a reference to Sam’s aggression this sentence creates the sense that Sam was a “non-aggressive, peaceful guy”, which seems a bit misleading and subjective. To keep your statement a little more balanced you could have included the analogy to the war in Vietnam.

Your last comment on the fact that USSR was destroyed is quite ambiguous. When saying that Boris left the school because he “failed his exams”, you to my mind create the sense that the formation of new democratic Russia was a failure. I do agree that the road to democracy and the transition were very difficult and cost Russia a lot.  However, I also believe that since the breakdown of USSR my country has made a great progress not only in economic and domestic policies, but also in international relations. I suppose that it would be very unfair to say that this progress was born out of nothing but a failure.





So here are some criticisms of my analogy.   


What do you think of them - do you agree?   I think they make fair points, and thanks to both people for taking the time to comment!


Can you see how their beliefs and situation have led them to see things from a different standpoint?


You must never be frightened of criticism, because it sharpens up your scholarship, and helps you move mutually towards the truth.