The ’s cover story of 12 February 1989 (‘Russia’s Vietnam: America’s GIs counsel Soviet veterans of Afghanistan’) about a two-week “veteran-to-veteran” tour to Russia is all the more remarkable given that Vietnam and were both proxy wars between the US and the USSR.
This example of glasnost, nine months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, was the work of Diana Glasgow of Earthstewards – a “Greenpeace-like organisation” from Seattle. It grew out of the idea that “soldiers of the two similar wars are ready to share experiences and their governments now see no reason to prevent it”. Glasgow had made 26 trips to and built up a firm relationship with Moscow’s Society of Social Invention to organise visas for 19 US veterans and therapists.
Mikail Unovov, 22, one of the Afghantsi (Soviet Afghanistan war veterans), explained the problem: ‘Some of us have cut ourselves off from each other, making ourselves alone. Some are dangerous to society, others to themselves.’
The article reflects the fact that there was some doubt about post-traumatic stress at the time. ‘Twenty years after the event, how much of it is genuine and how much is carried over to create a kind of exclusive soldiers’ club?’ There was some worry that, like the US vets, the Afghantsi may be ‘evolving into a divided army of malcontents angrily for or against the government’.
However, ‘the instant companionship between the vets’, Peter Nasmyth wrote, ‘is extraordinary’. The Americans prefer to have ‘rap groups’ where they share intimate experiences with each other, and the Russians ‘have their own healing process – their songs’.
Today, it’s hard to see how the US president would countenance such contact between the two countries. Or maybe he would – at election time, say?