- Mallan, Lloyd.
Russia and the Big Red Lie.
Greenwich, CT: Fawcett, 1959.
It is difficult for those who did not live through the era to appreciate
the extent to which Sputnik
shook the self-confidence of the West and defenders of the open
society and free markets around the world. If the West's social and economic
systems were genuinely superior to totalitarian rule and central planning,
then how had the latter, starting from a base only a half century before
where illiterate peasants were bound to the land as serfs, and in little more
than a decade after their country was devastated in World War II, managed to
pull off a technological achievement which had so far eluded the West and
was evidence of a mastery of rocketry which could put the United States
heartland at risk? Suddenly the fellow travellers and useful idiots in the
West were energised: “Now witness the power of this fully armed
and operational socialist economy!”
The author, a prolific writer on aerospace and technology, was as impressed
as anybody else by the stunning Soviet accomplishment, and undertook the
daunting task of arranging a visit to the Soviet Union to see for himself
the prowess of Soviet science and technology. After a halting start, he
secured a visa and introductions from prominent U.S. scientists to their
Soviet counterparts, and journeyed to the Soviet Union in April of 1958,
travelled extensively in the country, visiting, among other
destinations, Moscow, Leningrad, Odessa, Yalta, Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don,
Yerevan, Kharkov, and Alma-Ata, leaving Soviet soil in June 1958.
He had extensive, on the record, meetings with a long list of eminent
Soviet scientists and engineers, many members of the Soviet Academy of
Sciences. And he came back with a conclusion utterly opposed to
that of the consensus in the West: Soviet technological prowess was
about 1% military-style brute force and 99% bluff and hoax.
As one intimately acquainted with Western technology, what he saw
in the Soviet Union was mostly comparable to the state of the art
in the West a decade earlier, and in many cases obviously copied from
Western equipment. The scientists he interviewed, who had been quoted
in the Soviet press as forecasting stunning achievements in the near
future, often, when interviewed in person, said “that's all just
theory—nobody is actually working on that”. The much-vaunted
Soviet jet and turboprop airliners he'd heard of were nowhere in
evidence anywhere he travelled, and evidence suggested that Soviet
commercial aviation lacked navigation and instrument landing systems
which were commonplace in the West.
Faced with evidence that Soviet technological accomplishments were
simply another front in a propaganda offensive aimed at persuading
the world of the superiority of communism, the author dug deeper into
the specifics of Soviet claims, and here (from the perspective of
half a century on) he got some things right and goofed on others.
He goes to great length to argue that the
Moon probe was a total hoax, based both on Soviet technological
capability and the evidence of repeated failure by Western
listening posts to detect its radio signals. Current thinking
is that Luna 1 was a genuine mission intended to impact on
the Moon, but the Soviet claim it was deliberately launched into
solar orbit as an “artificial planet” propaganda
aimed at covering up its missing the Moon due to a guidance
failure. (This became obvious to all when the near-identical
impacted the moon eight months later.) The fact that the Soviets
possessed the technology to conduct lunar missions was demonstrated
flew around the Moon in October 1959 and returned the first crude
images of its
(other Luna 3 images).
Although Mallan later claimed these images were faked and contained brush
strokes, we now know they were genuine, since they are strikingly similar to
subsequent imagery, including the
from the Clementine lunar orbiter.
“Vas you dere, Ivan?” Well, actually, yes.
Luna 3 was the “boomerang” mission around the Moon which
Mallan had heard of before visiting the Soviet Union but was told was just
a theory when he was there. And yet, had the Soviets had the ability to communicate
with Luna 1 at the distance of the Moon, there would have been no
reason to make Luna 3 loop around the Moon in order to transmit its
pictures from closer to the Earth—enigmas, enigmas, enigmas.
In other matters, the author is dead on, where distinguished Western
“experts” and “analysts” were completely
taken in by the propaganda. He correctly identifies the Soviet “ICBM”
from the 1957 Red Square parade as an intermediate range missile closer
to the German V-2 than an intercontinental weapon. (The Soviet ICBM,
was indeed tested in 1957, but it was an entirely different
design and could never have been paraded on a mobile launcher;
it did not enter operational service until 1959.) He is also
almost precisely on the money when he estimates the Soviet
“ICBM arsenal” as on the order of half a dozen missiles,
while the CIA was talking about hundreds of Soviet missiles
aimed at the West and demagogues were ratcheting up rhetoric about
a “missile gap”.
You don't read this for factual revelations: everything discussed here is
now known much better, and there are many conclusions drawn in this text
from murky contemporary evidence which have proven incorrect. But if
you wish to immerse yourself in the Cold War and imagine yourself trying
to figure it all out from the sketchy and distorted information coming
from the adversary, it is very enlightening. One wishes more people had
listened to Mallan—how much folly we might have avoided.
There is also wisdom in what he got wrong. Space spectaculars can be accomplished
in a military manner by expending vast resources coercively taken from the
productive sector on centrally-planned projects with narrow goals. Consequently,
it isn't surprising a command economy such as that of the Soviet Union
managed to achieve milestones in space (while failing to deliver adequate
supplies of soap and toilet paper to workers toiling in their
“paradise”). Indeed, in many ways, the U.S.
Apollo program was even more centrally planned than its
and the pernicious example it set has damaged efforts to sustainably develop and
exploit space ever since.
This “Fawcett Book” is basically an issue of
containing a single long article. It even includes the usual delightful
advertisements. This work is, of course, hopelessly out of print. Used
copies are available, but often at absurdly elevated prices for what
amounts to a pulp magazine. Is this work in the public domain and hence
eligible to be posted on the Web? I don't know. It may well be: it was
published before 1978, and unless its copyright was renewed in 1987 when its
original 28 year term expired, it is public domain. Otherwise, as a publication
by a “corporate author”, it will remain in copyright until
2079, which makes a mockery of the “limited Times to Authors”
provision of the U.S. Constitution. If somebody can confirm this
work is in the public domain, I'll scan it and make it available on the Web.