A Russian Defector Thought The U.S. Was So Amazing, It Had To Be Fake
In 1976, Russian pilot Viktor Belenko was supposed to take his plane for a simple test flight. Instead, he flew south to Japan. Other planes at the base tried to pursue him, but they failed because he was testing a MiG-25, the fastest plane in the world at the time and still one of the fastest planes in history.
He made it to Tokyo, where he asked to defect to the West. Belenko went to the US, and his plane went back to the USSR — in pieces, in crates, after the American military had a chance to examine it thoroughly.
Belenko’s first stop was an aircraft carrier, where things looked suspicious to him. At dinner, the sailors were allowed to serve themselves as much as they wanted. That didn’t make any sense. To test the system, after filling his plate, he returned to the line and filled another plate. No one paid any attention to him, and now he had two meals in front of him.
Well, sure, maybe the military fed their men well… but surely all the other citizens were starving, as he’d been told was inevitable without communism? His first visit to a supermarket sought to answer that question. He was surprised by all the food but even more surprised by how the place was (from his perspective) basically empty of people. Why wasn’t the place crowded, like any Soviet store would when they had goods in stock? Maybe people couldn’t afford any of this food?
Then his trip to a gas station seemed to explain things. Here too, he saw no crowds, which was impossible — fuel is always scarce, so people should line up to receive whatever they can get. Clearly, there was just one explanation. All of this was fake. This wasn’t how Americans lived at all. His hosts had set all of this up to fool foreign visitors into thinking America was rich, and the result had been less than convincing. To use the Russian term, this was clearly a Potemkin village. (There is no separate American term, because America does not have Potemkin villages.)
In reality, although American propaganda agencies have used supermarkets to advertise American wealth, all these places Belenko visited were genuine. He eventually came to understand this and became a citizen. He received a new name and moved to an undisclosed city. He is reportedly still alive today, and as far as anyone knows, he may even write for this very website.
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