Monday, April 07, 2014

A Sweeping Saga Of Cold War Spookiness

Brought To You By The CIA
Words have power. If not, there would be no reason to ban books or promote propaganda to achieve political ends. At the same time, words have the power to entertain and captivate an audience. A book can manipulate your thinking and you wouldn't be aware of it, especially if you're caught up in a sweeping epic like War and Peace. Or Dr. Zhivago.

Boris Pasternak was a supporter of the Bolsheviks back in 1914, as were so many others who accepted words as truth, without subtext. In time, he grew disillusioned as the words became deeds that did not fit, while the power-mad prevailed. First Lenin, and then Stalin, and what began as a grand experiment in making all equal turned into a nightmare of suppression. A poet and writer, Mr. Pasternak composed works that spoke of his displeasure with the route the revolution had taken, but he presented a risk to those in charge. Words could move the masses yet again, but in a direction to disrupt the status quo.

Boris Pasternak's sweeping epic, Dr. Zhivago, was banned in his native Russia. It was counter-revolutionary. It gave vent to the hardships faced by the Russian people because of the regime that ruled over them, a capricious lot who used force to bend the nation into a shape that made the Communist Party leaders the new czars and royalty while the people remained downtrodden, hungry and poor.

What better way to covertly undermine the Communist overlords than by promoting the words of Boris Pasternak? Everyone loves a banned book, don't they? There's a curiosity to see what all the fuss is about.

The CIA became Boris Pasternak's literary agent, even if he did not know about it. In 1958, the spy organization promoted the novel behind the Iron Curtain, acting as publisher to get copies into the hands of the disgruntled to make them further disgruntled and perhaps stir up a little counter-revolution.

The book was well-written, which made the task easier. At its core is a love story and adultery in a time of turmoil, with plenty of tension to move the narrative. The novel was deemed so well-written that Mr. Pasternak was awarded a Nobel prize for his efforts. And who wouldn't vote in favor, especially if you particularly relish the idea of poking Stalin in the eye with the sharp stick of banned literature that was read surreptitiously by an eager public.

When David Lean turned the sweeping epic into a sweeping motion picture, the anti-Communist element was impossible to miss. The worldwide audience that flocked to the film was given a hefty dose of Mr. Pasternak's criticism of the demolition of the intelligentsia that threatened the party leaders with contrary opinions and independent thought.

The story of the CIA caper is told in an upcoming book that details the plot to expose the Russians to words that their leaders feared.

If not for a CIA mission to ruffle some Communist feathers, a novel might never have become an important work. In all likelihood, Dr. Zhivago would have faded into obscurity, to be forgotten.

So it isn't all bad, the spookiness of the spooks in espionage. Where would we be without all those little music boxes playing "Lara's Theme"?

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