TDISH: Yet Another Cold War Tragedy

On September 1, 1983, Korean Air Lines Flight 007 took off from Seoul on a flight to New York City via Anchorage, Alaska.  Early on its flight, KAL-007 deviated from course and flew over Soviet airspace near Sakhalin Island off the eastern coast of Siberia.  Exactly what happened next is uncertain, but what we do know if that shortly later the plane had been attacked by fighter planes of the Soviet Air Force causing KAL-007 to crash into the Sea of Japan, killing all 269 people on board.  Among the victims was a Congressman from Georgia, Larry McDonald.  American and South Korean authorities immediately placed the blame squarely on the Soviets – claiming that no warning was given to the stricken airliner.  The Soviets, on the other hand, claimed that a warning was issued and that the plane had been engaged in espionage.  In 1992, the black box recordings from the crash were released and failed to clarify any of the main underlying factors.  What was KAL-007 doing in Soviet airspace?  It was over 300 miles off course.  Nothing on the recordings clarifies this issue.  Without the plane being too close to Sakhalin Island this tragedy would have been avoided.

Featured Image: “Korean Air Lines Boeing 747.” By Ted Quackenbush – Gallery page, GFDL 1.2.
Source: Bohlen, Celestine. “Tape Displays the Anguish On Jet the Soviets Downed.” New York Times. 16 October 1992.

TDISH: The Red Terror Begins

On August 30, 1918, a young Jewish Ukrainian revolutionary walked up to Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin as he completed a speech at the Hammer and Sickle Factory in Moscow.  With her, the would-be assassin carried a gun.  Her name was Fanny Kaplan.  She was member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, a former ally of the Bolsheviks.  However, when Lenin came to power the SRs were soon abandoned and viewed their erstwhile friend with ever increasing hostility.  As she approached Lenin, Kaplan raised her piston and fired twice – severely wounding the Bolshevik leader.  Lenin, however, was not killed by the attack and Kaplan was quickly subdued by his bodyguards.  Her actions led to her quick execution, a mere four days later on September 3.  Upon recovering from injuries, Lenin used the attack as an excuse to eliminate his many political enemies.  The horrific Red Terror had begun.

Featured Image: “Fanny Kaplan.” By The original uploader was Boreali at German Wikipedia – Transferred from de.wikipedia to Commons by Ireas using CommonsHelper., Public Domain.
Source: “1918: Fanya Kaplan, Lenin’s would-be assassin.”


TDISH: Death of a Revolutionary

When we think back to the October Revolution and the rise of Bolshevik power in Russia, three names often come to mind: Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Leon Trotsky.  All three men played key roles with Lenin being the clear leader.  As the Bolsheviks went on to consolidate their power over the new Soviet Union, there was a struggle between Stalin and Trotsky over who would succeed their great mentor.  To make a long story short, Stalin won out over his rival Trotsky, but in the process the two men became increasingly estranged and antagonistic.  As a result, after Stalin’s rise to power in 1922, the two titans of Bolshevism butted heads until Trotsky was expelled from the party in 1927 and from the Soviet Union in 1929.

Leon TrotsLeon_Trotsky_House,_Mexico_City_(7144251529).jpgky and his family, therefore, left the homeland for which they had fought for so long and fled to Mexico City.  It was there that Trotsky would live out his life surrounded by body guards in the fear that his nemesis in Moscow would use his long arm to bring more harm on the family.  His fears were realized on 24 May 1940 when several gunmen broke in the family’s compound, fighting their way past Trotsky’s guards.  While Leon Trotsky and his wife, Natalia, escaped the attack unhurt, their young 13-year-old grandson was hit in the foot by a ricochet.  After this attempt on Trotsky’s life, security was heightened even further around the family.  In fact, for the last three months of his life, TroTrotsky_last_office.jpgtsky rarely left the compound.  However, all of these precautions were not enough.  On 20 August 1940, a Spanish Stalinist, Ramon Mercader, infiltrated the compound and, using a mountain climber’s ice axe, struck Trotsky in the head once before being wrestled to the ground by the revolutionary’s bodyguards.  The damage, however, had been done.  Trotsky’s wound bled profusely and resulted in his death the following day.  Stalin had had his revenge.

Featured Image: “Leon Trotsky.” By Published by Century Co, NY, 1921 – The Russian Bolshevik Revolution (free pdf from, Public Domain.
Image 1. “The Trotsky Compound in Mexico City.” By Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia – Leon Trotsky House, Mexico City, CC BY-SA 2.0.
Image 2. “Trotsky’s Study Where He Was Assassinated.” By en:User:fabioj, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Sources: Lanchin, Mike. “Trotsky’s grandson recalls ice pick killing.” BBC Magazine. 28 August 2012.

TDISH: A Cold War Joke

On August 11, 1984, the President of the United States Ronald Reagan was preparing to give his weekly radio address on National Public Radio.  Before going live, during the soundcheck, Reagan joked with those present by stating: “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever.  We begin bombing in five minutes.”  The speech afterwards went off without a hitch, but a recording of Reagan’s joke was leaked to the public.  As you could imagine, the United States’ Cold War adversary, the Soviet Union did not take kindly to this joke, particularly in the light of the President’s public calls for improved relations with Moscow.  Soviet leaders, for one, did not find this joke very funny!

Featured Image. “Ronald Reagan.” By Unknown –, Public Domain.
Source: “Soviets Assail Reagan for ‘Monstrous’ Joke.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 16 August 1984.



TDISH: Not So Quiet on the Southwestern Front

On August 7, 1999, approximately 2,000 Chechan fighters belonging to the Islamic International Brigade invaded neighboring Dagestan with the hopes of establishing an independent state governed under Islamic law.  What makes this such an interesting event is that both Chechnya and Dagestan are majority Muslim federal subjects of larger Russia – that is, they are part of the modern Russian state.  So, we have one region of the Russian state invading another.  In response to this invasion by the Chechan rebels, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sent in Russian troops and over the next month pushed the rebels back into Chechnya.  The result of this invasion was the declaration of a short-lived, unrecognized Islamic state and eventually a conflict between Russia and Chechnya known as the Second Chechan War.

Featured Image: “Flag of Islamic International Brigade.” Public Domain.
Sources: “Russians, rebels beef up forces in Dagestan.” CNN. 9 August 1999.
Rebels say they’re out of Dagestan; Russia says war continues.” CNN. 23 August 1999.

TDISH: Russians in Hawaii

On July 19, 1817, a contingent of the Russian-American Company (RAC) set sail from Oahu in disgrace, having failed in an attempt to conquer the island along with its neighbors in the Hawaiian archipelago.  Almost two years prior, a representative from the RAC, Georg Schaffer, arrived in the islands with the intent of overthrowing the local monarchy to gain for Russia the amply supplies of sandalwood and tobacco and the strategic location of the islands as a coaling station for the newly expanding Russian navy.  Schaffer arrived as part of a rescue expedition meant to help stranded Russian sailors who had shipwrecked on one of the islands.  While there, likely without orders for St. Petersburg, Schaffer raised a small force of Hawaiians who were disgruntled with the ruling King Kamehameha.  His attempted, however, were bungled from the beginning and the tsar, Alexander I, was loathe to support such an effort since many of Russians European peers also used the islands as a coaling station.  Russia was still recovering from the years of the Napoleonic Wars and was not ready to goad its neighbors so soon after peace had been re-established.  Schaffer’s ill-fated expedition was recalled to Russia in disgrace.

Featured Image: “Georg Anton Schaffer.” By not given – Edward Joesting (1988) Kauai: The Separate Kingdom, University of Hawaii Press, p. Page 64 ISBN: 9780824811624., Public Domain.
Source: Michel, Casey. “Russia’s Pacific Paradise.” The Diplomat. 15 October 2015.

TDISH: Destruction From the Skies

In the early morning of June 30, 1908, natives of remote Siberia witnessed a strange flashing in the sky.  Minutes later a massive explosion ripped across the tundra, flattening trees and killing wildlife across approximately 2,000 square kilometers of wilderness.  The explosion was the equivalent of 3 to 5 megatons of TNT – about 300 times stronger than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  The exact cause of the so-called Tunguska event has long been a matter of debate, though most scientists now think it was caused by an above-ground detonation of a part of either an asteroid or a comet.  However, conspiracy theories abound as with any major event such as this.  No human casualties were reported.

Peplow, Mark. “Rock samples suggest meteor caused Tunguska blast.” Nature. 10 June 2013.
Featured Image. “Tunguska Event.” By Leonid Kulik, the expedition to the Tunguska event – Vokrug Sveta, 1931, Public Domain.