Monday, October 24, 2011

Stalin's fear of wristwatches ...

As World War II ended, each of the major victorious powers -- the United States, the Soviet Union, and Britain -- pushed hard for its share of the spoils of war and to determine its place in a new world order. Many decisions were made at the Potsdam Conference in Germany in the summer of 1945. Participants were U.S. President Harry S. Truman, who had recently entered the presidency following the death of Franklin Roosevelt in May; Soviet Union Communist Party General Secretary Joseph Stalin; British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill; and then Churchill's successor, new Prime Minister Clement Attlee, who stepped into the role after Churchill's party lost its leadership role following British elections.

Generally, the U.S. and Britain feared Soviet expansionism and worked to control Stalin's efforts to install communism where it hadn't existed prior to the war. But Stalin feared something else, as noted in Charles L. Mee Jr.'s book Meeting at Potsdam (Pax Americana Series), originally published in 1975. "(Stalin) perceived a new and vital danger:  millions of Russian soldiers had seen foreign lands, foreign wealth, foreign freedom. Thousands and thousands had traded everything they had with British and American soldieres for -- wristwatches. Wristwatches, gold plated, silver plated, with seventeen-jewel movements: what unimaginable wealth they represented, and every single British and American soldier seemed to have one, and treat it casually, as though it were a mere convenience." As a result, Stalin "did indeed fear that the Russian people would be infected by contact with the West, its wristwatches and its ideas."

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