Caught in a Bad Romance: What America Means to Russia

An excerpt from an essay published by Public Books and La Vie des ideés.  The complete story can be found here.

Russia fares poorly in the headlines, and not just because the news is so often bad. The Anglo-American world’s limited knowledge about its culture and history saddles Russia with painfully obvious clichés, often involving the words “red” and “revolution.” But the banality prize must go to the inevitable “From Russia, with Love.”1 It has been almost 60 years since Ian Fleming published a James Bond novel by that name (and more than 50 since the movie was released), yet the phrase, like Bond himself, does not seem to be headed to retirement any time soon.

But it is time for our complacency about the nature of the ties between the two countries to be shaken, if not stirred. Fleming’s story features two Russian women trying to make contact with Britain’s top super spy; one wants to kill him, the other takes him to bed. With just a few small adjustments (such as swapping out Bond for an American), the two extremes could be applied to many Russians’ feelings about the United States, feelings that, as is often the case in cross-cultural relationships, are mutually misunderstood.

Pundits in the West anxiously wring their hands over the rise of Russian “anti-Americanism,” a notoriously vague term whose main effect is to make Americans feel besieged. Russia has become the latest focus for the naive question we never get tired of asking: “Why do they hate us so much?” In this case, though, the hostility towards America comes from a place of love. Angry, spurned love.


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