Thursday, May 2, 2013

May Day

1964 May Day Parade

It is the first of May.  It was a lovely day in May here in Chicagoland.  It was a bright sunny day here in the mid-eighties.  It was like we went from winter to summer in the blink of an eye.  It was indeed like a summer day  But, we are in spring.  The leaves just emerging from the buds and a variety of spring blossoms remind us of the season.

May Day.  The first day of may has a special meaning around the world but not necessarily in the US.  Here is just another day.  

In many countries, it is a day to celebrate Spring.  In others International Workers Day is celebrated.  International Workers day was created to commemorate an incident that occurred in Chicago in 1886.   Worker's were protesting for an eight hour work day.  Someone threw a bomb at the strikers.  The police then opened fire... on the protesting workers.  Four protest were killed. 

The commemoration of the day was established by the First Congress of the Second International in 1889.  The Second International (1889 - 1916) was an international socialist organization that brought several socialist, communist, and anarchist groups and parties together.  There have been a series of these Internationals over the years.  The idea of an International Workers Day took hold and has grown.  Eighty countries officially celebrate such on May 1st.  Because of this May Day became an important socialist day of commemoration and celebration. 

1963 May Day Parade
It was no more so than in the Soviet Union. 

I recall that the Soviets put on a show for May Day.  The day is known as International Workers Day but in the good old USSR, at least as the parade was depicted in the good old USA, it was essentially a day to celebrate the Red Army and Soviet military might.  There were always parades of soldiers and weapons.  It was a huge deal and involved infantry, tanks, armored personal carriers, military trucks of all kinds, mobile missile launchers, and more.  The parade seemed endless and most impressive.  The parade would pass a viewing stand where the Premier reviewed his troop with the politburo all around him.  The soldiers carried huge portraits of Lenin, Marx, other luminaries, and heroes of the Soviet Union.   At least the parade was more of a celebration of Soviet military might than International Workers Day.  There was no doubt some propaganda involved.  Maybe, they were just making a clear and overt display of might.

The coverage of the event in the US was certainly laden with propaganda.  There was always an underlying message of "look! They want to use this army, The Red Army, to take over the world and to specifically destroy the American way of life."    I was only a school kid in those days and that was the impression I had of May Day.  In school, whenever we covered the Soviet Union in any class, there were always photos  of the May Day Parade and, more often then not, the photo was of the mobile missile launchers or heavy trucks each carrying an ICBM.

Later, I learned that military observers loved the parade to see what new weapons or versions of weapons the Soviets were displaying.  People that studied Soviet politics and policy would look to see whose portraits were in the parade and whose were not.  This seemed to imply most notably to Josef Stalin.  Was Stalin in favor or out of favor?    

In a way, I miss those days. 

The Soviet Union definitely had weapons of mass destruction.  Once a year, they paraded them around for all to see.  Perhaps because we saw the weaponry, we never went to war with them.  Sure, we had a most serious Cold War but no military engagements.  In Iraq, there were rumors or, OK I will be nice, wishful thinking that they had weapons of mass destruction.  We never saw them and... well you know what happened there.
          I always used to laugh at the term Mutually Assured Destruction and its inane acronym MAD.  As "mad" as it seemed to me then and even now, I have to admit it worked.

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