Know thine enemy

Whoever wins in today's voting (there seems little doubt about his identity), one condition in this world is not going to change. There is still going to be one other superpower in the world, and the winner in the American election is going to have to deal in one form or other with that one other superpower.

How the winner deals with that one other superpower, the Soviet Union, will bear on whether the United States will get through the next four years at peace with the outside world. It could even determine whether the world as we know it, and the human race, will survive through the next four years.

I am not among the pessimists who think that Armageddon is just around the corner. I am personally confident that there are enough intelligent and sensible people at or near the top in both Moscow and Washington to prevent either the USA or the USSR from resorting to nuclear weapons to settle their differences.

But there is always more danger of someone's committing the ultimate folly when living in an atmosphere of mutual hostility between Washington and Moscow than there would be if the two were in regular conversation with each other and were constantly trying to narrow their differences and manage those differences that cannot be eliminated.

Perhaps the biggest element of danger is the amount of suspicion in both countries that the other is more interested in gaining a military advantage than in managing the differences. Some of that suspicion might be exorcised if the two great powers were meeting and talking candidly with each other.

Candid and constructive dialogue ceased, in effect, with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan at the end of 1979. Over the intervening five years Moscow and Washington have been treating each other as enemies, maneuvering for every possible advantage over the other, increasing their armaments, and attributing to the other all evil both of intent and of deed.

President Reagan has to end this period of mutual recrimination and hostility and seek a safer context for the Soviet-American relationship. He even denied during the recent election campaign that he ever called Moscow ''the source of all evil.'' (It is on the record that he did.)

That remark dates from the beginning of the Reagan administration. It was typical of a widespread tendency in both countries at that time to dehumanize the other superpower and to see it only as evil. It is precisely a point of view which must become recessive, not dominant, in both the USA and the USSR if the president in Washington is to have a constructive dialogue with the other superpower. The two must know and understand each other better.

It is an interesting coincidence that at this time, when both Moscow and Washington are thinking about the possibility of resuming a real dialogue (as distinct from a propaganda exercise), Svetlana Alliluyeva went home.

Stalin's daughter defected to the West 17 years ago. What she wrote during her sojourn showed that she was a conscious refugee from the Soviet government and society. She knew it to be a monstrous tyranny during the rule of her father , Joseph Stalin. She knows that it continues to be a society ruled by a self-perpetuating oligarchy incapable of initiating reforms essential to the well-being of the Russian peoples.

She knew all these things when she came to the West. She knows them today just as much as she did then. But she went home.

Stalin's daughter did not find personal contentment either in the US or in England. The tug of the homeland was strong in her. Russia with all its faults seemed to her more congenial than the West with all its freedoms.

If we in the West want to understand better the people of the USSR, we could start by recognizing that there are millions of people in that country who, like Svetlana Alliluyeva, love their country.

They may know some or all of its faults. They may deplore those faults. They may wish for unattainable reforms. But they are patriotic Russians. They may even defect, live elsewhere, and then feel an irresistible, and very Russian, desire to go home. They too are human.

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