What do the Russians fear from us the most? It's not our cruise missiles, our nuclear submarines, our B-52 bombers or our new MX system. They're afraid of our books.
This came to light once again when American publishers were invited to the Moscow International Book Fair. The Soviets confiscated 44 books, including five editions of the "Best Pictorial Cartoons" from the years 1972, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, published by Pelican; all of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's books; "The Illustrated History of the Third Reich" by John Bradley (Grosset and Dunlap); "A Cartoon History of United States Foreign Policy" by the editors of Foreign Policy Assn. (Morrow); "American Ballet Theater" by Charles Payne; "Hitler" by Joachim Fest, and George Orwell's "Animal Farm."
When I read the news, I called up Boris, my KGB contact at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, and told him, "I've just microfilmed 'The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet' and I thought you might want to buy it from me."
He instructed me to meet him on a park bench near the Lincoln Memorial. He told me to bring along a bag of bread crumbs so we could pretend we were feeding the pigeons.
I made the rendezvous, sat down next to him and passed him the microfilm. He slipped me an envelope with ten $100 bills.
"This is very good work," he said. "What can I expect next?"
I replied, "I know a guy who works at the Discount Book Store in Chevy Chase. He has access to "The Complete Book of Running' by James Fixx. It will cost you, though. The guy thinks he's being watched by the manager."
"I'll ask my people in Moscow and get back to you," he said. "Do you have any word on whether Godunov, the ballet dancer, is writing a book?"
"No, I said, "but I'll try to find out."
"We're willing to pay a lot to discover this," he said.
"Why?" I asked.
"The sooner we know, the sooner we can ban it," he replied.
"Tell me, Boris, it must be impossible to keep books out of the Soviet Union that are printed in the West. Why does the Soviet Union go to so much trouble?"
He lit a new cigarette from the one he was smoking. "Books kill," he whispered. "We have the capacity to stop your planes and missiles and even knock down your satellites. But we have no defense yet against Fascist ideas. If certain books published in the West got wide circulation in the Eastern countries, they could become a threat to our national security."
"It must be terrible to be afraid of books. They look so innocent on a shelf. It's hard to believe they could do so much damage."
He lit another cigarette from the one he had already lighted and said, "It isn't the books, it's what is in them that we're concerned with. Our people are happy and love the Communist system. We don't want trash from the West to foment hatred and insecurity. The price of a true Marxist society is constant vigilance. Besides, you have no right to ask me all these questions."
"Don't get smart with me," I warned Boris. "I am your only source for an autographed copy of 'Sophie's Choice.' I happen to know the author."
"I'm sorry I lost my temper," Boris said. "But we've been under tremendous pressure from Moscow. Several people who subscribe to the Book of the Month Club managed to get visas to attend our book fair, and they're putting all the blame on us."