THIS IS A COLUMN about a man who wants to speak out but who is afraid. Almost nobody knows his name, but he is afraid anyhow. Perhaps later, when he is ready to tell the whole story, the fear will fade.
For decades he lived in the Soviet Union. He taught techinical skills to Soviet laborers, lived as a worker among the workers. He thinks he knows their mentality. He thinks we should boycott the Summer Olympics in Moscow.
A Washington journalist drinks drops of skepticism with her morning coffee. Is this man a spy? A triple-agent? Does he work for the CIA? The KGB? Is he a turncoat who turned? What, exactly, is the story here?
Hours of interviews and days of checking have convinced me he is what he seems -- one of many U.S. citizens who went to Russia out of curiosity and seeking better assurances of employment during the Depression when World War I vets were selling apples on the street corners to survive. He got "trapped" there during the war years, and spent many, many years trying to get out.
Now he's out, squirreled away somewhere in the United States and writing about the experience. But he's been squirming in his hideaway as the U.S. government and the public debate our participation in the Olympic games in view of the Soviets' brutal invasion of Afghanistan.
At perhaps some risk of exposure, he came to me to talk about his feelings.
He is in his sixties, a thin, almost ascetic-looking man, his skin the color of dark plums. His clothes are European, with the heavy dark overcoat and fur hat. His back is straight, his gait an awkward advance. We take a seat in a restaurant and I am surprised to see that his hair is black. It is probably his only vanity. He drinks tea with several packets of sugar.
He thinks it is a waste of time for the West to protest Soviet military moves. In odd, accented English, he says: "Soviet Russia refers to such gestures as the 'the West makes big noise because it can do nothing else;' I heard such statements in my place of work." He doesn't feel the Soviets want to provoke a thermonuclear war yet but intend to continue their tactics of creating internal strife in small countries, every five or 10 years, as they did in Afghanistan.
He thinks the Soviets deliberately calculated their move in hopes that by summer the West would have resigned itself in the "fait accompli." A boycott, he says, would give the West an enormous moral victory.
It would also be "a stunning and fearful blow to [the Soviets] much-inflated pride and national prestige.
"There's nothing else both leaders and led would dread more than the loss of such a seldom-occurring opportunity to be host to the whole world and feel that, after over two decades, they had, at least, achieved the great goal of being accepted -- 'equal among equals.'"
He sipped his tea, twisting his left hand as if it ached. He had brought a friend, and documents to authenticate his story. Later, I would check and double-check. Then, I would have to go on gut feeling. He would come a second and a third time. He just had to speak out. In the complex, high-stakes power game of international politics, he had something to say.
Other stories have noted the enormous capital outlay the Soviets have invested -- hotel construction and renovations, transportation facilities such as buses, Metro coaches and stations, landscaping, and Olympic facilities. Then there is the extreme Soviet national pride about its international athletes.
"A trainer in my shop told me a few years ago, 'Our ultimate goal is, in one of the Olympics, to thoroughly trounce the U.S.A. athletes in such a way that we'll win all the gold medals and they'll return home with the silver and bronze only.'"
"Were the games to collapse the [soviet athletes'] disappointment, unrestrained anger and profound anguish would be frustratingly painful. What's more, they would lose a unique opportunity to meet and be congratulated by the Kremlin leaders for bringing prestige and honor to the motherland,' the gifts of a new car, a new private apartment, money, a yearly pass to a first-class House of Rest . . .
"Russia's needs and expectations of hard currency, honor and prestige and the boost to the correctness' and superiority complex of its socialist system are of such a nature that it would be an incredible nightmare should the games collapse, be postponed or shifted. . . ."
He thinks a boycott could cause "friction between the Brezhnev-Kosygin leadership and the Politboro that could eventually result in new leadership."
Thus the public would be pacified, thinking those responsible for the games' failure had been removed, he said.
Secret tears would be shed out of sight of the gigantic political propaganda machine that would continue to dazzle the population about their past and their role in the future. He said all the rest of the world would come, but only the U.S.A. would make the games "a crowning success."
He seemed to me a man of neither world who wanted to add his voice to the chorus. He said he's glad to be home.