September 29

This Day in History

Cold War

Sep 29, 1953:

Russians want the American dream

An article in the New York Times claims that Russian citizens want the "American dream": private property and a home of their own. The article was one of many that appeared during the 1950s and 1960s, as the American media attempted to portray the average Russian as someone not much different from the average American.

Despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans supported the anti-Soviet Union policies of their government, most had a more difficult time trying to dislike the average Russian. During World War II, after all, the U.S. government had launched a propaganda campaign to convince the American people that the Russians--though they lived in a communist nation--were good allies in the war against Hitler's Germany. Even Hollywood got into the act, releasing movies portraying the stoically heroic Russians and their battle against the Nazi hordes. When World War II ended and the rupture between the United States and the Soviet Union began to develop into the Cold War, many Americans were confused about the new portrayal of Russia as a threat to the United States.

The U.S. government and a cooperative media soon developed an answer to this confusion. The message they spread was clear and direct: the Soviet government was a communist dictatorship bent on world domination; the Russian people, on the other hand, were not much different from their American counterparts. They just craved freedom, liberty, and material comfort. A story in the September 29, 1953, edition of the New York Times was a perfect example of this approach. It began by explaining that a "fortunate Russian" might eventually receive a "small plot of land on which to build a home." The piece asked, "What is the first thing he does then?" According to the article, he "erects a fine, big fence all the way around the lot." Decades of communist rule had "succeeded only in sharpening the instinct of the Russian people to hold private property." The Times reporter opined that the "Soviet Government, if it wants to have a contented population, will have to go a long way in making concessions to satisfy it."

The article was also evidence of the idea that some of the best American propaganda directed toward the Russian citizenry relied on describing the immense material wealth and comfort available in the United States. In 1959, the first American exhibition to be held in the Soviet Union consisted largely of automobiles, kitchen appliances, fashions, and vast amounts of other consumer goods. Nearly 3 million Russians crowded in to get a look and snatch away the catalogs.

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