Bridge of Spies

History does not have to be razed. If vital elements are left out, history is distorted.

In this half-assed fumble of history called Bridge of Spies from director Steven Spielberg, Jim Donovan, an insurance lawyer, is tagged to represent and defend an accused Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel, a British citizen with strong ties to East Germany who’s facing the death penalty if convicted of transporting state secrets to the Soviets.

Spielberg, when relating historical events, has the tendency to seek out both sides of the story before ignoring one of them, or in this case, eliminating any mention of the events leading up to the U2 spy plane incident and subsequent trial of the captured American pilot, Francis Gary Powers.

Maybe he thinks the facts will divert attention from the characterization of the creeping sentiments of the Adlai Stevenson era, which would explain why Donovan, the defense attorney, vilified in the press for demanding that this alleged spy get a by-the-book trial rather than some rush to judgment, says “Shouldn’t we show them (meaning the Russians) who we are?”

After the raising of the so-called “Iron Curtain,” after aiming missiles at France and Britain during the Suez Canal conflict, and once Premier Khrushchev declared, “We will bury you!” I think the Russians already had a pretty good idea of who we were!

So what was Russia like in the 1950s?

It was a world for cornered animals where its ever-present propaganda sought to impress upon the rest of the world its joyous spirit as a nation that had pulled together to meet a bountiful future. The truth is that it was a desperate hellhole where stomach growls matched the forced cheers of coerced patriotism. It was cold. Diseased. Full of lice and dirt. Alcoholism ran rampant. It was the huddled fear of anticipated arrests and exile of teachers and intellectuals in preparation for the mental mutilation of generations to come with endless ridiculous talk talk talk – only you weren’t allowed to comment. The cruel refusal of even the remote right to earn a living for people with a background that did not jibe with the times was the rule of the day. Every act depended on the length of welfare lines. Stores were filled with useless merchandise while depleted of necessities. Inefficiency ran “blue light specials” on every aisle. And at every step and turn there was the all-pervasive bureaucracy directing all roads to the KGB! But hey, CEOs weren’t profiting because there weren’t any corporations. Greed was hoping you could snatch that pitiful sliver of crumbs cast off by the State.

Welcome to the bounty of Socialism 101…

Yet in Bridge of Spies, you’d imagine Russia was a replica of America, and both had spies stealing State secrets!

Initially Abel, once convicted of being a spy and sentenced to death, gets old Jim Donovan’s dander up! So Jim convinces others that Abel might prove a valuable pawn on the chance that a prisoner swap takes place at some later date. But what’s missing in this Spielberg scenario is that American spies had nothing to steal from the Soviets because we were the ones producing advanced weapons and technology, as evidenced by Soviet reluctance to let a brain drain of students and technicians jump the Berlin Wall.

Sure, the Soviets had launched Sputnik and, thanks to the Rosenbergs (Julius, at least), they had the bomb, but they lacked the productive means to serve anything other than root vegetables at the dinner table. On a global scale, their aim was the keep the world too frightened to hinder their aggressive plundering.

The burden on our spies was having to determine how far along the Soviets were to implementing what they’d stolen from us, and to provide reconnaissance for any military deployment so the world would not be caught off guard, as had been the case prior to Pearl Harbor.

But that goes unmentioned, much less clarified in Bridge of Spies. It simply would detract from Spielberg’s moral equivalency.

On May 1st, 1960, Soviet missiles shot down Francis Gary Powers, a pilot of a U2 surveillance plane that could travel 430 mph at a height of 70,000 feet and was equipped with four high-powered lenses in hopes of keeping the US apprised of Soviet movement. Interrogated for 107 days before being displayed in a “show trial” that lasted well into 1962, Jim Donovan was brought in to negotiate Powers’ release and eventual swap on the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin for Rudolf Abel.

Every attempt is made in Bridge of Spies to portray Powers as an unlikable rube vilified back home for not destroying his U2 equipment. Declassified documents show otherwise, that Powers resisted interrogations.

In 1955 at the Geneva Summit, Eisenhower had introduced his “Open Sky” proposal, which called for the US and Russia to exchange maps indicating the exact location of every military installation in their respective nation, and it allowed each nation to conduct aerial surveillance of the installations to assume compliance with arms control treaties. Khrushchev called it “an espionage plot”!

So you see, if the Soviet Union had accepted and complied with this “Open Sky” policy, none of the events portrayed in Spielberg’s movie would have ever taken place!

He would have had to concede that it was the Soviet Union that was impeding a safer world. So much for moral equivalency!

[PG-13]