Saturday, June 13, 2009

Viktor Belenko: Hero or Traitor?



In September 1976 Lt. Viktor Belenko defected from the Soviet airbase at Chuguyevka, Siberia, to a civilian airport in Hakodate, Japan. In his defection he brought to the West the best fighter the Soviets had managed to produce up to that time: the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat. Immediately after landing, he requested –and obtained– political asylum in the United States.

In his book MiG Pilot, the Final Escape of Lieutenant Belenko (McGraw-Hill 1980), John Barron, using the manuscript Belenko provided him, exposed in detail the reasons that moved Lt. Belenko to attempt a defection to the ‘adversary’: the absurd life that common Soviet citizens weres forced to live in those days of the so-called “years of Brezhnev’s stagnation.” Constant and daily shortages of everything imaginable, from major food staples such as meat and sausages to the classical toilet paper. When they were available, then the kilometric lines the citizens had to make to purchase them. As an elite fighter pilot, Lt. Belenko had access to many articles that were beyond the reach of the common citizen, such as meat and similar food items (but not even he had access to toilet paper. An old issue of Pravda was used for that matter).

However, it was not so much the scarcity of those articles that pushed him to defect. It was what he considered to be the obvious discrepancy between the promises of the Soviet Communist system and the reality of life under it. All the promises the system made for a better life were accessible only to a select few members of the Nomenklatura in the upper echelons of Soviet life. Another point of contention for him was the apparent contradictions between what Soviet propaganda fed their citizens about the West, and the achievements Western society produced. In Belenko’s own words: “If they were so bad, how come they could send a man to the moon and bring him back? If they are falling apart right now, how come they’re producing better fighters than ours and have more Nobel Prize winners than we do?”

Comparing Belenko’s defection to the plot to kill Adolph Hitler, when Count Claus Stern von Stauffenberg placed the bomb under Hitler’s table in July 1944, he and the other plotters were summarily executed. Today von Stauffenberg and all his co-conspirators are generally considered heroes, since they took action against what they perceived to be an unbearable system headed by a mad man.

Immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belenko was sometimes hailed as a hero for having escaped the totalitarian oppression of the Soviet regime in a bold and daring way. However, after 2004 he’s once again vilified as a traitor to Rodina, “Mother Russia.” His detractors accuse him of having been ‘recruited’ by the CIA while still in the fighter pilot school, and even of doing it solely for monetary gain, namely, the ‘promise’ of US$100,000 given to all those who defected to the West bringing with them a fighter plane.

I invite you the reader to comment on Belenko's defection. Moreover, I'd like to hear your opinions on the following questions:

1) Is the old adage “once a traitor always a traitor” true?
2) Whoever betrays a repressive totalitarian regime is a traitor or a hero?
3) By defecting with a MiG-25 Belenko betrayed the Soviet Union; is he therefore a traitor to “Mother Russia”?

8 comments:

  1. Of course he was perfectly right to defect from a slavish, anti-freedom country to one that honors freedom and individualism. How can you be a traitor to a country who does not honor freedom or the right of an individual to his OWN life, liberty and happiness? An person under a dictatorship has the obligation to try to escape however he can so that he can live a life worth living. Man is not a poodle to be ordered how to live and how to die. Man is a being that needs freedom to think and live as he sees fit so long as he honors the right of others to do the same. Russia or the former USSR does not honor freedom as a supreme value...therefore an human being has a right and indeed must try to escape if he can by any means available to him. Hurray for Victor Belenko - he is a true hero ....

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  2. The Soviet Union was pure evil, and you cannot do anything wrong that's against evil, no matter the circumstance. That says it all.

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    1. Evil? You think to throw off the American atomic bombs on people with kindness? I am not a defender of the Soviet Union. In the Soviet people want good and peace.

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  3. konstantin belenko was and is no traitor to "mother russia". he only betrayed those who were raping and strangling her. i speak as a former defector from what you call here in the u.s. or in "the west" communism. the term "communism" is a misnomer. proper term for it should be "jewish and jew inspired nazism" that murdered tens of millions. S.

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    1. он был хуже чем предатель. Он бросил своего ребенка на произвол судьбы. ИЗ за него пострадали ни в чем неповинные люди.

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  4. You are cowards, selfish hypocrites. This inhuman, and gave up the most important thing in his life-FAMILY! he thought only of himself. This act is not a man. And burn him for it in hell. How can you judge a country where you do not ever come?? Let them have a shortage of food ... But we know what love to their neighbors! Envy us!
    man

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  6. Sarita, your words betray a very short-sighted vision of the world of politics. Despite its many claims to the opposite, the government of United States has demonstrated countless violations of human rights. Hiroshima to Baghdad, watch Pilger's 'War on Democracy'. United States military machine denies freedom globally every day, whilst maintaing a regular propulsion of the kind of drivel-rhetoric your statement above is made of. Belenko is a traitor, primarily to his own family and child. His actions did not reveal an aspiration to the betternment of the lives of those around him. "I prefer a painful truth over any blissful fantasy" is a statement by Bradley Manning, a defector. One not seeking lifestyle embellishments.

    We are blinded by a callus PR machine at the helm of a very tyrannical regime. It is hard to wake up when so much money is spent on keeping us asleep.

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