One of the principal methods in which a nation further promotes and spreads the idea of war is through the ways in which it collectively remembers any past wars it was involved in and through the ways in which it creates its historical experiences. The idea of countries using their history to shape public support for war is evident in nearly every conflict and is common in many literature pieces detailing warfare. By framing its history and wars that it participated in a positive light, a nation can galvanize public support for any future war and promote feelings of national pride and unity. On the other hand, the promotion of an inaccurate past serves as a way for a nation to control its population and prevents an accurate interpretation of its history from ultimately emerging. Additionally, the promotion of an idealized version of a country’s past discourages people from questioning any of the actions that its country takes. An example of a recent novel that highlighted this theme of countries using their history to promote further warfare is “Compartment No. 6.”
“Compartment No. 6” is a 2016 novel by Rosa Liksom. Set in the Soviet Union during the latter part of the 1980s, the book follows a young Finnish woman only described as “the girl,” who boards a train in Moscow destined for Mongolia. Desiring to move past a previously broken relationship with her boyfriend Mitka and her tempestuous and volatile familial situation, the girl is hoping for some time to contemplate her life and chooses an empty compartment on the train. Her hopes for any seclusion while on the trip are broken with the arrival of Vadim Nikolayevich Ivanov, a 50-year old former Russian soldier who is menacing, course, and vulgar in his temperament. While on the train together, Vadim passes the time by sharing long and colorful stories about his past experiences with women, his upbringing during the rule of Joseph Stalin and Nikita Kruschev, and excitement regarding the future of the Soviet Union. Eventually, the girl warms up to Vadim, and both become traveling companions that are both united and different at the same time. Between the stories told by Vadim and the countryside that the train moves through, Liksom highlights the changing nature of the Soviet Union during the latter part of the Cold War and the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev and the hopes and desires that characterized an entire generation of Soviet citizens during a pivotal time in its history.
One way that countries seek to gain support for war is through the ways in which they frame their overall culture and by arguing that their systems of government will continue indefinitely. An example of this theme in “Compartment No. 6” is shown through the ways in which Vadim describes the Soviet system of government. For example, Vadim is portrayed as having an embossed picture of Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova in his wallet and says to the girl that the Soviet Union is “the world’s only real power” and that “it will never die.” Additionally, Vadim mentions that the Soviet Union is a “powerful country” that has “built socialism and flown to the moon” when comparing the Soviet Union to Mongolia. Vadim also mentions to the girl that he would never depart to the other side, arguing that it is akin to “moving a bird from one cage to another” and further states that “America is a God-forsaken dump” when describing his love of life in the Soviet Union.Through both examples, Vadim is saying that the system of government in the Soviet Union is ideal and that he would not question any of the policy decisions that it would make.
This theme is echoed several times throughout the later chapters of “Compartment No. 6”. For example, Vadim makes a toast to former Soviet leader Joseph Stain on the anniversary of his death. While making his toast, Vadim describes Stalin as the Soviet Unions “great departed leader” and thanks him for “making the Soviet Union a strong industrial superpower” and for “sustaining hope for a better tomorrow.” This example shows that Vadim holds the belief that Joseph Stalin was the savior of the Soviet Union even though the truth about Stalin’s time in power and record as a leader is far more mixed overall. Another example of the idea of countries framing their history to gain increased levels of public support occurs when the girl recounts a visit she took to Moscow with her father and brother when she was 15. While in Moscow, the girl marveled at life in the Soviet Union and wrote in her journal that she wanted to move to Moscow as soon as she turned 18. This example shows that the Soviet Union sought to frame its history and culture in a relatively misleading way to convince people from the outside world that its governmental and societal institutions were superior to others.
Another way by which countries try to manipulate their populations to believe in an inaccurate version of their history and promote the idea of war is through the creation of organizations meant to support their government’s dominant ideology and to make its members believe in a viewpoint that corresponds to it. Often, governments seek to enroll the youth into such organizations because they feel that they are easier to manipulate considering their young age and because youth are not educated enough to question the views that they are told to them by authority figures. An example of this practice shown in “Compartment No. 6” occurs when Vadim mentions his experience in such camps during his youth. For example, Vadim states that he was a member of the “World Socialist Camp” and that he was a member of all the affiliated camps in the Soviet Union during his youth. The purpose of this example is to show that his experiences in such settings conditioned Vadim to hold the view that the Soviet system is superior and to follow the ways in which it framed its history and the past wars that it was involved with.
Nations also construct their history and seek to gain support among their population for warfare by promoting the belief that the dominant ethnic groups are superior to others. By framing certain ethnic groups as inferior and as potential threats to the traditional way of life, governments often convince a reluctant populace to accept the historical vision that they promote and gain their full support for any potential warfare. The theme of governments scapegoating different ethnic groups is shown several times in “Compartment No. 6.” For example, Vadim states that the Mongolians do not do anything but “eat, screw, sleep, and die” and that “the human soul has no meaning to them” when describing how the Soviet Union has sought to help Mongolia modernize as a country. Additionally, Vadim further describes the Georgians, Chechens, Tatars, and the Ukrainians in negative terms when comparing their cultures to that of Russia. When discussing to the girl about how he felt about the Russian soldiers who were fighting in the Afghanistan War, Vadim calls the Afghan soldiers “fairy Afghan fighters” and calls them “musselman’s” when describing how they handle their weapons on the battlefield. These examples illustrate the fact that governments promote xenophobic views to create a common enemy and further propagate the idea of warfare against other cultures.
Rosa Liksom also explored the fact that even though the Soviet Union sought to use its history and past experiences to justify the War in Afghanistan, the overall effects of the war on life in the Soviet Union were negative. For example, the girl describes the fact that the ongoing Afghanistan War and the subsequent increase in war production reduced the availability of even basic consumer goods and resulted in chronic shortages of different food products. The war had such an adverse effect on the availability of certain foods that the girl recounts how she found tomato juice and a 3-liter bottle of jam and was able to exchange both for ballet and concert ticket, champagne and other items. Such shortages resulted in feelings of need among average Soviet citizens and made the question the rationale for fighting in a war with no end in sight. Additionally, Liksom alludes to the fact that the Soviet Union entered a deep state of decline because of the war when she characterizes the Soviet Union as a “tired, old country” that is “left behind” when describing when the girl finally leaves the Soviet Union and arrives in Mongolia.
In conclusion, nations often shape their history and promote past experiences to propagate warfare and bind the citizenry to the government. The history that countries often develop are often distorted and are made to be idealized to prevent individuals from questioning the actions that a government takes during times of war. The idea of countries creating an idealized version of their history and role in past conflicts is common in every war and in many pieces of literature detailing the effects of warfare on both the home front and the battlefield. The concept is shown throughout “Compartment No. 6” and helps the reader to understand how the Soviet Union portrayed its history and past role in conflicts such as World War 2 to promote and gain support for its efforts in the Afghanistan War during the 1980s. Additionally, the highlighting of this concept in “Compartment No. 6” reveals the fact that countries often pursue certain agendas regarding warfare for ill-defined reasons and do not take into account the concerns of their citizenry and the negative effects that stem from all warfare.