Raised in Russia up to age 10, hating America was a cultural phenomenon. The elder generation did it, the youngsters copied it. Though we all thought America was cool, then, and it's not like we could be proud of our own country in the 90s. Who would be? War, economic collapse, international humiliation, soaring crime rates, a disintegrating society. I was raised in a science town - the USSR built these facilities to house scientists of a certain profession. Ours was biology, and the town next to us had a particle accelerator. Most people living in towns like these were either scientists or people catering for the scientists - cooks, laundry workers. These towns were also the first to see crippling cuts from a bankrupt government. My childhood was spent watching families leave. I witnessed the brain drain of the 1990s first hand. We stayed for 8 long years. Finally, right after the banking crisis that wrecked a slowly recovering economy, we left as well.
And then, we became immigrants. Legal ones, with jobs and places to live, but living and growing up in a foreign culture. I was a kid watching news of the elections back in the home country, on television and on the Internet. There was definitely a sense of doom in the air. Who would replace Yeltsin? How is that country ever meant to crawl back out of the hole it's gotten into?
And then, over the next few years, a miracle. Growing up, I missed my national identity, missed my language, missed Russian-ness, so of course I was desperate to catch up on the news, when dad allowed me onto the internet. I was glued to the news sites. The war ended. The economy started recovering. Russia silently began to rise. And with it, my nationalistic feelings as a young immigrant kid, immersed in a culture I did not understand but was taught to hate. And hate it I did. It was materialistic, it was so.... rich. People here had stuff that back in Russia only the wealthy kids could afford. I began to feel burning jealousy. How did they do this to the Motherland? Who betrayed us?
Started reading. Russian Internet media was rife with conspiracy theories, about how the Kursk was sunk in a collision with an American spy sub, or how Americans funded Chechen terrorists to keep Russia weak. But my biggest influence was my dad. He was very anti-American. In retrospect, he belonged to an old generation that was taught Soviet propaganda for solid decades. He seemed to hate the West, even while he was working there. And, come to think of it, many Russians were angry, very anti-Western. The early 2000s was an angry, warring time for Russia. Kursk, Nord-Ost, Beslan. A whole string of tragedies. The new Russian President acted tough and got support for it. Russia was painfully rising up out of the ashes.
At the age of about 14-16, my dad had left due to divorce, but my nationalism was peaking. Not living in Russia, not having to be exposed every day to the problems there, I only saw the rosy picture. Putin started flying long-distance bombers into Europe. I was so proud. Finally, the West will respect Russia again! My mum watched quietly, concerned, as I listened to Janna Bichevskaya in the kitchen, spent ages on pro-Russian internet sites. I would mostly hang out with Russian-speaking friends. One of them was a nationalist Ukrainian - that's when I learned for the first time that 'Russian-speaking' did not equal 'Russian-loving'. I felt incensed. How dare he talk down about the home country? Ukraine's just a part of Russia, culturally, and Belarus, and all those other republics! I hated Poland and the Baltic states for leaving Russia, as I perceived it, for betrayal. When their politicians started making concerned noises about Russia's growing aggression, the Russian media painted it in a fascist light - young generations not respecting all that Russia's done for them in World War 2. I believed every word. All opinion to the contrary counted as treason in my mind. I drew the Russian coat of arms on my school planner and had secret dreams of seeing Russian fighter jets flying over the British skies. Was bullied a bit, then (possibly because I excluded myself so much); growing up was tough. The nationalism, as much as anything, kept me sane.
The paradigm shift began over the Internet. Hugely nationalistic, I spent large amounts of time on Internet forums, bickering with what I considered ignorant Westerners. That's probably how I came across StrategyPage. It intrigued me, because it seemed very honest about world affairs, easy to read and straight talking, and I liked that. But its coverage of Russia really pissed me off. It was unfair, offensive, and they just did not understand. They described Putin as being belligerent. What the hell were they talking about? The guy was just standing up for Russia in the world. That awesome Munich speech where he told America it can't rule the world on its own was used as an excuse to slander him?! He was just telling the truth! The bombers? Well, Russia is a superpower is it not? It can act like a superpower. Why are people so afraid of Russia anyway? This I could not understand. Russia had never in history invaded anyone! (This is an actual thing taught to Russians - we invaded no-one but were invaded by pretty much everyone).
I was not happy. And began to question these things. Before I knew it, I was in the thick of it. People on StrategyPage do not take kindly to uninformed dogma. I was instantly put in my place. Their logical arguments were beyond doubt. They told me about Poland, and how Russia had a hand in that in WW2 (Molotov-Ribbentrop), they told me about how Russia's wasting taxpayer money on pointless Navy exercises in the Med, and coddling up to China for no good reason. I checked the facts (wikipedia lol). They were right.
I began to think. Something was wrong here. I didn't enjoy being told to piss off when I said Russian military gear is the best and that Russia's great. And certainly did not want it to happen again. So I started searching Russian media, getting involved in more debates. Talking to ethnic Russians - other expats - helped, got their opinions. Found an independent Russian daily where, for the first time in my life, read about Putin being described as 'icy'. At the same time, kept reading StrategyPage, their posts on the Iraq war, their coverage of history of various conflicts. I was 20 at the time. The whole process took years and years.
Three dogmas began to get unwound. First, I no longer blindly despised Bush and Blair for going into Iraq and starting a war. I could now kind of see the point to it (didn't know back then that Saddam and Al Qaeda were unrelated to begin with). Secondly, I began to appreciate that Russia may not have been that innocent and cuddly historically, and that actually Russians are quite nationalistic and chauvinistic. (this one took ages to unwind, and I'm still working on it - we all got told at an early age that Russians are just amazing). And thirdly, in parallel and on a completely unrelated line, my economic outlook began to change, as I was introduced to minarchism, and started questioning the merits of socialism. Since a large part of West-haters comes from Russians nostalgic for the Communist days, this one was important.
Slowly a picture began to emerge, of Russia as a nationalist, bankrupt country that bled itself dry chasing an impossible dream based on dogma and wishy-washy idealism (backed up by the deadliest regime in history), and I began to see how it all fitted together. The paradigm shifted. Instead of being an America-bashing Russia-lover, I became an America-appreciating Russia-lover with doubts. The change took years, and it's still not over. The biggest challenge was to accept the necessity of wars of choice. Being Russian means being raised hating wars, so it was very difficult for me to appreciate that someone can start a war to help people. This was all Paul Edwards - he pushed the neocon idea to me on StrategyPage and beyond, and my brain would refuse to accept it. It was the single most difficult online debate in my life. I wanted to end it, but pride and sheer curiosity kept me going. I lost sleep, I threw argument after argument, link after link, statistic after statistic at him; all were ruthlessly debunked. In the end, I ran out of ideas. Had no choice but to concede that, logically, he had won.
God knows I tried.
But, regardless of logic, I still had to justify this to myself on an emotional level. How could I believe in something so... abhorrent? And then it struck me (way late, I know). People don't commit wars! Politicians, dictatorial rulers commit wars, often either without asking their people, or else with the blind support of their populations. That blind support is largely nationalism - the people's misguided love for their country made manifest in an ugly way. Their dogmas. Race, religion, nationality... all stereotypes, weapons by which the clever lead the blind to the abyss and then live awesome lives on the bones of dead people. And if I could learn to hate national pride itself, then it wouldn't matter, because without national pride, logic takes precedence, and logic states 'avoid casualties' as opposed to 'don't invade another country'. If I can see all countries as imaginary lines on a map and nothing else, and people are united, then the standard old dividing lines fall apart and new dividing lines - namely, ideologies - take over. You can then imagine a scenario where someone whose country is being invaded can go and help the invaders, not because he's a paid traitor, but because being say, an Iraqi fighting invading Americans means nothing to him - he's a free human helping other free humans, or fighting violent terrorists. The ideology of freedom and liberal democracy - the only ideology I've found to date to be any good - becomes all-pervasive, and those opposing it become misguided nationalists stuck in their dogmas.
And, as a bonus, I found the Democratic Peace Theory: a realistic-sounding roadmap to world peace. It made sense to me because I envisioned peace happening along similar lines years earlier - basically a kind of worldwide EU. But the vital missing piece was interventionism. Instead of simply waiting for dictators to die or run out of people to rule over, we could free the people and set up accountable governments - governments who will be far too busy working to give people decent stuff like water and food, to declare war on their neighbours. The puzzle fitted. The belief stuck.
How did I get from A to B? Basically, two things. Firstly, reading stuff from the other side's point of view and evaluating it, critically, all the time (the ability to use logic is paramount here). Secondly, being involved, always, in debates on your topics of interest, always always always questioning your beliefs, and should they fail, taking the arguments that defeated them for your own after thorough critical evaluation.