Russian empire aerospace refugees (2021)

The fall of the Russian Empire in 1917 is one of those human disasters little appreciated; I think even the Russians don’t appreciate what was lost. 1913 Russia was rapidly industrializing, and had built an absurdly efficient bureaucracy: making the  efficient Wilhelmine bureaucracy look bad. Russia’s rate of change in 1913 was  astounding; post Port Arthur, they really cracked the whip on modernization and industrialization. They did it with 1/3 the per-capita number of bureaucrats of Germany’s bureaucracy. 

Russia of the era was a former undeveloped wasteland to the east,  fairly recently expanded into Asia in the same way the American nation conquered North America. Huge, populous, formerly backwards and primitive; it was becoming a modern national empire at an astounding rate. Contra our contemporary views of WW-2 era Germans with their absurd ideas that slavs were physically or mentally inferior, the  German view of the time was more or less that ideas of the Ancient Greeks were the root of civilization and progress (aka kultur): and the Russians were the direct cultural descendants of the Byzantines. This was  terrifying to the Germans, and was probably why WW-1 was inevitable as much as any other nonsense about diplomatic secret treaties and Serbian assassins.

If you have any Russian friends, or you used to watch Chekov’s character on Star Trek, you know that most of the stuff you think was invented by other cultures was invented in Russia; mostly in those days, which were a giant blossoming of Russian creativity. Powered flight, the telegraph, the radio, the arc weldertracked vehicles, the icebreaker,  the semi-automatic rifle, the monorail, the diesel locomotive, the seismograph, the punched card, the parachute, mercury pumps, light bulbs, the incandescent light bulb and diving suits, fire extinguishers, the periodic table, genetics, immunology,  innovations in artillery and machine tools, oil tankers, mechanical calculators, anesthetics, tanks, electric trains, radio, modern beekeeping, genetics, brassieres, centrifugal fans, central heating, table glass, space flight, electric cars, adsorption chromatography, television, the hearing aid. You can read about all of these on the (probably very incomplete) wiki page on Russian inventions, as well as the later Soviet and post-Soviet Russian inventions. An astoundingly creative people with a genius both for abstract sciences, machinery and creative thought. You may quibble with their primacy (I don’t think it matters), but they mostly thought up on their own.

“dees was invented by a little old lady in Minsk”

The tragedy is the Russian civil war of 1917 interrupted this great progress and it wasn’t resumed for 15-20 years, when the German threat to the West caused Stalin to open the gulag and crack the whip again. Worse for the Russians and humanity in general; they lost many of their most creative people, who had to move to America or the UK and start from scratch as a stranger in a new land. It was good for America to have them in the fight against the Soviet system, but it was bad for the world, in that centers of productive genius are more likely in hot-spots of homogeneity. You can’t have renaissance Florence if Michelangelo and Cellini were sent off to England or India halfway through their most productive periods (it works OK if they go to Rome or whatever; again, homogeneity, lines of communication, locality).

There were probably thousands of talented engineers from the former Russian Empire who made their way to America (and, for that matter, France, the UK and Germany). History only remembers the giants, but they were giants indeed. I’ll limit it to a few examples from aerospace for their military applicability.

Michael Gregor was a talented aircraft designer, responsible for many unsung innovations in 30s and WW-2 era aircraft design. A former Georgian engineer, he left the Soviet Union in 1921 to avoid being persecuted or killed. 

Michael Stroukoff was an aerospace entrepreneur in the US who designed gliders and cargo aircraft. He was a war hero in WW-1, but had to flee after the Whites lost the civil war.

Alexander Kartveli was an absolute giant of American aerospace, cofounded the Republic Aviation company, and designed the legendary P-47 Thunderbolt, the less stellar but still innovative F-84, and my personal favorite, the F-105 Thunderchief. Also a Georgian, a minor nobleman (many in Georgia); he emigrated to America to avoid death in the gulag, which would have been his fate in the Soviet Union.

Kartveli’s cofounder at Republic was Alexander Seversky. A Russian nobleman, his lifespan would also have been measured in weeks had he not emigrated to America during the 1917 revolution. A daredevil, top-ranked dogfighting ace and Russian war hero, he was a huge influence on General Mitchell and strategic bombing ideas. He literally invented in-flight refueling, which is a technology America still dominates the world in. In addition to the things Republic overtly worked on, he was instrumental in the intercontinental bomber; the B-36, and that father of all modern commercial jet flight, the B-47. All because America took in this persecuted political refugee. Mind you the Soviets never were able to master in flight refueling, and they really never developed intercontinental bombers either (the Tu-160 White Swan‘s capabilities are marginal, and came very late in the game after bombers didn’t really matter so much). A truly great man in every way; he was a huge asset to the US; charismatic and socially helpful; he even founded a decent school.

Finally there was Igor Sikorsky. We know him as the father of helicopters in the US, but he was also a huge pioneer in large ocean crossing aircraft n the 1930s. He fled in 1917 because the Soviets threatened to shoot him. Mind you in 1917, Sikorsky was already a hugely accomplished aerospace engineer; a literal national treasure. And the political imbeciles threatened him with death, as far as I can tell because he was a religious man. As a result, and funded by fellow Russian refugee Sergei Rachmaninoff, the US excelled at strategic reconnaissance in the 1940s and had helicopters before anybody else did in appreciable numbers. The Russians later regretted the hell out of this, even in Soviet times, and see him as a native son, which with a name like “Igor Sikorsky” he really was. One of the White Swans is named after him. Even the Ukrainians named a street after him, despite his Russian roots (he was born in Kiev).

Of course there were thousands of other Russian engineers and talents who fled the Bolsheveks. Just as there were thousands of Jewish nuclear physicists fleeing the Nazis, and later other Russian people who fled the dying soviet system. I think the aerospace example is more pertinent to my point in all this as it was the high technology of the 1917-1960 era and had obvious military importance.

The US presently seems poised to begin widespread political persecution of … people who have been historically recognized as “the American people.” People at the highest levels are openly talking about reeducation camps, lustration of government institutions, political vetting of military forces, hysterical conspiracy theories, deplatforming, political vetting for apolitical private sector jobs, closing down churches and synagogues, travel certificates, banning people’s ability to communicate or do financial transactions. The US has been working itself up to this for about 20 years now, since the “war on terror” started, and the oligarch weaponization of “woke” politics to keep the left from raising their taxes post Occupy Wall Street. Now it’s a war of terror, and the enemy, as they say, is us. Conservative family-oriented religious people like Sikorsky and Seversky have achieved pariah status; the government and institutions apparently think it can do without them, despite their being the backbone of every functioning civilization for all of human history.  They worry about political loyalty in the rank and file military: I’d posit they need to worry about the actual talent that makes the country function technologically and infrastructure wise. Because an awful lot of those people are very talented; just like they were in the dying Russian empire. The tall poppies get chopped down in this situation: not the midget ones.

It’s no longer news that legions of talented engineers are fleeing the California nightmare dystopia for more agreeably governed places. More than half the state is thinking about it. Really; I’d say this has already happened, and California is finished.  What probability would you give that an innovative and not-obviously-evil tech company is being founded in California in 2021? I think Miami or Houston has a better chance than Mountain View or San Francisco. Hell I think bloody Fairbanks has a better chance.

As America descends into the California model of madness and tech-mediated kakistocracy, the smart and adventurous Americans; the kind that found tech companies, or build devilish new weapons for governments, will leave.  I know many  who have. Virtually everyone I speak to (of course a biased set) is thinking about it. Left wing, right wing: people in tech, military technology, finance, crypto; they see the US heading over the waterfall into madness and want no part of it. 

The talented tenth of a percent of Americans are poised to scatter to the winds; there is no real sink for the talent source spigot. Governmental entrepreneurs in other countries who want to build their country up should probably consider giving them an obvious landing spot. For a century, America was that landing spot for the talented, for the innocent wastrels persecuted, and they helped make the place powerful beyond imagining.  I certainly wouldn’t consider a place like China (they have enough empty cities for it), Russia or Belarus, but if the fall of the US takes its sphere of influence with it, those countries have a fighting chance of remaining civilized, and Russia at least does have a history of adopting talented people and integrating them with their society; even leaving them some autonomy. Smaller countries should also consider it. I can’t stand the climate in Singapore, and who knows what will happen with their next generation of leadership, but it could grow its power and influence by importing 10,000 Americans on some kind of talent visa, and giving them a rapid path to citizenship. Japan or Taiwan could build a semi-autonomous tech colony for American refugees.  One of the European countries could pull it off as well if they had the strategic vision and could withstand the pressures from the US and US proxies in the EU. Certainly the EU mandarins complain about demographics and innovation a lot: recruiting thousands of talented American engineers with families seems like a good idea. 

Singapore building supersonic stealth drones for $10m; seems more innovative than Lockheed to me

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Singapore building supersonic stealth drones for $10m; seems more innovative than Lockheed to me

Of course, nutbags in the US government and witch hunting looneys in society at large who support this sort of thing could change their ways. You’d think the lights going out in the two biggest states in the country would cause them to think maaaaybe there is something wrong with how they’re running things. The thought is too complicated though, and the idea that there are 1000 Severskys  looking into foreign entrepreneur visas at this very moment never occurs to such people who think they are the smart set.  If they ever notice, they’ll probably do something awful like making US citizenship irrevocable (they already effectively are), and not allowing ‘critical workers’ to leave.

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Bong Stoval