Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Of U2 Before the Band

I'd sent a nerd alert to a friend inviting him to join me for the Gallery Walk/Talk at the Virginia Historical Society today, but he had other things going on. It didn't matter because I was curious enough about the topic, "Cold War Crisis; The U-2 Incident" to go it alone. Leading the walk/talk was Gary Powers, Jr., the son of Francis Gary Powers, the man whose CIA U-2 plane had been shot down over Soviet airspace in 1960, resulting in the U-2 incident.

And in case you think the degeneration of the media is a recent development, once Powers was taken prisoner by the Soviets, his CIA training prevented him from divulging key espionage information. Once the U.S. learned of the capture and interrogation, the media published stories about him, some of which contradicted information he'd given his captors. As a result, they came to him, insisting that he'd lied to them and essentially telling him that he'd better tell the truth or they'd get it out of the American press anyway.

After three months of interrogation and a three-day show trial, he was sentenced to ten years in prison (after expecting the death penalty), eighteen months of which he served. While in prison, he earned a meager monthly salary for work done, but since rubels could not be taken out of the country, on the way to the prisoner exchange in Germany, he was first escorted to a department store to spend his rubels. Because, of course, Powers would have wanted souvenirs of his stay in the Soviet Union. Or not, but he bought them anyway.

I don't know enough about the Cold War, which was why I wanted to see the exhibit and hear the talk. But uninformed as I may have been on the specifics of the U-2 incident, I at least knew the cultural reference, Powers' name and the nature of the incident, which couldn't be said for everyone there today.

I know this because as we were waiting for the walk to begin, I heard one incredulous woman say to her mate, "This must be where that band got its name!"

You think?

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