WTF Fun Fact 13521 – Reagan’s Joke About Russia

It was August 11, 1984, when U.S. President Ronald Reagan delivered a joke that would reverberate far beyond the recording studio – in fact, Reagan’s joke about Russia had global consequences.

He was at a soundcheck for his weekly Saturday radio address. While testing the microphone, he said, “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

Those in the room chuckled. But the situation quickly escalated when the comment, meant to be off-the-record, was leaked to the public.

Global Consequences

The joke quickly made headlines and caused alarm both domestically and internationally. The comment coincided with heightened Cold War tensions, and people across the world anxiously speculated about the possibility of a nuclear standoff.

The Soviet Union, Reagan’s joking target, was not amused. Soviet troops reportedly went on high alert, and some media outlets said that Soviet ships temporarily moved out of their usual positions, causing the joke to momentarily shift into a potential global crisis.

When the joke leaked, media outlets had a field day. The incident sparked debates on the ethics of publishing off-the-record comments, the responsibilities of a world leader, and the heightened stakes of political rhetoric during a volatile time.

The media also questioned the humor behind the joke, leading to discussions about the appropriate boundaries for political satire.

Public Reaction to Reagan’s Joke about Russia

Public opinion was divided. While some dismissed the joke as a harmless, albeit tasteless, gaffe, others felt it was reckless. Protests broke out in multiple cities, and the incident stoked fears among a public already anxious about the Cold War.

Many felt that a world leader, especially the President of the United States, should exercise more caution with their words, given their broad implications.

Though the Soviet Union officially downplayed the incident, it did add another layer of frost to the already icy relationship between the two superpowers.

Diplomatic talks took a hit, and the event proved to be a setback in Reagan’s later attempts to engage the Soviet Union in disarmament negotiations. It served as a harsh reminder that words from global leaders, even in jest, can have significant diplomatic consequences.

Lessons Learned

In the years that followed, Reagan and other subsequent leaders seemed to have taken the lesson to heart.

The incident served as a case study of the importance of measured speech for politicians. Government officials underwent additional training and briefings on media interaction, emphasizing the risks of off-the-record comments leaking to the public.

Reagan faced significant criticism in the immediate aftermath, including from members of his own party.

While the incident did not directly contribute to a loss in the presidential election later that year, it did cast a long shadow over his foreign policy credentials.

Many historians argue that the incident was a turning point that led to increased scrutiny of Reagan’s diplomatic initiatives and strategies.

Enduring Legacy of Reagan’s Joke about Russia

Today, the incident is often cited in courses on political science, media ethics, and international relations. Instructors use it as an example of how easily words can escalate into global concerns. It’s a cautionary tale that has stood the test of time. Now, it’s a reminder to future generations of leaders to weigh their words carefully. Even when they think the microphones are off.

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WTF Fun Fact 13150 – When Moscow Ran Out of Vodka

On May 9, 1945, reports that Nazi Germany had surrendered to the USSR resulted in a 22-hour celebration. The Soviets partied so hard that the entire country briefly ran out of vodka.

How the Soviets ran out of vodka

On May 9, 1945, a radio report in the USSR announced that Germany had officially surrendered to the Soviet Union. There was every reason to celebrate immediately. Joseph Stalin, the country’s leader, would address citizens later that day, but revelers were too overjoyed to wait.

While the country probably wasn’t entirely devoid of vodka, those who stayed up to celebrate drank the store shelves dry. And grain was in short supply in wartime, leaving few vodka reserves on hand to replenish the shelves.

War History Online notes that in the book History of Russia, author Walter Moss wrote, “During the famine of the early 1930s, Stalin ensured that sufficient grain and potatoes were still available for vodka production, and vodka revenues in this period provided about one-fifth of government revenues.”

There was also a state monopoly on alcohol. Stalin made its production a national priority, even during the widespread famine. So it’s likely that the shortage didn’t last long since vodka production never stopped.

In any case, by the time Stalin officially addressed the nation on that fateful day in 1945, those who hadn’t celebrated had to find another way to do so. Those who had were probably nursing one heck of a hangover.

Accounts of the vodka shortage

According to Mental Floss (cited below): “As one reporter put it, ‘I was lucky to buy a liter of vodka at the train station when I arrived because it was impossible to buy any later… There was no vodka in Moscow on May 10; we drank it all.‘”

War History Online quoted naval navigator Nikolai Kryuchkov, who recalled:

“On May 9, 1945, with the permission of the commander, I left for 3 days in Moscow. It was impossible to tell what happened on that day in Moscow…. We celebrated Victory Day with my family, the owner’s apartments and neighbors. They drank for the victory, for those who did not live to see this day and for the fact that this bloody massacre would never be repeated. On May 10, it was impossible to buy vodka in Moscow, because it was completely drunk.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Time Russia Ran Out of Vodka” — Mental Floss

WTF Fun Fact 13065 – World’s Largest Diamond Mine

The Popigai crater, located in Siberia, is estimated to be the world’s largest diamond mine. It may contain trillions of carats of diamonds. Previously, the Russian government has claimed that, if mined, the diamonds could tank the entire worldwide diamond market. But there’s a catch.

Is Popigai crater the world’s largest diamond mine?

There are a few things we know for sure about Popigai. First, it’s one of the largest (the 4th largest, to be exact) and most well-preserved asteroid impact craters on the planet. It’s located in northern Siberia and is roughly 60 miles in diameter.

According to NASA, “The crater sits on the northeastern margin of the Anabar shield, which contains a mix of graphite-bearing rocks and sedimentary rocks. The impact from the asteroid melted 1,750 cubic kilometers (420 cubic miles) of rocks and instantly transformed the flakes of graphite into diamonds. Diamonds formed in a hemispherical shell about 1.6 kilometers (a mile) thick and about 12 to 13 kilometers away from the impact site. Scientists estimate that diamonds did not form at the impact site because the collision’s heat and pressure were likely too great to survive there.”

The Russians have claimed for decades that the crater contains “trillions of carats” of diamonds. But it’s been largely left unexplored.

Not your average diamonds

Because the diamonds in the Popigai crater are impact diamonds, they didn’t form the same way as gemstones. That means they’re of no use to the jewelry industry.

While they range in size, most are smaller than 2 millimeters. But more importantly, they aren’t pure.

While they hold great value for industrial uses, Russia has left Popigai largely unmined because they have the means to produce synthetic diamonds for industrial purposes without going through the trouble of mining at such a large scale.

First discovered in the 1970s under the Soviet regime, the diamond mind made world news in 2012. At the time, the Russians claimed the crater held enough diamonds to supply the international diamond market for 3000 years. But, again, that would be for industrial diamonds.

Russia already has a series of diamond mines. Right now, it appears the cost of mining the diamonds so far does not outweigh their value – at least to Russia. Others have speculated that mining the diamonds could lead to an enormous technological revolution.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Popigai: Russia’s Crater of Diamonds – Estimated To Contain ‘Trillions of Carats'” — SciTechDaily

WTF Fun Fact 12456 – Napoleon’s Bunny Battle

There are so many stories about Napoleon out there that it’s hard to tell which ones are true at this point. They’re like Einstein quotes – half of them are just made up!

But this was has a few different sources, and it’s too funny not to share since it is, technically, part of the historical record of the famous French emperor.

As the most trustworthy version of the story goes, in July 1807, France and Russia ended the war between their empires by signing the Treaties of Tilsit. That’s enough to put anyone in a celebratory mood, especially since it drew the countries into an alliance at the time that would render the rest of Europe largely at their mercy.

Looking for a way to keep the good times rolling for a few more days, Napolean invited the military higher-ups still present to a rabbit hunt (which is the kind of thing rulers did for fun back in those days). Napolean’s only mistake was entrusting the collection of the rabbits to his chief of staff, Alexandre Berthier.

No one knows quite how many rabbits Berthier collected (hundreds or up to 3000, by some accounts), but it was a lot. And if you know anything about rabbits, they’re a bit hard to catch in such enormous numbers in a short period of time. So Berthier’s men brought in cages and cages full of domesticated rabbits.

Now, this is already a mistake because domesticated rabbits will not take off running – when they see humans, they assume they are being fed. But when the boss tells you to bring him a bunch of rabbits, you have to find some way to make him happy, even if that means rounding up bunnies from local farmers.

The afternoon unfolded in much the way you might assume. As the cages were opened, the rabbits didn’t scurry away. In fact, they scurried towards Napoleon. Who knows, maybe he had a lot of lettuce in his teeth after lunch. Or, more likely, they hadn’t been fed in a while.

Whatever attracted the rabbits to the emperor must have been something special because hundreds of bunnies were said to have swarmed him relentlessly. I mean, you have to laugh, right?

Napoleon did laugh at first, or at least he took it in stride, probably thinking that a few shots fired in the air would set things straight. But that didn’t work either, and it is reported that more and more bunnies thought “swarm the emperor” was a fun new game they were all playing.

Things got trickier as the mass of bunnies started climbing his legs and up his jacket. The guy was genuinely at a loss, especially when trying to shoo them away with his riding crop didn’t work. His coachman cracked his whip, hoping the noise would scare them away, but no luck.

So what’s a man to do when nature shows him who’s boss? In this case, hop in the carriage and try to get the heck out of there.

Lucas Reilly, writing for the website Mental Floss, found a great quote from historian David Chandler, who described the next stage of the bunny attack:

“…with a finer understanding of Napoleonic strategy than most of his generals, the rabbit horde divided into two wings and poured around the flanks of the party and headed for the imperial coach.”

In the end, Napoleon retreated, fleeing to his carriage. It was no defeat at Waterloo, but it was probably just as unexpected. –  WTF fun fact

Source: “The Time Napoleon Was Attacked by Rabbits” — Mental Floss

WTF Fun Fact – Service a la Russe

WTF Fun Fact - Service a la Russe

Ordering and eating food in courses is called Russian service or Service a la Russe. It was introduced to France in 1810 by the Russian ambassador. Prior to this ‘French service’ was the typical with all food being placed on the table and diners serving themselves. – WTF Fun Facts