The Years of Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire' - 1953 Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Years of Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire' - 1953

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Title Page | 1949 | 1950 | 1951 | 1952 | 1953 | 1954 | 1955 | 1956 | 1957 | 1958 | 1959 | 1960 | 1961 | 1962 | 1963 | 1964-1989 (Part 1) | 1964-1989 (Part 2) | 1964-1989 (Part 3)
Joseph Stalin, Malenkov
Nasser and Prokofiev,
Rockefeller, Campanella,
Communist Bloc

Crick and Watson discovered deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), Mohammed Mossadegh was overthrown in Iran, and the Flint-Worcester tornado killed more than 200 people in Massachusetts. Judging by this, and the above lyrics, 1953 the was the year of long, hard-to-spell words. An interesting year, nevertheless...

Joseph Stalin

Josef Stalin was forty-five years of age when Lenin died in 1924. He played only a minor role in the October revolution and he was somewhat inconspicuous during the Civil War. However, by 1924 he had consolidated his political position somewhat as the People's Commissar for Nationalities, liaison between Orgburo and Politburo, and General Secretary of the Communist Party. He thus had a good overview of party politics to help him in his bid for the position of Lenin's successor, a feat he was able to manage despite Lenin's qualified expressions of distrust and personal dislike. There followed a series of intrigues which culminated with the expulsion of Trotsky, Kamenev, and Zinoviev (on the 'left') from the Party and then Bukharin, Tomsky and Rykov (on the 'right'). By the end of 1929 Stalin's position as leader of the Party and inheritor of Bolshevism was, it could be argued, relatively secure. Stalin, it would seem, disagreed. Exhibiting a shift in the emphasis of his policy goals, Stalin abandoned the NEP in favour of a radical program of argricultural collectivisation and industrialisation, and defended his policies with a purge of his closest advisors and associates in a series of infamous show trials. His tool, his weapon, in pursuit of these objectives was a programme of terror: terror against the populace, and terror against members of the Party.

Stalin kept his private life private; he did not want to be seen by the public to indulge in human weaknesses like illness, recreation, or family. Histories of Bolshevism were rewritten, and Marxism-Leninism became Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism. After the victory at 'Stalingrad', Stalin took a military position as a marshal in the Soviet army, and then was self-promoted to Generalissimo. Stalin was thereafter always photographed in military regalia, and this indicates that he again understood the psychological need for a figurehead by those who were about to sacrifice their own lives for an intangible cause. To ensure that the popular national victory would be associated with Stalin, the decisive Soviet offensives of 1944 were recorded as the 'Ten Stalin Thrusts'. It seems likely that, even if Stalin was indulging a personal zeal for self-aggrandisement, he was doing so in harmony with his totalitarian principles; in allowing himself to become the Party and become the State, he was leading the way for others to do likewise, to blur their identities until they were indistinguishable from that of the Party.

Stalin died on 1 March, 1953 of causes officially listed as 'cerebral haemmorhage'. His body was originally embalmed and displayed next to Lenin's, although it was quickly stolen by anti-Stalinists and interred.


Georgy Maksimilianovich Malenkov was born in Kazakhstan either in December 1901 or January 1902, depending on which source you choose to believe. A bright student, he graduated with honours and, during the Russian Civil War, became a political commissar for the Red Army in 1919. He joined the communist party in 1920 and soon joined with Lavrenti Beria to enforce the purges of the 1930s instigated by Stalin.

In 1938 Yezhov Nikolai, the chief of the secret police1, was demoted. Malenkov was tipped to replace him, but the job was handed to Beria instead leading to a feud between the two former friends. During WWII he became one of the five members of the 'inner Politburo' which made all the major policy decisions with regards to Russian involvement. He was nominated to become a member of the Politburo in 1941 but didn't actually become a full member until 1946 when he was promoted to the posts of second secretary of the Central Committee and Deputy Prime Minister. Rumours, probably spread by Beria and substantiated by another prominent party member Andrei Zhdanov, denounced him as putting economics and personal affairs second to Communist ideology and he soon lost favour.

When Zhdanov himself fell from grace in 1948, Beria and Malenkov joined forces once more and even arranged for Zhdanov's friends and allies to be executed or sent to the Gulag. In March 1953 Stalin died and Malenkov succeeded him as Premier and First Party Secretary, horrifying the western powers who knew him primarily as the mastermind behind the 1930s purges. Unlike most other party members he was slow to denounce Stalin, however, and lost the secretarial job to Nikita Khrushchev. By 1955 he was deeply mistrusted by the party and, when he stated that 'A nuclear war could lead to global destruction', his fate was sealed. He attempted to reduce arms build up and decrease the power of the secret police. He was finally forced to resign over his failed agricultural policy by which he lessened heavy industry, increased consumer goods manufacture and gave more rewards to the farmers on collective farms. He remainded a member of the Presidium2 but was removed in 1957 after a failed attempt to oust Khrushchev.

By 1961 his fall from grace was complete. He was expelled from the Communist Party and exiled within the Soviet Union. He died, an ardent communist to the last, in Moscow in January 1988.


Gamal Abdel Nasser was born in 1918 and by 1952, aged 34, was in control of the Neguib coup, which forced an end to the monarchy and a threat to King Hussein of Jordan.

During the period 1954-56 radical Gamal Abdel Nasser was Egypt's politician and Prime Minister and in 1956 he became President of Egypt. He nationalised the Suez Canal and made Egypt the leader of Arab nationalism. Nasser was defeated twice by Israel in the Middle East. It was also at this time that President Nasser's decision to nationalise the Anglo-French Suez Canal Company, was being tried to reverse. His nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956 led to an Anglo-French invasion and the Suez crisis, and his ambitions for an Egyptian-led union of Arab states led to disquiet in the Middle East (and in the West). Nasser was also an early and influential leader of the non-aligned movement.

In the years that immediately followed 1956 Arab nationalism grew, particularly under the leadership of the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser. A republican revolution also broke out in 1962 and from 1963-1970 a bloody civil war was fought with President Nasser's Egypt supporting the victorious republicans. Furthermore, his contacts with Syria and Jordan alarmed Israel and in May 1967 he had moved troops into Sinai and demanded that the UN force withdraw. It looked to Israel as if an attack were soon to take place. June 5, 1967 saw the Israelis responding by them attacking the Arab forces in the sky. This was immediately followed by a rapid campaign and Israel defeating the Egyptians in Sinai, the Jordanians on the west bank and the Syrians on the Golan heights. Israel was backed by the USA, which was concerned about Soviet friendship with Egypt and Syria. By 1969 the Suez Canal had entered a war of attrition, which came to an end in 1970 - the same year that Gamal Abdel Nasser passed away aged just 52.


On 5 March 1953, two remarkable Soviet citizens died. One was Josef Stalin, whose dictatorial hand had held the USSR in its vice-like grip for nearly 30 years. The other was the prolific composer Prokofiev.

Sergey Sergeyevich Prokofiev was born on 23 April (old style3 11 April) in 1891 in Santovka in the Ukraine. His music demonstrates a number of different styles, some of which are described here . While he became posthumously recognised (along with Shostakovich et al) for depicting and protesting about life under Stalin through his music, he was not amongst the most avant garde of 20th century composers. His music is, however, supremely tuneful and memorable, and many pieces are well known to the man on the Clapham omnibus, even if he claims he's never heard of old Sergey.

Music for Children

Peter and the Wolf is familiar to many as a means of introducing young listeners to the different instruments in the orchestra. It acheives this by assigning a different motif to each of the characters in the story, which is also narrated between the musical excerpts. The cat has a lovely meowly and playful tune played on the clarinet, the bird is rather obviously (some might suggest unimaginatively?) portrayed by the flute, with gruff grandfather represented by the bassoon. Many famous actors have narrated the tale over the years, including Sting, Sir Ralph Richardson and - ahem - Weird Al Yankovic.

Lietenant Kijé is the tale of a 'made-up' soldier (the name derives from the Russian for don't know). The Troika (sleigh-ride) from this piece is ubiquitous at Christmas time, and was quoted musically in Greg Lake's 'I Believe in Father Christmas' 4. Also in the realms of pop, Sting used part of Kijé in his song 'Russians'. Other parts of the same piece have achieved fame and glory as theme tunes for TV shows and in film soundtracks. Woody Allen's 'Love and Death' (1975) uses much of Lt Kijé as well as the Alexander Nevsky suite.

Big and Bouncy

Prokofiev's sense of drama and passion are best heard in the 'Montagues and Capulets' theme from Romeo and Juliet (which rhythmically bounces up and down to the phrasing of the words Mon-ta-gues and Cap-u-lets), and which was chosen by Scott from Big Brother 4 as his superhero theme tune in his disguise as Couch Potato Guy 5. The march from the 'Love for Three Oranges' has been often used in TV and movie scores, for example 'The FBI in Peace and War'.


When Nelson A Rockefeller served as Vice President to Gerald Ford, he was to do as Ford wished. In 1953 he was just beginning his senior political career on the very influential Presidential Advisory Committee on Government Organisation. He rose to the position of Vice President due to Ford. He was the 41st Vice President in United States history and was committed totally to the position he had achieved in life. Both parties applauded the fact that Rockefeller was made VP.

The Senate approved the nomination of Rockefeller as Vice President by a 90-7 vote on December 10, 1973 and the house vote was 287-128 in favour of Rockefeller, who - at the age of 66 - was sworn in as the 41st Vice President of the on December 19. He swore an oath which President Ford witnessed and the event was televised from the Senate chamber. Rockefeller assured the media that on the 20th and 21st there was to be a press conference about his own role in the Ford administration.

Rockefeller was also to serve as Vice Chair of the Domestic Council; he took a special interest in dealing with the Domestic Council's role in coordinating activities with local governors. He was also to be chairman of the National Security Council and part of a special commission watching over foreign policy for implementation and improvement. Rockefeller also was to make a special study for Ford in order to aid recruiting top people for the bicentennial.

Hearings took place to resolve the perceived issue of Rockefeller coming from a wealthy family; it was thought that this may potentially cause a problem. Senator Byrd led the challenge on the issue of the Rockefeller money posing a problem of undue power for a Vice President. He agreed with Senator Cannon that there was nothing in sight that would endanger confirmation. However, Rockefeller was later to disclose to the public his personal worth in buildings that were built and named after him.


You have to have a lot of little boy in you to play baseball for a living.
Roy Campanella

Roy Campanella was born on November 19, 1921, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and he died on June 26, 1993 in Woodland Hills, California.

When Campanella was fourteen, while playing baseball, he attracted the attention of a Negro League scout, and after playing only two games with a semi-pro team, he signed with the Negro National Leagues' Baltimore Elite Giants as a catcher, playing with them for seven seasons. He played winter ball in Puerto Rico and Cuba, while spending the summer season with Baltimore. Campanella played two years in the Mexican League during a contract dispute.

Although the Negro and Major Leagues were segregated at the time, they did play against each other in exhibition games. During one of these games, Branch Rickey, who ran the Brooklyn Dodgers, offered 'Campy' a contract. Campanella thought it was for another Negro League team, and turned down the offer. Talking to Jackie Robinson later, he found out that Robinson was also offered a contract to play for the actual Brooklyn Dodgers. Campenella had the chance to right his mistake, and shortly afterwards signed his own contract with the Dodgers, and thus became the second black man to play Major League baseball. Campy debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948 and held down the catching job through 1957, helping to lead the Dodgers to five pennants and a World Series title. He was one of baseball's most knowledgeable, talented and likeable players. He played on five pennant-winning Dodger clubs during his career.

Campanella was an eight time National League All-Star and he was named the National League MVP three times in 1951, 1953, and 1955. He led National League catchers in putouts six times, and hit a total of 242 home runs as a catcher.


1953 was Campanella's best season, when he set the single-season record for catchers with 41 homeruns and a National League best 142 RBIs. He also set career-highs in games, at-bats, and had 103 runs, 67 walks, and a slugging percentage of .611.

Roy Campanella's final major league game, September 29, 1957, was also the last Major League game ever played at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. After the 1957 season, the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. Prior to the 1958 season, Campanella's career was tragically cut short when he was paralyzed in an automobile accident in New York, when the car he was driving slid off an icy highway and crashed head-on into a lamppost.

On May 7, 1959, a 'Roy Campanella Night' tribute exhibition game was arranged between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. A major league record crowd of 93,103 attended the game and saluted Campanella, even though he had never played in Los Angeles, having been injured before the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn. An emotional Roy Campanella addressed the crowd from his wheelchair saying, 'I thank God that I'm living to be here. I thank ... everyone of you from the bottom of my heart.' After Campy finished his remarks, the lights went out and everyone in attendance lit a match to honor his courage.

In later years, Campanella helped to coach and advise Dodger catchers, especially at Vero Beach. He also worked in the Community Relations Department for the Dodgers. Campanella was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969.

I never want to quit playing ball. They'll have to cut this uniform off of me to get me out of it.
Roy Campanella

Communist Bloc

The Cold War had peaked from 1948 through to 1953, and the post-World War II Soviets made clear their intent to expand their influence. The United States and its European allies had formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a collaborative military command to resist these efforts, the same year (1949) as the Soviets tested their first atomic warhead, and the Chinese communists came to power in their country.

Much of the relaxation of tensions that occurred in 1953 could be attributed to the death of Joseph Stalin, successor of Lenin, long-time Soviet dictator, and leading socialist. Stalin's death raised hopes that the competition for supremacy between the two superpowers would end as the world became more and more aware of ever increasing possibility of the extinction of all life on earth should disarmament efforts (precursor to the 1970s' Strategic Arms Limitation Talks - SALT) fail.

Also in 1953, former official of the Communist Party in America, Mr Manning Johnson, gave testimony in a hearing held by the House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee stating that:

The communists discovered that the destruction of religion could proceed much faster through the infiltration of the Church by communists operating within the Church itself.

...a statement that was corroborated in 1955 by Albert Vassart of the French Communist Party, when he revealed a Moscow directive initiated in 1936. Catholic philosopher and writer Dietrich von Hildebrand claimed that the French Dominicans had become so infiltrated that in 1953 the Order barely escaped dissolution (by the order of Pope Pius XII).

It is interesting to note that a similar technique of infiltration by association worked through Mikhail Gorbachev's Glasnost and Perestroika policies to increase East-West contact and Soviet liberalisation which was instrumental in the disintegration of the USSR.

Also in 1953, the US conducted a major study of the likely consequences of an atomic war with Russia. The study predicted that most of their European allies would retreat into neutrality; that the war would cost ten million American lives; that it would last for ten years; and that America would win the war.

It is thought that the Communists must have studied the possibility and generally agreed with this analysis. Eisenhower told them his intentions and they quickly changed their position and agreed to an armistice on July 27, 1953. On the other hand, two people who had worked on the development of the atomic bomb were convicted of passing information to the Soviets, and were executed in 1953.

The Korean war had a crippling effect on the 1953 Chinese economy because of their heavy investment in the Korean conflict; so, the Chinese Government introduced the first 'Five Year Plan', with an emphasis on capital construction and heavy industry. Britain and the United States disagreed on Beijing's intentions and capabilities. American focus on the prisoner of war issue in the spring of 1953 threatened the prospects of an armistice in Korea.

The Korean War and McCarthyism fueled the US policy of political isolation, economic embargo, military containment, and nuclear pressure. Britain sought to remain on good terms with the Communist Chinese Government as they held substantial interests in China.

U.S. President Eisenhower and his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, were very keen to bring the war to a close, but at terms that were acceptable to the West. They were ready to introduce harsh measures against the Communists, including nuclear threats. in April 1953, Dulles told Eisenhower's assistant, Emmet John Hughes:

I don't think we can get much out of a Korean settlement until we have shown - before all Asia - our clear superiority by giving the Chinese one hell of a licking.
1NKVD2The successor of the Politburo.3The late changeover to the Gregorian calendar meant that Russia had to catch up by 11 days when the switch was finally made in 19184Emerson Lake and Palmer had a tradition of updating classical music, most famously with Aaron Copeland's 'Fanfare for the Common Man'5I have to remote control people. I am vegged out for the good of the common man.

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