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Arnold's Oppressed Upbringing

I didn't see Arnold's speech last night, but checking out the text I can't help but note this bit of misleading-without-lying that's worthy of the president himself:

When I was a boy, the Soviets occupied part of Austria. I saw their tanks in the streets. I saw communism with my own eyes. I remember the fear we had when we had to cross into the Soviet sector. Growing up, we were told, "Don't look the soldiers in the eye. Look straight ahead." It was a common belief that Soviet soldiers could take a man out of his own car and ship him off to the Soviet Union as slave labor.

My family didn't have a car -- but one day we were in my uncle's car. It was near dark as we came to a Soviet checkpoint. I was a little boy, I wasn't an action hero back then, and I remember how scared I was that the soldiers would pull my father or my uncle out of the car and I'd never see him again. My family and so many others lived in fear of the Soviet boot. Today, the world no longer fears the Soviet Union and it is because of the United States of America!

As a kid I saw the socialist country that Austria became after the Soviets left. I love Austria and I love the Austrian people -- but I always knew America was the place for me. In school, when the teacher would talk about America, I would daydream about coming here. I would sit for hours watching American movies transfixed by my heroes like John Wayne. Everything about America seemed so big to me so open, so possible.

It seems to me that the point of this is to try and make a person who doesn't know Austrian history believe that Arnold grew up on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain. First came the Soviet occupation, then, after their departure, they left behind the dread socialism. His family "and so many others lived in fear of the Soviet boot." But this is the story of a young Czech (or Polish or Hungarian) bodybuilder, it's not what actually happened in Austria. Rather, the Soviets occupied part of the country (and the Americans [and maybe the other Allies] occupied the rest). Then everybody's troops came home and Austria became a democracy, whose democratically elected governments constructed a mixed economy, much like the democratically elected governments in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the rest of western Europe. As elsewhere in Europe, the Austrian welfare state was more generous than the American one, but as an politico-economic type the two models were very similar -- a liberal democratic government, an economy organized along market principles but constrained by regulation in which government programs were financed through taxation.

Now Arnold didn't come out and say he grew up in Communist Eastern Europe -- he didn't, and if he had he might have gotten in some trouble -- but applying the usual technique he talked in a way so that if you don't know anything about Austria other than that it's in Europe somewhere and that Vienna is well to the east of Paris of Rome, I think that's the conclusion you would draw. It's a conclusion that lends its hand to a much better story than the real one. (Others have noted, of course, the absurdity of citing Richard Nixon as a paragon of American freedom and market democracy).

UPDATE: Jesus H. Christ if I read one more blog post or receive one more email saying I "don't know history" because just as Arnold said Soviet troops did occupy part of Austria I'm going to kill someone. I say that Soviet troops temporarily occupied part of Austria. The point is this: Arnold's speech implies that he grew up in a Communist bloc country and he did not. He grew up in a democratic social democracy after experiencing a few years of Soviet occupation (caused, let us not forget, but the Austrian public's wild embrace of Nazism, a political ideology Arnold did not see fit to distance himself from until he acquired US political ambitions).

September 1, 2004 | Permalink


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» Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Communist Boot from Outside The Beltway ™
Matt Yglesias and others have questioned the validity of part of Arnold Schwarzenegger's convention speech last night: When I was a boy, the Soviets occupied part of Austria. I saw their tanks in the streets. I saw communism with my own eyes. I rem... [Read More]

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Isn't there something a little unseeemly about a multimillionaire calling people who have lost their jobs "economic girlie men"?

Posted by: theCoach | Sep 1, 2004 11:24:34 AM

Presumably he was talking about living under fear of Soviet invasion during the Cold War? Austria was bordered by Poland and then-intact Yugoslavia, both Warsaw Pact states.

Posted by: James Joyner | Sep 1, 2004 11:25:03 AM

Graz, his hometown, is probably about roughly equidistant between Slovenia to the south and Hungary to the east and Vienna may actually be closer to Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Sep 1, 2004 11:31:20 AM


Yugoslavia was not a Warsaw Pact nation.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Sep 1, 2004 11:34:17 AM

And, as many may have forgotten, the Austrians were members of the Nazi Axis before and during WW II. Arnie mentions the Soviets in Austria and the post-war Austrian Social Democrats, but fails to mention the National Socialists who ran his country for many years prior to his birth in 1947. He also forgot to mention the wee little fact that his father, Gustav, was an officer in the Sturmabteilung (SA), the infamous brownshirts, the perpetrators of Kristallnacht and other vile anti-Jewish rampages.

Obviously, Arnie shouldn't suffer for the sins of his Nazi father. But it's still a rather startling and interesting fact that Arnie has tried to squash for thirty years.

So God Bless America, where the son of a Nazi stormtrooper can thrive and become a huge movie star and Governor of California.

Posted by: mat | Sep 1, 2004 11:38:29 AM

Yes Matthew, only you are smart enough to discern the truth about all this, the average rube wouldn't get it, despite phrases like "the Soviets occupied part of Austria" and "when we had to cross into the Soviet sector" which appear at the beginning of the passage you cite. CLEARLY Arnold was trying to subtly (cleverly!) TRICK people into thinking that the Soviets occupied all of Austria. Why didn't I see this before!

Apparently now, perfectly truthful rhetoric can become "dishonest" as long as there's a lefty who's smart enough to realize and explain to the rest of us that we're too stupid to understand it (and, not smart enough to outright ignore certain key statements, like you did).


Posted by: Blixa | Sep 1, 2004 11:38:30 AM

Eh? The Soviet Army withdrew from Austria in 1955, when Arnold was eight.

Posted by: am | Sep 1, 2004 11:44:12 AM


Austria also did not and does not border Poland.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Sep 1, 2004 11:54:21 AM

If what you are saying is accurate, then it's kind of like Denny Hastert implying that George Soros is a druglord. Of course, he didn't actually say that. He just left the door wide open to irresponsible speculation by, what else, irresponsibly spectulating with the tried-and-true technique of "Well, we can't be sure of ____, but we can't rule it out, either."

Posted by: Brian | Sep 1, 2004 12:15:36 PM

I confess my own ignorance, but growing up during the period, my impression was that Austria and Finland were sort of buffer states, not part of the Eastern bloc, but more sympathetic to the Soviet model than the mixed economies of NATO.

Gonna go google.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Sep 1, 2004 12:24:55 PM

Randy Paul:

All commies look alike to me. :)

You're right--Yugoslavia was Communist but not a WTO signatory.

And they keep moving Poland around on me--it's no wonder I can't keep track of it's exact location. But Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia do border Austria, so there were plenty of commies to go around.

Posted by: James Joyner | Sep 1, 2004 12:26:49 PM

Whenever I hear Arnold, I can't help thinking of Jorgen Von Strangle, the world's toughest fairy, on "Fairly Odd Parents": a great show; something both 5 year-olds and 50-year-olds can enjoy.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough | Sep 1, 2004 12:29:01 PM

James Joyner,

Poland has had the singular misfortune of being located between Germany and Russia and has had itself moved around a great deal.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Sep 1, 2004 12:32:36 PM

No need to google, Bob, unless you'd really like to. Austria was a "buffer state" only according to geography, not economic or political inclination. While never part of NATO, Austria was not in the least bit sympathetic to the Soviet model. As for Finland, you're probably familiar with the term "finlandization" which essentially equates to being strongly sympathetic to the Soviet model.

Posted by: Bragan | Sep 1, 2004 12:47:30 PM

Web ain't that great. CIA factbook,Wikipedia, don't want to spend much time on it.

However, it does appear that during Arnie's youth Austria was considerably more socialist than the rest of Western Europe. And much less properous. Only very recently has anything looking like American conservatism developed.

The marked change in Austria, when it caught up in std of living and productivity to the rest of Europe, started in 1970 with the Presidency of Bruno Kriesky. Kriesky modernized Austria until a dispute over a nuclear plant cause him to lose an election. Bruno Kriesky was a jew.

But Arnie moved to Munich in 1968, so I probably just have a nasty mind.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Sep 1, 2004 12:49:56 PM

Graz, his hometown"

Graz was actually in British-occupied Austria.

Posted by: Tom | Sep 1, 2004 12:51:21 PM

Randy Paul: Yep. Poland is, as they say, a state of mind. Almost certainly the most oft-invaded, occupied, and oppressed people in Europe.

Tom: Austria is very, very small.

Posted by: James Joyner | Sep 1, 2004 12:59:01 PM

you didn't see/hear arnie's speech last night??!! my god, man, how could you do serious reporting and miss it?? it was the only thing approaching entertainment value in the entire four days of utterly disingenuous theater.

Posted by: julian | Sep 1, 2004 12:59:18 PM

Austria is not that small when you're driving from West to East (as I did last spring). It's quite long.

What do you mean - "more sympathetic to the Soviet model"? As MY rightly noted Austria is a democratic country with free elections - how could it be "sympathetic to the Soviet model"? Are Sweden and Denmark sympathetic to the Soviet model? Of course not. This is ridiculous.

Posted by: abb1 | Sep 1, 2004 1:19:55 PM

I hate Arnold as much as anyone here, but he does say right in the sppeech that the "Soviets left Austria" when he was a "kid." There is dishonesty in implying that the democratic socialism of sixties Austria was connected to the Soviets, but I don't think that he was trying to imply that Austria was behind the Iron Curtain until 1989.

Posted by: James Kabala | Sep 1, 2004 1:22:32 PM

This is the typical Republican hysteria. Republican bed-wetters, to twist a phrase some wingnut used on Donnahue.

The idea is to remind you of the Soviets. And then bring up the unrelated idea that Austria was somewhat socialist. Last, leave it unsaid, but be sure that you have led the faithful to realize the opposition is kind-of, sort-of socialist, and thus a vote for Kerry is tantamount to a vote for Stalin.

It is masterful propaganda. You can't call Arnie on the utter dishonesty of it (and he'd be shocked, shocked! if you did). But it gets the Republican bed-wetter crowd quaking in their boots at the Red Menace.

Of course, the Reds as the bogey man is a bit dated. Arnie seems to have missed the memo: terrorists are the new scare-the-base guys.

Posted by: Timothy Klein | Sep 1, 2004 1:26:10 PM

abb1 -- I think what Bob is alluding to is that Austria, like much of Europe, flirted with socialism (to include governing parties that were socialist, at least in name) -- though not the authoritarian Soviet version -- at various times during the Cold War.

Posted by: Bragan | Sep 1, 2004 1:28:27 PM

Reading the above discussion here in Vienna, I must tell you that Arnold's remarks have been marked as misleading and disingenious in his original country.

At the time Schwarzenegger left Austria, it was governed by a one-party Conservative government (roughly equal to the UK Tories). Far from Austria being particularly sympathetic to communism, the Austrian Communists have never managed to get even one seat in our parliament since WWII. (Kreisky, mentioned above, was a social democrat.)

We are rather annoyed at Arnold today - but then, what can you expect from a Republican, anyway, if not spin and opportunism?

Posted by: Austrian reader | Sep 1, 2004 1:36:36 PM

well, my point is that European socialism and the Soviet model have little in common, if anything at all.

One could even turn it around and say that the US has the Soviet model with its military-industrial complex and the political system that doesn't provide any alternative to the ruling Repocratic party. That would be a caricature, of course, but no more so than linking European socialism with the Soviet system.

Posted by: abb1 | Sep 1, 2004 1:57:06 PM

For what looks like a reasonably neutral history of Austria, see :


Soviet attemtps at controlling postwar Austria were a complete failure.

Postwar Austria does not appear to have been particularly socialist. There was some nationalization of industry in the immediate aftermath of the war, but that was more a matter of evading Soviet attempts to seize German (not Austrian)-owned property than socialism.

The first postwar socialist government of Austria, led by Bruno Kriesky (mentioned by Bob McManus above), did not take office until 1970, after Arnold was already in the US, being inspired by Nixon. At that, Kriesky seems to have been pretty conservative for a socialist.

Posted by: rea | Sep 1, 2004 1:58:00 PM

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