Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Molotov cocktail

A recent headline in the Cumberland (Md.) Times-News: "Teenagers found with Molotov cocktails."

My surprise is not, alas, that two 13-year-olds were fooling around with homemade incendiary devices -- I was 13 myself once -- but that the term "Molotov cocktail" still has any currency, even among newspaper copy editors. Surely these 13-year-olds, asked to name the things they just made, would have said "firebombs" or some more current slang term.

The late Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, one of Stalin's most devoted henchmen, was also apparently one of the smartest, as he lived to age 96 -- perhaps a record among Stalin's henchmen! During Stalin's ill-advised invasion of Finland in 1939, Molotov, then serving as Stalin's foreign minister, infamously told the world that those Soviet planes weren't dropping bombs on the Finns; no, the Finns were hungry, and the kindly Soviets were coming to their rescue, by dropping packages of food. The Finns promptly dubbed the Soviet bombs "Molotov breadbaskets" or "Molotov picnic baskets," and dubbed the homemade incendiaries they lobbed at Soviet tanks "Molotov cocktails."

The forgotten Finn who coined that mordant term more than 65 years ago has had the last laugh over the old Stalinist, I guess. Who other than historians would remember Molotov today, if not for the Molotov cocktail?

No comments: