Mr. Molotov's legacy
In a Baltimore Sun article tomorrow about a rash of firebombings around town, we refer to Molotov cocktails, and I begin to wonder whether we should think about retiring the term.
One reason the rising generations don’t read newspapers is that the texts look dated in language and references, and I am highly doubtful that those rising generations have much of a sense of the effervescent Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s foreign minister.
It was the Finns, attempting to repel Soviet troops in 1939 who first called their improvised incendiary devices—typically gasoline in a bottle with a cloth fuse jammed in the neck—Molotov cocktails. The term remained popular in 1956, when similar improvised devices destroyed hundreds of Soviet tanks during the Hungarian uprising. In one of history’s little symmetries, Franco’s Fascists had used the same tactic effectively against Loyalist tanks while moving on Madrid.
It may be all right to use the term without any historical resonance. We don’t need to know who Captain Boycott and Dr. Alzheimer were to understand the words derived from their names. But Molotov cocktail seems different somehow in its sardonic allusion to the deservedly defunct Soviet imperium. Musty.