The U.S.S.R.: Moscow's Military Machine

An elite officer corps, and all the conscripts an army could want

It is a ritual as regular as the seasons. On one day every spring and autumn, railway stations across the Soviet Union are festooned with patriotic banners, bands blare stirring martial rhythms, and local dignitaries make speeches praising soldierly virtues. Then, as crowds of tearful friends and relatives wave farewell, anxious young men climb aboard the waiting train: they are the current crop of 18-year-old Soviet draftees—about 1 million a year—heading off to begin their...