Just Like The Russians

<b>Andy Rooney</b> Shares Some Thoughts On The People Of Russia

A weekly commentary by CBS News correspondent Andy Rooney.

It's no fun reading a story in the newspaper unless you have some opinion about it - usually based on prejudice, or some little experience we've had related to it.

I don't know anything about Chechnya and I've only been to Russia three times but I do have an opinion on this tragedy in which 170 people were gassed to death in that Moscow theater.

It hasn't been popular to say in this country, but I like the Russians. They're more like Americans than the people in most European countries. I was there in Germany at the end of World War II when our Army met the Russians coming the other way on the Elbe River at Torgau.

The Hohner Harmonica factory was there and Russian soldiers busted in and took thousands of harmonicas and accordions. And they all knew how to play. It was a crazy scene.

All the Russians had bicycles they'd taken coming across Germany, too, and a lot of them had the little machine guns, the Schmeisser. They'd taken them from dead German soldiers. These young Russians were playing the most dangerous game I ever saw. Some of them were riding in circles on their bikes while the others tried to shoot holes in the tires with their Schmeissers.

When the U.S. Army was in Berlin with the Russians, their trucks were always broken down. All the Russians knew how to do was put gas in them. Good-natured Russian soldiers would stand beside their trucks smiling and waving at Americans as we drove by. They didn't have a care in the world.

After the war, I was in a hotel in Moscow, and 23 American doctors on a tour had been taken to a hospital with food poisoning. I came into the dining room at three o'clock one afternoon. The sun was streaming in the windows, it was warm and they already had the tables set for dinner four hours later. At each place there was a plate with a piece of fish on it covered with mayonnaise. I knew what had happened to the doctors.

One year, I went to Russia for 10 days with 13 black school kids from Atlanta. It was one of the best experiences of my life but it reinforced the opinions that I already had about the Russians.

I've flown on Aeroflot, the Russian airline, three times. No one knows their safety record because they don't release information about crashes. I think I know why.

Russia did some great things in space in the 1960s but, like us, they had a lot of help from German scientists.

We seem to be getting along better with the Russians, and I hope this theater incident doesn't change that.

They handled it the way they've handled a lot of things - badly. But the Russians are not bad people.