trying to topple
An American might have been asked something similar by a Guatemalan, an Indonesian or a Cuban during the ten years previous, or by a Uruguayan, a Chilean or a Greek in the decade subsequent. The remarkable international goodwill and credibility enjoyed by the United States at the close of the Second World War was dissipated country-by-country, intervention-by-intervention. The opportunity to build the war-ravaged world anew, to lay the foundations for peace, prosperity and justice, collapsed under the awful weight of anti-communism.
The weight had been accumulating for some time; indeed, since Day One of the Russian Revolution. By the summer of 1918 some 13,000 American troops could be found in the newly-born Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Two years and thousands of casualties later, the American troops left, having failed in their mission to strangle at its birth the Bolshevik state, as Winston Churchill put it.3
The young Churchill was Great Britains Minister for War and Air during this period. Increasingly, it was he who directed the invasion of the Soviet Union by the Allies (Great Britain, the US, France, Japan and several other nations) on the side of the counter-revolutionary White Army . Years later, Churchill the historian was to record his views of this singular affair for posterity:
Were they [the Allies] at war with Soviet Russia? Certainly not; but they shot Soviet Russians at sight. They stood as invaders on Russian soil. They armed the enemies of the Soviet Government. They blockaded its ports, and sunk its battleships. They earnestly desired and schemed its downfall. But war-shocking! Interference-shame! It was, they repeated, a matter of indifference to them how Russians settled their own internal affairs. They were impartial-Bang!4
What was there about this Bolshevik Revolution that so alarmed the most powerful nations in the world? What drove them to invade a land whose soldiers had recently fought alongside them for over three years and suffered more casualties than any other country on either side of the World War?
The Bolsheviks had had the audacity to make a separate peace with Germany in order to take leave of a war they regarded as imperialist and not in any way their war, and to try and rebuild a terribly weary and devastated Russia. But the Bolsheviks had displayed the far greater audacity of overthrowing a capitalist- feudal system and proclaiming the first socialist state in the history of the world. This was uppityness writ incredibly large. This was the crime the Allies had to punish, the virus which had to be eradicated lest it spread to their own people.
The invasion did not achieve its immediate purpose, but its consequences were nonetheless profound and persist to the present day. Professor D.F. Fleming, the Vanderbilt University historian of the Cold War, has noted:
For the American people the cosmic tragedy of the interventions in Russia does not exist, or it was an unimportant incident long forgotten. But for the Soviet peoples and their leaders the period was a time of endless killing, of looting and rapine, of plague and famine, of measureless suffering for scores of millions- an experience burned into the very soul of a nation, not to be forgotten for many generations, if ever. Also for many years the harsh Soviet regimentations could all be justified by fear that the capitalist powers would be back to finish the job. It is not strange that in his address in New York, September 17, 1959, Premier Khrushchev should remind us of the interventions, the time you sent your troops to quell the revolution , as he put it.5
In what could be taken as a portent of superpower insensitivity, a 1920 Pentagon report on the intervention reads: This expedition affords one of the finest examples in history of honorable, unselfish dealings ... under very difficult circumstances to be helpful to a people struggling to achieve a new liberty. 6
History does not tell us what a Soviet Union, allowed to develop in a normal way of its own choosing, would look like today. We do know, however, the nature of a Soviet Union attacked in its cradle, raised alone in an extremely hostile world, and, when it managed to survive to adulthood, overrun by the Nazi war machine with the blessings of the Western powers. The resulting insecurities and fears have inevitably led to deformities of character not unlike that found in an individual raised in a similar life-threatening manner.
We in the West are never allowed to forget the political shortcomings (real and bogus) of the Soviet Union; at the same time we are never reminded of the history which lies behind it. The anti-communist propaganda campaign began even earlier than the military intervention. Before the year 1918 was over, expressions in the vein of Red Peril , the Bolshevik assault on civilization , and menace to world by Reds is seen had become commonplace in the pages of the New York Times.
During February and March 1919, a US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee held heatings before which many Bolshevik horror stories were presented. The character of some of the testimony can be gauged by the headline in the usually sedate Times of 12 February 1919:
DESCRIBE HORRORS UNDER RED RULE. R.E. SIMONS AND W.W. WELSH TELL SENATORS OF BRUTALITIES OF BOLSHEV1KI- STRIP WOMEN IN STREETS-PEOPLE OF
EVERY CLASS EXCEPT THE SCUM SUBJECTED TO VIOLENCE BY MOBS.
Historian Frederick Lewis Schuman has written: The net result of these hearings ... was to picture Soviet Russia as a kind of bedlam inhabited by abject slaves completely at the mercy of an organization of homicidal maniacs whose purpose was to destroy all traces of civilization and carry the nation back to barbarism. 7
Literally no story about the Bolsheviks was too contrived, too bizarre, too grotesque, or too perverted to be printed and widely believed-from women being nationalized to babies being eaten (as the early pagans believed the Christians guilty of devouring their children; the same was believed of the jews in the Middle Ages). The story about women with all the lurid connotations of state property, compulsory
marriage, free love , etc. was broadcasted over the country through a thousand channels, wrote Schuman, and perhaps did more than anything else to stamp the Russian Communists in the minds of most American citizens as criminal perverts .8 This tale continued to receive great currency even after the State Department was obliged to announce that it was a fraud. (That the Soviets eat their babies was still being taught by the John Birch Society to its large audience at least as late as 1978.)9
By the end of 1919, when the defeat of the Allies and the White Army appeared likely, the New York Times treated its readers to headlines and stories such as the following:
30 Dec. 1919: Reds Seek War With America
9 Jan. 1920: Official quartets describe the Bolshevist menace in the Middle East as ominous 11 Jan. 1920: Allied officials and diplomats [envisage] a possible invasion of Europe 13 Jan. 1920: Allied diplomatic circles fear an invasion of Persia 16 Jan. 1920: A page-one headline, eight columns wide:
Britain Facing War With Reds, Calls Council In Paris.
Well-informed diplomats expect both a military invasion of Europe and a Soviet advance into Eastern and Southern Asia. The following morning, however, we could read: No War With Russia, Allies To Trade With
7 Feb. 1920: Reds Raising Army To Attack India
11 Feb. 1920: Fear That Bolsheviki Will Now Invade Japanese Territory
Readers of the New York Times were asked to believe that all these invasions were to come from a nation that was shattered as few nations in history have been; a nation still recovering from a horrendous world war; in extreme chaos from a fundamental social revolution that was barely off the ground; engaged in a brutal civil war against forces backed by the major powers of the world; its industries, never advanced to begin with, in a shambles; and the country in the throes of a famine that was to leave many millions dead before it subsided.
In 1920, The New Republic magazine presented a lengthy analysis of the news coverage by the New York Times of the Russian Revolution and the intervention. Amongst much else, it observed that in the two years following the November 1917 revolution, the Times had stated no less than 91 times that the Soviets were nearing their ropes end or actually had reached it. 10
If this was reality as presented by the United States newspaper of record , one can imagine only with dismay the witchs brew the rest of the nations newspapers were feeding to their readers.
This, then, was the American peoples first experience of a new social phenomenon that had come upon the world, their introductory education about the Soviet Union and this thing called communism . The students have never recovered from the lesson. Neither has the Soviet Union.
The military intervention came to an end but, with the sole and partial exception of the Second World War period, the propaganda offensive has never let up. In 1943 Life magazine devoted an entire issue in honor of the Soviet Unions accomplishments, going fat beyond what was demanded by the need for wartime solidarity, going so far as to call Lenin perhaps the greatest man of modern times .11 Two years later, however, with Harry Truman sitting in the White House, such fraternity had no chance of surviving. Truman, after all, was the man who, the day after the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, said: If we see that Germany is winning, we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible, although I dont want to see Hitler victorious in any circumstances. 12
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