When the United States Invaded Russia: Woodrow Wilson's Siberian Disaster.
The United States' intervention in the Russian Civil War [1918-1921] has long been a controversial subject for historians. This is especially true of the "invasion" of Siberia. Many US historians (ranging from George F. Kennan to Betty Unterberger to Robert J. Maddox and David Foglesong, among others) have grappled with questions of the motivations of Woodrow Wilson and US policy makers. Did Wilson intervene because of World War I? Was it due to pressure from US allies Britain and France? Did concern about the Japanese play a role? Was it hostility towards Lenin's new government or support for anti-Bolshevik forces? Could support for the Czechoslovak legion have been a factor? Historians from the 1950s to the present have disagreed, vehemently at times, on all of these issues. And finally, why, after the Armistice of November 1918, did US forces remain in Siberia? Carl J. Richard accomplishes in this taut volume what no one else seems ever to have written: a lucid, compelling synthesis of these disparate interpretations. He also adds his own, quite persuasive, take on the available published evidence.
The author argues that the motives for Wilson's "Siberian Disaster" shifted over time and with the course of events. At the start, in July of 1918, the issue of the war dominated. Wilson struggled to aid in the reconstitution of the Eastern Front and to keep Russian supplies out of the hands of Germany. Always related to this issue was Wilson's concern with Japan's push westward into Siberia from Vladivostok.
Richard begins his study by laying out clearly six different interpretations as to why the United States intervened in Siberia, which have been advanced by historians since the 1950s. Richard then concludes that Wilson included: (1) his antipathy to Bolshevism, (2) his belief in Russian "democracy," (3) his support for the Czechoslovak legion, and (4) his desire to reconstitute the Eastern Front. All of these combined into the "shadow of a plan," as Wilson wrote to Lansing in June 1918, which committed limited numbers of American troops to Siberia (42).
Richard argues that Wilson's initial reluctance to commit US troops to a broad anti-Bolshevik campaign (as Winston Churchill and the French desired) was embodied in his strict instructions to Major General William Graves. Graves, the commander of the US Eighth Infantry, was ordered by Secretary of War Newton Baker to take his troops not to Europe but to Siberia and not to intervene in Russian politics or the Russian Civil War, which was then underway with a vengeance. As Baker told Graves, "you will be walking on eggs loaded with dynamite" (57).
One of the revelations of this book is Richard's careful attention to Graves's memoirs, the Diplomatic Commentaries of Japanese general Kikujiro Ishii, the memoirs of Ernest DuPuy on the Czechoslovak "anabasis," and the memoirs of Carl Akerman. These all shed new light on the brutal atrocities of Kolchak Lieutenants Gregori Semenov, Igor Kalmikov, Boris Annenkov, Pavel Ivanov-Rinov, and Sergei Rozanov, whose "White Terror" had no counterpart from the Bolsheviks because Lenin and Trotsky were concentrating their attention on European Russia. Meanwhile, the opposition in the United States to the Siberian intervention was building. Senators Hiram Johnson (D-California) and Robert LaFollett (R-Wisconsin) led a chorus of senators and congressmen determined to "bring the boys home" (67).
Why did American forces remain after the Armistice if its purpose was to reconstitute the Eastern Front? Here Richard argues that Wilson's goal shifted after the Armistice from reconstituting the Eastern Front to the "struggle to make the world safe for democracy" by supporting "democratic forces" against what he saw as a rising tide of Bolshevism (72). Thus Wilson had three reasons for leaving the troops in Siberia after the armistice: (1) to aid the anti-Bolshevik forces, (2) to prevent the Japanese from getting control of eastern Siberia and northern Manchuria, and (3) to let the Paris Peace Conference make a final decision on the "Russia question."
Wilson was eager to confer with the British and French in Paris before deciding what to do. Richard's fifth chapter, "In Search of a Russia Policy," examines this question in detail. As Richard notes in the epigram to this chapter, quoting Herbert Hoover, "[Russia] was the Banquo's ghost sitting at every Council Table" (199). The allies made five attempts to solve this question in Paris: (1) the stillborn attempt to bring together all Russian factions at the Prinkipo Islands in the Sea of Marmora, (2) Churchill's proposal to send large numbers of allied troops to "strangle Bolshevism in its cradle," (3) the secret mission of Wilson envoy William C. Bullitt to Moscow, (4) the joint effort by Herbert Hoover and the Swedish humanitarian and activist medical doctor Fridtjov Nansen to supply food to starving Russians as a way of combating Bolshevism, and (5) the recognition by the allies of the Kolchak regime (108-112). None of these were ever agreed on, thus leaving only the French strategy to isolate the Bolshevik regime economically and politically (the Cordon Sanitaire) as the ultimate policy of the Allies concerning Russia.
In conclusion, Richard echoes Norman H. Saul's trenchant observation that the net result of Wilson's policy was a tragicomedy of miscalculation and error, which, far from undermining the Bolshevik regime or bringing "democracy" to Russia, served instead to strengthen Lenin's infant Soviet government. Richard also looks into the future from the vantage point of 1918-1919 and finds parallels with other ill-fated US interventions of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (169-181).
Richard's study is based on publicly available printed sources (including many memoirs and documents), archival materials from the National Archives, and a few other private collections. But it must be noted that he uses no Russian, French, or Japanese archives. Nevertheless, his use of memoirs, the voluminous and complete papers of Woodrow Wilson, and the Lloyd George papers is both deep and innovative.
If this reviewer has any quibble, it is that Richard has little real understanding or depth on the important question of "Lenin's American policy." This is partly because of a paucity of sources utilized on the Soviet side as well as a lack of careful use of appropriate, translated secondary sources and documentary collections.
David W. McFadden
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||McFadden, David W.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2015|
|Previous Article:||A Killing on Ring Jaw Bluff: The Great Recession and the Death of Small Town Georgia.|
|Next Article:||Edmund G. Ross: Soldier, Senator, Abolitionist.|