Cultural exchange negotiations with the Soviet Government and the frustrations encountered in implementing the American side of previous agreements recalls to mind that this was not the first time our government has tried to reach the Russian “common people.”1 As American Ambassador to Soviet Russia in 1943, I had the opportunity to initiate a program which I hoped would inform the Russian people about the United States of America.
During my tour of duty in Russia from early 1942 to late 1943, I was able to get around the Soviet Union to “meet the people” probably more than any other Ambassador since the Russian Communist Party took power. I visited orphans’ homes, schools, kindergartens, collective farms, factories, and military installations. I was never permitted to go to the fighting front, but I always carefully questioned every VIP and newsman who “went to the front.”
Three kinds of aid were coming to Soviet Russia from our country at that time. First was Lend-Lease, in which I was especially interested officially. Second, shiploads of supplies were being delivered to Russia by the American Red Cross, supposedly for the relief of exiled Poles and needy Russians displaced by the war. Third, Russian Relief Supplies were being gathered and sent to Russia by Russian Relief Societies all over the United States. Few of the common people I met had ever heard of any assistance coming to Russia from the United States of America.
Each day, our clerks translated interesting articles from Pravda, Izvestia, the Red Army’s Red Star, and other Soviet newspapers and magazines. Rarely was any mention made of American or British Lend-Lease aid or receipt or distribution of Red Cross and Russian Relief supplies. By the end of 1942, it was obvious to me that the Soviet authorities were successfully concealing from the Russian people the nature and extent of the aid which the British and American people were giving so generously to the Russian Armed Forces and the Russian people.
I knew the sacrifice that the American Armed Forces and the American people were making to send war materials and other supplies to Russia. It was a cruel blow when, in his answer to the celebrated letter from Henry Cassidy, Associated Press Correspondent in Moscow, Mr. Stalin included the following, “As compared to the aid which the Soviet Union is giving to the Allies by drawing upon itself the main force of the German Fascist armies, the aid of the Allies to the Soviet Union has so far been little effective.”
In January 1943, the Second Lend-Lease appropriation bill was sailing a rough course through our Congress. Though willing to be generous, our Congress was sensitive—the belief that much of our Lend-Lease aid to Russia was “going down the drain” might well cause the Congress to refuse to pass the bill. After the Cassidy-Stalin exchange, this possibility was so strong that I was instructed to “obtain a statement from responsible Soviet authorities demonstrating the benefits Lend-Lease has accorded to the Soviet Union on the battlefield and to Soviet civilians.”
I immediately went to the Kremlin to see the Foreign Minister. His outer office, where he received me, had a few chairs, conventional office furniture, no papers on top of his desk, no filing cabinets, a heavy rich rug on the floor, heavy drapes drawn so that the room had to be lighted by electricity even at midday.
Then the Commissar of Foreign Affairs as well as a member of the Politburo, Mr. Vyacheslav Molotov was seated behind his desk at the far end of the large room, a square chunk of a man, with a wide face, sharp eyes, and a completely impassive expression. He rose to greet me and indicated a seat across the desk from him. Seemingly, he was trying to create just the right atmosphere of cordial co-operation and friendliness.
“Mr. Molotov,” I began, “publicizing the material benefits of Lend-Lease and other aid to your armed forces and your citizens, for which we are asking, is of vital importance to the Soviet war effort. If you want the Second Protocol to get through the Congress, I suggest you use your influence to expedite the widest publicity throughout Russia.”
Mr. Molotov looked at me steadily for a moment before he answered. “Mr. Ambassador, we well recognize that it is the duty of the Soviet Government to distribute such information. The Russian Government is grateful for the aid supplied by the United States Government through Lend-Lease. I will endeavor to facilitate furnishing our citizens the information you request.”
“It had better be prompt and widely covered,” I said bluntly through Eddie Page, my First Secretary and interpreter. “The Committees of Congress are already considering the bill. From my own experience, it appears that very few of your citizens have any information at all about the vast amount of Lend-Lease materials and Red Cross and Soviet Relief supplies which are being delivered to your country.”
Mr. Molotov’s impassive expression never changed. “The man in the street knows we are getting Lend-Lease supplies from our Allies,” he said, emphatically. “Even the man in the street.”
“That may be so, Mr. Molotov,” I replied. “But we have no contact with the man in the street. In fact, foreigners have no contact with the Russian people at all. The man in the street doesn’t dare to talk to us. If we should happen to make a friendly contact, our Russian acquaintance will inevitably ask us not to see him again. It would endanger his liberty, his freedom, and quite possibly his life.”
“That is not so,” Mr. Molotov protested. Again he promised to see that information on Lend-Lease would be published in the Moscow papers and periodicals, but, of course, nothing happened.
In March 1943, after a long and uncomfortable train trip from Kuibyshev, I returned to Spaso House in Moscow early the morning of the fifth. I recall that I was very unhappy. In the words of my diary, “I hardly know what to do—must wait for further information.”
We desperately needed all the intelligence information about the Germans that we could get. I wanted to know about German weapons; I wanted our assistant military attaches to live at the Russian front as our observers had lived with the British even before we entered the war; I wanted our military experts to see and have an opportunity to study every new piece of equipment the Russians captured. Such information would save a lot of British and American lives, when the time came to open the Second Front in Europe which the Russians so avidly desired. The Russians had all of this information at their disposal but they refused to part with it.
All of this might well have added up to frustration—diplomatic frustration. But I was not a diplomat; I was not interested in the devious processes by which the Soviet bureaucracy, and even our own diplomats, arrived at a point of view, an attitude, or a position. I tried to think things through in a straightforward manner and arrive at logical conclusions. I preferred action to red tape. And finally, I believed that the welfare of my own country came first.
On 7 March, the newspaper boys returned from a so-called “visit to the front” at Kharkov. As usual after a trip to the front, they filed into the Spaso House library at four the next afternoon; the meeting was informal —none of the long “prepared statement” and question-and-answer period of a press conference. We sat around the big book-lined room chatting: about my train trip to Moscow; spring was coming to Moscow early; living conditions seemed to be improving in the Soviet Union; the Stettinius Report on Lend- Lease, which the Soviet Press had unanimously ignored. Finally, I asked the boys, “How was your trip to the front? Any better?”
“No closer to the real fighting front than before,” Quentin Reynolds observed.
I saw that none of them were taking notes; even Page had relaxed, leaning back against the leather cushions of his chair.
“Did you see much American stuff?”
They shook their heads. Quite casually, Eddie Gilmore asked the status of the Lend- Lease Protocol. It was obvious that the newspaper reporters knew of my efforts to obtain statements from the Russian authorities as to the benefits of Lend-Lease.
“The Second Protocol has been reported out of Committee,” I replied. “But that does not necessarily mean that Congress will pass the bill. You know, boys, ever since I’ve been here, I’ve been informed by our government that the Russians are getting a lot of material help from the British and us—not only Lend- Lease, but also Red Cross and Russian Relief —but I’ve looked everywhere I’ve been and I have yet to find any concrete evidence. You know, the American Congress is a big-hearted generous body of men, who will go to great lengths to help out a friend, if they know that their efforts are really helpful and appreciated but”—and I paused for emphasis—“lacking such knowledge, our Congress might very well take an opposite tack. Since my arrival in the Soviet Union, I have also tried to obtain evidence that our military supplies are in use by the Russians at the front. I haven’t been able to get any of our people up to the front. The Russian authorities seem to want to cover up the fact that they are receiving our help.” I looked about the small circle. The boys were grabbing for pencils and paper. “Is that statement off the record, Mr. Ambassador?” Henry Shapiro asked.
“No,” I said, “Use it! I’m simply stating facts well known to the authorities. It’s not fair—the American people are giving billions to help the Russian people, but the Russian people do not know where the supplies are coming from. The American people are giving generously because of their friendship for the Russian people. Apparently the Soviet authorities want to create the impression at home and abroad that they are fighting this war, alone and with their own resources. I see no reason why you shouldn’t use my remarks.” I was somewhat surprised at the abruptness with which the boys took their departure. I have heard that they ran the two blocks to the nearest subway station, fumed impatiently at the slowness of the trains and sprinted from the station to the Foreign Office press room, where they beat out my remarks on typewriters provided for their use. Henry Shapiro told me that the censors didn’t want to release their despatches. “Look,” they said, “this is no ordinary story. This is a direct quote from the U. S. Ambassador.” Apparently, the censor was afraid to suppress my remarks.
About nine P.M., Henry Shapiro called me on the phone. “I just received a wire from my boss, Mr. Ambassador. Your statement made front page headlines in all the U. S. papers.”
I quote from my diary for 9 March:
. . . my statement re Russian Relief has stirred up a mare’s nest at home, with efforts to confuse the issue and confound me with false implications. Duncan came in, jubilant. Staff in general expressed approval —don’t think Faymonville will agree. At 9:30 P.M., saw Shapiro; he read me telegrams re implications drawn at home from my remarks. I refused to enter into any arguments or to expand on what I said. They can draw what inferences they like. To try to explain would put me on the defensive and that I refuse.
There was no immediate reaction from Washington, but I knew I was in for trouble. We immediately began to prepare a despatch. In it, I reviewed the facts and events and in- informed the Department of State as to what had taken place in Spaso House that afternoon. I ended a second despatch with the following remarks:
I had no illusions as to my remarks and knew that they might cause displeasure to some of the Soviet authorities and that there may be reverberations. Department may wish to state that I was speaking in a personal capacity and that the Department was not consulted; however, I do not feel that we should remain silent and continue to accept the seeming ungrateful attitude of the Soviet leaders, especially when relief supplies from the American people are concerned. Hope that my remarks may result in clearing the atmosphere and emphasizing to the Russian authorities that the American people are not satisfied with their policy in this respect.
I noted in my diary for 10 March that I requested an appointment with Foreign Minister Molotov. Promptly at 6:30 P.M. that day, Eddie Page and I presented ourselves at Mr. Molotov’s office in the Kremlin. After my routine business was completed, I inquired, “Have you any matter you wish to discuss with me, Mr. Molotov?”
“Why, yes, Mr. Ambassador, I have. I would like to talk to you about your recent Press conference. I do not question your right to make the remarks you did, but, speaking very frankly, I do not agree with you, for the following reasons:
“The Soviet Press has publicized all statements made in America and England as to military aid extended to the Soviet Union. The Soviet people get first hand information in the form made available by your American leaders as to what aid comes to the Soviet Union from America. Both Mr. Stalin and I, and other Soviet officials, have expressed our gratitude on a number of occasions for the material assistance given to us; both the Soviet Government and the Russian people give full credit to the importance and significance of Allied assistance.
“The Soviet Government did not consider it wise to emphasize in the Press the great extent of the assistance coming from America, as that would be apt to come to the attention of the Axis powers and result in a greater effort to destroy the convoys.”
I listened attentively as Mr. Pavlov translated, looking around at Eddie Page for his customary nod of confirmation. “First of all, Mr. Molotov,” I replied, “I would like to stress that my conversation with the Press the other day was most informal. The general situation as it affects American relief supplies was brought up by one of the correspondents. I remarked in passing that I had been unable to obtain any evidence from the news correspondents and that my aides and I had ourselves seen no mention in the Soviet Press about the receipt and distribution of American relief supplies, either from the American Red Cross or our Russian Relief Society. This has caused me deep concern; when I was home for consultation, I saw at first hand how the American people were digging down in their pockets to furnish relief supplies out of sheer good will and friendship for the Russian people, and yet they are receiving no recognition of this sacrifice. Mind you, I made no assertion that these relief supplies are not being received and distributed—only that the Russian people are not informed as to the source of these supplies and of the good will on the part of the American people.”
“But the Russian people are aware of the receipt of Lend-Lease aid,” Mr. Molotov protested. “The man in the street knows by heart the number of tanks and planes we have received from America.”
“It is unfortunate that my enforced isolation here in Moscow prevents me from having any contact with the man-in-the-street. I am unable to talk to him or to find out what he knows or thinks.”
“Do you make a distinction between Lend- Lease aid of approximately two billion dollars and relief supplies amounting to the insignificant sum of ten million dollars?” Mr. Molotov inquired sarcastically.
“Indeed I do,” I said warmly. “Lend-Lease is a business transaction between our two governments; relief supplies are the charitable manifestation of good will and friendship on the part of the American people. In my estimation, this gives them a considerable importance out of all proportion to the amount.
“You see, Mr. Molotov, the way we look at things in America, good will is a two-way street; only one side of it is being used at the present time because the Russian people have been kept from knowing of the sympathy and help which the American people are trying to extend to the Russian people.
“With regard to Lend-Lease aid, I have attempted for some weeks, now, without success, to obtain from responsible Soviet officials, including yourself, public acknowledgement of the benefits to Soviet Russia of our Lend- Lease supplies. As far as I know, the only definite information released on this subject was Mr. Stalin’s reply to Mr. Cassidy’s letter last October.”
Mr. Molotov stared down at his plump hands clasped together on the shiny table top. “I doubt the wisdom of accepting the Stalin- Cassidy letters as our present attitude. I believe that his correspondence has lost the significance it had last Fall,” he said.
“With nothing else to guide us and the Second Protocol of Russian Lend-Lease now before the American Congress and the American people, I certainly do not believe that the Stalin-Cassidy correspondence has lost its significance. Furthermore, the American newsmen and General Hurley after their visits to the front have told me that they saw no evidence of American planes or tanks in use at the front.”
Mr. Molotov looked up at me startled. “I can’t understand that. Perhaps the sector of the front which was visited by them was not using American equipment; there is plenty of it in use at the front.”
After a short pause, Mr. Molotov continued to assert that the Soviet people were well-advised as to Lend-Lease aid and were most grateful therefore; not once did he state that there had been any publicity in the Soviet Union as to relief supplies sent to the Russian people by the American Red Cross and our Russian Relief Society or any awareness among the Soviet citizens of the existence or extent of this relief.
“I am personally interested in the question of Red Cross and Russian Relief supplies,” I pointed out. “This is a matter of good will and friendship between the American and Russian peoples. My remarks to the Press were actuated by that thought alone.”
“I’m afraid, then, Mr. Ambassador, that far more importance is being given to your remarks than appears justified. I regret the misinterpretation that has been placed on them and the resulting bad publicity in the United States.”
“I hope that my remarks will not have a detrimental effect on Soviet-American relations,” I stated.
“No, I do not believe so,” Mr. Molotov said thoughtfully. “It may even be that they will have a useful effect in America.”
I had hoped that they might have a “useful effect” upon the Russian officials in Moscow. The effect at home was at first somewhat alarming. The American Press wanted my diplomatic scalp. I was later told that Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles broke all records in getting from his office to the White House. With great alarm, he announced to President Roosevelt, “Mr. President, our Ambassador in Moscow has committed a great diplomatic blunder. I fear that we must relieve him at once.”
The President took his announcement quite calmly. “Sumner,” he said, “some Admirals talk too much and some don’t talk enough. Let’s wait and see what happens.”
As usual, in estimating the temper of the American people, the President was almost psychic. Within 48 hours, there was a reversal of feeling. The American Press shifted to my defense and lauded my efforts at “realistic diplomacy.” The Communist newspapers in New York and London, of course, attacked me caustically.
For three days, there was no comment in the Moscow newspapers; then came a veritable rash of statements about American aid to Russia. The Stettinius Report was published in full. Daily, the papers mentioned American war material issued on this or that sector of the front or praised the generosity of the American people for some gift of Red Cross or Russian Relief supplies. At last, millions of Russians were finding out for the first time of the generosity and genuine friendliness of the American people.
At home, members of our Congress, reading and hearing these strange emanations from a Soviet propaganda bureau in reverse gear, overwhelmingly approved the legislation authorizing the Second Protocol for Lend-Lease to Russia. What I had set out to do had finally been accomplished. The plain, hard-working, repressed citizen of Soviet Russia had learned of his friends in America and their generosity and good will. With continued Lend-Lease, Russia would be enabled to fight on.
I had been in Moscow long enough to know that a stream of propaganda could be turned on and off like water from a hose. This was merely an example of cause and effect—my statement was the cause; continuing Lend- Lease aid to Russia was the effect devoutly to be desired by both the Kremlin and our own government; the pleasant series of complimentary statements to the United States of America and its people was the means chosen to achieve an end.
This experience emphasizes my own personal troubles in helping the Russian people. From the moment I decided to go to Russia, my every thought, my utmost energy were given to furthering the Allied war effort. Like anyone who had no previous experience in the Soviet Union, I found the attitude of the Communist rulers toward foreign attempts to alleviate the conditions of the common people incredible. Surely, I thought, the men in the Kremlin would welcome my friendly efforts to help them establish better standards of living for their people, standards I now knew from personal observation to be very low. But first, the Russian people must learn about America and Americans, about our ideals, our standards, the way we think, the way we live, our wants and needs in this modern world.
Through all of the disappointments and reversals of the early months of my sojourn in Soviet Russia, my goal remained steadfast. But how was I to show the Russian people what kind of people the Americans are when we Americans were permitted to have almost no contact with the Russian people?
I recall that, as this question was running through my mind for the hundredth time, Jack Duncan came into my study. “Are you going to the movies this afternoon, Admiral?”
“Donald Duck and some British feature, I understand. Sir Archibald is coming over.”
“One I haven’t seen? Good, I’ll be down”
The officials of the Soviet Motion Picture Trust (VOKS) always showed great interest in our American pictures, particularly the technical details of such feature films as The Great Dictator, Fantasia, and Bambi. Whenever we were showing a new feature, we always invited Mr. Kamenev, Director of VOKS. I saw and spoke to him as I went into our large, downstairs library, which we had turned into a projection room seating a hundred persons. The feature was Lambeth Walk, which had been lent to us by the British Military Mission. As it neared its end, Sir Archibald turned to me, “Admiral, wouldn’t that picture make a F wonderful medium for propaganda among the Russian people?”
Something clicked—this was the answer for which my mind had been continuously seeking. Right here in Spaso House we had the facilities for initiating just such a propaganda campaign which might have far-reaching effects among the Russian people as well as furnishing much needed entertainment for Americans and other foreigners isolated in the Russian capital.
The next day I sent a telegram to the State Department proposing an educational program for the Russian people through the medium of American motion pictures. By judicious handling of good American pictures, the Russian officials would become aware of the possibility of having American motion pictures in their movie houses. Within a short time, the Russian people, I was confident, would be clamoring to see our films. I recommended that Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., then a lieutenant (junior grade) in the naval reserve, be designated as Assistant Naval Attaché for public relations in our Embassy.
I had visions of a regular exchange of motion pictures with Russia via weekly plane service to Teheran, which I had been informed that the Russian civil air ministry would shortly initiate. Douglas Fairbanks was just the man to establish such a service into Russia, a sort of Lend-Lease of information about our American way of life.
As might have been expected in the middle of a grim war, this proposal elicited no cries of enthusiasm in Washington—in fact, I received no response to my proposal at all. In October, I was summoned home for consultation. As we made the long flight from Kuibyshev, via Teheran, Baghdad, Jerusalem, Cairo, across the waist of Africa and the Atlantic to Natal, and north to Miami and Washington, I frequently pondered over the best way to advance my program. When we reached Washington, I embarked upon an extensive selling campaign. I had many hours of conference with the Cultural Relations Division of the State Department. I also obtained appointments with other interested officials—the Chief of Naval Operations, the Chief of Staff of the Army, Mr. Robert Sherwood of the Office of War Information (OWI), and President Roosevelt. No one seemed particularly enthusiastic, but I finally convinced the State Department that my plan was both “feasible and acceptable.”
Unable to obtain the services of Douglas Fairbanks, I searched for a substitute and hit upon John Young, with whom I had been associated when he handled overseas publicity for the New York World’s Fair. With John’s contacts in the radio and motion picture industries, I felt sure that he would make an ideal assistant to put my plan into operation. I persuaded the Chief of Naval Personnel to commission John a lieutenant-commander in the Naval Reserve.
Full of enthusiasm, John suggested that we begin immediately to obtain a portfolio of motion pictures. But, for the success of the program, I felt that he needed an understanding of the problem, which only a short tour in the Soviet Union could give. In the few days available in Washington, he obtained an unedited copy of the combat films of the North African invasion.
John Young was with me on 14 December, when we flew out of Washington to our posts in the capital of the Soviet Union. During our four-day stopover in Kuibyshev, I decided to make a test run on my plan to educate the Russian people. After considerable negotiation, I obtained permission from the local Foreign Office to use their projection room to screen “an American feature film and some raw combat films of the North African invasion,” the latter included as bait to obtain permission. The approval was far from hearty; we were directed to “limit your audience to American and Russian Foreign Office officials and their ladies.”
At nine p.m. 10 January, 20 members of the Diplomatic Corps and 15 Russian officials and their wives assembled in the Foreign Office projection room. The feature film was received with the usual Russian enthusiasm but I heard derogatory remarks and covert snickering in the course of screening the combat films. After the show, I introduced John Young, who explained the reasons why the combat films were unedited.
When John had finished, I walked across to Mr. Lozovsky and Mr. Zarubin. “Here’s why I brought Commander Young to Russia with me, gentlemen. The American people and the Russian people need to understand each other. Your people like our American films. They could show your people a lot about America and Americans. We could learn much about Russians from your films. I hope to see good American films, both feature and educational pictures, screened every week in every movie theater in Soviet Russia.”
Mr. Lozovsky waved his hands excitedly. “That would be wonderful, Mr. Ambassador. I wish you all success with your plan. In fact, I publicly challenge you to the fullest cooperation in carrying it out.”
As we drove back to our Kuibyshev residence through the cold January night, John Young was jubilant. “We’ll plaster the entire Soviet Union with our movie posters,” he cried happily.
“Easy, John,” I cautioned. “Things don’t come that easily in the Soviet Union. There is, you’ll soon learn, only one man in Russia who knows all the answers.”
But I war greatly encouraged. I should have known better.
John proved to be a very effective public relations officer. At my direction, he busied himself finding out all he could about the Russian motion picture industry, especially how they distributed their motion pictures. I took him with me frequently as my naval aide, so that he would get to know Russia and the Russian people insofar as possible. Finally, a new American feature picture somehow landed in Spaso House. On 27 April, I gave a party for General James Burns, then visiting Moscow on Lend-Lease business, which I described in my diary:
We had a fine buffet set up in the State Dining Room. Afterward, we screened some recent news reels and Sun Valley Serenade, which had the Russians talking excitedly among themselves.
It was a grand party; the Russians took a few drinks, really loosened up and seemed to have fun. I had complimentary remarks from all sides.
In May 1943, the Honorable Joseph Davies, who had served as Ambassador to the USSR from 1937-38, arrived in Moscow on a mysterious mission. After Mr. Davies had delivered a message to Mr. Stalin, the Russian Generalissimo decided to honor the former ambassador with a Kremlin dinner.
The Soviet Officials, commissars, Army and Air Force generals, Navy admirals, and Foreign Trade representatives were already assembled in the anteroom of the Catherine the Great Rooms when the British and American guests arrived. The British Ambassador, Sir Archibald Clark-Kerr, and some of his staff, General Martel and most of his British Supply Mission represented the British. American guests consisted of Mr. Davies’ party, General Faymonville and several of the officers of his mission, General Burns and his aides, and myself and a few of my staff. Mr. Davies was the guest of honor, but I gathered by the heavy representation of Foreign Trade representatives and Supply Missions that Lend-Lease was very much on the Russian mind.
As usual, Mr. Molotov received the guests. When all were assembled, Mr. Stalin came in with Mikoyan and went about the room shaking hands. After these preliminaries had been completed, Mr. Stalin conducted Mr. Davies into the beautiful Catherine Room, with its vaulted ceilings, magnificent works of art, ornamental carvings.
We were seated at a long table on a raised dais at one end of the room with several smaller tables seating 10 or 12 persons arranged in front of us on a lower level. The menu was typically Kremlin—caviar, bountifully loaded plates of hors-d’oeuvres, several fish courses, half a dozen different kinds of game birds wonderfully roasted, a main meat course, appropriate wines, and, naturally, vodka, vodka, vodka.
No sooner were we all seated than the toasts began, Mr. Molotov with a graceful tribute to the guest of honor. It was here that the customary procedure ended. Instead of saying a few words in reply and sitting down, Mr. Davies remained standing and delivered a 15-minute speech; it took another 15 minutes to translate it into Russian. I thought that his oration sounded familiar; where had I heard it? Suddenly, I remembered—at Mr. Davies’ first press conference in Spaso House. Across the table, I heard Mr. Litvinov remark to Sir Archibald in a low voice, “A speech at a Kremlin banquet is a nice time to take a nap.”
After 30 uneasy minutes, the dinner returned to normalcy for a while; the toasts continued until we had our dessert, when Mr. Stalin rose and said, “We will adjourn immediately to the projection room where we will see our guest of honor’s motion picture, Mission to Moscow.” Thus, we by-passed the usual conversation over liqueurs in the smoking room, which seemed to me to indicate that Mr. Stalin was annoyed at Mr. Davies’ speech.
Mission to Moscow was a Hollywood version of Mr. Davies’ book of the same title. A review of the world power struggle from 1936 to Pearl Harbor, it looked at U. S.-Russian relations through a rose-colored lens and showed President Roosevelt, Premier Stalin, and Mr. Davies himself all in a most favorable light. The film was widely criticized when first shown in the United States, but, of course, it pleased the Russians very much.
The movie opens with a full-screen picture of Mr. Davies making a speech—the identical speech he had just delivered in response to Mr. Molotov’s toast. When the picture was over and champagne was brought into the projection room, Mr. Stalin, apparently still annoyed by Mr. Davies’ performance at dinner, took one sip and retired to his private quarters.
I do not wish my readers to reply upon my adverse reaction to Mission to Moscow, as I certainly do not consider myself a qualified motion picture critic. Here is what Quentin Reynolds had to say:
Some of the British and Americans who have been here for many-many years and who really know Russia told us that Stalin gave a magnificent performance during the showing of the picture.
“Walter Huston was fine,” a British member of the diplomatic corps told us, “but he couldn’t compare with Stalin. Do you know that Stalin kept a straight face throughout the showing? He didn’t laugh once.”
A few days later, the film was shown at our Embassy at one of the usual Saturday- afternoon shows. It was a beautiful technical job and the performances of the character actors who figured in the trial scenes were especially magnificent. But the film portrayed a Russia that none of us had ever seen. This would have been all right, except that the picture purported to be factual and the Russia shown in the film had as much relation to the Russia we knew as Shangri-la would have to the real Tibet.
Having seen Mission to Moscow under the circumstances described, I gave some serious reconsideration to my movie project. Yet there seemed little reason to hesitate. During his five months in the Soviet Union, John Young had traveled widely. He had seen Russian motion pictures in the finest theaters in Moscow and in little recreation halls of country villages. He had met and presented our plan for exchange of motion pictures with the Russians to all of the proper authorities.
Mr. Molotov had appeared to be enthusiastic. Mr. Kamenev of VOKS had promised his full co-operation in arranging distribution of American films in Russia and in providing Russian films for export to the United States. Mr. Vishinsky had spoken enthusiastically about the plan and offered his services to assist in every way. I was so encouraged that, for a time, I became almost optimistic, a dangerous state of mind in the Soviet Union.
I decided it was time to send John Young home to obtain the films and equipment needed to implement my plan for “education through American motion pictures.”
I asked for a visa and arranged passage for Young in General Burns’s plane. Mr. Molotov and other officials of the Foreign Office could not have been more co-operative. With John, I sent several letters of introduction: to Harold Train, Chief of Naval Intelligence; to Mr. Will Hays, then President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America; to General H. H. George, Air Transport Command, asking his co-operation to exchange motion picture material with the Soviet Union; to Mr. Robert Sherwood, OWI, be-speaking his assistance.
Perhaps, I thought, we will see American feature films playing in every motion picture theater and recreation hall throughout the Soviet Union.
In four weeks of frenzied activity, Commander Young obtained from the Army Air Corps a C-87 transport stripped for carrying freight and loaded it with projection and repair equipment and 5,007 pounds of the finest feature films of that period, documentaries, and animated cartoons. Mr. Will Hays, Mr. Robert Sherwood, and a host of other officials and individuals co-operated completely and wonderfully.
On 1 July 1943, John Young cabled me, “I have completed my task in the United States and am ready to return to Moscow.” On the same day, I received another message, this one from Mr. Will Hays:
Commander Young now has in his possession all the material you desired. May I express to you our appreciation of the vision and value of your purposes, which should contribute much indeed to the advancement of mutual understanding between the peoples of the Soviet Republics and the United States in which you and all of us are so interested.
I sat down and wrote this answer:
Greatly appreciate your telegram and cooperation. Already, the Soviet officials have shown a sympathetic response to our efforts and I am sure that through this medium much will be accomplished here.
How naive I was! I had made the old mistake of believing in the honesty and integrity of an official Russian promise for “fullest cooperation.”
I requested visas for Young and his plane crew via the ALSIB Air Route. The promised co-operation turned into obstruction. On 2 July, the Russian Foreign Office “wanted a complete list of cargo and passengers.” I was also having trouble getting entry visas for “the plane for my personal use,” which the Navy Department was sending me. On 12 July, I changed my request for entry visas for John Young and his films via the African and Teheran route. I was able to obtain visas for the crew of my personal plane, but John Young and his films remained in New York. On 29 July, I was “still awaiting action on Young’s plane.” The Russian objection was obviously to Young’s cargo.
On 12 August, I entered in my diary, “Saw Vishinsky from 9 to 10 over the transportation situation and Young’s visas—no progress.” On 18 August, “Page and Thompson went to see Zarubin but got nowhere in their discussion about Young’s plane.”
On 8 September, I sent Commander Young orders to proceed with his films and equipment to Moscow. On 16 September, under needling by the Army Air Force to return their plane, my last order to John Young was to “fly to Teheran and discharge your cargo. We will try to get the films into Moscow, if need be, can by can.”
Commander Young got as far as Cairo with films and plane. After a long delay in that city, the Navy Department detached him from the Moscow Embassy to other duty. His cargo moved on to Teheran in an Army Air Force transport early in November 1943. I have no information as to how the films and equipment eventually reached Moscow, but arrive there they did. Nine years later, in 1952, I received a letter from Mr. John Freemont Melby of the State Department:
I do indeed remember the shipment to which you refer, particularly since, by the time the films arrived, I was the Acting Director of OWI and I was therefore responsible for seeing that they got their proper distribution. . . . While they were in Moscow, they were shown at our Embassy, the British Embassy, the Soviet Foreign Office, and a number of Russian cultural, military, and naval clubs. When I left Moscow in April 1945, they were still there. I have looked through the Department files . . . and find that they were all eventually shipped out of Moscow and, with the possible exception of four, which disappeared en route, were returned to their owners.
Certainly, this distribution was something less than the ambitious program I expounded to Mr. Lozovsky and Mr. Zarubin, when I told them that “I hoped to see good American entertainment motion pictures and educational films screened every week in every movie theater in Russia.”
There was nothing new in this visa dispute with the Russian Government. In November 1851, American Minister Neill S. Brown reported from our Russian Legation to the American State Department:
During the past year, it has been evident that the policy of Russia towards foreigners and their entrance into the Empire was becoming more and more stringent. I heard of several Americans last summer, who were unable to procure visas from the Russian Legations at different points, and were therefore compelled to abandon their journey. This arises mainly from political considerations, and a fear of foreign influence upon the popular mind. To this it may be added that there is a strong anti-foreign party in Russia, whose policy would exclude all foreigners, except for mere purposes of transient commerce. They conceive that the motive of Peter the Great in opening the door to traders and artisans has been answered, and that they have learned sufficiently the lessons of civilization to maintain its craft and its maxims by themselves.
So, indeed, have the Soviet officials learned well their lessons. They will sign almost any agreement in the area of cultural exchange, but let my experience warn us against overoptimism. The men in the Kremlin still fear “foreign influence on the popular mind”; they had—and still have—no intention of permitting the Russian people to discover just how bad their situation is compared to the “decadent democracies of the Western World.” They are certain always to demand more from cultural exchange than they will ever be willing to give. And if the exchange be found not to be to their advantage in the continuing propaganda struggle for men’s minds in the Cold War, they will as readily violate the terms of their agreement or unilaterally abandon it, as they have done so frequently during the past 40 years.
For to the Soviet Russian, an agreement is a tactic used to gain an advantage; a promise is a legal fiction made to be broken whenever it is deemed advisable. There is no basis in ethics for the Communist philosophy of moral good. No matter how deviously their policies may seem to turn and twist, their unchanging goal is communization of country after country and eventual domination of the world.
1. I make this distinction to differentiate the “common people” of Russia from the estimated 2.5 million members of the Russian Communist Party, who rule Soviet Russia, and the tremendous numbers of non-Communist Russians.