America's Secret War against Bolshevism: U.S. Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1917-1920

America's Secret War against Bolshevism: U.S. Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1917-1920

America's Secret War against Bolshevism: U.S. Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1917-1920

America's Secret War against Bolshevism: U.S. Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1917-1920

Synopsis

From the Russian revolutions of 1917 to the end of the Civil War in 1920, Woodrow Wilson's administration sought to oppose the Bolsheviks in a variety of covert ways. Drawing on previously unavailable American and Russian archival material, David Foglesong chronicles both sides of this secret war and reveals a new dimension to the first years of the U.S.-Soviet rivalry. Foglesong explores the evolution of Wilson's ambivalent attitudes toward socialism and revolution before 1917 and analyzes the social and cultural origins of American anti-Bolshevism. Constrained by his espousal of the principle of self-determination, by idealistic public sentiment, and by congressional restrictions, Wilson had to rely on secretive methods to affect the course of the Russian Civil War. The administration provided covert financial and military aid to anti-Bolshevik forces, established clandestine spy networks, concealed the purposes of limited military expeditions to northern Russia and Siberia, and delivered ostensibly humanitarian assistance to soldiers fighting to overthrow the Soviet government. In turn, the Soviets developed and secretly funded a propaganda campaign in the United States designed to mobilize public opposition to anti-Bolshevik activity, promote American-Soviet economic ties, and win diplomatic recognition from Washington.

Excerpt

"Do you not know," Woodrow Wilson asked the citizens of Des Moines in September 1919, "that the world is all now one single whispering gallery?" The extension of the lines of commerce and the development of new methods of communication had drawn the peoples of the world close together in a global theater, thereby increasing the danger of contagion. "All the impulses of mankind," Wilson explained, "are thrown out upon the air and reach to the ends of the earth; quietly upon steamships, silently under the cover of the Postal Service, with the tongue of the wireless and the tongue of the telegraph, all the suggestions of disorder are spread through the world." Even America, despite its oceans of insulation, was vulnerable to the "propaganda of disorder and discontent and dissolution throughout the world."

The global currents of trade and thought that made Bolshevism and other manifestations of "disorder" threats to American prosperity and tranquillity simultaneously inhibited American leaders' ability to intervene to preserve order. "The opinion of the world is everywhere wide awake," Wilson observed in December 1917. "No representative of any self-governed nation will dare disregard it." In modern conditions, particularly in a total war for which governments needed the cooperation of whole societies, even authoritarian regimes had to be attuned to the "very simple and unsophisticated standards of right and wrong" of the "plain people." This was especially true in the United States. As long as Americans believed that U.S. actions were motivated by "high principle," they would support overseas action with "zeal and enthusiasm." However, if they suspected U.S. policy served selfish ambitions or unprincipled objectives, the government would soon lose their support.

Wilson had long been acutely conscious of the moral force of public opinion. In his 1912 campaign for the presidency, Wilson appealed to the muckraking spirit of the time, calling for a purifying publicity to cleanse government of the corruption that "thrives in secret places." "We are never so proper in our conduct," he commented, "as when everybody can look and see exactly what we are doing." In the following years Wilson extended the idea of moralizing publicity from domestic politics to foreign affairs. By 1916 he embraced a progressive vision of "a new and more wholesome diplomacy" that centered on repudiation of "secret counsels" and respect for the sovereign rights of all peoples. That peace position, combined with sweeping reform legislation, earned him crucial support from Progressives and Socialists for his reelection. As he led the United States . . .

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