Dictators, Democracy, and American Public Culture: Envisioning the Totalitarian Enemy, 1920s-1950s

By Benjamin L. Alpers | Go to book overview

8

THE BATTLE OF RUSSIA THE
USSIAN PEOPLE, COMMUNISM,
AND TOTALITARIANISM,
1941-1945

Of all the United Nations fighting alongside the United States against the Axis powers, the Soviet Union was the country least likely to arouse American sympathy. 1 Since 1917, Russia had been the home country of communism. Consequently, the USSR had been a symbol of hope for many Americans, particularly in the 1930s, and a focal point of fear for many more. For the first months of World War II, the Soviet Union had been an aggressor. As Germany waged the "Phony War" to its west in the winter of 1939-40, the Soviet invasion of Finland grabbed the headlines in the U. S. press. When the American Communist Party's line swung with the changes in Soviet foreign policy during 1939, numerous liberals who, in the Popular Front period, had developed sympathy for Communism and Russia began to view them in a less favorable light. Across the political spectrum, many Americans began to consider Nazism and Communism to be two examples of a single phenomenon: totalitarianism. Between long-standing anticommunist ussophobia, liberal feelings of betrayal by the Communist Party (CP), and sympathy for "little Finland," American opinion of the Soviet Union on the eve of Germany's surprise attack on Russia was extremely negative. 2

Whereas the notion that Germans as a people were essentially dangerous and unlike Americans grew ever more central to U. S. understanding of the Nazi enemy, the idea of a natural affinity between Americans and the Russian people played a preeminent role in representations of the USSR in American public culture from the start of Russo-German hostilities. On the day of the invasion, 22 June 1941, Winston Churchill, in a speech heard by millions in the United States on NBC, and widely reported and praised in papers across the country the next day, put forth an argument for supporting Russia that in many ways set the tone for U. S. representations of the Soviet Union over the next four years. "No one has been a more consistent opponent of Communism than I have for the last twenty-five years,"

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