The Cold War's Organization Man

By Engerman, David C. | Humanities, September/October 2009 | Go to article overview

The Cold War's Organization Man


Engerman, David C., Humanities


How Philip Mosely helped Soviet Studies moderate American policy

WHEN WINSTON CHURCHILL OMINOUSLY announced in March 1946 that an "Iron Curtain had descended over Europe," the United States government employed around two dozen experts on the Soviet Union and even fewer on Central and Eastern Europe. Two years later, after a steady drumbeat of Cold War crises, the young Central Intelligence Agency employed thirty- eight Soviet analysts, only twelve of whom spoke any Russian. The few university-based Russia specialists varied tremendously in intellect and energy; only a handful were willing and able to contribute to shaping policy. How could American officials chart a foreign policy without knowing what was going on inside the Soviet Union, let alone inside the Kremlin? As Geroid Tanquary Robinson, head of the USSR analysis for wartime intel- legence and the founding director of Columbia's Russian Institute put it, "Never did so many know so little about so much."

Into this breach stepped a handful of scholars, including Philip Edward Mosely, the man who would become the most influential Sovietologist of the Cold War. He lacked the name recognition and elegant writing style of the diplomat George Kennan, whose 1947 "X" article introduced the concept of containment to the world. Nor could he rival the publication record and scholarly reputation of Harvard professor Merle Fainsod, whose 1953 book How Russia Is Ruled introduced generations of readers to Soviet politics. And Mosely was nowhere near as colorful a character as the economic historian Alexander Gerschenkron, whose 1952 essay on "economic backwardness" remains a subject of debate into the twenty-first century. Mosely's contributions to the development of Soviet Studies have received little attention. But in a field of study that emphasized its practical application to policymaking, no one else was so adept at working the lines of influence and power that connected America's campuses and its capital.

Mosely did more than anyone to underwrite the achievements of Soviet Studies in the 1950s as well as its explosive growth in the 1960s. Thanks to the institutions he created and led, Soviet Studies went from scholarly backwater to intellectual juggernaut in a matter of years. Scholars in the field published dozens of books that peeked inside the Soviet enigma; they also trained hundreds of other experts to do the same. Sitting at the intersection of scholarship, intelligence, and philanthropy, Mosely created a field in which practitioners like himself could imagine, as Secretary of State William P. Rogers noted, "no line between government and academic work." In the process, though, Mosely set the field up for the controversies that wracked it in the years before his death in 1972. In other words, he put Sovietology on a collision course with that phenomenon generally known as the sixties.

Mosely was raised in the town of Westfield, Massachusetts, in the 1910s. For a determined Cold Warrior, he had surprisingly liberal views in his youth. Much later, he would regale a former student about his trip to celebrate the release of socialist Eugene Victor Debs from prison in 1921. Perhaps it was politics that got young Mosely interested in Russia, or perhaps it was his chance encounter with a Russian immigrant on a trip to the library in Springfield. In any case, Mosely studied Russian with a tutor until leaving for Harvard at the age of sixteen. After completing his bachelor's degree, he began graduate study in history, writing a dissertation on Russian diplomacy in the 1830s. Perhaps most crucial for his future career was a two-year stint in Moscow for dissertation research.

Mosely's Moscow years, 1930 to 1932, coincided with the immense and rapid changes of the first Five- Year Plan, Stalin's program of forced-draft industrializa- tion in the "ame of building socialism. Moscow ^(TM)* the country- side, basic goods were in short supply, and small private enter- prise was eradicated in favor of rationing. …

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