Friday, August 21, 2009

Gromyko critical of the USA prior to WWII

I’ve been reading Andrei Gromyko’s Memoirs, 1990. In 1939 he was appointed second in command to the Soviet Ambassador in the US. He was just 30, very intelligent and rising rapidly in the Russian diplomatic corps, but I don’t think he quite grasped the American situation prior to World War II. On page 36 he writes,

“Among those responsible for US foreign policy before, during and since the Second World War, nobody has ever tried to give a precise answer to the question: what measures did the USA take to prevent the outbreak of war?

“Historians and politicians who have analysed the events of those years have given various replies. They have claimed that the USA did its duty before the war by condemning the expansionist aims of Hitler and his allies. But none of them has asked what would have happened if the USA had come out on the side of the countries calling for peace, above all the USSR, and declared its determination to create a mighty, united force to oppose aggression. They do not ask this because the USA in fact had no plans and undertook no steps to deter the aggressors. Mere condemnation, at best erratic and consisting of a few tired speeches by administration officials, was hardly a sign of any very firm intent to take a stand against Hitler.

“Washington’s attitude only changed when the USA felt the heat of war itself. And, hard though it may be to believe, even the treacherous attack by Germany’s ally, Japan, on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1941 still did not open the eyes of all Americans to the danger to peace and freedom posed by Germany and her eastern ally. There were still American politicians who wanted the Soviet Union and Germany to bleed each other white, clearly hoping that the USA would be able to have the last word in settling the terms of the eventual peace.

“This must not be forgotten. While the Soviet people pay full tribute – voiced many times by our leaders – to the American contribution to the victory over Germany and Japan, the fact is that the USA did not do what it could and should have done to avert the war itself.”


Everything Gromyko writes is true, but I squirm quite a bit at his tone and also at what is left out. It is true that the US did nothing to “prevent the outbreak of war,” but at the same time there were very few in the US at the time that thought we ought to. Americans viewed Europe as being very warlike and engaging in wars that meant nothing to the US. Americans thought it wise to keep out of such matters. Our first President warned against our getting involved in foreign wars and ever since then we have had politicians who argued that should still be our policy. So while what Gromyko says is true, what he leaves out is that the US held this position by design. There were some who thought we should take steps to stop Hitler, but they were neither numerous nor influential.

And I could say the same thing about those Gromyko apparently encountered who “wanted the Soviet Union and Germany to bleed each other white, clearly hoping that the USA would be able to have the last word in settling the terms of the eventual peace.” I suspect there were fewer politicians who held this view than those who thought we should be opposing Hitler sooner than we did. The predominant American foreign-policy position at the time was Isolationism: ‘Let those warlike Europeans fight their own wars. We in the meantime will stay here, behind our oceans, and mind our own business.”

One of the popular adds in those days was of Charles Atlas. If you read the add, which I did as a boy, then you saw a young skinny man described as a “97-pound weakling.” He was on the beach with his girlfriend when a large bully, insults the weakling’s girlfriend and then shoves the “bag of bones” out of the way. So the young man engages in Charles Atlas’ exercise program, called “dynamic tension,” and soon becomes strong and powerful. He again encounters the bully on the beach but this time knocks him down, much to everyone’s pleasure.

What Gromyko is proposing is that the 97-pound-weakling (the US) stand up to the bully (Germany). But it was not our nature back then to practice “dynamic tension.” We were content to weigh 97 pounds and be weak. It took Germany and Japan to kick sand in our face before we decided to grow strong.

It is true that we should have had a different view of things, should have had a strong military presence in the world and should have opposed Hitler early on. I quoted from Bevin Alexander’s The Future of Warfare some time ago. He faults the US in these regards. He doesn’t dwell upon the reasons we made bad decisions about our military and the war. He simply states that we did. Gromyko is critical of those responsible for America’s posture prior to the war, and well he should be. But now, after the fact, the historians I’ve read do put these matters in proper perspective. Yes, we were wrong back then, but now we have learned our lesson. We have abandoned our isolationism, for the most part (although we like our wars to be impossibly short).

When Gromyko in his Memoirs gets to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, he is much less critical. He doesn’t use the term “Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.” He does not mention that by agreeing to this pact, Stalin hoped that the West and Germany would “bleed each other white” so that the USSR “would be able to have the last word in settling the terms of the eventual peace.” Neither does he describe the partition of Poland.

Come now Gromyko. I’ll admit the US was wrong; although I would like to set the stage for that error. But why is it you won’t admit it when the USSR is wrong? You didn’t sign the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact just because the USA didn’t join you in opposing Hitler. You hoped (1) that by signing this pact Hitler would leave the USSR alone, (2) Hitler and the West would bleed themselves white, and (3) you could gain half of Poland.

Then too there is the huge error called Communism. Gromyko died in 1989, apparently just after his memoirs went to press, but that was enough time to realize what a colossal mistake Soviet Communism was. But when Gromyko describes what was happening in Russia before the war he very sympathetically refers to it as a very positive thing. Russia was building its Socialistic state.

No, no, Mr. Gromyko. Soviet Communism was a far more serious error than American isolationism. . . but perhaps I am jumping to the wrong conclusion. Perhaps you will be properly critical of it later in your Memoirs.

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