The Alpha of Anti-Communism in US Foreign Affairs

by Patrick Pacalo

In September of 1918 President Woodrow Wilson was considering withdrawal of the 5,710 troops he had sent to northern Russia. It had taken much convincing on the part of French Prime Minister Clemenceau to get Wilson to send the troops in the first place. Wilson hesitated to do so because he felt that any US involvement in the Russian Civil War would only make matters worse for the average Russian. He was also was doubtlessly concerned with sending doughboys to a remote area in a time when communicating over the great distance involved was a slow process.

The troops were sent by ship from Western Europe, and placed under British control. Wilson had agreed with the Allies to send the troops only after Clemenseau had stated in no uncertain terms that their purpose would be to provide logistical support to Russian volunteers who wanted to aid the Allied cause in the continuing fight against Germany. The troops were also charged, under the agreements negotiated with the Allies, with the mission of guarding military stores that had been sent to Russia for the purpose of fighting the Germans.

The troops were almost ordered home when Wilson received word that British General Poole had sent the Americans into immediate combat with the Red units in north Russia. Adding insult to injury, General Poole had appointed a French officer as military governor of Archangel. These events irked Wilson because he believed that the overthrow of the Czar had been a good thing, and that given time the Russian people would come up with a working form of democracy on their own.

All of Wilson's frustration over British and French action in north Russia was put aside when he received word of the terrible Red Terror launched by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in September 1918. On receiving notice from Secretary of State Lansing that the Communists were on a mass killing spree he put removal of the troops from north Russia on hold and issued an anti-Communist directive to all U.S. diplomatic stations throughout the world. It was the first coordinated American effort to fight Marxism. In large respect this dispatch represents the real beginning of the US-Soviet cold war because it lays out why America would oppose Soviet Marxism for the next 70 years. The text of the dispatch follows:

September 18, 1918

This government is in receipt of information from reliable sources revealing that the peaceable Russian citizens of Moscow, Petrograd, and other cities are suffering from an openly avowed campaign of mass terrorism and are subject to wholesale executions. Thousands of persons have been shot without even a form of trial; ill administered prisons are filled beyond capacity and every night scores of Russian citizens are recklessly put to death; and irresponsible bands are venting their passions in the daily massacre of untold innocents.

In view of the earnest desire of the people of the United States to befriend the Russian people and lend them all possible assistance in their struggle to reconstruct their nation upon principles of democracy and self-government and acting therefore solely in the interest of the Russian people themselves, this government feels that it cannot be silent or refrain from expressing its horror at the existing state of terrorism. Furthermore it believes that in order successfully to check the further increase of the indiscriminate slaughter of Russian citizens all the civilized nations should register their abhorrence of such barbarism.

You will inquire, therefore, whether the government to which you are accredited will be disposed to take some immediate action, which is entirely divorced from the atmosphere of belligerency and the conduct of the war, to impress upon the perpetrators of these crimes the aversion with which civilization regards their present wanton acts.

Source: The Papers of Woodrow Wilson

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