Ambassador’s Return: 1933

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On the evening of December 8, 1933, William C. Bullitt boarded a train bound from Paris to Moscow. This time he traveled as the first American Ambassador to Russia since the Bolsheviks had come to power in 1917. For Bullitt, who had long worked for the recognition of the Communist government by the United States, it seemed a moment of triumph. As one observer commented, his new appointment was a chance for him to “enjoy from a box seat one of the greatest mass social experiments in history …”

Though Bullitt had all but retired from the public scene after his sensational testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in igig, the intervening years had not been inactive ones. He had lived in the Bosporus and consulted with Freud in Vienna, raised German shepherds and Mclntosh apples in New England, and had written a best-selling novel, It’s Not Done . For a brief time he had been married to Louise Bryant, widow of the American Communist John Reed, whose ashes arc enshrined in the walls of the Kremlin ( see “The Harvard Man in the Kremlin Wall,” A MERICAN H ERITAGE , February, 1960).

As ambassador, Bullitt worked with his accustomed zeal, making heroic efforts to cement the long-lost friendship of America and Russia (he even brought with him quantities of baseballs, bats, and gloves). But he came to realize that the idealistic social experiment of 1917 had hardened into an oppressive dictatorship. Later, after World War II, he was to become an outspoken critic of the “soft” policy toward the Soviet Union. In 1936, however, more in sorrow than in anger, a disillusioned Bullitt left his Russian post to become ambassador to France.