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America And Russia: Part Viii The Wasted Mission
Against a background of postwar turmoil, a 28-year-old State Department aide was sent to negotiate with the Bolshevik leaders. His rebuff by Wilson caused a national uproar
April 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 3
In the United States and Britain the popular demand to bring the hoys home was growing in volume and could not he ignored. Yet a British proposal that the Whites and Reds be invited to suspend hostilities in Russia and send representatives to Paris was widely denounced. “The French Government,” M. Pichon announced to the press, ”… will make no contract with crime.” And Joseph Tumulty, Wilson’s press secretary, wired from the United States that the suggestion that “the Russian Bolshevik be invited to send peace delegates to Paris … is denounced here as amazing.” The French could not forget that the Soviets had’ made a separate peace with Germany, deserting France in the hour of her peril. And America, however eager to get the boys home, didn’t care to talk about it with the perpetrators of the Red Terror who had, it was said, nationalized women!
Lloyd George explained that he was not proposing that the Red and While regimes be given official recognition, but rather that they be summoned to Paris “somewhat in the way that the Roman Empire summoned chiefs of outlying tributary states to render an account of their actions.” The French remained obdurate; they would listen to representatives of the White regimes who were already in Paris, but not to any Bolshevik representatives. Wilson supported Lloyd George. The White governments, led as they were by former cxarist officers, represented the ancien rßgime . Moreover, Wilson said, “there was certainly a latent force behind Bolshevism which attracted as much sympathy as its more brutal aspects caused general disgust.” Since further Allied military intervention in Russia was impractical, the Reds and Whites must be encouraged to reach a settlement.
The French were unmoved. In order to meet their objections, Wilson on January 21 proposed that the various Russian factions be asked to send representatives, not to Paris, but to some more remote place where the danger of Bolshevik contagion would be less. Since the Bolsheviks were representing the Allies as sup|)ortcrs of reaction, Wilson argued, the Allies should “show that they are ready to hear the representatives of any organized group in Russia, provided they are willing and ready to come to one place, to put all their cards on the table, and see if they could not come to an understanding.”
The French premier, Clemenceau, was still opposed to conversations with the Bolsheviks “in principle” because “we would be raising them to our level by saying that they were worthy of entering into conversation with us.” He reluctantly agreed to Wilson’s proposal, however, and the following day a proclamation was sent out from Paris inviting the parties involved to a meeting on Prinkipo Island in the Turkish Sea of Marmara not later than February iß. The French, though they had capitulated at the conference table, had not given up; their Foreign Office promptly advised the White governments to reject the invitation. The Unified Governments of Siberia, Archangel, and Southern Russia soon announced that “an exchange of ideas … with the participation of the Bolsheviks” was out of the question.
In this state of affairs, the Russian question was reviewed by the Council of Ten on February 14. Wilson was leaving Paris that very night for Washington, to argue for the League. Winston Churchill, who was sitting in for Lloyd George, pressed vigorously for largescale armed intervention. (The Prime Minister was in total disagreement with his somewhat irrepressible junior.) Wilson rejected intervention as worthless. “What the Allies had in mind,” he said, “was the establishment of peace in Russia as an element of the world’s peace.” Jn view of the collapse of the Prinkipo proposal, Wilson declared that he would be content “that informal American representatives should meet representatives of the Bolsheviks.” What was wanted “was not a rapprochement with the Bolsheviks, but clear information.” Precisely what Wilson had in mind never became entirely clear. Immediately after his conversation with Churchill on February 14, he departed uom Paris, leaving Colonel Edward M. House in command of the American peace commission.
Reports from an American agent in Stockholm had indicated that the Soviets were eager for conciliation and purported to be well disposed toward the proposed League of Nations. Reports from the Villa Majestic in Paris, where the British peace commission was encamped, indicated that the British were “prepared to meet at Prinkipo, or anywhere else, the Soviet Government’s representatives, even if no other Russian representatives should accept the recent Peace Conference invitation.” in the light of these developments, Colonel House acted swiftly. Within twentyfour hours after Wilson’s departure, he was discussing with Secretary of State Robert Lansing the possibility of sending William Bullitt, one of the younger members of the American peace commission, to Moscow.
During the next few days House and Bullitt discussed the peace terms which would be acceptable to the United States. House indicated that the armistice on all Russian fronts, the withdrawal of Allied troops, and the re-establishment of economic relations would form an acceptable basis for a Russian settlement. Bullitt also called upon Philip Kerr, Lloyd George’s private secretary (later to become Lord Lothian, British Ambassador to the United States). In Kerr’s opinion it was possible to resume normal relations with Soviet Russia on substantially the same terms as House had proposed.