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When The Red Storm Broke
To a Russia in revolution, America sent rival groups of amateur diplomats. The calamitous results of their indecision still afflict us
February 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 2
Events thus moved quickly to their denouement. The Soviets ratified. Allied troops landed at Murmansk to protect war materials shipped there in aid of Russia from the West, and then to support White Russians against the regime. In America the sentiment for like armed intervention grew: the Bolsheviks, first dismissed as dim and distant agitators, now took on the image of world-wide ogres in cahoots with the Hun. Francis, an ambassador without an embassy to perform, bestirred himself enough to order that any contacts with the Soviets by General Judson’s remaining aides cease. In May, Robins was recalled; Secretary of State Lansing cut him off brusquely, and the President refused to see him. Sisson, for his part, had already slipped quietly out of Russia with his cache of documents purporting to show that Lenin and Trotsky were in the pay of Germany, and these were to be published amid great excitement under the seal of the United States—though many experts, like Lockhart, later held them to be forgeries. In July, Francis himself packed up and left Vologda, thereby ending an American representation in Russia maintained ever since John Quincy Adams had arrived 109 years before; and in July, President Wilson agreed to American armed intervention on Russian soil ( see “Where Ignorant Armies Clashed by Night,” in the December, 1958, AMERICAN HERITAGE).
What had been undone on both sides was never fully to be repaired. As to the actors themselves, Robins, a lost soul, haunted the halls of Congress for a few years, trying to bring about recognition of the Soviets as a means of influencing them, and then dropped from sight. Sisson lived on to become a wizened minor propagandist in the Second World War, still buttonholing people to convince them of the authenticity of his documents. Francis, back in St. Louis with his gramophone, wrote a long book defending all he had done in Petrograd; Gumberg, a Socialist with a sure instinct for adaptation, became a highly paid executive in Wall Street; Trotsky, as everyone knows, met his end under the blow of an axe in Mexico City.