- Friends Or Foes? The United States & Soviet Russia, 1921-1941
Norman Saul's Friends Or Foes? The United States & Soviet Russia, 1921-1941, is part of his multi-volume history of relations between the United States and Russia. This volume covers the period after the Bolshevik consolidation of power and continues into the start of Soviet Russia's entry into World War Two. Saul focuses on connections between the United States and the Soviet Union that go beyond normal diplomatic relations. Still, occasionally, Saul seems to understate the importance of diplomatic and military areas and gloss over the horrors of the Soviet system that lay at the heart of the United States' hesitation to recognize that nation.
One difficulty in examining Saul's book is that it lacks a clear thesis. Because it is part of a multi-volume set, Friends Or Foes is a continuation of an earlier narrative and perhaps is not intended to stand on its own. Still, readers might expect some connecting theme to the book. However, the author's preface is more of a discussion of the confused and contradictory sources of the period, and the last chapter ends with an account of the alliance of the United States and the Soviet Union in 1941, without summary or conclusion. If there is an implied thrust to Saul's work, one might conclude from the focus on cultural and economic issues that U. S. and Soviet Russian connections were much closer in 1921-1941 than diplomatic relations would indicate.
Saul's work is organized as much upon thematic lines as upon a chronological approach. It moves from a chapter on "Nonrecognition" to a final chapter on "Alliance," but in between there are chapters that focus on American relief efforts in helping the Soviet Union, cultural exchanges, and American construction support—all of which overlap in time. This approach is adequate, but would be more convincing if the author tied it to a central theme.
The greatest strength of Saul's book is that it provides so much new information on U. S. and Soviet exchanges at the cultural level, relief help, and economic cooperation. Saul covers a series of individual stories such as the famine relief efforts of Hoover's American Relief Administration, the early business ventures of Armand Hammer and later work of the Austin Company, and the fascinating cultural exchanges of Isadora Duncan and Konstantin Stanislavsky. The author covers much material that has heretofore been ignored. However, Saul's focus on these items seems to be in a vacuum. His two chapters on the United States' nonrecognition and then eventual recognition of the Soviet Union discuss diplomacy without connection to his other material. In addition, the huge twin tragedies of collectivization and the purges are barely mentioned. In this way, Saul [End Page 601] reflects some of the views of the most influential American journalist in Russia, Walter Duranty, who painted flattering, but inaccurate, pictures of the Soviet Union. In fact, Saul recounts Duranty's reports and offers some mild criticism of the journalist for sending some cables "without fully checking the facts" (p. 205), but does not mention the fact that Duranty was misleading the American public and probably being blackmailed by the Soviets (see Robert Conquest's Reflections On a Ravaged Century, p. 123). In sum, Saul's book does a great service in providing information on little known areas of cultural and economic exchanges, but does little to further a larger understanding of America's reluctance to recognize the new Soviet State.
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas