- Spies and Diplomats in US Soviet Policy
DeWitt Clinton Poole (1885–1952) stands in the center of a group of men and women dressed in fur coats and fur hats. Leaning on his cane, he gazes directly into the camera through his thin glasses. While some people of the group are smiling, he has a rather serious look in his eyes. The American diplomats together with their consul Poole had their picture taken in front of a representative building in Arkhangel´sk in midwinter 1918/19.
The photograph is impressive.1 It adorns the front as well as the back cover and is also prominent in the memoirs of DeWitt Clinton Poole, published by Lorraine M. Lees and William S. Rodner. The confident look and posture, standing in the midst of his colleagues, and the respect shown to him capture one of the pioneers of American Soviet Union policy on his best behavior. His memoirs, laid out in this fine edition for review, cover the years 1917–20 in the young Soviet Union. The source of the memoirs is Poole’s interviews, recorded as part of Columbia University’s Oral History Project just before he died in 1952.
Poole’s thoughts offer an apt analysis of the circumstances in revolutionary Russia, plagued by civil war. There is great merit in commemorating this important pioneer with the publication of his writings. The American spy [End Page 918] Duncan Lee also emerges in A Very Principled Boy, by Mark A. Bradley, which describes the life of a Cold War agent. Despite the differences between Poole and Lee, their lives give us an inside take on how US government offices perceived Lenin’s and Stalin’s empire, how the Cold War started, and how it changed the living environments of numerous experts on the East.
DeWitt Clinton Poole is a well-known figure in the emergence of the Cold War. In contrast to other cold warriors, Poole as yet has no biography based on archival documents, although he played an important role in the development of the United States’ Soviet policy after 1917/18 and after 1945. He knew what was right and how to fight the Soviet antagonist. From another perspective, Duncan Lee exemplifies the problems of fighting for the “right thing”—for leftist ideas but against Soviet communism—and of working as a spy against the US motherland to create a better world based on a communist outlook. In summary, Poole’s memoir and Bradley’s study of Lee help us understand how to learn about the Soviets.2 Lee was one of thousands of European and American idealists who made pilgrimages to experience the Soviet Union in the 1930s.3 But unlike many of the others, he was ready to spy for the Soviet Union after World War II. In contrast to the diplomat Poole, who recognized during his years in Russia that the Soviet regime was an antagonist of every democratic government, Lee believed in communist ideas. For many years, historians focused on the big players in US diplomacy, such as George F. Kennan or Charles E. Bohlen.4 Alternatively, scholars had only to look for the history of popular spies at the beginning of the Cold War: Igor S. Gouzenko, Klaus Fuchs, Harry Gold, David Greenglass, Ethel and [End Page 919] Julius Rosenberg.5 What we learn from Poole’s memoirs and from the biography of Duncan Lee lies beyond the often told story of how Russia became a Bolshevik enemy after the revolution and how leftists became involved in the Cold War spy game. These two studies offer new insights into the history of the Russian Revolution, US involvement in the Russian Civil War, and early American domestic troubles in fashioning a Soviet policy during and after World War II.6