June 17, 2004


When Foreign Adventures Go Bad: The Case of America's Intervention in Russia During World War I (Robert L. Willett, 6/14/04, History News Network)

In July 1918 World War I continued on the Western Front, with American doughboys now in the trenches.. The Russian Czar had abdicated, been arrested and executed; the Russians had abandoned the Eastern Front and withdrawn from the war; the Soviet Revolution was in full swing and civil war raged across the land.

Into this turmoil President Woodrow Wilson, bowing to the request of his Allied friends, agreed to send American troops to Russia. The 339 th Infantry Regiment, 1 st Battalion 310 th Engineers, and various support units, arrived in September 1918 in Archangel, Russia. The American Expeditionary Force North Russia (AEFNR) was to prove a dismal failure in every sense, and should be an object lesson in the pitfalls of intervening in the internal affairs of other nations.

President Woodrow Wilson had been pressured by France and Britain to join them in trying to encourage the Russians to rejoin the war and to protect North Russian ports from German invasion. There were other issues, too, as Wilson struggled with divided American advisors. The State Department was openly supportive of joining the effort, but the War Department was adamant that no troops could be spared from the fighting in France. It was with these views that the President began his Aide Memoir, a document that was the basis for the American Intervention in Russia. He wrote: “The American Government, therefore, very respectfully requested its Associates to accept its deliberate judgment that it should not dissipate its force by attempting important operations elsewhere.” However, in the same document this logic was reversed, using this rationale for sending troops to Russia:

* to protect Czech soldiers of the Czech Legion transiting Siberia and under periodic local attacks

* to guard war materials sent to Russia for use against Germany

* to render assistance to Russians as the Russians themselves required that assistance

* to provide humanitarian assistance to needy Russians

This was Wilson’s justification for sending two forces to Russia, one to North Russia the other to Siberia. These lofty goals were, in every sense, impossible to achieve, and only two short months after Americans entered Russia, Germany capitulated. At this point the reasons for our intervention began a “mission creep.” [a term coined by Lt. Cmdr C.J. Cwiklinski in a study for the Naval War College titled America’s Role in the Allied Intervention in Northern Russia and Siberia (1918-1920) Case Studies of Mission Creep and Coalition Failure.] Unfortunately, President Wilson never revised his original document to define why we should stay on in Russia after the Armistice.

Sure, Wilson was feckless in this as in all things, but after a century in which Communism murdered over 100 million people directly and resulted in tens of millions of more dead in wars and massive economic devastation and retardation, the idea that we should not have intervened in post-war Russia is monstrous. The tragedy is that we did not strangle the communist evil in its crib.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 17, 2004 9:25 AM

"The tragedy is that we did not strangle the communist evil in its crib."

You need to make up your mind,was communism the great evil or an irrelevent distraction,easily done away with?

Posted by: at June 17, 2004 9:52 AM

A great evil easily done away with.

Posted by: oj at June 17, 2004 9:57 AM

The author is a nitwit propagandist ... not an historian.

One of the replies is from a professional historian whose comment reveals he is living in the histories of the past and hasn't a clue about todays realities.

That said, intervening in revolutions is fraught with danger and risk. That said, we weren't intervening in a revolution in Iraq but made the mistake of not ending the war by drubbing the Ba'athists sufficiently. They haven't yet given up the fight against us. I hope the Shia have the will to defend themselves in realizing their dream of fair representation. I see this as the Arabs last chance for achieving the fruits of civilization.

Posted by: Genecis at June 17, 2004 10:25 AM

I could be wrong on my time lines, but Communism's depredations were yet to happen.

Besides, you fail to consider the attraction that a Communism strangled in its crib would still offer to many, many people.

Even those not university professors.

Posted by: at June 17, 2004 12:02 PM

Yes, sadly the burned hand not only teaches best, but is frequently the only approach that teaches.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at June 17, 2004 12:34 PM

The Japanese went in bigger, stayed longer and also left with nothing but regrets.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 17, 2004 1:37 PM


It would be evil even if it killed no one.

Posted by: oj at June 17, 2004 1:59 PM

Orrin-- yes, but as Edmund Burke said, "Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other." Or Ben Franklin's version, "Experience is a dear teacher, but fools will learn at no other."

Posted by: John Thacker at June 17, 2004 2:11 PM

If only Pilsudski had taken Moscow.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at June 17, 2004 2:43 PM

Who, in 1919, would have been our Chalabi . . . er, Sistani, . . . er, Allaywi, uh . . . ?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 17, 2004 4:22 PM

Savinkov, the former Social Revolutionary;nee Anarchist; would have been the likely choice;
he was in the view of Sidney Reilly; the real

Posted by: narciso at June 17, 2004 8:16 PM