Russia Today


By JOSEPH E. DAVIES, former United States Ambassador to the U.S.S.R.

Delivered before the Governors' Conference, Columbus, Ohio, June 21, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 638-640.

IT is a distinction and a privilege to address this gathering of the Governors of the forty-eight States of our Union.

There is no body more representative of our people. You are each distinctive of the section in which you live. You have retained the virtue of that distinction, but are characterized also by a "broad-brimmed mental horizon" of national unity and interest. You have all reached leadership the American way. There is no easy way to scale the heights you have achieved. Strong men, you represent different political convictions and interest; yet each grants to the other the respect and tolerance which is due from one honest man to another. In an atmosphere of friendship, of mutual respect, you have gathered for common counsel to cooperate for the national good. It is democracy at its best, in a republic.

You have asked me to tell you something about my trip to Moscow. I am honored to do so.

I appear before you as a postman. I was charged with the responsibility of carrying a letter to Moscow, and a reply to Washington. My mission, the President has said, was entirely successful. The plain inference from that fact, distasteful as it may be to the Axis, is that there is unity and agreement with reference to matters military, and otherwise, between our great leaders, Mr. Churchill, Mr. Stalin and Mr. Roosevelt.

What was in these letters are, for the protection of all of us, exclusively the concern of Mr. Stalin, Mr. Roosevelt, and the leaders of the United Nations.

There are things of possible interest, however, which I can properly tell you about. But please understand that I speak for no one but myself. I take the words out of no roan's mouth, either Soviet or American official, when I speak to you this evening. I appear simply as a private citizen. My mission was completed.

At the outset, I should like to say, that the experiences of this trip gave me renewed confidence in our ultimate victory, and in a better and more peaceful world, which will lie beyond victory.

I went back to Russia after five years. There are great changes. Moscow itself has been greatly improved. It shows little of the scars of war. Outside of an atmosphere of great activity, it gives little appearance of a city at war.

The army looks well clothed. The uniforms of the officers with their new epaulettes are smart. The morale appears to be very high.

There are many indications of a severe wartime shortage of foodstuffs. Generally, however, the people took sufficiently fed. The rationing is strict. It is graded accordingto the importance of the worker in the war effort. Those not so engaged have a harder time of it. I am told that many subsist on cabbages and potatoes, which they grow themselves.

Everywhere there are evidences of sorrow and grief. The casualty lists run into the millions of both soldiers and civilians. Every family in Russia has lost some loved one. The resulting bitterness has been intensified by the savage, wanton destruction of their cities, and the horrible brutalities of the Nazi troops. Every man, woman, and child is at war, and is personally the bitter enemy of Hitler.

The sufferings of the people, as well as the determination of their leaders, in my opinion, will be satisfied with nothing short of absolute victory, and unconditional surrender.

I had long talks with their great leaders, Marshal Stalin, Foreign Minister Molotov, Marshal Voroshilov, and other old friends. They are all working long hours and at top speed. Somehow they manage to keep themselves fit.

Marshal Stalin, looked well, strong, and unworried. I was again impressed with the modesty, practical common sense and wisdom of this extraordinary man. In my opinion, he is primarily the man responsible for the creation of the Red Army and the industrial power of Russia, and the welding of them into the machine which was able to resist and stop Hitler. He is, above all else, a quiet man; but he reflects an immense fortitude, courage, and innate power.

I also had visits with old friends who were not of high position. They are not interested in post-war problems. They have only one thing in their minds; to win the war, and to win it quickly. This means to them more sacrifice, more suffering, and even starvation; but they are grim about seeing it through.

I Generally, there is a belief that this summer Hitler will make a supreme last effort to smash the Red Army or take the Baku oil fields. They do not underestimate the power, which they think the German war machine still has. They watch it with anxiety, but without fear. They have confidence in their Red Army and in themselves.

They all spoke with gratitude of Britain's aid and of Lend-Lease, and the aid from the United States, which is now coming through in a substantial manner. They speak with enthusiasm of our victory in Tunisia as a contribution to the common cause. They are looking forward with natural anxiety and hope, however, to the imminent Western land front in Europe to relieve the pressure on their own Western lines.

From my trip generally, there are some outstanding impressions left in my mind. You might like to hear them.

I. From what I saw, travelling by way of Trinidad, Brazil, Dakar, Nigeria, Khartoum, Egypt, Bagdad, Iran,Moscow, and from Nome to Washington, this stands out perhaps above all others. It is what our war effort has accomplished.

Our army has done a really great job. It is a great man's army. Practically around the earth, under the most difficult and trying conditions, in tropic heat and arctic cold, we find our men putting in gigantic installations in record breaking time,—literally doing the impossible. Vast camps have been built within a few months on square miles of land that had to be cleared out in the jungle, or created out of the swamps, morass, and tundra of the arctic. Malaria, fever, vermin, cold and heat—all were overcome. Great highways—vast airways were built almost overnight. Hundreds of steel buildings were erected by men handling sheet metal in the bitter cold of fifty degrees below zero. Whether in the heart of Africa or Alaska, our officers and men were doing miracles; but with great modesty as "all in the day's work." But let me tell you that what I saw is a monument to American genius, capacity and courage, and to the American soldier.

II. During my stay in Russia six years ago, I travelled thousands of miles over White Russia, the Ukraine, Caucasus, and the Donets Basin, inspecting industry and agriculture in a region where it was reported 60% of the industry of Russia was located. This time I wanted to see more of theUrals and the Siberian country for myself, so I came back via Alaska.

In one Ural city I saw plants which had been transported bodily from Kiev and Kharkov. With these plants families were transported by thousands of freight cars. Hundreds of large two-and-a-half-story brick houses in whole sub-divisions for miles on end, in eighteen months had been erected, for these workers. I had heard of it and read of it, but to see it gives one an appreciation of the terrific job these people have done.

III. As for Siberia, I shall never forget the impression which it made. For hundreds of miles it is one vast expanse of beautiful rolling country, dotted with lakes, groves of trees, traversed by wide sweeping rivers, and ridges.

Flying over this country at an altitude of a thousand to fifteen hundred feet, I saw a tremendous agricultural region. There were hundreds and hundreds of square miles of great fields, bigger than our townships, in different colors of grain, all planted with precision and, from the air, looking orderly and well kept. The agricultural wealth east of Moscow in Siberia could feed an empire. And all along in this frontier, which corresponds to our West, I saw great cities—boom cities, laid out in squares like our prairie towns, dotted with factories, huge plants and chimneys all over the place—one small Pittsburgh after another; cities that a few years ago did not have a population exceeding a few thousand, now with a population in the hundreds of thousands.

I saw one plant which was turning our fighting planes, the designs of which were unknown in June, 1941; and the factories for which, and machine tools for which, did not exist two years ago.

The impression of power, innate strength, vigor, and pioneer energy, which one gets from this great section, is extraordinary.

This hinterland of wealth, resource and power, guarded by natural barriers of high mountains and great distances, and these developments, are the corner stone of Soviet military strategy. Both their army and their war plans are undoubtedly based upon this fact. They have an unconquerable new world behind them into which, if need be, they can always retreat. Never, need the military authorities of her Allies, fear that the Red Army will be destroyed. Their strategy will be, if necessary, to fall back again andagain, into the big, new bases of agricultural and armaments production, while the German lines grow longer and longer and more easy to bomb or sabotage, and more vulnerable. Napoleon reached Moscow to be smothered in the fastnesses of Russia. There remain still thousands of miles of the Russian featherbed to destroy the German Wehrmacht, if Hitler penetrates it. If you were to see this country, it would convince you, I think, that Hitler, and no one else for that matter, could conquer this land and this people.

IV. Another fact that impressed me greatly, was that in the leaders of the Soviet government, I found an extraordinary quality of unspoken confidence and quiet strength. They apparently have found that their army can take all that the Germans have to give; that they can trade punches toe to toe, and that they can still come back and carry the fight into the enemy's corner. This they have done for two years. Apparently they believe they can continue to do. Their army's morale is stronger than ever; the stubborn resistance and support of their people is everywhere apparent. Their "ace in the "hole" is their inner bastion of defense, which ensures that they can never be conquered. They have suffered bitterly. They seem to me like men who have withstood the worst, and who have found themselves, and who believe that through their army, their people, and themselves, they cannot be beaten.

V. In 1938, in Europe it was commonly said that Hitler was on a bicycle; that he had to keep going; that he could not stand still. He is in that position in Russia. In my judgment, what Hitler failed to achieve in '41 and '42, he will fail to achieve in 1943. But, if he fails to attack, he is in constant danger. The Russian army.has never lost its capacity for initiative. It is their supreme virtue. It is Hitler's constant menace in the East.

VI. There is still another outstanding fact which I think you will find pride in. It is briefly this:

Throughout my trip about the earth, from Brazil to Siberia, there was one name on the lips of all the people as one of the great leaders of the earth, and one upon whom the hopes of multitudes of men and women were pinned in this crisis in world history. That was the name of an American—Franklin Roosevelt—your colleague, the former Governor, of the State of New York. Every American, I am sure, must feel a thrill of pride in that fact.

VII. The impression that I had five years ago has been confirmed, namely, that the Soviet people and their leaders desire, above all else, a peaceful world. They believe in Great Britain, the United States, and the United Nations. They demand respect and confidence in their good faith. If they, in turn, have confidence in the good faith and the will of the four great powers of the earth, and the other United Nations, to create a community of nations in the world where Law and Order will be maintained, in my opinion, they will go the whole way as high-mindedly, as altruistically, and as unselfishly as any of the nations of the earth.

VIII. There is one impression which perhaps was the most vivid and strongest of all, and that was Stalingrad.

Stalingrad stretched along the river for about forty-five miles. Practically all of the central and northern part of the city is utterly and completely destroyed. Nothing remained but gaunt, bare walls, roofless and window less, which seemed to stretch up like twisted, white arms to the sky; or black, charred, huge spaces where fire had burned everything down to the very roots. There were many, many blocks—whole districts—where there remained nothing but an occasional chimney, with all the rest rubble. All around the city formiles—and in fact the city itself—the ground is pockmarked with trenches, shell holes, dugouts, wrecked tanks, crashed airplanes, and evidences of battle.

Words are not adequate to describe the horror of that scene.

All in all, it was the most terrible, horrible and damnable thing that I had ever seen. It was unbelievable that such a blot on our civilization could possibly be perpetrated by so-called civilized men. It made everyone of our party burn with anger.

But it also had another effect. It gave rise to a feeling of veneration for, and pride in, the manhood which enabled that gallant band of men to stand with their backs to the river, cut off from all retreat, and fight their way up from the verge of annihilation, foot by foot to victory, and the annihilation or capture of four hundred thousand of the enemy.

In conclusion, may I say, that after all, it is the simple truth, that without Russia to aid us in this war, we would have been in desperate jeopardy. Without Russia, we cannot plan a secure peace. Russia, like the British Empire, China and ourselves, is too big to be left out of a peace community.

Civilization owes an enormous debt to the British Empire and its immortal Dunkerque, to China, to the valiant Dutch, the gallant Norwegians, the brave Belgians, Czechs and Yugoslavs, and all those people who are still fighting Hitler in the occupied territories. But we should not forget the tremendous debt we owe to the Soviet Union.

It is, I believe, not an overstatement to assert that but for the resistance of the Red Army and the Soviet Union, the Germans might have overrun Africa; might have made Tunisia impossible, and might have made junction with the Japs in India and on the Persian Gulf. Had that happened, our enemies, and not we, would today be dictating the global strategy.

Of course, it is true they fought for their own liberties and their own homes. But it is also true that they saved our civilization.

If there is to be peace in the world, it must be based on an agreement between Great Britain, Russia, China, the United States, and the other United Nations. That agreement is no better than the confidence which each has in the other. The confidence of Russia in us is as vital as the confidence of the United Nations and ourselves in Russia. We should not forget that.

There are a few in our country who still bicker at Russia; who still carp at Russia; who still quarrel at the way in which they live and conduct their own government, which is exclusively their own business. To do this is to play Hitler's game. Every possible thing that Goebbels' propaganda machine can do to make us fear and hate Russia, and make Russia fear and hate us, Hitler's machine is doing. It is the only thing which might save the skins of the Nazis.

It is neither sensible, wise, nor right to encourage criticism of the good faith of the Soviet Government, or attacks uponIs leaders. The conditions under which our children's chilren will live may depend upon what we do now. To you, Governors of our great Commonwealth, whom I know to be all lovers of peace and great Americans, I know I can address with confidence the thought that we should all join in a constructive effort to create a public opinion, at this critical time, when both the war and the future peace is in jeopardy, which would fortify our confidence in our Allies, and their confidence in us. Russia, Britain, China, or any of the other United Nations, should not be alienated by intolerances or little criticisms of one against the other. That is very vital to all of us. Divided, our nations would perish. United, we can win the war, save the future of our children, and keep faith with our fighting men.