Dolitsky: Will the past predict the future relations between the United States and Russia?

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By ALEXANDER DOLITSKY

Part VI: The Lend-Lease Agreement of World War II was a time before the Cold War when the U.S. and U.S.S.R. cooperated to defeat Nazi aggression. Then mistrust set in.

Too often, wars are described in terms of presidents and generals, emperors and kings, grand strategies and elaborate campaigns. But wars affect the lives of all people―the soldiers who fight, and the men, women, and children who support the effort from home. In the United States, the Lend-Lease Program, which would mark a turning point in World War II, was, essentially, a home-front undertaking.

A turning point in history is a point at which a very significant change occurs. Sometimes a turning point has immediate repercussions, making its significance obvious to people at the time it is occurring; at other times, the impact of an event becomes clear only in retrospect. A turning point can be a personal choice affecting millions; it can be an event or idea with global or local consequences; it can be the life of a single person who inspires or otherwise affects other people.

Many historians recognize the significant contribution the Soviet Union portion of the Alaska-Siberian air road (ALSIB) Lend-Lease transports made to the Allied victory 78 years ago, yet few people outside the World War II veteran community now remember this air bridge between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Nearly 8,000 combat aircraft were built in American factories and delivered to Soviet pilots in Alaska, where they were then flown to the Russian warfronts via the ALSIB and Krasnoyarsk air routes. There is no doubt that without the American airplanes and the supplies they carried, heroic Soviet pilots would not have achieved the same level of success. The use of American-built P-39 Airacobras by Rechkalov and Pokryshkin on their heroic missions provides but one example.

The wartime Lend-Lease Agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union, signed in Washington, D.C., on June 11, 1942, allowed the two countries to provide mutual assistance in fighting a war against aggression.

Soviet and American pilots met each other in Alaska during the war, and the friendship and cooperation between the two nations during that period of history is now little remembered in the wake of 45 years of ill will during the Cold War (1946–91).

At a time when our two countries continue to struggle toward mutual cooperation, while today in the midst of a brutal conflict in Ukraine, it seems fitting to remind all peace-seeking nations of the U.S. Lend-Lease Program and Soviet–American cooperation of the early 1940s. The U.S. Lend-Lease Program, and the ALSIB Air Route in particular, played a vital part in the defeat of Nazi Germany and its Axis partners during World War II. The ALSIB Air Route has also established a tradition of cooperation across the Bering Strait that continues to this day.

Looking Back and Looking Forward: Will the Past Predict the Future?

Who was responsible for post-war tensions between the U.S. and the U.SS..R.? Were they primarily a result of the Soviets’ mistrust of a perceived intent on the part of the Allies to establish a “New World Order” and act as policeman of the world? The United States’ influence in Asia, Europe, and North Africa at the end of the war was superior to that of any other nation. The U.S. government’s interest in creating a military coalition (i.e., NATO in 1949) and in establishing military bases in strategic locations all over the world obviously attracted Stalin’s attention.

Did President Harry Truman misunderstand Stalin’s psychological behavior at the end of the war? At the Potsdam conference in July and August of 1945, Truman informed Stalin of the U.S.’s intention to use nuclear weapons against Japan. In Truman’s view, he was just sharing this essential information with his closest war ally, but Stalin apparently interpreted this message as a potential threat to the Soviet state.

Could termination of the Lend-Lease program to the USSR and other countries in September 1945, and Truman’s approval of the Marshall Plan to assist Western Europe in 1947, have exacerbated Stalin’s fears regarding U.S. post-war military expansion? In September of 1945, an American public poll showed that 49 percent of Americans supported Truman’s termination of the Lend-Lease program; 58 percent of the respondents believed that Lend-Lease aid to the Soviet Union should be repaid in full. 

Or were postwar tensions a result of Soviet communist expansionist ideology, a stated component of the Marxist–Leninist agenda? Questions surrounding the causes of post-war tensions between the U.S. and USSR are complex and must be studied objectively if we hope to elucidate the confrontational patterns between military powers in the past in order to avoid the resurgence of similar patterns in the future.

The history of Soviet­–American relations has been short and somewhat intense. Evidently, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved recognition of the Soviet Union in 1933, not out of any good will or political vision of peaceful cooperation with the Soviets, but for entirely pragmatic economic reasons. The Soviet Industrialization Plan required huge economic investments from the West, and in that Great Depression year of 1933, American manufacturers needed business wherever they could find it.

In fact, in the 1930s, more than 200,000 unemployed Americans approached the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C., asking for work, and some of them were actually hired and emigrated from the U.S. to work in the Soviet Union. Certainly, the Soviet government, in turn, hoped diplomatic ties would open doors for greater access to American bank loans and Western technology—and for greater export of socialist ideology at a time when membership in the Communist Party USA was growing.

The post-war history of Soviet–American relations, seen from an American perspective, can be summarized as a series of Cold War cycles. The first cycle (1945–55) might be called the Truman–Stalin duel. This period coincided with the division of Germany and Europe, the Marshall Plan, the creation of NATO, the Warsaw Treaty, and the Korean War. The second cycle (1956–73) featured Khrushchev’s nuclear threat, the expansion of socialist ideology into developing countries, the development of Soviet space technology as demonstrated by Sputnik, and the Soviet–Egyptian arms deal. The third cycle (1974–86) began with the self-destruction of an American president, Richard Nixon, via Watergate, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

The United States then imposed a trade embargo and otherwise tried to isolate the USSR. In the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan and his administration challenged the Soviet government by enlarging the U.S. nuclear and conventional military arsenal. Attempts by the Soviets to compete with the military production of the United States eventually devastated the Soviet economy and severely impacted its physical environment and natural resources.

In spite of all of the mutual animosity of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union never engaged in direct military action, fighting, at worst, by proxy. In fact, both American and Soviet leaders did a fairly good job of preventing a “hot war” between these two great nations, thereby preserving mankind for subsequent global challenges.

An analysis of the ALSIB Air Route demonstrates the need for a dynamic rather than static approach toward foreign neighbors whose political and economic systems differ from ours. The program demonstrated that two nations could compromise in their views and set aside conflicting cultural values and economic principles sufficient to achieve a common, mutually beneficial goal.

A dynamic approach to dealing with potentially antagonistic neighbors, therefore, may help the United States government and United States citizens achieve favorable results in their exploration of new avenues for cultural, political, commercial, and military cooperation and exchanges with Russia and other former Soviet republics. 

Dolitsky: Thanks but no thanks, as WWII Lend-Lease suffers from miscommunication

Alexander Dolitsky: In the uneasy alliance, America sent food to Russia

Alexander Dolitsky: U.S. Lend-Lease aid to Soviet Union during World War II

Alexander Dolitsky: Roosevelt’s choice with Soviets — to help or not to help?

Dolitsky: Memories of the Soviet pilots stationed in Alaska

Alexander B. Dolitsky was born and raised in Kiev in the former Soviet Union. He received an M.A. in history from Kiev Pedagogical Institute, Ukraine, in 1976; an M.A. in anthropology and archaeology from Brown University in 1983; and was enroled in the Ph.D. program in Anthropology at Bryn Mawr College from 1983 to 1985, where he was also a lecturer in the Russian Center. In the U.S.S.R., he was a social studies teacher for three years, and an archaeologist for five years for the Ukranian Academy of Sciences. In 1978, he settled in the United States. Dolitsky visited Alaska for the first time in 1981, while conducting field research for graduate school at Brown. He lived first in Sitka in 1985 and then settled in Juneau in 1986. From 1985 to 1987, he was a U.S. Forest Service archaeologist and social scientist. He was an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Russian Studies at the University of Alaska Southeast from 1985 to 1999; Social Studies Instructor at the Alyeska Central School, Alaska Department of Education from 1988 to 2006; and has been the Director of the Alaska-Siberia Research Center (see www.aksrc.homestead.com) from 1990 to present. He has conducted about 30 field studies in various areas of the former Soviet Union (including Siberia), Central Asia, South America, Eastern Europe and the United States (including Alaska). Dolitsky has been a lecturer on the World Discoverer, Spirit of Oceanus, andClipper Odyssey vessels in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. He was the Project Manager for the WWII Alaska-Siberia Lend Lease Memorial, which was erected in Fairbanks in 2006. He has published extensively in the fields of anthropology, history, archaeology, and ethnography. His more recent publications include Fairy Tales and Myths of the Bering Strait Chukchi, Ancient Tales of Kamchatka; Tales and Legends of the Yupik Eskimos of Siberia; Old Russia in Modern America: Russian Old Believers in Alaska; Allies in Wartime: The Alaska-Siberia Airway During WWII; Spirit of the Siberian Tiger: Folktales of the Russian Far East; Living Wisdom of the Far North: Tales and Legends from Chukotka and Alaska; Pipeline to Russia; The Alaska-Siberia Air Route in WWII; and Old Russia in Modern America: Living Traditions of the Russian Old Believers; Ancient Tales of Chukotka, and Ancient Tales of Kamchatka.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. Dolitsky, thank you for your articles and for sharing at times your personal experiences and life story. They have helped me gain a greater understanding of true history and provide a source of balanced perspective. They also provide context and understanding of our world today, both things that are happening in the public eye and behind the scenes. Every person currently involved in whatever manner they can to help promote truth, justice, and freedom for all do so not only for themselves, the present, and this current generation but also for our children, our children’s children, and for future generations to be able to live, love, and work with as much freedom as possible. We also honor those who have gone before us including those who participated in The Lend-Lease Agreement of World War II.

    Thanks again. I look forward to future articles published in Must Read Alaska. P.S. Completely off the above topic, but I also really like the fur boots on the gentleman pictured on the left.

  2. “Who was responsible for post-war tensions between the U.S. and the U.SS..R.? Were they primarily a result of the Soviets’ mistrust of a perceived intent on the part of the Allies to establish a “New World Order” and act as policeman of the world?”
    Or was it the Soviet slaughter of millions of its own citizens?

  3. “At a time when our two countries continue to struggle toward mutual cooperation” should consider that since the end of WWII and the US became the only “super power”, accelerating after the disintegration of the Soviet Union our leadership transformed our country into an aggressive colonial empire. NATO was created in 1949 to defend Europe against potential Soviet aggression but had no reason to be maintained, let alone enlarged after 1994. With the exception of Hungary, all NATO countries are under the thumb of the US. Consider Germany, after having their critical energy pipeline supply blown up in an act of terrorism by their American “ally” behave as craven puppies. Europe is destroying it’s own economies with the “sanctions” against Russia. Russia is becoming more powerful and Europe is descending into chaos. Our own government stages color revolution coups against a multitude of countries, including Ukraine. A tiny minority of wealthy elites with openly Bandera/Fascist views have created a barbaric police state, destroying their own infrastructure, massive de population through mass emigration and hundreds of thousands of combat deaths fighting a proxy war for our wealthy elites and arms corporations’ benefit. The pathological hatred for Russians and their culture exhibited throughout Europe and the US by a largely ignorant population has convinced Russia to cut ties with the western “democracies” and ally with China. The US has shown no interest in mutual cooperation with Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Our own government shut down Keystone, ANWR, making Cook Inlet energy uneconomical, leveraged the Covid mess to deny our right to health from mandated jabs, ect.

  4. How different would recent world events have been if the Democrats unholy lust for power hadn’t created the Russia, Russia, Russia demonization starting with the lies in the Steele dossier that made it absolutely impossible for Trump to initiate more positive relations with Russia, as he wished to do, but was excoriated for being a Russian asset? The damage the Dems have done to world peace is criminal.

    • Much of the references by Brian Simpson can be found to have originated with those that are leftists. The Russia demonization was just part of the end game.

      • NATO’s first Secretary General, Lord Ismay, stated the purpose of NATO “was to keep the Soviet Union out, Americans in, and the Germans down”. He was not a leftist. Destroying the Nordstream by the US was done for the purpose to keep the Germans down.

  5. Bankers wars and the blame assigned to the American fighters for other people’s wars in a created narrative of blame. Who in his right mind wouldn’t tire of this? BTW during the manifest destiny years the Russian Empire was very naturally friendly with the robust West. So, nobody remembers this but it was a wonderful for real friendship at the time. :*).

  6. I appreciate Mr. Dolitsky’s perspective, but he misses two very important points: Russia’s very reasonable fear of invasion, both militarily and culturally; and the communist/socialist goal of worldwide domination and America’s love for “freedom”. I find very interesting my Ukrainian friends’ perspective that “things are better over here” but they have trouble convincing their families to join them because of the propaganda taught to them by the Soviets that the West is evil incarnate. Great people, lousy government system.

    • The goal of the US was to install the Servant of the People Party, enter Ukraine into NATO, and position nuclear weapons in the Kharkov region. We don’t have hypersonic missiles, or the ability to intercept Russian hypersonic missiles, but it would only be about 7 minutes for our more primitive systems from launch to striking Moscow. A worse threat to them than the threat Soviet missiles in Cuba posed. As far as communists, Marxists and Maoists, there are far more in any one American university faculty than in Russia combined.

        • The Russian Zircon 3M22 travels at Mach 9, or approx. 7,000 MPH, is operational and currently deployed in the Atlantic Ocean on a frigate, the Admiral Gorshkov.
          The US has been developing the AGM-183 ARRW which is planned for use by our air force. At such future time Lockheed Martin is able to complete a reliable and functioning missile proto type, the AGM-183 would have a maximum speed of Mach 5.
          At this time we have no ability to intercept the Zircon and our aircraft carrier task forces are extremely vulnerable, which calls into question the competence of the geniuses in the Pentagon who were unable to stabilize Afghanistan over a 20 year period, while actively increasing tensions with China over Taiwan.

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