Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Static Quality of Soviet Russia - Sam Welles (1948)


My grandpa's book - Profile of Europe (1948) - was written after his trip to the 
1947 Moscow Council of Foreign Ministers. Below I've transcribed a section pertaining to 
Soviet transportation and communication problems where he argues, "No nation can approach its full potential until it has first-rate communications and transport."


Part I 
Chapter 1: Europe Between the Magnets
Part II: A Look at Russia 
Chapter 2: The Surprises
             3: The People
             4: The Power
             5: The Controls
             6: The Economy
             7: The City
             8: The Farm
             9: The Questions
 Part III: On the Edge of Russia 
Chapter 10: Sacred Scandinavia
             11: The Satellites
             12: Pressure in the Mediterranean
             13: The Defeated
Part IV: The Western Marches 
 Chapter 14: Western Union, France
              15: Belgium, Holland, Italy
              16: Great Britain
Part V 
 Chapter 17: Who Forms a Foreign Policy?


From Chapter 2: 'The Surprises'

          Two qualities the West should never lose in dealing with the Soviet Union are understanding and compassion. Other qualities, such as firmness and patience, are needed too. But understanding and compassion are quite as important


          Soviet Russia is a very controversial subject. Anyone writing on it should submit his credentials. I have long studied Russia and, for a year before I went there, headed the Time group that analyzed all news and background available on it. My 1942-1945 service in the U.S. State Department included much work on Russia. During my stay in the Soviet Union, I took notes that would fill eight hundred printed pages. Stalin has said, "Facts are stubborn things" - I try to be fair and factual.
          This book uses about one-sixth of my Russian notes. A reporter learns to winnow, and I have earned my own living primarily as a reporter ever since entering college in 1931. During the eight months of 1947 I spent in Europe, I talked to hundreds of experts and to thousands of plain people. Through these conversations plus reading and personal observation, I have amassed bushels and bushels of facts.


[...] The first thing I noticed after our Berlin-to-Moscow plane crossed the Soviet border surprised me: the lack of motion. Russia has a static quality. America is a large country with static stretches. I remember once rising before dawn on the Utah-Nevada border and driving west; in the first 150 miles along the road I saw only two cars. But I am here talking about the great area of European Russia which is as thickly settled as America's Middle West, with towns or villages every few miles or oftener. You see surprisingly little motion there. When you fly in America, even over mountain or arid areas, you see railroads and paved highways; in the middle west you see a maze of them, carrying heavy traffic. We flew into Russia at 1,500 feet. It was diamond-clear; I saw men walking along the roads. But in the five hundred miles to the outskirts of Moscow, I saw just two trains. Not one single motor vehicle was visible, even in cities like Vilno and Vitebsk.
          Nor will I soon forget a Soviet airplane ride from Stalingrad to Moscow, when we flew almost the whole six hundred miles at a hundred-foot altitude on occasion dropping to forty feet or less, so that I sometimes looked up at church steeples beyond our wingtips. The pilot sent back word that he wanted the Americans on board "to see Russia," and then zoomed down to ten feet over the river Don so that our propellers sucked up drops of water and turned them into a misty rainbow spray. Flying at a hundred feet for hundreds of miles, you do see everything - with a new and startling clarity. I saw the terrible scars of war: the still raw trenches zigzagging through the fields and up the hillsides; the gun emplacements in gulches and on bluffs; and burnt-out tanks, some of them freshly plowed round and one a rusting brown-red in a vast green expanse of winter wheat that lapped up to the very tank treads. I saw two constantly recurring signs that we were in Soviet Russia: decaying churches and great collective barns. Nearly all those churches we brushed past were falling to pieces even in towns untouched by war, their roofs caved in, the plaster peeling from their walls and steeples, and the onion bulbs on top of the steeples only skeletons. The barns on collective farms were big structures, dominating their villages like grain elevators in the Dakotas or Catholic churches in Quebec. It was a bird's eye view all right. Chickens ran for shelter from us as though we were hawks. Cows completely lost their dignity. Flocks of sheep huddled madly together from every part of their pasture. Only the roads and rails were still and lifeless as we roared past. In these six hundred thickly settled miles before Moscow's immediate suburbs, I saw one stationary train, no trains in motion, one paved road, and not one car or truck.
          Russia's communication's system is as poor as its transport: mails and telegrams are slow and uncertain, few Russians have phones. As one Soviet official in Russia remarked to me: "The only way a telephone is of much use is to have your secretary make appointments for you to go see people, or for them to come see you. A telephone is too hard to hear over." The Soviet phone model is almost an antique; it is hard to hear over, even when the secret police have not taped it. 
          No nation can approach its full potential until it has first-rate communications and transport. If you think of a businessman in Nashville writing steadily for five months to a Seattle manufacturer, finally hearing he can have one-third of his original order, and then bombarding Seattle with intermittent letters, phone calls and telegrams for eight more months before finally getting a shipment of half that third - and having something almost that slow and discouraging happen with every transaction involving goods and transport - you will have some idea of what postwar Russia is like. Naturally the war is in part responsible. But Russia was always a long way from a modern or adequate system of transport and communications. It still is.

On back of book:

          Sam Welles Author of Profile of Europe is an associate editor of Time and one of its top foreign news writers. During the war he served for three years in the State Department and in our London Embassy, where he was the Special Assistant to Ambassador Winant.
          At Oxford University, on a Rhodes Scholarship after Princeton, he took an honors degree in modern history. Ever since 1935 has spent a considerable part of his time traveling over Europe. In one thirty-nine month period he logged more than 100,000 miles from Connemarra to Constantinople; and during the Conference of Foreign Ministers in Moscow he walked more than 300 miles through that city and its suburbs. In the months that followed, he visited sixteen other countries, making his way across most of them by car. His equipment-including extra cans of gas, spare tires, tools, food and mountains of documents- would almost have outfitted a polar explorer.

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