An award-winning historian reveals the harrowing, little-known story of an American effort to save the newly formed Soviet Union from disaster
After decades of the Cold War and renewed tensions, in the wake of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, cooperation between the United States and Russia seems impossible to imagine—and yet, as Douglas Smith reveals, it has a forgotten but astonishing historical precedent.
In 1921, facing one of the worst famines in history, the new Soviet government under Vladimir Lenin invited the American Relief Administration, Herbert Hoover’s brainchild, to save communist Russia from ruin. For two years, a small, daring band of Americans fed more than ten million men, women, and children across a million square miles of territory. It was the largest humanitarian operation in history—preventing the loss of countless lives, social unrest on a massive scale, and, quite possibly, the collapse of the communist state.
Now, almost a hundred years later, few in either America or Russia have heard of the ARA. The Soviet government quickly began to erase the memory of American charity. In America, fanatical anti-communism would eclipse this historic cooperation with the Soviet Union. Smith resurrects the American relief mission from obscurity, taking the reader on an unforgettable journey from the heights of human altruism to the depths of human depravity. The story of the ARA is filled with political intrigue, espionage, the clash of ideologies, violence, adventure, and romance, and features some of the great historical figures of the twentieth century.
In a time of cynicism and despair about the world’s ability to confront international crises, The Russian Job is a riveting account of a cooperative effort unmatched before or since.
Smith (Rasputin) delivers a narrowly focused history of one program of the American Relief Administration, a "quasi-intelligence and diplomatic organization" that, during the 1921 1923 famine in the Soviet Union, operated soup kitchens and fed over 10 million people. As starvation, sickness, and political terror gripped the fledgling Soviet Union and prompted the writer Maxim Gorky to appeal to "all honest European and American people" to send food and medicine, workers' strikes and anarchists' bombs in the United States had the American government believing Bolshevism was invading the West. Some in Congress believed a relief effort would weaken the Bolshevik government, while others were motivated by humanitarian concerns; ultimately, the program was mobilized. Nearly 400 Americans worked in Russia during the two years, and Smith tells the story from their point of view, drawing on their diaries, letters, reports, and photographs. (Numerous gruesome stories and photos of cannibalism and starvation are included.) His prose moves at a fast clip and takes a matter-of-fact tone about the horrors of the famine. Not all readers may buy the claim that the Soviet Union would have collapsed without this intervention, but this is an intriguing window onto the humanitarian work of the past. Photos.