A moth-eaten symbol of East-West friendship broke briefly into the news last week as President Eisenhower recalled the bear-skin rug given him in the last days of the war by Soviet Marshal Georgi Zhukov. The knowledge that Zhukov, the newly named Defense Minister, is a thoroughly professional soldier with the professional's innate caution, was probably the only encouraging aspect of the newest revolution of Moscow's inner circle.
But relatively close relations with the Red Army were not only an outgrowth of the wartime U.S.-Soviet alliance. Indeed, from the very first days of this country's recognition of the Soviet government in 1933, the military leaders, realizing Russia's comparative weakness and its need for aid against possible aggressors, were the most pro-American element of the Kremlin hierarchy. More interested in logistics than Leninism, the professional soldiers provided few of the doctrinaire revolutionaries who had nothing but scorn for the West.
During the stormy 30's, when U.S.-Soviet relations were largely filled with acrimony, the staunchest friend of the United States in Moscow was probably Marshal Kliment E. Voroshilov, Minister of Defense and member of the Politburo. A non-com in the Czarist army, Voroshilov was made an officer by Trotsky's decree of August 13, 1918. His rise was phenomenal: reaching Defense Minister only six years later, he has ever since been among the half-dozen key men in the Moscow hierarchy. Quickly he came to close terms with William C. Bullitt, the first U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union. At a dinner party in Voroshilov's apartment on December 20, 1933--just nine days after Bullitt's arrival--the Marshal drew the ambassador aside and told him that if the American government desired, U.S. military men could have "a relationship of the utmost intimacy with the military authorities of the Soviet Union."
Buried in isolation behind the friendly walls of two oceans, this country had no interest in defense conversations with any power in 1933, but it was fortunate to send to Moscow so capable a military attache as Major Philip R. Faymonville. Fluent in Russian, Faymonville soon became friendly with the highest officers of the Red Army. Years later, at the outbreak of World War II, this friendship was to pay off: the United States knew enough about the strengths and weaknesses of the Soviet forces to risk shipping material to Russia.
Faymonville quickly realized the value of close contact with the military leaders. When, in early 1935, the State Department planned to remove the U.S. air and naval attaches from Moscow as a token of dissatisfaction with Russia's failure to meet debt obligations, Faymonville anxiously cabled the State Department: "I believe Red Army offers possibility of developing understanding which no other group here offers. If contacts with Red Army chiefs are further fostered it seems likely that we may secure in them a group of friends who in party discussions might effectively present case for American friendship. These probable friends would be weakened . . . if contemplated withdrawal of personnel includes any member of army staff here."
Higher policy, however, dictated the removal of the air and naval officers. In the succeeding months, U.S.-Soviet relations continued to deteriorate, and reached a nadir when American communists came to Moscow for the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in August, 1935--a patent violation of the agreement of recognition signed less than two years earlier. Ambassador Bullitt was crushed by what he considered a personal defeat as well as a slap in the face to his country. Though he advocated significant reductions in the staff of the Moscow embassy, he once again emphasized the importance of close relations with the Russian military leaders. Advising against withdrawing the U.S. military officers, Bullitt cabled the State Department that "as the Red Army representatives are unquestionably on a higher plane as human beings than other Soviet citizens, and as Voroshilov (for his own purposes to be sure) desires genuinely friendly relations with the United States, I consider that this step may be held in abeyance."
A soldier first and a revolutionary second, Voroshilov fully appreciated the rising menace of both German and Japanese power. U.S.-Soviet friendship, deprecated by many of the purely political commissars, was to him crucial. This same attitude prevailed through the ambassadorship of Joseph E. Davies and ceased only when Stalin signed the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939. But the memory of agreement still remained, and World War II saw a degree of Allied co-operation on the military level that, naturally but regrettably, was not equalled on the political. Possibly, with Zhukov now Defense Minister and Voroshilov still an important factor in Soviet military planning, the sensible caution of the professional soldier will put a stop to the dreams of the politicians.