On November 11th 1918 the world rejoiced because the guns finally fell silent on the Western Front and the Great War came to a close. The formal peace treaty was not signed for months and by then the greatest threat to everyone was the Spanish Flu outbreak. The world rightly celebrated that event. The carnage of WWI was on a scale unknown and unprecedented to that time. Millions of men at arms had died. Prior to that war the deaths had usually been in the tens of thousands or a few hundred thousand for the most part. The only war that had come close to it was the War Between the States in the US where over 600,000 died. The sighs of relief and sermons of thanksgiving were profound and welcomed by all. On that same day in a place far away from the Western Front another battle was fought. It was very small compared to Verdun, the Somme or the other gigantic battles of the Great War. But to those killed and wounded it was as real as any other war ever fought.
As the Germans were being defeated in Flanders fields the Allies in the West decided it was best to send an expeditionary force to Russia. Sadly their mission was never clearly defined and exactly what they were supposed to do was not articulated. The Red revolution was about a year old at this time and the Bolsheviks and the Whites were already locked into a death struggle for ultimate power in the vast reaches of Russia. The Whites were an amalgam of Royalists, Social Democrats and others opposed to the radical views of the Bolsheviks. There was tremendous concern about the spread of the virus of revolution thoughout the West. There had already been a few demonstrations and riots in Germany fomented by the supporters and colleagues of the Soviets in Russia. They were communist and were pushing for the world revolution per the Marx theories and believed the turmoil of the Great War was the perfect mix to overturn the established order in the West. Our troops along with some Brits and Canandians were dispatched to Archangel in the fall of 1918. Their intended purpose was not to become engaged in the general civil war then flaming across Russia but on the other hand they were to assist the Whites and oppose the Reds to ill-defined degrees. They were told to fight but not fight too much or take too many risks and not venture too far.
It was a classic case of everyone believing that “something” had to be done but there was no consensus at all about what could be done or should be done. Woodrow Wilson just wanted the problem to go away so he could concentrate on his grand schemes for world peace and his guarantees for mankind. His mind was on Europe and the radical changes he envisioned in the future governance of that continent and the economic and political systems that would emerge. There was genuine concern about a victory by the Bolsheviks because they had made clear their intentions to take their revolution to every corner of the globe. But everyone remembered Napoleon and his defeat there in the vastness of Russia. The fact is that no one’s heart was in the venture from the beginning. But thousands of Allied troops were sent.
They landed at Archangle and made their way up the Dvina river a few hundred miles. Generally they were supposed to protect the port and those northern reaches from the Bolsheviks and render aid to the Whites. The Allies had made it as far as a small town called Toulgas on the River by November 11th 1918. American troops held the leading edge along with British troops in support and a very small Canadian artillery unit. They were all attacked by the Bolsheviks on that morning. They were surrounded. The Bolsheviks had gone through territory they believed was not passable and were supported by gunboats with heavy artillery. Our gunboats were trapped up river by ice floes. It was already the start of winter in the far north country. It was well above the 6oth parallel of latitude. In spite of heavy losses and the loss of a field hospital our troops and the others held on. The battle lasted several days and we held the territory. There were many other engagements over the span of time we were there. Our troops never made a concerted effort to move on Moscow and didn’t have the forces at hand to make any such effort anyway. But as the rest of the world was celebrating peace there was no peace in Toulgas. Little reporting was made of these battles and very little was reported of the overall effort in Russia. But the bullets were real and the deaths were as gruesome as any others in war.
We finally withdrew completely from Russia without any apparent affect on the outcome of that civil war. It lasted several more years before the Whites were totally defeated by the Bolsheviks and the dark cloud of dictatorship descended on that sad land. What was the purpose of our military expedition there? Did it accomplish anything useful at all? The Allies never developed a coherent strategy or end game they were seeking; the West was exhausted from the Great War and its cost in lives and wealth. We just went away. It was hoped that the sides in the Russian revolution would exhaust themselves and that it would pose no danger in the future. We know how that worked out.
We’ll write more on this unknown war later. But as you ponder the headlines of today about Iraq or Afghanistan you might wish to recall some of these events. It was a Democratic President who sent our troops there. He was an academic and considered one the the most intelligent of any of our Presidents and deemed very progressive by the influential folks of the time. He moved on intelligence that was mainly gleened from news accounts and from embassy reports. Not the most solid of facts and was totally in the dark about the military capabilities of the Reds of the Whites.
Now GMAC is due for even more money to the tune of another 7 billion. The press is alive with the leaks about Government, Inc. being the owner of it at the end of the day along with being the majority stakeholder in GM. We’ll get the creativity of the Commerce department and the efficiency of the IRS along with the lending acumen of the SBA as the government runs its very own automobile company. I for one would never buy one of those cars as a matter of principle. I did think that the Chevy Suburban was a great car and so was the Cadillac. I am sure there are zillions of “greenies” out there who will buy them and happily pay those extravagant prices. It is a sad day in America. We’ll see how well it works out; even for those “greenies”. They should remember to be careful what you ask for because you may get it.