The Big Three/the Pattern of Soviet Power

$2.75 By David J. Dallin YALE UNIV. PRESS $2.75 By Edgar Snow RANDOM HOUSE
THE experienced foreign correspondent enjoys one tremendous advantage over the professional historian when both turn to the task of interpreting such a phenomenon as the U.S.S.R. The newspaperman who knows his business goes looking for facts, and he records them as he finds them, even though they may disconcert partisans of the Soviet Union one moment and its dourest foes the next. From this mixed testimony he proceeds to outline a few tentative deductions. The historian, on the other hand, is often thrown back on a thesis, which he is inclined to maintain even when facts fail to fit it. That is a dangerous game. Frequently, facts ignored land thesis-makers in the ditch.
Mr. Dallin is a native of Russia and a graduate of Heidelberg University, and has lived in exile from Soviet Russia since 1922, when he fled to escape arrest. Between 1911 and 1917 he was also a fugitive in Germany from Tsarist Russia, because of his association with one of the earlier Russian revolutionary underground groups. Mr. Snowhails, appropriately, from Missouri. He has spent most of his life as a correspondent and as a teacher in a Chinese university. During the past decade he has traveled all over the East, and is the author of several volumes which probe deeply into the trends of revolutionary Russia and an awakening Asia.
Both volumes under review belong, in a sense, to the preatomic age. Both attempt to cover large segments of the same subject: Soviet Russia’s power, place, and policy in the post-war world. It is significant, how-ever, that while the bomb blast which flattened Hiroshima does little damage to Mr. Snow’s report and goes far toward justifying his conclusions, much of Mr. Dallin’s ably written but thesis-ridden book is knocked into the middle of last week. Doubtless a difference in methods pursued by the two authors explains this result. In The Big Three, Air. Dallin frequently soars up from solid ground trailing rash dogmas. This tendency transforms him into a target for postexplosion radioactivity. In The Pattern of Soviet Power Mr. Snow keeps close to earthy realities. He is thereby able to avoid pressure waves from detonating circumstance.
“The Big Three” Mr. Dallin discusses are not those famous personalities, Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt, but the three nations these men have variously symbolized in wartime collaboration. His book is a grim exposition of power politics, sickbed o’er with not a few pale hues of geopolitical self-assurance. Obviously abhorring Stalin’s version of Lenin’s views of Marx’s interpretation of historical events, Mr. Dallin nevertheless offers a doctrine of political predestination of his own for the great Allies. Willy-nilly they are headed for a smashup. The U.S.S.R. seeks to swallow up the rest of the habitable world. At the same time inexorable pressures are fusing the imperial interests of Great Britain in her decadence with those of a dynamic and expansive U.S.A. Result: inevitable war. Against such uncontrollable movements of destiny Mr. Dallin insists that San Francisco Charters are of no avail. The whole matter is foreclosed!
Just as the despairing reader prepares to jump off the window ledge, however, he finds a splinter of hope. Mr. Dallin, the whole strength of whose book depends upon the accuracy of his diagnosis and foresight, arrives at the question of Russia and the Pacific war. Unwarily, he lays down on page 256 the following dictum: “The Soviet Government has never accepted the American concept of common action against Japan.” Now it is possible to forgive an author for not knowing what went on at Teheran, since that secret was well kept until early August of this year. But what are we to think of so glaring a misconception of the bases of Russian power and policy in Asia as is here revealed ?
Mr. Snow makes no such mistake about Russia’s Far Eastern policy. He shuns pure theory and sticks to ascertainable facts. He is inveterately interested in people too; and one result is an excellent series of portraits of the men who direct Russia. His satire on the cult of “Stalinworship” is amiable. It is also devastating. Whereas Mr. Dallin sees in Russian policy a sinister conspiracy against the world, Mr. Snow sees something more easily explained: a determination to safeguard Russia from any further invasion assaults delivered over her borders.
Mr. Snow explores, leaving exploded myths in his wake. Mr. Dallin displays a tendency to evolve myths when he summons history to buttress his argument. He writes: “The war in Poland in 1920 was aimed not so much against Warsaw as toward direct contact with Germany.” That is surely a curious way to describe General Pilsudski’s undeclared war on Russia, which had as its aim the enlargement of the new Poland’s boundaries as far as Kiev, which was launched in direct defiance of the wishes of the Council of Ambassadors, and which Trotsky’s belated countermeasures finally crowded back to Warsaw.
Perhaps formal historians should be given assignments for a year or two abroad as foreign correspondents before they attempt to explain contemporary history. Or should foreign correspondents lecture on history at our universities between stints abroad?