McMaster University DOCTORATE OF PHILOSOPHY (2014) Hamilton, Ontario (History)
TITLE: Sacred Suspicion: Religion and the Origins of the Cold War, 1880-1948
AUTHOR: Yvonne Hunter, B.A., M.A. (McMaster University)
SUPERVISOR: Professor S.E. Streeter
NUMBER OF PAGES: x, 273
This dissertation explores the role of religion in the origins of the Cold War from 1880 to 1948. Building on David Foglesong’s research into the role of religion in shaping American missionaries, businesspeople, and public intellectuals’ perceptions of Russia, as well as Andrew Preston’s insights into the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration’s use of religious tropes to justify intervention against Nazi Germany from 1939 to 1945, this project focuses on the White House and US State Department’s efforts to manage diplomatic tensions and public controversies surrounding religious repression in Russia during the origins of the Cold War from 1880 to 1948. The central finding of this project is that during the period from 1933 to 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his personal allies such as Joseph Davies sought to minimize popular and official criticisms of Soviet religious policies as a part of Roosevelt’s program of pragmatic cooperation with the USSR. Eventually, anti-communist officials in the State Department managed to undermine Roosevelt’s public relations program in order to justify a more confrontational approach to the Soviet regime. Roosevelt’s poor health, growing personal isolation, and neglect of personal relationships with American Catholic leaders after 1943, as well as his failure to create a bureaucracy committed to his vision of post-war cooperation, meant that after his death religion could be used by anti-communists in their campaign to denigrate the Soviet Union. To gain popular support for its containment and roll-back strategies, the Truman administration called for a worldwide Christian crusade to eradicate atheistic communism. By shedding light on how well the Roosevelt administration was able to overcome US-Russian religious tensions, this project supports the “missed opportunities” thesis that the Cold War was not inevitable. It also stands as an example of a growing body of scholarly research linking religion, diplomacy, and US foreign relations.
I would like to thank Dr. Stephen Streeter for his warm support throughout this project. I would also like to thank my committee members Dr. Martin Horn and Dr. Michael Gauvreau for their feedback. Thank you to Wendy Benedetti and Debbie Lobban in the McMaster History Department for their kind administrative support, and thank you to the research support staff at various archives in the northeastern United States whose expertise helped me to locate difficult-to-find records on religion and US-Russian relations. Finally, thank you to my partner and best friend, Michael Furii.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 American Hopes for Russian Religious Reform, 1880-1932 29
Chapter 2 Religious Tensions Repressed: Roosevelt and Diplomatic 81
Recognition of the USSR, 1933-1940
Chapter 3 Religious Objections Defeated: The Establishment of the 131
Grand Alliance, 1941
Chapter 4 Suspicion Resurfaces: Roosevelt’s Attempt to Secure Religious 175
Support for Post-War Cooperation, 1942-1945
Chapter 5 From Cautious Cooperation to Anti-Communist Crusade, 1945-1948 238
List of Figures and Tables
List of Abbreviations and Symbols
AAA American Assumptionist Archives
LOC Library of Congress
FCC Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America
FDRL Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
GUA Georgetown University Archives
HUAC House Un-American Activities Committee
NCWC National Catholic Welfare Council
NARA National Archives and Records Administration
NYPL New York Public Library
OF Official File
OWI Office of War Information
PHS Presbyterian Historical Society
PPF President’s Personal File
PSF President’s Secret File
USSR Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Declaration of Academic Achievement
The archival research, secondary research, and writing of this dissertation were completed by Yvonne Hunter. Dr. Stephen Streeter provided guidance during the planning stages and editorial feedback during the writing and revision process.
The long-term tensions that contributed to the outbreak of the Cold War after 1945 originated in the 1880 to 1945 period. Although US-Russian relations were never based on sentiments of friendship or cultural affinity, the United States and Russia cooperated during most of the early- and mid-nineteenth century due to mutually-profitable bilateral trade, the absence of direct territorial disputes, and converging interests in limiting the power of Britain and France.1 Harmonious diplomacy and trade reduced the United States and Russia’s reliance on the European powers for international trade and diplomatic support, thereby strengthening their flexibility in international affairs.2 Russia’s lack of democratic rights and personal freedoms did not seriously impede US-Russian diplomatic relations prior to 1880. Although many Americans believed that the United States’ republican democracy was superior to Russia’s despotic monarchy, many US officials excused Russian autocracy on the grounds that the Russian masses were too ignorant, superstitious, and ethnically heterogeneous to be governed by popular representation. In turn, Russian leaders dreaded the spread of American-style revolutionary ideology among the Russian people but were reassured by the United States’ non-interventionist attitude toward European politics.3
Economic and strategic conflicts began to trouble US-Russian relations after 1880 as Russia’s growing influence in the Far East and Manchuria threatened the United States’ “open door” trade policy in the region, and the United States reconciled with Russia’s traditional rivals, Britain and Japan. According to John Lewis Gaddis, the United States’ emergence as a major industrial and maritime power after 1880 also led many Americans to adopt a growing sense of moral responsibility for social and political conditions abroad. American political culture late in the late nineteenth century was deeply influenced by United States’ Protestant roots, and many Americans believed that the United States bore a providential duty as God’s “city upon a hill” to bring divinely-sanctioned religious and political freedoms to repressive foreign states.4 Yet, as Gaddis observed, many reformist Americans conflated the policies of foreign states which they “could only condemn” with those that they “could reasonably expect to change.”5 Thus, as American journalists began to report on imperial Russia’s brutal repression of suspected dissidents and discrimination against Jewish citizens in the 1880s, American politicians, journalists, and religious leaders began to condemn the Tsarist regime’s disregard for American ideals such as freedom of worship, separation of church and state, and individual political liberties. American observers intensified their criticisms of Russian religious policies after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, decrying the Soviet regime’s atheistic ideology, anti-religious propaganda, and repression of Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches. To many reform-minded Americans, diplomatic reconciliation with Russia depended on Russian leaders’ adoption of American-style religious and political freedoms, making ideology one of the most persistent sources of US-Russian tensions prior to the Cold War.6
This study will show that President Franklin Roosevelt largely succeeded in minimizing official and public criticisms of Soviet religious repression from 1933 to 1945 in order to secure pragmatic cooperation with USSR. After Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, however, President Harry Truman embraced anti-communist religious rhetoric as a means to rationalize US policies of containment and roll-back.7 Religious disputes did not primarily cause the outbreak of the Cold War between 1945 and 1948, which was shaped more directly by economic, territorial, and political disputes. Nonetheless, Truman’s calls for a democratic Christian crusade to rid the world of atheistic communism exacerbated the hostile atmosphere that characterized US-Soviet relations after 1945. Ultimately, Truman’s religious invective offered a powerful rhetorical tool that helped his administration persuade the US Congress, the American public, and Western religious believers to support confrontational US policies. The most corrosive of these policies for post-war US-Russian relations were US intervention in Greece and Turkey, the Unites States’ exclusion of the USSR from the European Recovery Plan, the build-up of nuclear and conventional military forces, and finally, the formation of an anti-Soviet military alliance, the North American Treaty Organization (NATO). Although this project explores the role of public religious controversies in US-Soviet relations, it is not meant to offer a post-modern analysis of American religious discourse, or an intellectual history tracking American religious thought over time. Rather, this project is a diplomatic history that explores the effect of religious controversies on state-to-state relations, and it evaluates the US government’s efforts to manage public religious issues through diplomacy and public relations.
The Origins of the Cold War: Three Perspectives
Historians have questioned precisely when and why the Cold War began, resulting in three overarching paradigms. Historians generally define the Cold War as a bipolar military, political, and ideological struggle between international blocs led by the Soviet Union and United States lasting from approximately 1945-1947 to 1989-1991. During the Cold War, both parties denied the other’s legitimacy, suppressed internal dissidents, and competed in a conventional and nuclear arms race.8 The traditional explanation popular in the 1950s and early 1960s ascribed the Cold War to an inevitable clash between Western capitalism and aggressive Soviet communism as they struggled for dominance within the bipolar power structure that developed after World War II. Orthodox historians such as Herbert Feis argued that the medium-term root of the post-war conflict was President Franklin Roosevelt’s failure in the 1930s to recognize Stalin’s irrational, paranoid, and expansionist nature. Thus, FDR did not attempt to topple Stalin’s regime or pre-empt Russia’s acquisition of resources and technology during its modernization programs in the 1930s, nor did he prevent Soviet territorial expansion in Eastern Europe between 1943 and 1945. Faced with an enlarged Russian regime whose communist ideology appealed to impoverished masses in regions of Europe that were devastated by the war, Truman had no choice but to contain the spread of Soviet-led communism through US investment in Western European reconstruction, anti-communist ideological propaganda, the build-up of military arms, and a protracted Cold War diplomatic struggle.9
Orthodox historians such as Vojtech Mastny also denied that FDR could have succeeded in his hopes to preserve the Grand Alliance through spheres of influence controlled by the Four Policemen (The United States, Britain, China, and the USSR). According to the spheres of influence model, Soviet Russia would control the international policies of governments in Eastern Europe bordering the USSR, while the US, Britain, and China would heavily influence Western Europe and the Far East. Disputes would be managed through personal summit diplomacy and negotiation in the United Nations. According to Mastny, this plan was precluded by Stalin’s “insatiable craving” to expand Soviet influence beyond a limited zone of security in Eastern Europe after World War II. According to Mastny, FDR should have attempted to weaken or unseat Stalin before the Red Army swept into Eastern Europe after 1943.10 Similarly, John Lewis Gaddis pronounced in 1983, “The primary cause for the Cold War was Stalin’s own ill-defined ambition” and “determination to seek security” while permitting "little or none for other actors.” The secondary cause was the “West’s failure to act soon enough to stop him.”11 According to Gaddis, “As long as Stalin was running the Soviet Union a cold war was unavoidable.”12
A second school of interpretation that came to be known as revisionism emerged during the 1960s amidst dissent over the US intervention in Vietnam. Revisionist historians blamed US aggression for the conflict while rejecting the orthodox view that Stalin was unreasonable, expansionist, and incapable of compromise. According to revisionist historians, US officials such as George Kennan, the State Department Soviet expert who articulated the Containment Doctrine in 1946, exaggerated the Soviet threat by claiming that Stalin was determined to dominate Western Europe and Asia and could only be deterred by the threat of United States’ nuclear and conventional military forces. In truth, the Soviet economy and government were impoverished by the war, communist parties abroad were weak and poorly organized, and the Soviet military lacked the technology, human resources, and infrastructure necessary to pose a serious threat outside of Eastern Europe.13 William Appleman Williams attributed US officials’ confrontational policies to the imperial nature of the United States’ capitalist economy and US officials’ strong belief in the moral imperative to expand capitalism globally.14 The revisionist historians Daniel Yergin and Frederick Propas attributed anti-communism to the bureaucratic culture of the State Department Eastern European Division, the tight-knit agency of professional foreign service officials who studied Russia and advised the White House on US-Russian policy from the mid-1920s to the 1940s. According to Yergin and Propas, the Eastern European Division was steeped in an institutionalized atmosphere of deep suspicion toward the communist regime because its members’ Ivy League educations, faith in capitalism, and training in anti-communist language institutes in Europe made them deeply averse to communist ideology.15
Post-revisionism constitutes the third influential interpretation of the origins of the Cold War.16 This perspective developed in the 1970s as historians strove to overcome the bitter orthodox-revisionist division. Post-revisionists generally argued that the US and Russia shared responsibility for the conflict, which they attributed to officials’ national security perceptions, corporatism, world systems theory, and cultural misperceptions. However, some self-styled post-revisionists such as Robert Dallek have in practice assigned greater blame to the Soviet Union.17
One issue of the Cold War debate pertinent to this dissertation is the “missed opportunities” controversy. Many orthodox, revisionist, and post-revisionist scholars argue that the Cold War was inevitable, although they differ about the reasons. The revisionist Gabriel Kolko considered the Cold War inevitable due to aggressive US policies and the Soviet Union’s defensive backlash against American economic imperialism, whereas Gaddis regarded the Cold War as inevitable due to the United States’ and Britain’s legitimate interest in protecting the West from Stalinist aggression.18
Challengers of the argument that the Cold War was inevitable include Geoffrey Roberts, Mary Glantz, and Frank Costigliola. These historians maintain that the Cold War might have been avoided if Roosevelt had lived longer, or if the Truman administration had better understood and been capable of pursuing Roosevelt’s agenda of post-war cooperation after his death.19 Roberts claims that Stalin was a brutal dictator in domestic policy, but cautious and pragmatic in foreign policy. Rather than behaving as an ideologue thirsty for immediate communist domination of the globe, Stalin developed cordial relations with Franklin Roosevelt during the war in genuine hopes of securing a limited sphere of Russian influence in Eastern Europe, and managing conflicts through negotiation and compromise.20 Only when Washington tried to use Marshall Plan aid to strengthen Western Europe and lure Eastern European countries away from communism in 1947 did Stalin became convinced that ongoing cooperation with the United States would be impossible without jeopardizing Soviet national security. Roberts casts Stalin’s clampdown on Eastern Europe in late 1947 and 1948 as a defensive response designed to protect Soviet buffer states from Western subversion, rather than a prelude to a political or military invasion of Europe.21
Similarly, Frank Costigliola joined the ranks of scholars who claimed that the Cold War was avoidable. According to Costigliola, President Franklin Roosevelt laid the foundations for post-war peace during World War II by personally charming the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, and by assuaging Stalin’s insecurities and persuading him to pursue post-war cooperation with the West. Although Roosevelt never precisely articulated his plans for the post-war world, he likely hoped for open spheres of influence controlled by the Four Policemen, adjustment of conflicts via personal diplomacy and negotiation in the UN, granting Soviet Russia a post-war loan for reconstruction, and possibly sharing nuclear technology. Unfortunately, three contingent factors undermined FDR’s plans to preserve the Grand Alliance: Roosevelt’s poorly-managed health and sudden death in April 1945; his poor succession planning and the accession of Vice President Harry Truman to the presidency after his death; and Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s defeat to Clement Atlee in the British election of July 1945. With FDR and Churchill absent from the Grand Alliance, Stalin had little trust in the inexperienced new leaders. President Harry Truman was easily influenced by anti-communist State Department advisors who did not share the Big Three’s “cautious hopes” for post-war accord, and the Truman administration’s confrontational policies after 1945 played a vital role in the deterioration and breakdown of US-Soviet relations.22
Leading diplomatic surveys on US-Soviet relations have touched briefly on religious controversies but have not systematically integrated them into an analysis of the long-term origins of the Cold War. 23 This investigation will thus assess the role of religion in US diplomacy, official rhetoric, Congressional debate, and the national media’s interpretations of US-Soviet relations from 1880 to 1948, paying particular attention to FDR and Truman’s efforts to manipulate religious rhetoric as a means to promote either toleration or containment of the Soviet Union. Given historians’ valuable explorations of ideology in US foreign relations broadly and the role of religion in the Cold War after 1945, an analysis of religion in the origins of the Cold War from 1880 to 1948 is past due.
Religion and the History of US Foreign Relations
Since the cultural turn in the 1980s, historians have explored gender, class, race, secular nationalism, empire, and political philosophy as components of ideology that were vital to US foreign relations, yet until recently, historians have neglected the importance of religion.24 In 1997, Anders Stephanson challenged historians to include religion as a central ideological component of American expansion from the colonial period to the present. In Stephanson’s view, many Americans were guided by expansionist concepts of Manifest Destiny that were rooted in a popular belief that God had ordained the United States with a mission to spread American civil and political freedoms abroad. This “regenerative intervention” would fulfill God’s will to banish moral evils in foreign lands.25 Stephenson’s sweeping account of the role of religious ideology in US foreign relations devoted only one chapter to the interwar-to-Reagan period, and paid little attention to high-level diplomacy and bureaucratic policymaking.26 Similarly, Andrew Preston and Gary Scott Smith produced the first major surveys on the role of religion in US foreign relations, but their wide chronological scope and thematic breadth prevented focused attention to religion and the origins of the Cold War prior to 1945. For example, Preston highlighted FDR’s pubic invective deriding Nazi Germany’s immorality and lack of religious freedoms as justification for intervention in World War II. Yet, Preston neglected FDR’s extensive efforts to shelter Soviet Russia from similar criticisms citing Russia’s atheistic dogma and religious repression.27
David Foglesong’s 2007 monograph, The American Mission and the “Evil Empire”: The Crusade for a “Free Russia” Since 1881 focused specifically on the role of religion in US-Russian relations from the 1880s to the end of the Cold War. Foglesong argued that many American political leaders, intellectuals, and popular observers shared the belief that it was America’s providential duty as a Christian nation to spread religious and political freedoms across the globe. Thus, from the 1880s to the present, many Americans criticized Russia’s oppressive policies in the hopes of either inducing Russian leaders to adopt American-style freedoms or encouraging the Russian people to topple their dictatorial leaders through liberal revolution. According to Foglesong, Americans’ unrealistic hopes for rapid democratization in Russia led to recurring episodes of disillusionment and disappointment, particularly when Americans’ rising hopes for Russian reform failed. This occurred after the revolutions of 1917, diplomatic recognition of the Soviet regime in 1933, US-Soviet wartime cooperation from 1941-1945, and the collapse of the USSR in 1989-1991. In Foglesong’s view, even self-styled “realists” in the US State Department mistrusted Soviet officials primarily because of Christian missionary impulses, regardless of their claims that their anti-communism was rooted in geopolitical self-interest and hostility to Soviet leaders’ Marxist economic and political philosophy. Foglesong, who devoted a mere sixty pages to the origins of the Cold War from 1917 to 1945, focused primarily on American intellectuals, journalists, missionaries, academics, and businesspeople, rather than the US presidents, diplomats, and policy advisors who directly shaped state-to-state relations with Russia.28
In the early 2000s, historians of religion and diplomacy such as William Inboden, T. Jeremy Gunn, Jonathan P. Herzog, Jason W. Stevens, Seth Jacobs, Stephen Kinzer, Raymond Haberski, Jr., and Diane Kirby began to explore the role of religion in the Cold War after 1945. Their studies illustrated how the Truman and Eisenhower administrations invoked anti-communist religious rhetoric and cultivated Protestant and Catholic leaders to generate popular support for the policies of containment and roll-back.29 These historians focused heavily on the early Cold War during the period from 1945 to 1965 but offered little insight into what role religion may have played in the origins of the Cold War.30
Religion historians such as Gary Scott Smith have studied how Roosevelt’s personal religious beliefs shaped his foreign policy plans in the 1930s and early 1940s, but not how Roosevelt’s beliefs influenced his concrete policy decisions surrounding Soviet Russia. Smith has shown that FDR’s Episcopalian education, informal faith during adulthood, and Christian worldview reinforced his belief that the United States should pursue a liberal world order under the Four Freedoms axioms of 1941: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.31 Yet, no one has yet fully explained how Roosevelt’s Christian ideology affected his decision to extend diplomatic recognition to Russia in 1933, and to minimize public criticisms of Russia’s religious policies throughout the 1930s and World War II. Nor have historians explained why FDR’s program for minimizing religious tensions was reversed so quickly after his death in April 1945.
This investigation will demonstrate that, although FDR harboured the long-term goal of spreading religious and political freedoms worldwide, he prioritized cooperative diplomatic relations with Russia because he believed that cooperation would benefit American security interests, promote international trade, and encourage Soviet leaders to gradually relax domestic religious and political restrictions as they grew less fearful of capitalist encirclement. Unfortunately, Roosevelt did not ensure that State Department Soviet experts genuinely embraced his program of minimizing religious tensions with the USSR, which made it possible for Harry Truman to resurrect official criticisms of Soviet religious policies after FDR died.
The small body of historians who have written about domestic religious conditions in Soviet Russia tend to focus narrowly on particular religious organizations and clerics. Their accounts have been shaped by the same religious and anti-communist bias as their subjects.32 For example, Dennis Dunn and Charles Gallagher’s analyses of the Catholic Church’s relations with Soviet Russia during the Roosevelt period support the anti-Soviet views of Catholic leaders by blaming Stalin’s immorality and aggression for the breakdown of US-Russian relations after World War II.33 The historian Steven Merritt Miner has criticized American and British political leaders and public figures for deceiving the Western public by obscuring the brutalities of Soviet religious repression after the German invasion of Russia in 1941.34 According to Miner, by supporting Stalin’s contention that religious freedom existed in the Soviet sphere, British and American leaders undermined popular support for anti-communist Catholic leaders who opposed Soviet incursions into Eastern Europe. The only positive outcome of Stalin’s religious propaganda was to alarm anti-Soviet officials in the US State Department and British Foreign Office to such an extent that they redoubled their efforts to promote containment-oriented policies and debunk Stalin’s claims of religious toleration.35 Unfortunately, Miner’s limited attention to US diplomatic sources prevented him from engaging seriously with revisionist interpretations of the origins of the Cold War.
In the early 2000s, historians of US foreign relations began to debate how to best define religion as a category of analysis.36 Andrew Preston argued in 2008 that religion is distinct from other elements of ideology in three ways: it involves belief in a supernatural God or Gods; belief in the power of religious creed and ritual; and belief that supernatural powers can and should influence politics in the secular world.37 Building on Preston’s approach, this investigation focuses on formal religion, defined here as an explicit belief in a God or Gods, membership in an organized faith group, and belief that divine beings can guide or intercede in secular affairs, particularly through the practice of religious ritual, prayer, or creed. Less attention has been given to non-formal religious belief, meaning the spiritual beliefs and practices of individuals outside of major organized faith groups. Since non-formal believers lacked institutional centres and representatives capable of exerting strong influence in Congress and the national media—and since most US policymakers belonged to Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish churches—non-formal belief appears less important than formal religion in shaping US diplomacy and public relations.
Another concept vital to this dissertation is civil religion, which refers to the evolving body of religion-oriented narratives about US national history and identity that circulated in the American media, educational institutions, civil organizations, and private sphere.38 This study adopts a selective approach to civil religion, focusing on narratives containing explicit references to God, scripture, God-given natural rights, providential national duty, and religious freedoms. Focusing exclusively on clear references to God and divinely-sanctioned national duties avoids misinterpreting secular nationalism as religious.39
This study also adopts William Inboden’s premise that, depending on the context, religion may influence foreign relations primarily as a driver of policy or tool of rhetoric. As a driver of policy, policymakers’ genuine religious beliefs encourage them to pursue particular policy paths, such as withholding diplomatic recognition from Soviet Russia in the 1920s on the grounds that the Bolsheviks’ atheism and their hostility to organized churches made them unfit for participation in formal diplomacy. Religion acts as a tool of rhetoric when policymakers invoke religious arguments in a utilitarian manner to build official and popular support for their secular policy goals. Religious rhetoric does not necessarily imply genuine religious belief on the part of the speaker, so historians face challenges in distinguishing heartfelt religious oratory from disingenuous rhetoric. Typically, an effective means to infer whether policymakers genuinely believed their religious rhetoric is to compare their public statements to private ones not designed for public or bureaucratic release, such as private diaries or records of private conversations with trusted, like-minded advisors. When both categories of records are consistent, historians may infer that an officials’ religious rhetoric was rooted in genuine religious belief. Extensive diary records and public statements exist for President Harry Truman, and they reflect remarkable consistency in their anti-communist religious rhetoric. Unfortunately, Franklin D. Roosevelt kept no diary, behaved inconsistently with personal acquaintances, and avoided sharing private calculations with even his closest advisors. Thus, clear evidence of FDR’s personal religious beliefs and their impact on his diplomacy and rhetoric surrounding Russia remains sparse.40
Historians have used a variety of approaches in their efforts to determine the influence of race, gender, emotion, and religious on US foreign policy.41 This study adopts Steven Casey’s methods for assessing the impact of domestic public opinion on FDR’s policymaking.42 Using FDR’s daily meeting agenda, reading materials, personal communications, and private conversations, Casey deduced that FDR was a politically-skilled, self-directed decision-maker, but sensitive to popular opinion which he gleaned from mass opinion polls and major liberal newspapers.43 When FDR believed that his private foreign policy goals did not enjoy popular support, he generally withheld his true aims from the public until evolving international events and his allies’ efforts to champion his preferred policy interpretations generated popular support. Only then did he publicly embrace his private goals, making it appear as if he followed popular will rather than guided it. Although mainstream views in Congress, the national media, and popular polls occasionally failed to come around to his position, Roosevelt usually succeeding in acquiring general consent for his wartime policies.44 This project adopts a similar approach to study’s Roosevelt’s management of religious issues, and it affirms Casey’s general conclusions.
Diplomatic correspondence constituted a central body of primary sources for this dissertation, including documents revealing Roosevelt’s relationships with prominent religious leaders.45 Attention to civil society focused on well-known American journalists, public intellectuals, legislators, and Catholic and Protestant leaders. Particular attention was paid to clerics with personal connections to officials in the White House and State Department. The New York Times and Washington Post provided important examples of mainstream press opinion that were likely to have influenced American leaders.46
By exploring religion and US-Soviet relations from 1880s to 1948, this study demonstrates that religious issues made an important contribution to the breakdown of US-Soviet relations prior to the Cold War. The first chapter of this dissertation explores the period from 1880 to 1933 when US officials, journalists, and prominent religious leaders established a pattern of publicly criticizing the Russian government’s religious repression, and employing diplomatic pressure to try to compel Russian leaders to adopt American-style religious freedoms such as freedom of worship and separation of church and state. Prior to 1917, American reformers decried imperial Russia’s anti-Semitic discrimination and preferential sponsorship of the conservative Russian Orthodox Church. After the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917, Americans scored the Bolshevik regime’s atheistic dogma, expropriation of the wealth and property of Orthodox and non-Orthodox churches, and the arrest and imprisonment of clerics suspected of anti-Bolshevik sympathies. US officials during the 1920s sometimes publicly cited Soviet religious repression when defending the US policy of withholding diplomatic recognition from the Soviet regime. Anti-communist State Department officials and religious leaders also suspected the Soviet regime of subverting American Orthodox and Protestant congregations through communist fifth columns. American criticisms of Russia’s religious policies antagonized Russian officials, reinforcing their xenophobic fears of capitalist encirclement while failing to induce religious reform.
The second chapter of this project explores the 1933 to 1940 period when the Democratic president Franklin D. Roosevelt and his personal supporters—Ambassador Joseph Davies, Assistant Secretary of State R. Walton Moore, and Harry Hopkins—worked to lay the foundations for rapprochement with Russia by minimizing official and public criticism of Soviet religious repression. Hopeful that diplomatic relations would increase American exports to Russia, offset the economic contractions of the Great Depression, and deter expansion by fascist Germany and Japan, FDR employed his famous charm to persuade resistant American Catholic leaders that diplomatic recognition would hasten religious reforms in Russia. Following the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1933, FDR appointed friendly ambassadors to Russia to pursue his cooperative agenda and overrule dissenting embassy staff. Unfortunately, all but Joseph Davies, ambassador from 1936 to 1938, quickly became embittered. Anti-communist US embassy staff also undermined FDR’s cooperative program by informing visiting American priests of the regime’s ongoing religious repression. When Russia invaded Catholic-dominated Poland and the Baltic states in 1939, Roosevelt resisted pressure from State Department officials, legislators, and Catholic pundits to sever diplomatic relations, and he refrained from Catholic leaders’ bitterly anti-communist rhetoric. FDR’s pragmatic policymaking in the 1930s displeased many officials in his bureaucracy, but it preserved functional diplomacy with the United States’ future ally in the war against Germany.
The third chapter of this study focuses on the pivotal year of 1941 when FDR struggled to minimize Catholic opposition to the wartime Grand Alliance. In the weeks after German forces invaded the USSR in June 1941, the Roosevelt administration dispatched military materiel to Russia, and in October 1941, Congress sanctioned Lend-Lease aid. In a public relations campaign reminiscent of the effort to promote diplomatic recognition in 1933, FDR personally persuaded influential Catholic leaders such as Michael Ready of the National Catholic Welfare Council to endorse Lend-Lease aid to Russia. Roosevelt also publicly championed the view that Russia was liberalizing its religious policies due to wartime assistance from the United States. Most Catholic leaders, conservative legislators, and mainstream journalists embraced Roosevelt’s claim that cooperation with Soviet Russia served US interests, and they willingly ignored or rationalized Soviet religious repression in order to encourage popular support for the anti-German alliance.
The fourth chapter focuses on the dissolution of the American Catholic hierarchy’s support for long-term cooperation with Russia from 1942 to 1945. In 1942 and early 1943, most American legislators, Protestant and Catholic leaders, and mainstream journalists supported Roosevelt’s cooperative attitude toward America’s strongest military ally. The Roosevelt administration supplied Russia with military aid on an unconditional basis, while refraining from criticizing Russia’s domestic policies. Catholic criticism of Soviet religious repression emerged in the national press after the Red Army repelled German forces at Stalingrad in early 1943 and evidence surfaced that the Soviet secret police had massacred Polish officers in the Katyn Forest three years earlier. Roosevelt’s most trusted advisors, including Sumner Welles, also began to hold private meetings with Catholic leaders where those advisors criticized Roosevelt’s conciliatory approach to Stalin. Unfortunately, FDR neglected his public relations campaign and dissenting bureaucracy between 1943 and 1945. As the president became distracted, ill, and personally isolated, it became difficult to defend his program of cooperation with Soviet Russia.
The fifth chapter of this dissertation explores the breakdown of US-Soviet relations between 1945 and 1948. Following FDR’s death in April 1945, officials in the Truman administration grew frustrated by Soviet domination in Eastern Europe, communist propaganda, and Russia’s insistence on heavy German reparations. Soviet leaders resented the Truman administration’s unwillingness to supply Russia with continued lend-lease or a generous loan for reconstruction.47 At the same time, US officials saw an opportunity to promote sustainable recovery in Western Europe by extending American trade and economic practices to the Old World through a program of US investment that would exclude Soviet Russia. Thus, the Truman administration articulated containment doctrine in 1946, intervened in Greece and Turkey in 1947, and undertook the Marshall Plan with the deliberate aim of excluding the Soviet Union. To help sell these policies to the American public and Congress, Truman called on Christian democracies everywhere to unite in a global crusade to eradicate atheistic communism and spread Christian democracy worldwide.48 Between 1945 and 1948, Truman reversed FDR’s plans for the post-war peace and reinvigorated religious criticisms of Russia, wasting an opportunity to work with the Soviet Union to avert the development of a protracted bipolar struggle.
Although religious criticisms contributed to the origins of the Cold War from 1880 to 1948, religion did not drive policy to the same degree as economic, political, and security conflicts. Rather, religion operated primarily as a rhetorical device. US officials and public figures invoked religious tropes in order to justify and generate public support for their secular policy goals, and their religious tropes shifted to suit their changing policy agendas. As the Roosevelt administration demonstrated in 1933 and 1941, when US officials and American public figures believed that cooperation with Soviet Russia benefitted US security and economic interests, most officials, legislators, journalists, and religious leaders abandoned public criticisms of religious repression in Russia, and they willingly minimized or overlooked Soviet religious repression in the interests of pragmatic cooperation. However, when those Americans decided that US and Russian core interests no longer aligned, many embraced anti-communist religious themes to justify containment and confrontation. Indeed, the Marshall Plan appealed to Americans in 1947 and 1948 primarily because they believed in the economic, security, and humanitarian benefits of spreading American trade, industrial, and political practices to Western Europe. Many also feared the rise of repressive communist parties should post-war economic recovery lag, fears that were exacerbated by Stalin’s crackdown on Eastern Europe in late 1947. Ultimately, Truman’s religious invective calling for a Christian-democratic crusade complemented but did not overshadow traditional drivers of US-Soviet policy.49
The US government’s adoption of anti-communist religious rhetoric during the early Cold War resulted from three contingent factors: Roosevelt’s sudden death and poor succession planning, his failure to create a bureaucracy committed to his vision of post-war toleration, and his failure to maintain personal relationships with anti-communist Catholics after 1943. If FDR had survived his fourth term—or if his successors had pursued his post-war vision of economic and territorial concessions, personal diplomacy, and a positive public relations campaign—the US might have avoided the confrontational Cold War policies that dominated US foreign relations after 1945. Even if FDR’s accommodating approach could not preserve the Grand Alliance, it still might have created an atmosphere of diplomatic cooperation and toleration that would have lessened tensions between the two emerging superpowers.
American Hopes for Russian Religious Reform, 1880-1932
Throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth century, American politicians, public intellectuals, and religious pundits expressed hope that Russia would adopt religious freedoms similar to those enshrined in the US constitution. In particular, the First and Fourteenth amendments guaranteed the free exercise of religion within reasonable limits, equal protection under the law regardless of religion, and the non-involvement of government in religious affairs, particularly when government action might benefit one religion over another.50 Beginning in the 1880s, American observers criticized the Imperial Russian government’s anti-Semitism and the privilege that the state accorded to the repressive Russian Orthodox Church. After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, American observers denounced the Soviet regime’s official atheism and anti-religious repression. As David Foglesong has demonstrated, since the late nineteenth century, Americans have promoted self-flattering national identity narratives asserting that it was America’s Christian duty to “free” Russia by reforming its barbarous ways and re-making it in America’s ideal image. This narrative of Christian uplift was well-established in American public discourse by the turn of the century as political leaders and national newspapers invoked similar themes to frame US intervention in the Philippines in 1899-1902 and Colombia in 1903.51
Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft were particularly important in setting precedents in government policy and discourse surrounding religion in Russia. In 1903 and 1911, Roosevelt and Taft reacted to electoral pressures by shifting private diplomatic clashes over religious issues to the realm of official public discourse. By publicly censuring the Russian government for its illiberal religious policies and pressuring it to reform, the Roosevelt and Taft administrations encouraged popular expectations that the US government would continue to use official diplomacy to try to compel Russia to adopt American-style religious freedoms. In a pattern that would dominate the 20th century, criticism by US officials deeply antagonized Russian officials and produced no tangible benefits for Russian citizens or diplomatic relations.
After the Bolshevik Party seized power in 1917, the US State Department formed a professionalized division of anti-Soviet foreign service officers to monitor Soviet Russia and guide US policy surrounding the USSR. These “Russia Hands” in the Eastern European Division continued Roosevelt and Taft’s tradition of privately and publicly censuring Russia for religious repression. They also invoked Russia’s lack of Christian morality as a reason to withhold formal diplomatic recognition of the Bolshevik government. State Department officials harbored deep-rooted suspicions that the Bolshevik regime was planting subversive Orthodox priests in American Orthodox congregations as a means to spread communist ideology and destabilize the US government. To check this perceived threat, State Department officials coordinated efforts between private citizens and US officials to oppose the efforts of suspected Soviet-backed priests.
For a brief period after the revolution of 1917, some American observers—particularly reform-minded Protestants—applauded the Soviet government for disempowering the illiberal Russian Orthodox Church by revoking its state-sponsored privileges. With the Soviet government’s approval, a small cohort of leftist American Methodist evangelicals arranged with the Soviet government to work as missionaries in Russia in the mid-1920s in an effort to provide Russian believers with a substitute faith that the Bolshevik regime hoped would constitute less of a political threat to the regime. Yet, to help crush popular resistance to the industrialization and collectivization drives of the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Soviet government widened its repressive anti-religious campaign to target American missionaries in 1929, ending the temporary alliance between the Soviet government and American Protestant reformers. American Catholic and Protestant leaders united in defending Washington’s non-recognition policy against a growing lobby led by Senator William Borah (R-Idaho). Borah championed recognition as means to improve US-Soviet trade in the midst of the Great Depression. By 1933, supporters of recognition also claimed that it would discourage aggressive expansion by fascist Germany and Japan because it would create the impression of growing solidarity between the United States and the USSR, both of which opposed such expansion.52 With the national media and Congress bitterly divided after 1929 on diplomatic recognition, Robert Kelley of the US State Department’s Eastern European Division quietly funnelled reports of Russia’s anti-religious activities to publishers and congressmen who opposed diplomatic recognition. Thus, when FDR took was elected in 1932, criticism of Soviet religious policy was deeply entrenched in the anti-communist culture of the State Department.