Waugh, Churchill and Maisky

The National Interest magazine, a U.S. bi-monthly espousing what is described as a realist view on foreign policy, has reviewed the diaries of Ivan Maisky, who was the Soviet ambassador in the U.K. at the beginning of WWII. The review is written by the magazine’s editor Jacob Heilbrunn, who segues into Maisky’s story via an opening scene quoted from Waugh’s  Officers and Gentlemen at the time the Nazis had just invaded the Soviet Union:

…Guy Crouchback, a lieutenant in the Halberdiers who has just fought the Germans in the Battle of Crete, finds himself convalescing during the summer of 1941 in Alexandria in the official residence of the hostess Julia Stitch… when her husband announces at a small luncheon that Hitler has just invaded Russia:

“‘Why couldn’t the silly fellow have done it to start with?’ Algernon Stitch asked, ‘instead of landing the lot of us in the soup first?’

‘Is it a Good Thing?’ Mrs. Stitch asked the simple question of the schoolroom.

‘Can’t tell. The experts don’t believe the Russians have a chance. And they’ve got a lot of things the Germans will find useful.’

‘What’s Winston going to say?’

‘Welcome our new allies, of course. What else can he?’

What On Earth Were These Russians Thinking??

 ‘It’s nice to have one ally,’ said Mrs. Stitch.”

Indeed it was. But as Algernon’s hauteur indicates, the suspicions that many British conservatives harbored about the Soviet Union before World War II never really went away. Perhaps no one found their hostility more vexing than Ivan Maisky, the Soviet ambassador to England from 1932 to 1943. Neville Chamberlain called Maisky a “revolting but clever little Jew.” Henry “Chips” Channon said that he was the “ambassador of torture, murder and every crime in the calendar.” And in Anthony Powell’s roman-fleuve A Dance to the Music of Time, after an irascible monkey named Maisky bites a butler who develops septicemia, Capt. Teddy Jeavons remarks that this was “the end of Maisky too, which wasn’t really just. But then what is just in this life?”

As noted in another recent post, Waugh was never under any illusion that the alliance with the Soviets was an unmixed blessing. Even while the alliance was thriving in 1942, he notes in his diaries that he was arguing the point with Duff Cooper and was still fighting with him about it during a visit to the Coopers in Paris in the 1950s, as recounted in Christopher Sykes’ biography.

This entry was posted in Articles, Officers and Gentlemen, World War II and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.