THE POLAR BEAR EXPEDITION by James Carl Nelson

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The Heroes of America’s Forgotten Invasion of Russia, 1918-1919

Nelson is a historian by profession and his book is a well researched study of a little known invasion of Russia by American soldiers occurring from the end of World War I for about a year. The American Expeditionary Force cold weather chapter, took place along with troops from England, France  Japan and Czechoslovakia.  There are several  versions of the reason for U.S. intervention but the one used by Nelson was in order to defend the enormous amount of supplies, including weaponry, against use by the Bolsheviks.  Russia was in the midst of a civil war, and the Reds (Bolsheviks) were fighting the Whites (those opposed to the socialism advocated by Lenin and Trotsky).

The foreign soldiers were landed in both Murmansk and Archangel both cities that enjoy bitter winters for most of the year. From there the Americans and their allies fought the Bolos (as the Bolsheviks were termed) in towns and villages along the northern portion of Russia. The Armistice ending the war between the allies and Germany was declared on November 11th, 1918. The not so small war in Russia dragged on for several more years with the troops involved wondering why they couldn’t join their fellow soldiers in going home.  The men could not find a reason to enter into this conflict, experienced low morale and just wanted out.

Dry and dusty this book is not.  Most of the Americans came from Detroit, Michigan and the research there by the author found many actual writings by the soldiers.  Most probably descendants of the troops readily made available diaries, letters and other writings.  Plus local Michigan newspapers in their archives would definitely  have had coverage of the conflict including references to the local men taking part in it.

The book is a description of a little known conflict occurring a century ago and mainly using the words of the combatants to describe it. The only reference to politics taking part in sending soldiers there is to lay blame on President Woodrow Wilson for allowing himself to be talked into sending soldiers with no real idea of what to do with them. Maybe so but Wilson is the president who campaigned for reelection in 1916 using the slogan “He kept us out of war” and than getting the United States into a blood bath in Europe shortly after his reelection. In any event, his blase attitude permeated the entire adventure into Russia with nothing really accomplished.  Moreover, Mr Nelson in summing up his book suggests that the Russian attitude towards the U.S for the invasion in 1918-19 is one of the reasons that America has been kept at a distance for more than a century.

2/19 Paul Lane

THE POLAR BEAR EXPEDITION by James Carl Nelson. William Morrow (February 19, 2019). ISBN 978-0062852779. 320p.

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