"Will the Blunders Ever Stop?"
The letter is brief: 48 words ending “Will the blunders ever stop?” On March 31, 1955 Donald Olyphant of Point Pleasant, Pennsylvania wrote Secretary of State John Foster Dulles protesting a proposed exchange of Russian and Iowa farmers. By studying our methods, Olyphant warned, the Russians would be able to provide better food for their soldiers. Referencing Napoleon, he added, “an army still marches on its stomach.”
Olyphant was responding to a February 10, 1955 Des Moines Register editorial inviting Russians to Iowa for the “lowdown on raising quality” hogs and cows. In turn, editorialist Lauren Soth was responding to a speech by Communist Party Secretary Nikita Khrushchev praising the U.S. corn-hog connection as a way to increase Soviet livestock feed.
Picked up by the Christian Science Monitor, Soth’s editorial soon made national news. By March 1, the Soviets had agreed to the visit. The U.S. was more wary, but on April 22 the State Department instructed the American Embassy to inform Soviets of their “favorable view” of the exchanges.
U.S. State Department records at National Archives in College Park, Maryland document the internal discussions and concerns surrounding the proposed exchange. Olyphant’s letter is one of many responses to radio and newspaper stories of the possible Soviet visit. Like Olyphant, many writers questioned the wisdom of allowing our enemy into the country. Others listed their qualifications for such an exchange and their willingness to represent the U.S.
Despite the State Department’s reservations, an exchange of Russian and American agriculturists took place in summer 1955. Twelve U.S. farmers and agricultural experts traveled 9,000 miles across the Soviet Union, visiting state and collective farms and seeing areas that had been closed to westerners since World War II. At the same time a dozen Soviet agriculture officials toured the United States; their official status a compromise given the fingerprint requirements of Soviet citizens under U.S. law.
I first learned about the delegations while working for former NBC reporter Irving R. Levine, who began his overseas network career accompanying the U.S. group on its Soviet tour. I am currently writing a book about the exchange.
Olyphant’s letter helps me understand the immediate response of many Americans to a Soviet visit. Its brevity elevates it from the crank letter status of more long-winded protestors. Olyphant exemplifies the American tradition of openly sharing views with the government.
by: Peggy Ann Brown