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Town Hall Seattle: Civics Series

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Nov 25, 2019

In 1921, facing one of the worst famines in history, the new Soviet government under Vladimir Lenin invited the American Relief Administration to save communist Russia from ruin. Author Douglas Smith joined us with an account of how a small, daring band of Americans fed more than ten million men, women, and children across a million square miles of territory. Smith’s book The Russian Job chronicles this endeavor—the largest humanitarian operation in history, which saved countless lives, staved off social unrest on a massive scale, and quite possibly prevented the collapse of the communist state.

Smith brought us this story nearly a century later, after decades of the Cold War and renewed tensions in the wake of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, in a time when cooperation between the United States and Russia seems impossible to imagine. Smith resurrected the American relief mission from obscurity, revealing a story filled with espionage, violence, and political intrigue. Smith invited us to revive a near-forgotten account of a US/Russia cooperative effort unmatched before or since, and a striking memory of the world’s ability to overcome ideological differences and confront international crises.

Douglas Smith is an award-winning historian and translator, and the author of six books on Russia including Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs and Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy. Douglas has taught and lectured widely in the United States, Britain, and Europe and has appeared in documentaries for National Geographic, the BBC, and Netflix.

Presented by Town Hall Seattle. Recorded live in The Forum on Thursday, November 14, 2019.