With World War II coming to an end in 1944, the United States War Department published a 57-page booklet entitled “A Pocket Guide to the USSR.” The short book was given to soldiers and military personnel to prepare them for interactions with Russians, but Americans ultimately never deployed to the USSR.
The introduction informs the reader that Russians suffered severe hardships during the war, and reminds them that Russia had been fighting Germany since 1941. Although the USSR lost several battles, the booklet explains that they overcame the early failures and were now enjoying “a march towards victory.”
The key theme in the introduction is expressing concern for the struggles the USSR endured during the war, and preparing soldiers for the war-torn country’s populace. In the USSR, nearly every citizen lost a friend, family member, and an associate to the bloody conflict.
The short book also describes the Russian people as friendly, but deeply committed to the war efforts. It also gives a summary of the USSR’s government and legal system. It describes socialism as the basis of economics in USSR, and explains what common ownership and collective property entails.
Additionally, it addresses anthropological topics such as Russian customs, culture, and etiquette. The book states that males “may embrace and kiss upon meeting,” and to avoid laughing or staring at “their strangeness.” Whistling towards women was considered offensive.
The book also provides commentary about the USSR’s crippled economy, stating that “Not so easily understandable to the American, coming from a country where almost everything is obtainable, is the lack of consumer goods in Russia.”The USSR was facing severe economic issues due to the war and dealing with food shortages.
Americans were warned that although food would be scarce, there was enough to provide adequate nourishment. In terms of potential health risks, the booklet encouraged soldiers to “observe all rules relating to sex hygiene,” and cautioned that“[if] you expose yourself, venereal disease may well be the price you’ll pay.” Some other health-related advice included avoiding consumption of raw fruits and vegetables unless the skin was removed or the food was boiled.
The last part of the booklet includes a chart outlining the ranks of Russian military personnel, the currency exchange rates, and basic Russian phrases and questions. Much of the advice is centered on being sensitive and respectful to the Russians for their service and commitment to defeating the Axis Powers, and warning Americans that the living conditions of citizens was poor.
Interestingly, the booklet takes an understanding, diplomatic approach, and encourages Americans to not only respect Russian culture but to follow their laws and customs. Russia suffered excessive casualties during the war, and the average citizen’s standard of living was substantially downgraded. Although some of the advice in the booklet appears lighthearted, or even comical, the devastation brought upon the Soviet Union during World War II was profound.
Like Americans, Russian women contributed to the war efforts by working long hours in factories. Russian women even joined the USSR’s military. Food became scarce, and the constant attacks by Germany depleted Russia’s infrastructure.
Some Russians had no more than two outfits throughout the war period, as all resources were directed towards the war efforts. Countless citizens lost their homes during the constant battles, and roads, bridges, and farmland were damaged.
The book advises American soldiers to “be generous in your praise of the Soviet people and the Red Army, whose exploits have won the admiration of the world,” and to avoid political or religious debates and criticism of Soviet leaders, as “citizens have great respect, almost reverence for them and will be offended if they are treated lightly.
”Despite the United States and the USSR having different political and economic systems, this guide demonstrates conciliatory efforts being made for the greater good.