Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Hans N. Tuch
It was, from my point of view, an ideal situation working for an ambassador who recognized—and here we come back to the public diplomacy angle—who recognized that in a situation in which we functioned, the cultural and press relations work was the most substantive activity that an embassy could do. Obviously, we read the papers and reported on political areas, economic developments, agriculture developments, but he saw that the only people who really got out to talk to people were the people who did public affairs work. There was, at that time, only one—myself.
He was terribly supportive about the cultural affairs work. For instance, say you had a delegation of American composers there, and you wanted to have a party. Well, you knew that the Soviet officials would not come to your apartment to be with these American composers. But they may come to the residence. The ambassador's house was open to any kind of a party or reception or get-together, where we all felt that the Soviet officials and maybe even some composers and musicians might come to the Spaso house, the ambassador's official residence, but they wouldn't come to my place. He was very, very supportive of this, and he, having been in the Soviet Union during World War II, in the 1940s, knew a lot of the—at that time, younger, creative people, ballet dancers, opera singers from the early Forties, who now were fairly old and many of them retired, but he knew them, and they would come sometimes to his place. Therefore, he provided the opening that was so important for us.
Why it was interesting for me to be in the Soviet Union during that period of time. The relationship, from its nadir, took an upward turn with the election of President Kennedy, and the release of the RB-47 pilots, who had been another sort of semi-spy plane, who had been shot down in Murmansk, in the ocean, had been shot down, something that was really not much talked about. But that's another story, because there's an interesting anecdote, too, about the release of these two pilots.
But anyway, I think Khrushchev wanted to make a gesture vis-a-vis Kennedy, and by releasing these guys, it had been a sore point in our relationship, and the relationship took an up-turn until the Bay of Pigs invasion. Then even worse, it took the real down-turn again after the meeting between Khrushchev and Kennedy in July 1961 in Vienna, where Kennedy got his real first taste of what it was like to negotiate or to relate or to be up against the Soviet Union in the form of Nikita Khrushchev. As a matter of fact, there was one interesting anecdote. I wasn't there. I was in Moscow still. But when Tommy Thompson, who had gone to Vienna to be with the President, came back, we asked him how things went, and he said, “You know, after the first day of the meetings, of the relationship, the President turned to me and says, 'Ambassador Thompson, now I understand why you want to get out of the Soviet Union so badly.'” [Laughter] At any rate, it took a down-turn again, and that is really when I left Moscow.