Friday, April 06, 2007

Leon Gouré, 1922-2007

I learned from an obituary in Thursday's Washington Post that a sometime colleague of mine from the 1980s has passed away. According to the Post:

Leon Gouré, 84, a political scientist, Sovietologist and expert on Soviet civil defense, died March 16 of congestive heart failure at Capital Hospice in Arlington. He was a longtime resident of Potomac.

Mr. Gouré focused on civil defense at a time when the United States and the Soviet Union were taking civil defense measures, even though the Cold War doctrine of "mutual assured destruction" required that both populations be vulnerable to nuclear annihilation. Convinced that the Soviets had concluded they could limit the damage and casualties resulting from nuclear war, Mr. Gouré reported in 1961 that the Soviet Union was quietly engaged in a massive civil defense buildup.

Back in the days when I was actively involved in the American Civil Defense Association (TACDA) and writing for the Journal of Civil Defense, I often found myself on the same program as Dr. Gouré. (There is, in fact, a Journal of Civil Defense cover that juxtaposes our head shots. Elsewhere on the page is a photograph of Edward Teller that must have been taken some 30 years earlier -- and this was published in August 1982!)

Though it would not be expected in a short obituary, the Post does not note that Gouré's views were controversial in the 1980s. There were those who argued that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union should have a civil defense capability. (That the arguments came from those outside the Soviet Union meant that their views were taken seriously only on one side of the Iron Curtain.)

In a brief article in the Journal of Civil Defense in June 1982, which I dug out of my personal archives but also found on line here, Gouré was quoted on page 25 as saying:
As the Soviets see it, no strategy or defense posture, and therefore no deterrent, can be fully credible or rational without a war survival capability, because it doesn't seem entirely reasonable that countries will deliberately court national suicide . . . the Soviets are absolutely right when they point out that in the nuclear age the fate of states does not depend only on what they do to each other but to a large and maybe decisive degree what happens to their own homeland . . .
In a "Too Good to File" feature in the February 1981 issue of the Journal (p. 22), there was an excerpt from a speech Gouré gave in Kansas City the previous December:
The Soviet Civil Defense Program is massive and comprehensive. It has been under way for some 30 years and has been repeatedly upgraded .... The program includes such things as the massive construction of blast shelters in the cities and in industrial sites, fallout shelters in rural areas, detailed planning of evacuation and dispersal of the urban population, yearly compulsory instruction of the entire population from school children to retirees, a wide range of methods to decrease the vulnerability of industry to attack (transportation and so on) ....

The civil defense system permeates the entire administrative, economic, educational and social structure of the USSR. You'll find it everywhere and at all levels ....

While the Soviet civil defense budget is kept secret estimates range as high as $35 per person per year - about what the Swiss spend right now on civil defense, although I would say a figure of about ... $15 to $22 per year is probably more likely.
Lest one get the impression that, because of his research interests, Leon Gouré was a dour individual, let me dispel that misapprehension. He had a sense of humor, too.

In a review of one of Gouré's many technical studies of Soviet civil defense (Journal of Civil Defense, February 1985, p. 21), Dr. Max Klinghoffer found an example of that humor:
Apparently some Russians, at least, have retained a sense of humor, according to Dr. Goure. One anecdote: "In the event of nuclear war, wrap yourself in a sheet, and walk to the cemetery. Why walk? To prevent panic." (One wonders if the teller of this story is now amusing his companions in Siberia.)
Gouré's work was admired and respected by his colleagues and associates. In that same review, Dr. Klinghoffer -- then president of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness, an organization that was established as a counterweight to Physicians for Social Responsibility -- began by saying:
Dr. Goure has again produced one of the most informative works on Soviet preparedness.
In a June 1984 review (p. 20) of another report produced by Gouré, Van E. Hallman wrote:
This comprehensive assessment of Soviet preparations for post-strike operations must be considered required reading for all persons interested in civil defense as well as those involved in governmental decision making or strategic analysis. As stated by Dr. Goure, "The Soviets are well aware that in a nuclear environment, post-strike operations will be difficult and complex and require extensive manpower and equipment. Therefore, from an organizational viewpoint, the great majority of the more than 20 million Soviet civil defense personnel are assigned roles in these operations." This statement, supported within the report by extensive evidence, should persuade skeptics that the Soviets intend to survive as a national entity in the event of a nuclear war between our two countries.
Reviewing Gouré's 1984 volume, Soviet Civil Defense Public Instruction and Training Programs, in the April 1985 issue of the Journal of Civil Defense, Dr. James M. Ridgeway began (p. 20):
This report should be read and weighed by legislators working on civil defense matters, and by the planners and managers of the national CD program in the U.S . It is a "buy" for local and State directors who need material for speeches and with which to update "strategic briefings" in instructional programs.
A brief excerpt from the February 1983 Journal of Civil Defense (p. 28) illustrates the sort of point/counterpoint debate that was going on during the last years of the Cold War. (I was intimately involved in these debates, participating in forums on college campuses around the country and on radio and television as well. Perhaps my most noteworthy appearance of this sort was on Crossfire, then co-hosted by Pat Buchanan and Tom Braden, in which my adversary was Australian anti-defense activist Helen Caldicott.) Leon Gouré was at the heart of it, too, though as someone who had been born in the Soviet Union and forced to flee both the Communists and the Nazis before arriving in the United States, he could speak with a greater degree of authority than folks like me:
Valentin M. Berezhkov, representative of the Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. said, "It's senseless to think someone could survive or win a nuclear war."

He said the Soviet Union has special organizations in case of natural disaster but the building of underground shelters ended in the 1960s.

"We realized it would not be good protection from nuclear war, so we didn't spend any more money on digging passages," Berezhkov said.

He countered U.S. speculation that the Soviet Union is prepared to evacuate cities and chided U.S. officials for promoting evacuation and relocation plans.

"It is impossible to evacuate. It takes only minutes for a nuclear warhead to get to (one nation from the other)," he said.
-- from a report in The Oregonian
on Valentin M. Berezhkov's
October address before the
United States Civil Defense Council

The case for the existence of a large Soviet CD capability is straight enough, irrefutable and is not a matter of opinion. It is based on analysis conducted over years by the U.S. intelligence community (see Director of Central Intelligence, Soviet Civil Defense, July 1978), on masses of Soviet civil defense publications - i.e., books, journals, newspaper articles, photography and films . . . on statements by Soviet leaders and military chiefs, on interviews with Soviet emigres, and on observations in the USSR by knowledgeable travelers. Incidentally, I have interviewed U.S. students who spent some time studying at the Moscow and Leningrad Universities, and they had no trouble finding evidence of Soviet CD or photographing Soviet shelters. Of course, foreign students are not allowed to attend the military CD courses at the universities which are compulsory for Soviet students.
- Leon Goure
The article about Leon Gouré in Thursday's Washington Post tells about a hazardous but no doubt exciting and educational experience as a youth:
Mr. Gouré was born in Moscow on Nov. 1, 1922. His father belonged to the Mensheviks, socialists allied with the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution until they were liquidated by Vladimir Lenin. Most of the Mensheviks were Jewish.

The elder Gouré took his family into exile in Berlin in 1923. The Gourés were forced to flee again when Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany a decade later. Settling in Paris, they fled a third time when the city fell to the Nazis in 1940. Leaving Paris on the last train out, they made their way to Hoboken, N.J.

Shortly after arriving in the United States, Mr. Gouré enlisted in the Army. He had never held citizenship in any country until a New York City judge granted expedited citizenship to 150 basic trainees, including Mr. Gouré.

Three years after his arrival in the United States, the fledgling U.S. citizen was back in Germany as an infantryman. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and later served in counterintelligence, where he used his fluency in German, French and Russian to interview Nazis and their collaborators who were being held after the war.
There is a movie in this. Someone should prepare a treatment to send to Hollywood. If The Good Shepherd can get made, why not The Voice in the Wilderness: The Leon Gouré Story? Perhaps George Clooney or Clive Owen could play the lead.

2 comments:

Thomas said...

I have been studying many of Mr. Gouré's documents regarding Soviet Civil Defense for my undergraduate thesis, and I continue to be impressed by the knowledge and passion possessed by this man. I wish I could have had the opportunity to meet him. May he rest in peace.

Cuyler said...

Yesterday I began watching a documentary on a Holocaust survivor who was visited once weekly by a German exchange student, who was doing community service in order to avoid mandatory military service in the German Army. The man in the documentary reminded me of my Grandfather, Leon Goure. I googled his name and found this article.

I found the article to be very interesting and enlightening. I learned some things I did not know about him, and I regret not being able to spend more time with him. Now, being older, there are so many things I would have asked him about, given the extraordinary life he lived. Thank you for posting this.