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Reviews and Articles

The Strategy Bridge
Review by Professor Roger Champman
July 15, 2020

Though he was a known quantity to all Kremlinologists and highly respected, however, Thompson has largely remained an obscure figure. ...Seldom has a person been so in the thick of important events only to be so largely forgotten ... Yet Anatoly Dobyrin, the long-time Soviet ambassador, regarded Thompson as "probably the best American ambassador in the USSR during the Cold War."

 

Now, thanks to Thompson's daughters, who as children spent eight years living in the Soviet Union, a fuller picture emerges of this public figure.

Journal of Cold War Studies Forum

Mark Kramer, Head of Harvard DAvic Center's Project on Cold War Studies and Editor i Cheif of the Journal, introduces the Forum, followed by commentary from five distinguished historians: James Goldgeier, Thomas W. Simons, Jr., Vladimir Pechatnov, Vladislav Zubok, and Dan Caldwell.

 

See the Summer Issue of the Journal

or see the .pdf here

 

National Security Archives Briefing Book: Tommy Thompson-The Kremlinologist

The National Security Archives of George Washington University has posted a briefing book on The Kremlinologist, including scans of important documents cited in the book. Compiled and edited with contribution from Svetlana Savranskaya and Tom Blanton. See the original documents for yoursef.

Professor David Foglesong review for H-Diplo

Old School Wise Men

by David Fogelesong

November 24, 2018

H-Diplo

Philip Zelikow Commentary

Professor Zelikow discusses the influence of the Berlin/East Germany crisis on the Cuban Missile Crisis.

 

 

Robert Legvold Review

Review of The Kremlinologist by Robert Legvold for Foreign Affairs Magazine

Kremlinologist Review: A Starring Role Behind the Scenes by Bertrand Patenaude for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Wall Street Journal, April 4, 2018

"Llewellyn E. “Tommy” Thompson Jr., hardly a household name, deserves to be better known than he is. At various moments he may well have made the difference in preventing the Cold War from turning hot."

The Life and Work of a Moscow Pro by Jonathan B. Rickert for THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

Foreign Service Journal, March 2018

"A vivid and compelling picture of the man and his career."

The Biographer's Craft
For Writers & Readers of Biography
March 2020 Vol. 15 Number 1
 
The Story Only Daughters Can Tell
By Felicity O. Yost, Hawai'i Correspondent
 

Many historians have written about the Cold War achievements of Ambassador Llewellyn E. "Tommy" Thompson. Despite this, his daughters shared with me (over the course of numerous email interviews) that they kept coming across publications that made no mention of him, "which we thought was just wrong." Co-authors Jenny and Sherry Thompson, who jointly answered my questions, decided that if they did not "make him known," a comprehensive biography of their father could remain untold. They also felt that their book could serve, for both specialists and the general public, as a useful illustration of how Foreign Service Officers successfully conduct our foreign affairs. The Kremlinologist: Llewellyn E. Thompson, America's Man in Cold War Moscow is the story of the impact that one negotiator can have during a dangerous era.


Thompson, the son of a rancher, was brought up in rural Colorado, "in a place and time where character meant more than personality." Despite being an introvert (some called him aloof and remote), when he joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1928 he had already "cultivated an ability to empathize and to understand the outlook of the 'other'"—one of the essential tools of a negotiator. This ability also helped him to anticipate another government's position during mediations—and to win at poker.


Thompson did not initially set out to become a State Department Soviet expert. He served in Austria, where he negotiated the settlement of the Free Territory of Trieste and an Austrian State Treaty, before becoming one of a handful of diplomats "correctly anticipating Soviet moves" for U.S. presidents. His time spent working in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow during World War II, and as a U.S. Ambassador in the 1950s and 1960s, also gave him a rare inside perspective on Soviet leaders. This insight proved crucial during presidential summits and world crises.

 

As first-time biographers, Thompson's daughters faced several challenges. Their father, who left a thin record of his work, had no interest in recording or analyzing his thought processes. They also soon discovered how little they knew about the historical events of their father's era. This, however, ended up working in their favor, "because we had no pre-conceived notions or narratives to support." With little research experience, they found, like so many biographers, how invaluable archivists are and especially in their case those at the National Archives. Family letters and interviews with Thompson's colleagues helped to fill in the blanks "to build a frame on which to hang our memories."


One of the advantages of a biography written by a family member revealed itself as Jenny and Sherry, who were aware of their father's role, reviewed the published history. They found themselves questioning the historical narrative "if it seemed wrong." This led to further research. Their book thus served another purpose, to correct historical errors, ones that a researcher might well have missed or misinterpreted. An example the Thompsons cite occurred prior to the 1961 Kennedy/Khrushchev Vienna summit, in a cable sent by their father to the State Department.


Cold War specialists continue to debate the summit's outcome—whether the young president was led into a trap and pummeled by the wily Soviet Premier over the Berlin Crisis. What concerned the sisters was that some historians, who had cherry picked from Thompson's cable, held their father responsible for encouraging Kennedy to believe that Khrushchev would give him no trouble: "In view his conversation with me, quite possible K [Khrushchev] will attempt to slide over Berlin problem in sweetness and light atmosphere." Sherry and Jenny knew enough about their father to feel that "there was something wrong with this premise." When they unearthed the original cable, they found that the last sentence in Thompson's message was clear and insistent in advising: "In this event, [I] believe President should force issue." Historians had omitted, and thus missed, capturing the thrust of Thompson's advice.


Jenny and Sherry's conversations with Nikita Khrushchev's son Sergei helped to complete the picture they had formed of the bond between their fathers. Thompson's special relationship with Premier Khrushchev was based on the fact that "he was one of the very few people who was both forthright and respectful towards Khrushchev. He never made fun of him and he never lied to him. Even though Khrushchev could be impulsive, he thought Khrushchev was willing to look at internal reforms and deal with the West on a practical, rather than strictly ideological basis. In other words, he was someone we could work with." Thompson's insight proved crucial in 1962.

 

When President Kennedy convened a group of experts, the Executive Committee (ExComm), to advise him during the Cuban Missile Crisis, one of them was the Soviet expert Thompson. On October 26, the State Department received a private letter from Premier Khrushchev with a proposal for de-escalating the crisis. The next day, a second, rambling letter arrived, which made unreasonable demands on the Americans. At a critical moment, when a number of ExComm hawks were recommending an immediate U.S. nuclear response, the relationship that Thompson had forged with Khrushchev helped take America back from the brink of war. Thompson believed that while the first letter had been written by Khrushchev, the second was most likely drafted by Soviet hawks, and Thompson recommended to the president that he respond to the first letter as if he had never received the second. The ploy worked, which led some ExComm members to dub Thompson "our Russian in the room."


Why is the story of a diplomat who preferred the shadows to the limelight important? Because it shows how a Foreign Service Officer's negotiations, often conducted behind the scenes, can be vital to the security of our nation. Our president and his State Department, and anyone interested in foreign affairs, would do well to study the life of Thompson, a diplomat who "believed in looking at long-term consequences and not just the short-term win."

 

Felicity O. Yost, who worked at the United Nations, co-authored Adlai Stevenson's Lasting Legacy. She lives in Hawai'i and is writing The Only Brave One in the Room: Charles W. Yost and the Golden Age of U.S. Diplomacy. 

We've Forgotten a Lesson of the Cold War and One of the Wise Men Who Preached it

Jenny and Sherry Thompson for the History News Network, February 2018

“Thompson’s is an archetypal American Story that took him from the wilds of the American West at the beginning of the 20th century to inside the halls of the White House and behind the walls of the Kremlin.”

The Voice of Reason, by Megan Bennett for ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL NORTH

Article for Albuquerque Journal North, March 23, 2018

"It was his early years full of hard work, according o Jenny and her sister Sherry Thompson, that made him a direct but reasonable diplomat and negotiator."
Balance of Payments problem (16.2 KB)

Balance of Payments problem in the 1960's