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Authenticity with a Sense of Humor

Photo Caption: Tell the General It’s Funny!

Mr. Dean Acheson (left), American Secretary of State, laughs at the interpretation given by a Russian officer (back to camera) of a joke made by General Vasily I. Chuikov (right), Chief of the Soviet Control Commission in Germany, during a reception given by Mr. John McCloy, U.S. High Commissioner in Germany for Mr. Acheson during the latter’s visit to Berlin 14 November 1949. (Photo by Associated Press)

Marshal Chuikov was well known internationally throughout his career. His appointments to top posts opened the door to meetings with leading officials from several nations, and his time in post-war Berlin was no exception. In the books titled Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department and Sketches from Life of Men I Have Known, former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson shared about his encounters with Vasily Ivanovich in Europe. The ‘tough as nails’ authentic leader had a memorable sense of humor that Acheson described in his memoirs. Both of the following excerpts are about Acheson’s 14 November 1949 visit to Berlin. From the book Present at the Creation:

“After a reception given by General Taylor for me to meet the British, French, and Soviet commandants and their staffs, our memorable visit to Berlin ended, but not before the arrival of General Chuikov, Military Governor of the Soviet Zone and Commandant of the Soviet Sector of Berlin, won a bet for me. Taylor told me that no Russian had attended a social function since the blockade had begun more than a year before. However, General Chuikov and I had enlivened a rather dull dinner party at the Soviet Embassy in Paris six months before, and I had bet that he would come” (343).

And from Sketches:

“General Maxwell Taylor, then Commandant of our Sector in Berlin, had a reception for me to which the other three Commandants were, of course, invited. General Chuikov, he said, would not come; he had not attended any Western social function for months. I offered a ten-dollar bet that he would. General Taylor took it. The reception had been going for an hour and my chances seemed pretty dim. Then there was a great clatter at the door and in came, not only General Chuikov, but all of his staff. (General Taylor refused to pay a bonus for staff.)

While we were exchanging noisy greetings and he was demanding [that I do my Andrei] Vyshinksy [imitation], up came a waiter with a tray of cocktails, a large tray. Chuikov took a solemn appraising look and began to drink them before I realized his mistaken assumption of a challenge.

‘You don't have to drink all of those, General,’ I assured him. ‘They're for everybody.’ He looked immensely relieved. ‘Good Lord,’ I went on. ‘You must have a tin stomach.’... He shook his head. ‘No,’ he said, ‘steel.’”


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