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Diplomacy and Humor: A Chat about Geography and Language

Pictured: 29 November 1949 edition of The Richmond News Leader featuring an article written by journalist Drew Pearson.

It is important to remember when examining the life and work of Marshal Chuikov that he was not only a celebrated military genius but also possessed years of experience and was educated in diplomacy and administration. Vasily Ivanovich skillfully connected and communicated with ordinary soldiers as well as leaders of nations and did so at ease with a sense of humor. He could hold serious, deep discussions and could effectively navigate cordial small talk, infusing his authentic sense of humor into conversations while maintaining his leadership authority and professionalism. One such example is encapsulated in a 1949 article titled, "It's Too Bad that Vishinsky Doesn't Know Chuikov's Word" featured in this blog post:

“Young Representative Mel Price of Illinois and General Vasily Chuikov, Soviet Commander in Berlin, had a long conversation at a Berlin reception at which the Illinoisan did some half-humorous, but blunt talking. To his surprise, the tough Soviet soldier displayed a quaint sense of humor, if not a knowledge of American geography.

On a tour of inspection for the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Price was introduced to Chuikov at a reception for United States Secretary of State Dean Acheson. Talking through an interpreter, the Russian General inquired what state he came from. When Price told him, Chuikov commented: ‘Illinois—oh, that’s close to Colorado, isn’t it?’

‘No, it’s about a thousand miles away,’ replied Price. ‘I guess you can see that I’m not very good at American geography,’ admitted the Russian. ‘But I know a lot about German geography.’

‘I hope you’re not making a study of American geography now, General,’ observed the Illinois Congressman dryly. With a smile, Chuikov replied that he was not, then asked Price how long he had been in Berlin. ‘Time is only relative, General,’ responded the Congressman. ‘How long have you been here?’

‘Four-and-a-half years,’ said Chuikov. ‘It’s nicer to be passing through like you than to be nailed down here.’ Major-General James D. McIntyre, a staff adviser of Defense Secretary Louis Johnson, joined the huddle and began comparing notes with Chuikov on their knowledge of each other’s language.

‘I know only one phrase in Russian, Za Vashe Zdorovye (for your health)’ declared Congressman Price. ‘The only English I know,’ volunteered General Chuikov, ‘is Okay.’

‘It’s a shame, suggested Price, ‘that the General doesn’t teach (Soviet Foreign Minister) Mr. Vishinsky how to say that one word.’”


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