Obituaries

Leon Gouré, 84; Sovietologist and Civil Defense Expert

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 5, 2007

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.

In "War Survival in Soviet Strategy" (1973), he wrote: "The fundamental Soviet view is that the better the USSR is prepared for war, the greater and more credible is its ability to deter its adversary from risking military confrontation. This is the main reason why Moscow categorically rejects any concept of security based on a balance of 'mutual assured destruction.' "

He told The Washington Post in 1984 that Soviet civil defense was "extremely comprehensive" and that it included compulsory annual training for adults and children beginning in the second grade, as well as detailed evacuation, shelter and post-attack recovery plans. Civil defense, he said, was a key component of the Soviet Union's nuclear war doctrine.

"They intend, if there is such a war, to win it," he said.

Commenting on what he considered the relative lack of serious civil defense planning in the United States, he told the Los Angeles Times in 1986 that "the best you could do right now in case of nuclear attack would be to get away from the downtown area and hide in the basement of a supermarket." His reports prompted an expansion of U.S. civil defense efforts during the final years of the Cold War.

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.

After his discharge, he received an undergraduate degree from New York University in 1947, a master's from Columbia University in 1949 and a doctorate from Georgetown University in 1961.

Mr. Gouré became an analyst with the Rand Corp. in Washington in 1954 and in 1959 transferred to Rand's Santa Monica, Calif., branch, where he began to develop his ideas on civil defense. He also advised President Lyndon B. Johnson's administration on military policy in Vietnam.

In 1969, he moved to the University of Miami's Center for Advanced International Studies, where he was director of Soviet studies. In 1980, he joined Science Applications International Corp., a McLean consulting firm, and was director of Russian and Central Eurasian studies until his retirement in 2004.

He was the author or co-author of more than a dozen books, including "The Siege of Leningrad" (1962) and "Civil Defense in the Soviet Union" (1962).

Survivors include his wife of 58 years, Raymonde Rips Gouré of Potomac; two sons, Dr. Daniel Gouré of Arlington and Paul Alexander Gouré of Atlanta; and four grandsons.


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