Cold War history for left-wing dummies

I think that just about everything President Obama “knows” about American history comes from left-wing academics like American University professor Peter Kuznick, the co-author with Oliver Stone of The Untold History of the United States. The book is a companion to Stone’s Showtime series.

At American University, incidentally, Kuznick teaches the “path-breaking course Oliver Stone’s America.” On Showtime, Stone presents Peter Kuznick’s America. They have got a circle of love kind of thing going between them.

Last week Kuznick and Stone touted the book and the series on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, where the worshipful hosts failed to notice that their guests are whackjobs. Maybe they were impressed by Mikhail Gorbachev’s book blurb: “There is much here to reflect upon. Such a perspective is indispensable.” In any event, cultural artifacts such as the book and the series have done a lot of damage. It is a mistake to ignore them.

The title of the book notwithstanding, historian Ronald Radosh notes that it serves up “A story told before.” Radosh writes: “An examination of the first four episodes and the accompanying 750-page book—The Untold History of the United States (Gallery Books), obviously written by Kuznick, although Stone’s name appears first—reveals them to offer not an untold story, but the all-too-familiar Communist and Soviet line on America’s past as it developed in the early years of the Cold War.” Twice-Told Tales would be more like it:

[H]alf a century ago, when I was in high school, the late Carl Marzani told this very story in We Can Be Friends. A secret member of the American Communist party who had worked during the war in the OSS, Marzani later was proved by evidence from Soviet archives and Venona decryptions to have been a KGB (then the NKVD) operative. His book was published privately by his own Soviet-subsidized firm. It was the first example of what came to be called “Cold War revisionism.” Quoting the memoirs of figures from the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, as well as newspaper stories and magazine articles, Marzani aimed to show that the Cold War had been started by the Truman administration with the intent of destroying a peaceful alliance with the Soviet Union and gaining American hegemony throughout the world.

As it happens, Marzani could have provided Stone’s interpretation of how the Cold War began. Over and over, Stone uses the same quotations, the same arrangements of material, and the same arguments as Marzani. This is not to accuse Stone of plagiarism, only to point out that the case he now offers as new was argued in exactly the same terms by an American Communist and Soviet agent in 1952.

Radosh focuses his review on the series’ treatment of Henry Wallace:

The main hero of the first four episodes is FDR’s secretary of agriculture, then vice president, Henry A. Wallace, whom the book describes as a New Deal “visionary” on domestic policy and a farsighted, anti-imperialist representative of the “common man” on foreign policy.

Hosannas to Wallace are nothing new. In the past decade, scores of books have celebrated his life and record, all in the same mold. They include leftist journalist Richard J. Walton’s Henry Wallace, Harry Truman and the Cold War, Communist historian Norman D. Markowitz’s The Rise and Fall of the People’s Century: Henry A. Wallace and American Liberalism, 1941-1948, a biography by Edward and Frederick Schapsmeier, Prophet in Politics: Henry A. Wallace and the War Years, Allen Yarnell’s Democrats and Progressives: The 1948 Presidential Election as a Test of Postwar Liberalism, and John C. Culver and John Hyde’s American Dreamer: A Life of Henry A. Wallace.

All these books have something in common: They are hagiographic treatments of Wallace as the man who could have brought the United States into permanent peace with the USSR, avoided the Cold War, and created a social democracy at home. For Stone, Wallace was the “nerve center of the New Deal.” At the Department of Agriculture, he used his power to develop new methods of plant fertilization. He opposed racist theories and stood up to party bosses. He was also a great athlete, a reader, and a “spiritual” man. In reality, Wallace was a disciple of the Russian émigré theosophist Nicholas Roerich, whom he addressed as “Dear Guru” in letters published after Roerich’s death, revealing him to be a cheap hustler and a phony who conned a gullible Wallace.

Viewers do not learn that, at the Agriculture Department, Wallace supported what historians call “the purge of the liberals.” Nor was he a radical as Roosevelt’s vice president. Stone omits facts that interfere with his depiction of Wallace as the embodiment of the left wing of the New Deal.

If Wallace was no radical on domestic issues, he did prove to be Stalin’s dupe in foreign affairs. The liberalism he came to espouse was that of the Popular Front, the call for an alliance between Democrats and American Communists and Socialists as the vehicle through which to advance the agenda of FDR’s expanding welfare state. As early as 1943, Wallace warned of “fascist interests motivated largely by anti-Russian bias” who were trying to “get control of our government.” These views are what endear Wallace to Stone.

So enamored of the Soviet Union was the vice president that in May 1944 he traveled to 22 cities in Soviet Siberia. There, the NKVD played Wallace for a fool. He described the slave labor colony of Magadan, which the Soviet secret police had transformed into a Potemkin village staffed by actors and NKVD personnel, as a “combination TVA and Hudson’s Bay Company.”

According to his own testimony, if he had become president, Wallace would have made Harry Dexter White his secretary of the Treasury and given a position in government to Laurence Duggan. Both men were Soviet agents. As a KGB cable found in the Venona archives shows, the Soviets hoped that Duggan would aid them “by using his friendship” with Wallace for “extracting .  .  . interesting information.”

Instead, of course, Roosevelt replaced Wallace with Harry Truman on the Democratic ticket in 1944, and named Wallace secretary of commerce. FDR died on April 12, 1945, and in September 1946, President Truman fired Wallace. The provocation was a speech Wallace gave at a Madison Square Garden rally in which, contrary to administration policy, he called for recognizing Soviet spheres of influence—in effect, occupation zones—as just and necessary. Stone endorses Wallace’s support for turning the nations of Eastern Europe into Soviet pawns, arguing that what Wallace favored was no different from the Russians’ recognition of American influence in the Western hemisphere. Failing to distinguish between democracies and totalitarian regimes, Stone consistently portrays the Soviet Union as the victim of American imperialism, while regarding the monster Stalin as a peaceful leader who sought only to gain valid security guarantees on his borders.

Wallace not only opposed Truman’s decision to block Stalin’s expansionist ambitions, he also spoke of Stalin as a man of peace and Truman as a dangerous militarist. This is the view Stone endorses. But as Notre Dame historian Wilson D. Miscamble demonstrated in From Roosevelt to Truman: Potsdam, Hiroshima and the Cold War, Truman opted for a changed policy only after Stalin showed that his grip on Eastern Europe was nonnegotiable. Historian Fraser Harbutt of Emory University concurred, writing: “Truman genuinely tried to follow Roosevelt’s seemingly conciliatory line toward a Soviet Union whose policies, in the end, left him little alternative but a turn to resistance and thus to the Cold War.”

Two early Cold War episodes illustrate the mendacious method of Stone’s film…

Henry Wallace! I have long thought that Roosevelt’s replacement of Wallace with Truman on the Democratic ticket in 1944 provided irrefutable proof that God looks out for the United States. Wallace was a fool who would have altered the course of history very much for the worse if he had succeeded Roosevelt to the presidency in 1945 instead of Truman. Among other evidence of Wallace’s foolishness, one thinks of Wallace’s 1948 campaign that led him into an alliance with the Communists who, as Radosh notes, were the backbone of the Progressive Party.

In his review of the biography of Wallace by John Culver and John Hyde, cited by Radosh above, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., quoted Wallace’s comment on Roosevelt’s replacement of Wallace on the ticket in 1944:

Wallace was, not unreasonably, bitter about the dissembling manner in which Roosevelt had handled his dismissal. He felt betrayed and, in a remarkable lapse for a man not given to earthy language, wrote in his diary about one of FDR’s explanations, “I did not even think the word ‘bullshit.’”

And so it might be said of Kuznick and Stone’s handiwork, but it probably deserves worse.

Cliff May writes about Stone’s series and Radosh’s review in “Oliver Stone’s party line” and Michael Moynihan takes a critical look at the book from a liberal or libertarian perspective in “Oliver Stone’s junk history of the United States debunked.” Moynihan documents the seriousness with which the book has been treated by the mainstream media. Kuznick and Stone are exploiting the ignorance of many who should know better and many who don’t care to.

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