» 2009 » July

Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: July 2009

Lessons of the Teaching Moment

July 31st, 2009 - 10:52 am

Perhaps we’ll never know exactly what happened the night that Sgt. James Crowley arrested Henry Louis Gates, Jr. at his Cambridge, Massachusetts home.  Certainly, the nation’s blacks and whites, including the President, have differing perceptions.  According to a recent WSJ/NBC poll, 30% of whites believe Gates was more at fault, compared to only 4% of African-Americans.            

During this incident much attention was given to the issue of racial profiling, focusing on the history of African-Americans’ negative experience with the police, which many think contributed to Gates’ response.  We haven’t heard as much about the other victims caught up in it.  I first got a whiff of this while watching MSNBC’s  “Morning Joe,” when co-host Mika Brzezinski, who had remarked that we did not know yet that Crowley had acted inappropriately, reported that  she was very disturbed by the number of hateful and even threatening e-mails she had  received.  

Next was the pitiful press conference  held by Lucia Whalen- the woman who phoned 911 to report what she thought was a break-in at someone’s home.  The press incorrectly assumed she had described the men trying to get into the house as African-Americans.  She was painted as a racist, hounded by the press, and forced to give a press conference to try to clear her name. Whalen told the assembled TV crews: “The criticism at first was painful for me and difficult; I was frankly afraid to say anything,” she said. “People called me racist and said I caused all the turmoil that followed, and some even said threatening things that made me fear for my safety. I knew the truth, but I didn’t speak up right away because I did not want to add to the controversy.”

On the day of the scheduled beer session at the White House, police Sergeant Leon Lashley, the African-American officer who was with Sgt. Crowley at the time of Gates’ arrest, wrote an emotional e-mail to CNN’s Don Lemon.(You can see Lemon’s report here.)  Lashley had been widely quoted as supporting Crowley’s version of what happened. Now, he told Lemon that he was being called by some black people “an Uncle Tom.” Moreover, he added, “as a result of speaking the truth, and coming to the defense of a friend and colleague who just happens to be white, that I have somehow betrayed my heritage.” He asked Crowley to convey to President Obama his belief that Gates’ charge of racial profiling had “caused grave and potentially irreparable harm to the struggle for racial harmony in this country….” He then asked Gates to reflect what he might do to heal “the rift caused by some of [his] actions.” 

Pages: 1 2 | Comments bullet bullet

It is one thing to voice criticism of Israeli policy in Israel. All one has to do is read Haaretz on a regular basis and one will see many examples of this. But when Jews in America feature what is essentially Hamas propaganda as art, and show it at a yearly Jewish film festival, it is an altogether different thing. As writer Jamie Glazov asked: “Why is a Jewish film festival giving a platform to a documentary and to an individual that serve the cause of anti-Jewish hate?”

The latest example recently took place at San Francisco’s annual Jewish Film Festival, which featured a screening of the new anti-Israeli documentary, “Rachel,” a documentary that seems to be a film version of the three year old play “My Name is Rachel Corrie,” written by Katharine Viner and Alan Rickman, and based on editing of the late activist’s diaries. The film was directed by Simone Bitton, and featured interviews with activists from The International Solidarity Movement that Corrie had joined. As with the play, The Forward correspondent wrote, “what really moved the story forward was the narration courtesy of Corrie’s idealistic and heartfelt journal entries and correspondence read by her fellow ISM activists.” To make it simple: the film reflects Corrie’s point of view, and was meant to depict her as a martyr to Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.

The festival director asked Corrie’s mother to attend the screening, and to speak afterwards. Because of protests, the festival director brought in a pro-Israel speaker, Dr. Michael Harris, who was given a brief five minutes before the screening. Press reports indicate he could not be heard, and was booed continually. This kind of ploy is often done—a face-saving maneuver that hardly speaks to the issue, and is not sufficient to answer any of the falsehoods and slanders in the film.

No wonder the festival board’s president, Shana Penn, resigned from her office in protest at the screening. In her comments after the film was over, Corrie’s mother Cindy, whose point of view is the same as that of the filmmaker, only revealed the festival’s real intent—-to provide ammunition for Hamas and the opponents of Israel. As the pro-Israeli guest speaker Michael Harris noted after watching it, “Now that I’ve seen the film, I can certainly say it was appalling for its near complete lack of context.” Spoken words, he added, were hardly sufficient to counter “the power of images on the screen.” Even a left-wing Jew who watched the film named Rachel Masters, who is a member of the Tikkun community in Berkeley and the New Israel Fund, commented: “I never expected such an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel atmosphere” from those in attendance.

The film has not as yet come to the East Coast, although most certainly it will. Since its theme is similar in content and purpose to the play that was based on Corrie’s diary entries, I am following this with an Open Letter I wrote during the summer of 2007, when the play came to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, along with a similar appearance by Corrie’s parents. The points I made in this letter are obviously as relevant to the film. Here is the letter, addressed to the producer of the production, Ed Herendeen, director of the annual Contemporary American Theater Festival:

Pages: 1 2 | Comments bullet bullet

Hey Arlo! The Times They Are A-Changin’

July 26th, 2009 - 12:31 pm

Leafing through today’s Sunday New York Times Magazine, we old folkies got the shock of our life. It appears in an interview with folksinger Arlo Guthrie, heir to his dad Woody’s legacy. As most everyone knows,  Woody was the proletarian bard of the 1930’s, the politically conscious left-winger who wrote a weekly column for The People’s Daily World, the West Coast edition of the Communist Party’s Daily Worker. It was called “Woody Sez,” and contained his pointed observations on life and politics.

His most well known song has by now become the unofficial American anthem. “This Land is Your Land” was played at both the Obama inauguration by Pete Seeger and Bruce Springstreen, as well as at America’s bicentennial celebration with Ronald Reagan present, at the Miss America Pageant, and numerous other patriotic events. It has transcended its origins as a counter to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” which Guthrie saw as mawkish and super patriotic. Now, both are often sung at the same event, something which no doubt would have shocked Arlo’s old man.

So now comes Arlo Guthrie who took the occasion to tell the Times, in answer to the question: “Where are you politically these days?”

I became a registered Republican about five or six years ago because to have a successful democracy you have to have at least two parties, and one of them was failing miserably. We had enough good Democrats. We needed a few more good Republicans. We needed a loyal opposition.

Five or six years ago. In case the dates don’t add up for you, that was during the administration of George W. Bush! And evidently, Arlo remains a Republican, because he sees the need for a “loyal opposition,” one that in the time of Obama mania he seems to think is more necessary than ever.

I suspected something was going on with Arlo. Two years ago, at a concert he gave at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia with his family, he uttered some pointed words about how he was fed up with trade unions, whose featherbedding forbade people like him to carry his own guitars onto stage. Breaking the union rules, he made a point of telling us that he was doing it anyway, “despite the union.” He also said: “I used to think I knew all the answers. Now I don’t even know the right questions.”  I guess he won’t be singing Woody’s “Talkin’ Union” anymore.

Anyway, Arlo, congratulations for your courage in telling the world about your political affiliation.  Should you prepare for some contentious moments during your next concert with Pete Seeger?

Update: July 29th:  Alro comments himself on his politics. He is obviously a traditional libertarian:

 News & Announcements

  2 Cups Of Coffee or My 2 Cents by adg on Tue Jul 21, 2009 11:50 am
I haven’t been home very much – yet. But that will change now that we’re getting into the heart of summertime. I’ve been getting quite a few responses to the posts here at arlo.net concerning various subjects. I’ve been thinking it would be a good idea to further the conversation. There’s controversy surrounding just about everything going on these days. And although I think discussing difficult subjects is good for the soul, I constantly have to remind myself that it ain’t all there is.

For example, about 5 or 6 years ago I left the Democratic Party and joined the Republican Party. I did so because I believed that my voice (and others like mine) needed to be heard where it would be most useful. Frankly, I still don’t believe there’s a whole lot of difference between the two. But, a healthy democracy needs a loyal and healthy opposition. Without it we run the risk of a march toward totalitarianism that would be difficult to halt.

At the time the Republicans were in power everywhere and they were seemingly taken over by ideas that ran counter to traditional Republican positions. They used to be for less big government intrusion into our lives. To me that’s usually always a good idea.

So what was up with interfering in matters of who can marry who? That’s a big invasion into personal freedoms and liberties. Those who try to control our personal lives are not only not for traditional Republican values, they’re not even really for American values. The way I view it, the state has no business in the house let alone the bedroom. The way I would resolve the current controversy would be to insure that secular marriage be open to anyone. And that religious marriage not be infringed upon by the state – to marry or not as their traditions permit. Both religious and secular marriages would be acknowledged as it is now. That, to me, should be the Republican position.

What’s up with the bail outs etc? I hate to say it but the arguments in Congress and on TV miss the more important points. Talking heads and political animals arguing about how much to spend and where are not talking about the basic truth – that when more dollars get printed, the less each dollar is worth. With trillions of dollars being manufactured to pay for bail outs and other tasks, each dollar buys less stuff. Not only have we given gazillionaires our tax dollars, we’ve made each dollar we still posses just about worthless. Saving and creating jobs may be an appropriate government intrusion in extraordinary times, but to do so in a way that makes our money worthless benefits no one in the long and endangers the nation. A return to real money – where the value is not up for discussion is the only protection a wage earner really has. That, to me, should be the Republican position.

What’s up with rebuilding infrastructure? The best way to insure we’ll have a 20th century transportation system in the 21st century is to rebuild the existing infrastructure. I thought by now we’d be flying around in personal (automobile-size) vehicles. There’s no reason we can’t be building vehicles that use magnetic fields for flight and navigation… okay maybe I’m getting ahead of things. The point is that it seems easier to get to the freaking moon than it does to get from coast to coast. Who’s thinking about that stuff? Constantly widening roads and bridges that devour the land with all the intersecting attributes of the same chains of crappola shops and fast (nutritionally worthless genetically modified and just plain bad) food restaurants can’t be the next best hope for our nation’s infrastructure. That, to me, should be a Republican concern.

What’s up with health care? In a world where even the good guys (National Public Radio, Farm Aid etc.) are sponsored and funded by organizations more powerful than any nation, it’s hard to imagine that the bottom line will not be what’s profitable, instead of what is beneficial. Can the two co-exist? Sure. Do they? No. The sad truth looks to be that it’s more profitable to have a nation filled with people who are in bad health, than a nation of healthy people. The current administration and the Congress has been talking about how to make health care accessible to everyone, because they all know that these multinational organizations will be more than happy to provide long term drugs and services to a nation that permits and even encourages bad health whether or not a new health care plan comes into being. It’s a win – win for government, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, doctors, lawyers and agriculture. Only you lose.

The march has already begun around the world to outlaw the use of natural medicines – vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other plants so that you will become a criminal and a law breaker when you try to care for your own family in your own way. You are no longer responsible for yourself or your family, as the state has in no uncertain terms made it clear that you belong to the nation, and the nation has every right to protect you and your family from yourselves. The child in the midwest with cancer forced to undergo chemo and radiation being only the latest example. Is this not a cause for some loyal opposition? Where the hell are these guys when you need them? It’s not a matter of being right or wrong. I’ve been both many times. It’s a matter of having a real contest of ideas between different opinions. Sadly the Republican voice has drifted off to Neverland while the larger issues of what health care actually is gets run over by arguments of how and who will pay for it.

I want government and big business out of my garden. I want insurance companies out of my way when I go visit my doc. I want to pilot my cool 21st century flying electro-magnetic car. I want real money. And I want to get out of the business of being in politics in either party. But, someone has to say something. And these are just a few of the things I think need to be said. There’s more… Wars, interventions, useless government agencies, education policies, privacy issues, an end to criminalization of personal choice things… all kinds of stuff.

Granted I’ve had two cups of coffee this morning, so I’ve gone on longer than I should have. And like i noted above, I don’t expect to be right on anything. I’m perfectly capable of listening to a good argument and changing my mind. I’m not a piece of stone. Please feel free to take issue with me on anything – I enjoy changing my mind. I just wouldn’t expect anything beyond a good friendly listen. There’s more to this world than getting involved but there’s times you just feel like you have to do something, say something or be somebody – however uncalled for. There is, in my view a larger bigger picture where we are all stuck on some little tiny world in a very big universe of unimaginable largeness. Like ants figuring out which way back to the ant hill, our journeys however big they may seem to us, are small in the big picture of things.

That’s no excuse not to get back to the hill… An ant’s gotta do what an ant’s gotta do. Keeping the big picture in mind, knowing there’s more to life than arguing about everything, but maintaining the basic nature of a free and democratic nation, taking care of each other in ways that encourage security, prosperity and tranquility – Freedom, Liberty, Justice – You know, all the good stuff, these are worth talking about. I’ll go on talking and thinking about these things wherever I think they need to be heard, even though I know full well, they won’t be inviting me to any clambakes or anything. Good thing I got my own clams… adg permalink | comments (82) For Iran & For The World

Obama and American “Progressive” Jews

July 23rd, 2009 - 6:20 pm


In an important article in The Forward, TNR’s Jamie Kirchick takes on the moral relativism of the self-proclaimed “progressive” Jewish groups, particularly J-Street. What is most dangerous, he writes, is that “the organization seems to have garnered the support of the most important constituency: the Obama administration.”  He suggests that J-Street will prove to provide the cover desired by the White House: that of a Jewish group that claims it is supportive of Israel, and that nevertheless approves of the administration’s one-sided pressure on the Israelis.

Both are fixated on the issue of settlement freeze, and seem to think that the settlements alone are what prevent progress towards peace.  As Kirchick writes:

And who better to counter the influence of the so-called “Israel Lobby” than other Jews? J Street and the constellation of far-left “pro-Israel” organizations put a kosher stamp of approval on Obama’s bizarre hectoring and moral equivalence. By casting Israel as the obstructionist, as the “drunk” driver whose car keys need to be taken away (as Ben-Ami put it in one of his more candid moments), Obama will have a free hand to compel the parties to the peace table. And once gathered there, another Oslo accord can be forced upon a recalcitrant Israel (whereupon the disastrous consequences of that agreement — the erection of terrorist infrastructure, a deterioration of the Palestinian economy, deepening mutual distrust — will be repeated).

Finally, Kirchick addresses himself to serious collapse of support for Israel among Americans. He cites polls that reveal that now only 44% of Americans who are registered voters believe that the United States should support Israel, which is down from the high number of 71% polled a year ago. “Surely,” he writes, “the change of tone from the White House has played a substantial role.” And those who falsely call themselves pro-Israel, like J-Street, “are aiding and abetting this dark transformation in public attitudes.”

At the same time that anti-Israel Jewish groups are emerging (while pretending to support Israel), there is increased activity among Christians on behalf of the Jewish state. This week, the Washington Convention Center was the site for the annual conference of Christians United For Israel, (CUFI), where over 4000 delegates registered and spent time lobbying Capitol Hill on behalf of pro-Israel measures.

Although the group was founded by Christian evangelicals, “most of the speakers, however,” The Jerusalem Post reported, “deal with Israel and Judaism. They include Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg of San Antonio, Texas; Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of The Israel Project; Congressman Eric Cantor; Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Asaf Shariv, consul-general of Israel in New York; and talk radio host Dennis Prager. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will also address the conference via satellite.”

How ironic that as some American Jews join Israel’s enemies in calling on the US Government to pressure Israel to change its policies (at a time when the Saudis refuse to budge and Iran is going nuclear), American Christians are carrying out lobbying for Israel on their own.

An important article by Laura Rozen on the website of Foreign Policy provides the background for what happened in Riyadh when President Barack Obama met Saudi King Abdullah last month.

Rozen’s sources tell her that President Obama thought he could convince Abdullah that if Israel made necessary concessions to the Palestinians, that the  Saudis would then “show reciprocal gestures to Israel.”  Obama believed that he would be successful, since he would be able to use his never failing “personal power of persuasion” to convince Abdullah to make such a move. Obama, evidently, was upset because as one official told Rozen,  “he got nothing out of it.” Moreover, evidently Abdullah gave Obama a lecture, “a tirade” about Israel, she was told. Apparently, the Obama team was not sufficiently prepared, something the Saudis saw immediately, and took advantage of.

Because of this experience, Obama shifted advisor Dennis Ross from the State Department to the White House. Ross, a diplomat with more experience than almost anyone else in recent Middle East negotiations, is co-author with David Makovsky of the new book, Myths, Illusions and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East. The kind of advice he could give, had he been on the White House team before the meeting, might well have prevented what Obama obviously saw as both a failure and an embarrassment. Had Obama known in advance that the Saudis would offer him nothing, Makovsky told Rozen, “the president would probably have not visited.”

All of this might have been avoided, however, had the Obama administration paused to consult  advisors from the outgoing Bush administration, who had experience in meeting with the Saudis and King Abdullah himself. The other day, I had a conversation with a high official in the Bush administration. “There was a standard joke that Bush and Cheney would ask anyone who came back from meeting with Abdullah,” he told me. “Which lecture did he give you, the one about the Shia or the one about the Israelis?”  It seems that whenever anyone met with the king, he would erupt in a tirade about his two favorite villains. The attempt to set up any meaningful terms always came to nothing.

“We were waiting for Obama’s people to ask us about our experience with Abdullah and the Saudi’s” he told me, “but the request never came.”  A combination of the Obama administration’s arrogance and their belief that nothing the Bush administration did about the Middle East was correct, resulted in an embarrassment for Obama that might well have been avoided.

On the Legacy of Stalinism in America

July 18th, 2009 - 1:27 pm

I have been teaching an NEH Summer Seminar for high school history teachers at Princeton University. I call the topic of the course “The Legacy of Stalinism in America.” It is a title I start by explaining, since even for those who know American history, it certainly sounds rather far-fetched. As I explain to the students, I really am talking about the myriad ways in which a mentality that derived from the era of  Stalinism in the Soviet Union still is alive in our country.

It shows itself particularly in debates that have taken place the last few weeks over the issue of Soviet espionage during the 1930’s and 40’s, and especially the question of whether the late journalist I.F. Stone had been for two short years an actual Soviet agent. The vitriol from those who are furious over this particular charge is most seen in the article by Amy Knight that appeared in the June 26th issue of the Times Literary Supplement (London). Therein, Knight wrote in what she claims was a review of the new book Spies by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev, that “the main purpose of Spies, it seems is not to enlighten readers, but to silence those who still voice doubts about the guilt of people like Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, I.F. Stone and others.” 

In other words, anyone who writes about documents that prove actual Soviet espionage are simply McCarthyites, a charge she indeed makes against Klehr and Haynes.  So to counter Knight and the other folk who refuse to acknowledge the truth, I wish to recommend the new special issue of The Journal of Cold War Studies, now available for purchase. Information about it can be found here.

And for material you can read right now,  I would like to post the following forum about the issues involved, available here as a PDF. What you will read is a discussion posted from the H-Diplo website roundtable, the forum of diplomatic historians. This is one of the valuable website known to scholars, and this and other similar sites, part of the H-Net consortium, provide an immense service.

So, enjoy this somewhat heavy weekend reading. Warning: Definitely not to be taken to the beach!

The outcome of President Barack Obama’s meeting with American Jewish leaders has not produced any satisfactory conclusion to the growing sentiment that his administration is being tough on the Israelis while hardly demanding on the Palestinians. As the Jerusalem Post editorialized,  the issue of a settlement freeze is a red herring, and that “the non-zero-sum nature of Palestinian intentions is far from assured; and that it is the Palestinians who are inhibiting progress on a two-state solution.” And if American Jews do not offer counter pressure, and simply affirm his good intentions, it will serve only to “go on deepening the erroneous perception that settlements are the obstacle to peace.”

Fortunately, the signs are evident that Obama’s position is indeed eroding support where he once had it. Commenting on the meeting, Marty Peretz wrote to complain about Obama’s hectoring of Israeli leaders, which goes on while the various Arab leaders give him nothing. And as even Fatah including Mahmoud Abbas and Saeb Erekat have made clear the past few days, they demand Israeli concessions determined by them before any negotiations, including acknowledging the “right of return.” In this context, for Obama to tell them that they must engage in “serious self reflection” is more than insulting. And Peretz even recommends that the President and his readers look at Bill Kristol’s impassioned blog on the website of The Weekly Standard. 

The only thing I would add to these observations is the announcement that the White House had invited to the session Jewish groups that previously were marginalized, and that while purporting to be pro-Israel, have like Obama put their emphasis on attacking Israeli policy rather than try to get fellow Americans to demand that pressure be put on the Palestinians and the so-called moderate Arab states, including those which like Israel, are privately worried about Iran’s growing nuclear threat. 

These groups include Americans for Peace Now and J-Street, both of which hardly reflect major Jewish sentiment, both in Israel and the United States, Having them at the White House, while refusing to invite hard-line groups like the Zionist Organization of America- which is no more representative of mainstream Jewish sentiment than they are- makes it more clear that the President wanted a consensus behind his faulty policy, rather than risk any challenges to it. Sadly, except for a few perfunctory comments made by Abe Foxman, Obama evidently received only plaudits.

 Certainly, the issues of the “settlements” are a diversion, allowing all who emphasize them to avoid facing the real issue. To recalcitrant Palestinian leaders, all Israel is a settlement. As they have made clear over and over, they are not ready to live in peace with the existing Jewish state. Until they do, the search for renewing the Oslo process is doomed before it even starts.

Second Thoughts on Palin

July 13th, 2009 - 4:22 pm

Since the 2008 campaign, I have been among those wary of Sarah Palin and what she portends for national leadership. I have agreed with the critique offered by David Frum and others. Palin’s appeal, although overwhelmingly positive to the Republican base, begins to diminish when one looks at the response of the political center. Since fewer Americans than ever now declare themselves Republican,  that means for a Republican to ever win the Presidency, he or she must have the support of a good percentage of that shifting center. Our country may still be a center-right nation, but it is definitely not a center that will be defined by a narrowly based Southern Republican Party, that is socially conservative and whose appeal to the middle class remains minimal.

With that in mind, I turn now to Peggy Noonan’s recent biting and vitriolic editorial attack on Palin, written after Palin’s announcement that she is leaving her post as Alaska’s Governor. According to Noonan, Palin has never learned how other people see things; she was out of her depth in a shallow pool,” she “didn’t read anything,” she could see no truth in anything others had to say. Moreover, she pretended to be working-class when in fact she earned a salary on the high end of American wage-earners; she was clearly middle-class in upbringing; she graduated from a good college, etc. Clearly, Noonan does not like much about Sarah Palin.

Moreover, rather than being anti-elite, Noonan sees Palin as a creature of the Republican elite, from party operatives to journalists like Bill Kristol who championed her. Noonan sees Palin as one who can and will never learn anything, who will be able to name the president of Pakistan but who will never “know how to think about Pakistan.” She is a gift to both the mainstream media and the Democrats, who will keep her popular in order to knock her down and assure a left-liberal future.  So Noonan says we as a nation need a serious and responsible Republican party, not a frivolous one whose appeal is based on the kind of resentment Palin followers respond to.

We need, in other words, someone with gravitas and knowledge—-like—-our current Vice-President, Joe Biden. Remember the media during the debates: Palin was an unprepared know-nothing; what if she actually ascended to the Presidency? In contrast, Joe Biden was depicted as a wise, experienced and proven leader, a man ready to step in and take over our nation’s leadership, leaving us in safe hands.

A leading Washington journalist and author, Carl M. Cannon, provides the devastating facts about Biden on the website of AOL’s “Politics Daily.” He states the truth most journalists want to avoid admitting: the mainstream media treated Palin inexcusably during the campaign and is still doing it in the present, and boldly took sides “straight and simple” against Palin- no holds barred. And they failed to hold Biden to the same standard by which they judged Palin.

Pages: 1 2 | Comments bullet bullet

Jeffrey Goldberg’s Must Read Interview

July 9th, 2009 - 7:12 am

Jeffrey  Goldberg,   perhaps the most astute writer and commentator  on the Middle East, has a must read interview today with Michael Totten.   Goldberg comes to conclusions based  on years of experience living in Israel, and going to speak with various Arab leaders, including those of Hamas.

His thoughts give no grounds for optimism, but he tells what he thinks is true, regardless of the consequences. Anyone concerned with Israel’s future should pass this around.

Once again,  the left/liberal intelligentsia is showing its never-ending love affair with the late journalist I.F. Stone.  The event this time- it seems Stone is brought out of the woodworks every few years as a mythological hero from the past they can celebrate- is publication of D.D. Guttenplan’s hagiography, American Radical: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone

The Los Angeles Times proved to be the most sycophantic. First, it ran an op-ed by Guttenplan himself  heralding Stone as one of America’s greatest journalists and radicals.  Guttenplan charges that the news that Stone was a Soviet agent between 1936 and 1939 was based “on the flimsiest of evidence” and that he has been a “hate figure to the far right.”  To those who understand the past, Guttenplan writes, “he remains a hero.”

If Gutteplan’s op-ed was not enough, yesterday’s edition featured a completely uncritical and rave review of his book by a man whose remains a starry-eyed unreconstructed Old Leftist- who believes every cause he took part in has been proved to have been on the right side of history. It was written by novelist, screenwriter and journalist Clancy Sigal, once a friend of mine who stopped speaking to me after publication of the book my wife and I wrote, Red Star Over Hollywood.

Resembling anything but a real review, Sigal’s piece is a continuation, in effect, of Guttenplan’s op-ed—-a hagiographical tribute meant to complement Guttenplan’s own hagiography. (To be fair to the paper, Sigal’s review might have been commissioned before Guttenplan submitted his op-ed. But the right hand should know what the left hand is doing. In any case, having run the op-ed, it should have cancelled the Sigal review and substituted another.)

Sigal admits from the start that Stone always was a hero to him. So how can anyone who believes this do anything but praise  Guttenplan to the skies, and be immune to seeing anything potentially problematic with his book? Of course, Sigal makes his own serious errors. He attributes FBI investigations of Stone to Hoover’s anger at Stone’s criticism of him. Now J. Edgar Hoover was no saint; more likely he was just the opposite. But Sigal ignores the fact that the Venona files identification of Stone as “Blin”- who worked for the KGB as an agent, was reason enough to carry out an investigation and start a file on him.

Sigal, of course, thinks that the charges against Stone were nothing but a “fairy tale,” and oblivious evidently to the material that appears in the Haynes-Klehr-Vassiliev book Spies:The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, he writes that what he calls a “smear” comes only from “a purported KGB agent’s report to Moscow of his wartime lunch, or lunches, with Stone.” Here Sigal confuses the words made by Oleg Kalugin to different people about his lunches with Stone decades later with what appeared in Venona and dealt with the 1930′s. Perhaps Sigal should do some reading before writing about all this.

Sigal goes so far as to praise Stone’s tendentious 1953 book The Hidden History of the Korean War, which even a sympathizer of Stone like the historian Norman Kaner wrote in 1971, in an little known essay on “I.F. Stone and the Korean War,” that “Stone went so far as to suggest that President Rhee in collusion with Chiang Kai-shek had deliberately provoked the North Koreans into attacking. He furthermore implied that certain high military officials, including General MacArthur, were aware of these machinations.” Kaner thought Stone had some valid criticisms to make about US policy, but he acknowledges that Stone’s re-examination of the war’s origins “detracted from Stone’s credibility as a commentator on the Korean War.”

What Sigal thinks makes the book “outstanding” is what he calls “a colorful, rambunctious left-of center American cavalcade, from the Great Depression to the Vietnam War.” Indeed, this is precisely what makes the book weak.

An antidote, fortunately, may be found in David Oshinsky’s wise and nuanced discussion in Slate, the online magazine. Oshinksy, a serious centrist liberal and a first-rate historian, who  justly won the Pulitzer Prize two years ago for his book on the polio scare in America, knows how to critically evaluate a book and deal with both its strengths and weaknesses.  He acknowledges, for example, that he sees good reason to view Stone “as a superb investigative reporter and a writer of lasting impact.”

But he manages to see right away that Guttenplan is trying to “smooth every blemish,” and by treating Stone as a prescient hero who was correct about all he considered, takes away Stone’s humanity and whitewashes the inexcusable.  Oshinkshy notes correctly that Stone was “a dogged apologist for the Soviet Union during much of his career,” and that it is certainly possible that this outlook led him to serve the KGB as an agent, serving as a “talent-spotter and confidential source.” (He gets what Klehr and Haynes say correctly; they do not say he was a spy.)

Oshinksy continues to nail Guttenplan for seeing “no contradiction between Stone’s soft spot for Stalinism, on the one hand, and his journalistic integrity, on the other.”  Stone, he notes, never wrote about the Gulag, the Soviet suppression of free speech, and regularly ignored—till it had ended way after Stalin’s death-the “mass murder in the Soviet Union. And he observes that while Stone’s criticism of the Vietnam War certainly was warranted, Stone also was at the same time enchanted “with a new crop of left-wing dictators like Fidel Castro.”

Oshinksy’s main point is that rather than being an independent radical, “radicalism and independent thinking were mutually exclusive elements for Stone, with the former dominating the latter.” Stone essentially viewed the world through the lens of the Soviet Union- what served its needs served the world. During the war, Stone favored prosecution of Americans opposed to World War II, and like the Communist Party, USA, he remained silent about the internment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast.  Stone, Oshinksy understands, had many contradictions that deserve a critical examination, and not a celebration.

Pages: 1 2 | Comments bullet bullet