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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: January 2013

Every so often, a cherished myth of the Left’s historical narrative comes apart. That is why keeping the flame alive by repeating the myths gives sustenance to the Left’s chosen causes. I learned this the hard way when I wrote The Rosenberg File with Joyce Milton in 1983.

To the Left, it was imperative that the Rosenbergs — who were found guilty of “conspiracy to commit espionage” and sentenced to death by Judge Irving Kaufman after the trial — be innocent. If they were not, it would mean that they were not martyrs for peace, arrested and tried for their “progressive” and anti-war politics and their opposition to the impending fascism and anti-Soviet hysteria of the Truman administration. Rather, if actually guilty, it would mean that the United States had a right to protect itself against those who were working on behalf of the Soviet Union by seeking to ferret out atomic secrets on behalf of Joseph Stalin’s tyrannical regime.

To acknowledge the truth, in other words, meant that those on the Left would have to question their most cherished beliefs.

When the book came out, it was only thirty years after the Rosenbergs were executed at Sing Sing prison, and many of those who fought on their behalf were still around and active. Thus they engaged in a massive campaign to discredit our findings and to smear us as tools of the FBI and the Reagan administration, which they charged was trying once again to undermine the cause of peace and to seek war with the still existing Soviet Union.

That is the charge that the Nation magazine’s editor-in-chief, Victor Navasky, made in the magazine’s editorial. As for the American Communist Party, its chief, Gus Hall, attacked us for smearing the Rosenbergs, whom he tellingly referred to as “the sacred couple.”

Now, a brave left-wing historian named Timothy Messer-Kruse — despite his own self-proclaimed “social-democratic” politics — has walked into the minefield.

In the latest issue of National Review, writer John J. Miller has penned an article — “What Happened at Haymarket?” — that takes up one of the Left’s most longstanding historical myths: the one surrounding events that took place the night of May 4, 1886, at Haymarket Square in Chicago. Formerly, Messer-Kruse would tell his students:

A gathering of anarchists near Haymarket Square turned into a fatal bombing and riot. Although police never arrested the bomb-thrower, they went on to tyrannize radical groups throughout the city, in a crackdown that is often called America’s first Red Scare. Eight men were convicted of aiding and abetting murder. Four died at the end of a hangman’s noose. Today, history books portray them as the innocent victims of a sham trial: They are labor-movement martyrs who sought modest reforms in the face of ruthless robber-baron capitalism.

To the present day, those events have been a staple in the portrayal of the United States as a nation unjust to those it oppressed, which included workingmen who sought only to gain protection for their rights against rapacious capitalists.

Miller explains that a group of peaceful protesters had gathered to demand an eight-hour workday. Many were anarchists, but Messer-Kruse formerly believed:

They were mainly a peace-loving bunch who simply wanted to improve their wretched conditions. As police arrived to bust up the crowd, someone tossed a bomb. No one knows who did it — perhaps an anarchist agitator.

Howard Zinn wrote in his best-selling People’s History of the United States that it likely was “an agent of the police, an agent provocateur.” Police fired their guns, and seven of their group and some protesters lay dead. Authorities blamed the deaths on the radicals, who were rounded up and convicted without evidence; four were hung, one committed suicide, and three were later pardoned. The Left’s narrative is explained by Miller:

Ever since, Haymarket has occupied a central place in progressive lore. The international labor movement honors May Day as its holiday in part because of its proximity on the calendar to Haymarket’s anniversary. In the United States, Haymarket ranks alongside the cases of Sacco and Vanzetti, Alger Hiss, and the Rosenbergs as a fable of anti-radical persecution. Well into the 20th Century, its notoriety provoked violent rage. In 1969, Bill Ayers and an accomplice from the Weather Underground engaged in their own Haymarket terror, bombing a statue that honored the fallen policemen of 1886. “This is too good — it’s us against the pigs, a medieval contest of good and evil,” wrote Ayers of the affair in his memoir, Fugitive Days.

Historian Messer-Kruse believed the standard left-progressive mythology. But a student’s question about what happened during the trial led him to look anew at the events from that sad day in 1886. The result was his brave exploration of what had been until now the standard take on Haymarket. Just as most of the college textbooks portrayed the Rosenbergs as innocent, the Left’s narrative was repeated verbatim, and as Miller writes, “entered mainstream education.” The left-wing labor historian James Green explained in a 2006 account:

The Haymarket case challenged, like no other episode in the nineteenth century, the image of the United States as a classless society with liberty and justice for all.

Imagine Messer-Kruse’s shock when his own careful scholarly examination of Haymarket revealed that most of what the Left taught about the event was based on both shoddy scholarship and ideological wish-fulfillment.

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No sooner did President Barack Obama finish his second inaugural address than the liberal pundits proclaimed it to be a speech of unity on behalf of all Americans. Yes, it is a platitude, but all of us do pause to reaffirm the greatness of our republic, and to celebrate the election of a chief executive with whom many of us may disagree but who nevertheless represents our country as a whole and is entrusted by us to make the tough decisions that all our countrymen will have to live with. The speech, however, left much to be desired, and my first take is that it will not be one that many will remember in future years.

The president took generalities with which we all agree and used them to imply that to carry on in the American tradition, “progressive” measures favored by his base need to be implemented.

Take the enthusiastic response by liberal columnist Matthew Yglesias writing at Slate. According to Yglesias, the president’s speech was “not even slightly” anti-capitalist, but instead was a defense of economic liberalism tempered by a “robust welfare state and select government interventions in the economy.” Obama, he thinks, came off not as any kind of socialist or statist, but as a pragmatist in the American tradition who believes that fidelity to the Constitution demands a “pragmatic response to changing circumstances.”

Thus the president said in his speech that a “free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.” Echoing the progressivism of the age of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, he emphasized that a “great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”

Few would disagree, including most conservatives. But the devil, of course, lies in the details.

The problem is well spelled out by William Voegeli, who in the current issue of National Review warns Americans about the coming Swedenization of America. He notes the difference between European social democracies and the United States and our welfare state:

Our deeply rooted, don’t-tread-on-me Jeffersonianism means that we cannot be persuaded to buy even a relatively modest welfare state unless a significant portion of the purchase is financed with debt. In this we are unlike the Europeans, who want cradle-to-grave welfare states with enough to pay cash for them.

[The welfare state] creates strong incentives for individuals to have fewer children of their own and rely instead on aggregated financial support from everyone’s children, thereby putting social-security systems under intolerable strain.

The social-democratic project, already sinking in Europe and Scandinavia, cannot work here. Yet, by implication — arguing that it is only a pragmatic adjustment for today to our Constitutional obligations — the president is subtly suggesting that our nation continue down a forlorn path.

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The old totalitarian nations understood the importance of history. They believed, as Orwell wrote in 1984, that those who controlled the narrative of the past would be better able to rule the present and the future. That is why the Soviets continually rewrote the “Great Soviet Encyclopedia,” airbrushing out of the record former Bolshevik leaders who had been purged, and rewriting accounts of their own revolution to weed out positive references to the likes of Leon Trotsky, Nikolai Bukharin, and other old Bolsheviks.  That is why the Chinese Communists have to perpetuate the myth of Mao, whose leadership role has to remain firm, less their own legitimacy to rule China be questioned by their own people.

In their own way, Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick are attempting the same kind of rewrite for their own country. Clifford May writes that “these days, documentaries, too, often are weapons of mass indoctrination. In addition to airing Homeland, Showtime has been broadcasting Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States, a series that re-litigates the Cold War, finding Truman more to blame than Stalin, telling audiences that Americans not only aren’t ‘the good guys,’  but that we are ‘the wrong side.’”

“This debate is of far more than academic interest,” May adds:

It is hugely consequential at a time when Americans are trying to decide whether we should be robustly defending America and other free nations from those who proclaim themselves our enemies, or whether we should be attempting to address the ‘legitimate grievances’ of those we have supposedly wronged.

Hence, if you believe that the Cold War was caused by America’s imperial outreach, and that Stalin and his henchman took a tough line because of U.S. policy, you are likely to believe today that those who say our nation has very real enemies who have to be recognized are arguing on behalf of a myth, and that what the United States should do is unilaterally disarm, cut our military budget drastically, and reach out to our Muslim enemies, who would become friends if we only showed them respect and deference and, of course, put great pressure on Israel, whose provocative policies oppress the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors.

PJM readers know that I have been on a campaign to expose and challenge the so-called history offered to our countrymen by Stone and Kuznick. Aside from my many articles on this site, I penned an op-ed that appeared last week in The Wall Street Journal, which I wrote because I knew Stone and Kuznick would not ignore an article that appeared in a major newspaper, unlike those that have appeared here as well as the series in David Horowitz’s Frontpagemag.com. I am glad to report that now Conrad Black has joined in presenting his own major critique of the series, and now his readers will understand how important it is to challenge their account. In “The Real Henry Wallace,”  Black successfully demolishes the account of the principal hero of the TV series.

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There is a real, not-so-covert war going on in our nation’s capital: not the Obama administration’s attempt to select a secretary of Defense with a questionable record, but Chuck Hagel’s supporters’ attempt to end all opposition to him by raising the cry of “McCarthyism.”

That old standard bugaboo of the Left is being used again, this time as a mechanism to try to discredit all who have brought forth valid reasons as to why Senator Hagel should not get appointed to the position despite his nomination. For those who have not been paying attention, here is a brief summary of the various reasons presented by those who oppose Hagel’s nomination:

  1. He has publicly spoken about how the “Jewish lobby” intimidates members of Congress. Of course, there is a pro-Israel lobby that has the support of most of the public in our country — and it is made up not only of Jews, but of many evangelical Christians and other Americans.
  2. He not only opposed the Iraq war after first supporting it, but later voted against declaring Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist groups. He also argued on behalf of negotiations with them.
  3. He seems to favor relying entirely on diplomatic measures to pressure Iran to stop its work on a nuclear bomb, despite the obvious failure to date of reliance on diplomacy alone.
  4. Hagel opposed the successful surge in Iraq bravely instituted by George W. Bush.
  5. Hagel’s nomination serves as a message to the mullahs that the Obama administration will not be tough against Iran if it proceeds with its development of a nuclear weapon. Iran has already noted its pleasure with the nomination.
  6. Hagel’s position — as Democrats who supported the president such as Alan Dershowitz and Ed Koch have stated — undermines the position the administration purportedly supports, thus putting into a critical office a man opposed to the president’s announced policies.
  7. Hagel voted as Senator against any sanctions to be applied against Iran

In 2008, the prescient Tom Gross made the following points about Hagel, when Obama was considering him for a post. What Gross wrote four years ago could be written now, without any changes:

However, of particular concern to supporters of Israel is that Obama, the Democratic Party candidate, is being accompanied by Republican Senator Chuck Hagel on his trip to Israel, one of only two senators Obama is traveling with (the other being Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island).
One pro-Israel observer said: “If Obama is getting advice from Hagel about Israel, then the American Jewish community has a lot to worry about. Of all the senators with whom Obama could have traveled with, Hagel’s record on Israel is one of the worst.
“The message is heard loud and clear. While Obama has chosen to visit Israel with one of the most anti-Israel senators, by contrast, on John McCain’s most recent trip to Israel, he chose to visit with Joseph Lieberman.”
The Democratic Party has itself previously (in March 2007) released to the press examples of Sen. Hagel’s abysmal record on Israel:
* In August 2006, Hagel was one of only 12 senators who refused to call Hizbullah a terrorist organization. * In December 2005, Hagel was one of only 27 who refused to sign a letter asking the Palestinian Authority to ban terrorist groups. * In June 2004, Hagel refused to sign a letter urging President Bush to highlight Iran’s nuclear program at the G-8 summit. * In November 2001, Hagel was one of only 11 senators who refused to sign a letter urging President Bush not to meet with the late Yasser Arafat until he ended violence against Israel. * In October 2000, Hagel was one of only four senators who refused to sign a Senate letter in support of Israel.
* And here’s what the anti-Israel group, CAIR, wrote in praise of Hagel: “Potential presidential candidates for 2008, like Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Joe Biden and Newt Gingrich, were falling all over themselves to express their support for Israel. The only exception to that rule was Senator Chuck Hagel” (Council on American-Islamic Relations, 8/28/06).
I mentioned in a previous dispatch:
When asked by Newsweek “Would you have Republicans in your cabinet?” Obama replied, “No decisions, but Dick Lugar embodies the best tradition in foreign policy. Chuck Hagel is a smart guy who has shows some courage, even though we disagree on domestic policy.”

 

Rather than deal with the vital questions raised by Hagel’s opponents — composed of both Republicans and Democrats — Hagel’s supporters have tried two tactics to undermine the ability of those who question the president’s choice to make their case known.

The first, as I said at the start, is to cry McCarthyism. That term was used by Eric Alterman in his weekly column in The Nation. Alterman praises Hagel as “well qualified,” as having learned the anti-war lessons of Vietnam as a volunteer GI in that conflict, and as a man who is “enormously respected by what remains of the old bipartisan foreign policy establishment.”

Of course, Alterman does not notice the irony of someone with his leftist views citing that establishment favorably. Nor does he stop and pause to note Hagel’s social conservative views on issues like abortion, gay rights, guns, and the like — the kind of weathervane issues that the Left would usually bring forth to try to kill the appointment of an individual with such positions.

Hagel, evidently, is being given a blank check simply because on foreign policy issues he takes positions akin to those of their comrades on the way-out, anti-interventionist left.

Hagel is praised for “personal courage” in deciding to turn against the Iraq war. Alterman then argues:

Hagel has been especially vocal in his support for negotiations rather than saber-rattling when it comes to Iran. No less conspicuously, he has refused to march in lockstep with the demands that Israel’s right-wing government has consistently made of Washington to support its program of illegal settlement expansion on the West Bank, and he has criticized its failure to offer the Palestinians a compelling reason to return to the bargaining table.

In other words, the very reasons for which the Left likes his positions should give us all alarm that he might be secretary of Defense. Note also the faulty belief that the Palestinians are not negotiating because of Israeli policy, when we all know that the reason they have turned down every Israeli proposal is because they will not recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state and will not give up the spurious “right of return.”

Finally, Alterman charges Hagel’s opponents with McCarthyism. He writes:

Hagel’s critics have been quick to unsheathe the McCarthyite tactics employed whenever opposition to any position of Israel’s right-wing government is at issue. The accusation is almost always “anti-Semitism,” but rarely has that charge proven as empty as in Hagel’s case. Leading the assault have been Pavlovian attack dogs like William Kristol and The Weekly Standard, Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post, ex–AIPAC flack Josh Block, the ADL’s Abe Foxman, Bret Stephens at The Wall Street Journal, and convicted criminal and former Reagan and Bush II official Elliott Abrams, now respectably ensconced at the Council on Foreign Relations.

No need on his part to deal with their arguments. Instead Alterman simply smears them, tying together people of diverse views.

Josh Block, a centrist Democrat, is equated with the Republican and conservative Elliott Abrams, whom he falsely calls a “convicted criminal.” How is that for smearing an opponent? Then Alterman attacks both “neocons and conservative professional Jews.”

What is the term “professional Jews”? What could it be, except an example of something that itself borders on anti-Semitism? I guess that Mr. Alterman, being a leftist and “peacenik,” is exempt from being a “professional Jew.” He himself is Jewish, and he always makes that quite clear when arguing that AIPAC and those who disagree with him do not represent real Jews like himself.

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I did not plan to write again about Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s Untold History of the United States, their Showtime documentary series and accompanying book. Three things, however, have prompted me to once again address the series and its continuing distortions and lies.

First: in the January 10 issue of The New York Review of Books, the publisher of Stone and Kuznick’s book — Gallery Books — took out a full page ad proclaiming the companion volume to the TV series an “Instant New York Times Bestseller,” although when I searched the paper’s list I could not find it anywhere, even in their extended list of non-fiction bestsellers.

The ad reproduces blurbs by a group of major U.S. historians — many of them leftists — but includes some mainstream and well-known scholars. Lloyd Gardner of Rutgers University calls their book one that “many would consider impossible.” Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian (London) terms it a “counter narrative to the enormous tide of hogwash that dominates most public discussion of America.” Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post says it is “grounded in indisputable fact.” Historian Doug Brinkley says that the two grapple “with the unsavory legacy of American militarism.” Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame: “Brilliant, masterpiece!” And Pulitzer Prize winning historian Martin Sherwin, in a truly over-the-top comment, calls it “the most important historical narrative of this century, a carefully researched and brilliantly rendered account.”

The century is rather young, and in fact it might be the only narrative yet to appear … but anyone who reads it knows that it is not well-researched and is nothing but a synthesis of long-standing leftist “revisionist” history. All of these writers and historians, in praising the Stone-Kuznick work in such glowing terms, reveal only their own total ignorance about the history of the Cold War.

I doubt that those who have given it such generous blurbs have actually even read it carefully. A clue as to the position of the authors is given by the first blurb, written by none other than Mikhail Gorbachev — the former Soviet premier writes that what is at stake “is whether the United States will choose to be the policeman of ‘Pax Americana,’ … or a partner with other nations.” It should come as no surprise that the USSR’s last leader would praise a book and TV series that depicts the Soviet Union as being right in its foreign policy during World War II and in the Cold War; the others who have offered their unstinting praise have no such excuse.

Second: CSPAN has been airing After Words, their book program, in which the Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin engages in an hour-long conversation with both Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick. Kazin, who once wrote one of the most devastating attacks on the work of Howard Zinn, treats Stone and Kuznick as major historians who have actually contributed something to understanding our past. Watch for yourself, and see the fawning and uncritical reception by Kazin to their work.

Kazin is not a Cold War historian, and his inability to challenge the two reveals his own lack of familiarity with the major issues. He was undoubtedly chosen because he was acceptable to his former colleague Kuznick, and because Kazin regards himself as a man of the Left.

He correctly identifies Henry A. Wallace as the book’s and TV series’ main unsung hero, but pauses only to challenge a relatively unimportant point. Kazin argues that at the 1944 Democratic convention, Roosevelt did not really want Wallace on the ticket with him. But he never says anything to them about Wallace’s view of the Cold War, and in fact, seems to agree with them that he was a prophet before his time. It is indeed sad to see that a historian like Kazin melts in the presence of Oliver Stone, and lets his critical faculties entirely disappear when in the presence of the supposedly great director and his left-wing historian sycophant.

On Saturday, Christopher Hayes of MSNBC’s weekend program Up With Chris Hayes had both Stone and Kuznick as guests. He, too — and not surprisingly given that the network is the voice of the Left and that Hayes is on the staff of The Nation — lets them spend close to an hour telling audiences yet again how in this documentary they produce only facts, and tell the truth about the alternate world we might have had if only Henry A. Wallace had become president after FDR’s death rather than Harry S. Truman.

So let me begin by presenting the truly unknown Henry A. Wallace in a way that somehow escapes the brilliance of Michael Kazin, Christopher Hayes, and all those sycophants who pretend to be giving Americans the real story.

I start with pointing to the question raised at the end of the recent Whitaker Chambers symposium at Yale University by historian John L. Gaddis, the biographer of George F. Kennan and perhaps our nation’s outstanding Cold War historian. Towards the end of the panel he was on, Gaddis noted that he wanted to raise a question that puzzled him — that of “the invisibility of Henry Agard Wallace.” On that, he agrees with Stone and Kuznick that most Americans no longer remember the former vice president and secretary of Commerce. But unlike Stone and Kuznick, Professor Gaddis notes: “There is Soviet documentation that Wallace was regularly reporting to the Kremlin in 1945 and 1946 while he was in the Truman administration,” and that later, when both Kennan in the State Department and Secretary of State George C. Marshall were considering a secret effort to approach the Soviets, that was “blown wide open by Wallace when he was running for president on the Progressive Party ticket” in 1948. Gaddis then asked: “Who’s the real hero?”

He then noted that often Roosevelt gets “a bad rap” for “whatever reason” he had for dumping Wallace from the 1944 ticket and replacing him with Harry S Truman. Instead, he noted, he sent Wallace “on an inspection trip to Siberia, where he confused gulags with collective farms.” If you want to play the counterfactual game,” Gaddis said, “consider what might have taken place had Roosevelt not dumped Wallace and he became the president of the United States at the time all was breaking loose. What would have happened at that time?” (Go to 58:00 on the video to watch the Gaddis comments.)

Professor Gaddis, unlike those who praise Wallace as an unsung hero, knows the Cold War. He implies correctly that had Wallace become president, what would have happened is the reverse of what Stone and Kuznick believe would have taken place.

Wallace would have created an American foreign policy run by Soviet agents he had installed in the White House — including Lauchlin Currie, Harry Dexter White, his former assistant at Commerce, and the secret Communist and Soviet agent Harry Magdoff who wrote Wallace’s Madison Square Garden speech in 1946 that led Truman to fire him – all of whom would have developed a policy meant to give Joseph Stalin precisely what he sought: control of Eastern Europe and inroads into subversion of France, Italy and Great Britain as well.

The result would have been a deepening of Stalinist control of Europe, and a tough road that might well have made it impossible for the West to actually have won the Cold War and to have defeated Soviet expansionism.

Moreover, as Gaddis suggests, new evidence has emerged that points to just how much Wallace was under the control of the Soviets, and how they were counting on him as the man in the United States best suited to serve their ends.

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