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.
Attempting to hit back, Stone and Kuznick wrote the following letter to the editor that appeared recently in The Wall Street Journal. Here is what they write:
Wallace Had the Right Ideas on U.S.-Soviet Relations
In his Jan. 11 opinion piece “Just When You Thought Soviet Propaganda Was Dead,” Ronald Radosh attacks our “Untold History of the United States” as “discredited leftist Cold War ‘revisionist’ history.” But his main point of contention is that we have not only rescued Franklin Roosevelt’s Vice President Henry Wallace from the dustbin of history but that we’ve restored him to the heroic stature we believe he deserves.
What most rankles Mr. Radosh is our applauding Wallace’s effort to prevent the Cold War and nuclear arms race and our assertion that had he remained on the ticket in 1944, as 65% of voters wanted, we might have avoided one of the darkest and most perilous periods in human history. In that convention eve Gallup Poll, Harry Truman came in last with 2%. Staying on as secretary of commerce, Wallace did everything he could to change U.S. policy.
Mr. Radosh attacks Wallace because, in October 1945, he told a Soviet intelligence official that he wanted atomic weapons and know-how turned over to the United Nations, a view supported by such notorious radicals as future Secretary of State Dean Acheson and Atomic Energy Commission head David Lilienthal, the two of whom Truman commissioned to draft a plan to that effect, and by just-retired Secretary of War Henry Stimson and General Dwight Eisenhower.
Wallace understood that the U.S. atomic monopoly, which Secretary of State James Byrnes had just used to bully the Soviets at a foreign ministers meeting in London, was exacerbating the already tense relations between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. He told the Soviet intelligence officer that mankind’s future depends on good relations between the two countries and asked for unspecified Soviet assistance in supporting the progressive faction in the Truman administration against the anti-Soviet hard-liners. What that probably meant, given Wallace’s views at the time, was Soviet liberalization in Eastern Europe to take away the Soviet-bashers’ main issue.
That Wallace would speak so openly to a representative of the nation that only one month earlier had been one of our two principal wartime allies makes him in Mr. Radosh’s view a “willing tool of Moscow.” We see him as a visionary. Franklin Roosevelt said that though some called Wallace a “communist,” there was “no one more American . . . no one more of the American soil.” If forced to choose between Mr. Radosh’s view of Wallace and Roosevelt’s, we’ll take the latter.
Oliver Stone Los Angeles
Peter Kuznick Bethesda, Md
Let me pause to dissect this nonsensical and rather pathetic attempt at an answer. FDR, who wanted Wallace off the ticket in 1944, agreed to allow the Democratic convention to pick the vice-presidential candidate, a sure sign that he was not happy with keeping on the ticket his current sitting vice president. They write that Wallace had the support of 65 percent of the voters. Yet four years later, when Wallace ran on the Communist controlled Progressive Party ticket (a campaign that Stone and Kuznick support in their documentary), Wallace and his running mate Glen Taylor won only 2.4 percent of the vote. The huge expected vote some polls had Wallace and Taylor winning did not materialize, and only in New York did enough people vote for the two that the state went to the Republican, Thomas E. Dewey.
The main part of their argument is nothing but completely preposterous. They make it appear that proposals for an international agreement on atomic energy and manufacturing of an A-bomb by others were precisely the same goals favored by Wallace. Wallace, however, favored attainment of the know-how for a bomb by the Soviets, as Truman himself wrote in a famous diary entry quoted in the documentary by Stone as if Truman was foolish. Moreover, Stone and Kuznick make light of Wallace’s secret meeting with the KGB station chief in Washington, D.C., while in the President’s cabinet. They think nothing of Wallace asking his help in his fight against those he saw as anti-Soviet hardliners in the administration.
Indeed, rather than try to challenge my account of this meeting, their own words indicate their awareness that what I wrote was accurate. But rather than comprehend how out of line such a meeting was — asking Stalin’s secret police chief in the U.S. for help fighting the administration — and how it was much more than simply indiscreet, they only argue that in essence Wallace was doing the right thing. Then they have the most laughable line of all: their claim that Stalin would have implemented “Soviet liberalization in Eastern Europe,” thereby taking away “the Soviet-bashers’ main issue,” had only the U.S. cooperated with Stalin.
That claim reveals more than anything else their abysmal failure to understand Stalin’s policy even before the Second World War had come to an end. Here, I refer them, and you, to the lengthy and essential review of Anne Applebaum’s book Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 by historian Robert Service. It appears in the latest issue of The National Interest. Service notes:
The idea has gained ground that he might well have been open to a less repressive settlement for Eastern Europe if only the Western Allies had handled him with greater respect and understanding. Poor old Joe! Misunderstood and unappreciated, so the argument goes, he allowed the balance of governance to swing in the direction of outright communization. The chances for the USSR to dominate Eastern Europe without entirely suppressing its limited democracy and market economy evaporated in the heat of the Marshall Plan.
IRON CURTAIN will have none of this. The author contends that the communizing process began as soon as the Communist leaders who had lived as political refugees in Moscow since the 1930s returned to the lands of their birth with the Red Army… Applebaum starts her book with an exposition of the preparatory groundwork for later communization, a process that was well under way in the last year of the Second World War. The core of her argument is that Communist returners did not confine themselves to assuming power in ministries of internal affairs but immediately sought to impose their influence on the minutiae of everyday life. Communization was dreamed up not in 1947 or 1948 but in 1945 or still earlier.
His point is also reinforced in the forthcoming book by historian Robert Gellately, Stalin’s Curse:Battling for Communism in War and Cold War. Referring to the type of Cold War revisionism that Stone and Kuznick represent, Gellately writes: “The documentation show, quite to the contrary, that Moscow made all the first moves and that if anything the West was woefully complacent until 1947 or 1948, when the die was already cast.” As to granting Stalin the would-be “security zones” he wanted — which Wallace believed he should get — Gellately writes:
Given the dozens of states along the borders of the USSR, granting his demand for such a zone would have meant forcing many millions of people to submit to domination from Moscow. And as Stalin demonstrated time and time again, he did not care what the Americans theorized about his motives, so long as they did nothing to stop him from getting what he wanted.
Gellately points out that had the West not opposed Stalin, the Soviet dictator “might well have advanced the Red Empire to the shores of the English Channel.” The only reason Stalin failed to accomplish that was that the U.S. and Britain stood together and helped to rebuild Europe, with programs like the Marshall Plan, which Henry A. Wallace opposed. The truth is, Gellately writes, that “well before the shooting stopped in 1944-45, he set out to shore up his dictatorship and to straighten out the ideological wanderings that had crept into Communist theory.”
Indeed, the very reason that the American Communists persuaded Wallace to run for president was because Stalin’s Cominform had ordered the party to break with its social-democratic allies who favored programs like Marshall aid, and ready themselves for the coming war between the Soviet Union and the capitalist West, which he assumed would end with a world Communist revolution. Thus the elements of the CIO unions still under party control were told to break their alliance with the Democrats in the White House and back the new third party they had put together with Wallace as their willing dupe.
Stone and Kuznick quote an old statement about Wallace made by Franklin D. Roosevelt, for which they give no date. They do not quote the remark made by the late president’s wife, Eleanor, about Wallace’s Progressive Party campaign. Often called the “conscience of the New Deal” and the titular head of the left-wing of the president’s staff and supporters, Mrs. Roosevelt rebuked Wallace during his presidential campaign, correctly saying that “the American Communists will be the nucleus of Mr. Wallace’s third party.” Others of her associates, all bona fide liberals, joined her and issued a statement that Wallace had “lined up with the forces of Soviet totalitarianism.”
None of Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s gyrations change this fundamental truth.