The Real Henry A. Wallace: The Truth About Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick's "Unsung Hero."
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.