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.
In the Vassiliev Papers, the KGB files that Alexander Vassiliev copied and brought from Moscow to London, an entry appears in the Vassiliev notebooks dated February 10, 1945. An NKGB agent -- Washington D.C. station chief Anatoly Gorsky -- reported to NKGB head Lavrenti P. Beria that he was enclosing a telegram from the intelligence agency’s station chief in Washington, D.C. about the station chief’s future meeting with Henry A. Wallace, which would take place on Oct. 24, 1945. (At above Vassiliev link, see the translated pdf of the Black Notebook.)
What the document reveals is that Wallace initiated a contact with a senior Soviet diplomat, who he more than likely knew was the resident KGB officer in the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C. In his conversation, he explained that he supported a pro-Soviet policy and was pushing for it in the United States government.
For that task, he asked the Soviets for assistance.
The context of Wallace’s comments reveal that he saw himself as an ally of the Soviet Union and as a collaborator with them in a common cause. He saw himself not as a supporter of “a century of the Common Man” and an anti-imperialist -- as Stone and Kuznick claim -- but as a fervent believer in the Soviet Union who was asked for foreign intervention on their part in U.S. internal political fights.
Here, from the Vassiliev papers, is the actual document:
“To Comrade L.P. Beria” “I am enclosing a telegram from the NKGB USSR station chief in Washington regarding his meeting with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wallace.” (Molotov’s decision: “Cde. Merkulov! This should be sent to Cde. Stalin without fail. Molotov. 2.10.45.” Vadim had been introduced to Wallace (the former Vice President) previously. Wallace called him personally and invited him to breakfast at the Dept. of Commerce, which took place on 24.10.45. He was interested in what the reaction would be if the USA were to invite a group of Soviet scientists to become familiar with science in the USA. Truman wants Kapitsa very much he is working on the atomic project. Wallace was interested in the Soviet reaction to the discussion taking place in the USA regarding the safeguarding of the secret of atomic bomb production.
“Safeguarding the tech. information pertaining to that question in the USA leads, in Wallace’s opinion, not only to a worsening of already highly strained Soviet-Amer. relations, but also gives the rest of the world the impression that the USA is the most potentially aggressive state on earth.
Wallace said that he has been trying within the government to get control over the use of atomic energy for military purposes handed over to the UN Security Council. However, his attempts have so far been unsuccessful. Wallace described Johnson’s bill pertaining to this question, which was put before Congress, as a reactionary attempt by the War Department that was incited by the representatives of major industrial capital: ‘DuPont’, ‘General Electric’, ‘Union Carbide’, and ‘Carbon Corporation’. Vadim asked how one could explain Truman’s diametrically opposite statements on this question.
“Wallace faltered somewhat, before saying that Truman was a minor politico who had taken up his current post by chance. He frequently has ‘good’ intentions but yields too easily to the influence of those around him. Wallace explained that there were two groups currently fighting for Truman’s ‘soul’ (his expression word for word) a smaller one, in which he included himself, and a more powerful and influential one, of which he named only Hannegan (Postmaster General and Chairman of the Democratic Party), Tom Clark (Attorney General), Byrnes (Sec. of State), and Anderson (Sec. of Agriculture). The smaller group believes that there are only two superpowers in the world: the USSR and the USA; the well-being and fate of all mankind is dependent on good relations between them. The second group is very anti-Soviet (Wallace singled out Byrnes in particular) and sets up an opposing idea of the dominant Anglo-Saxon bloc (chiefly comprising the USA and England) which is decidedly hostile to the Slavic world that is ‘under Russia’s heel’. With regard to this, Wallace blurted out: ‘You (i.e., the USSR) could help this smaller group significantly, and we have no doubt of your desire to do so’. Wallace declined to specify what he meant by this statement, and I felt it would be awkward to press him.”
Then Wallace, of his own initiative, touched upon Anglo-American econ. talks. “At the end of the conversation, Wallace mentioned that congressmen who had returned from trips to the USSR and around Western Europe were spreading a lot of anti-Soviet lies here.”
In their book The Haunted Wood, Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev discuss the same document. They call this meeting “one of the most remarkable and unexpected meetings of the period.” Noting that Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov found it so important that he noted it had to be sent to Stalin, they write:
That Wallace had chosen the Soviet intelligence chief in Washington as his conduit to the USSR leadership testified to the daring (and recklessness) of the man whom FDR had removed from the Democratic ticket in 1944 in favor of the more conservative Truman. Wallace’s proposal, considering the Truman Administration’s cooler relations with the USSR in past months, was also startling.
They note the importance of Wallace’s suggestion to Gorsky that technical data about the atomic bomb should not be kept in U.S. hands, a suggestion, they correctly write, that was “extraordinarily indiscreet.”
I would add that Wallace’s suggestion that he opposed Senator Edwin Johnson’s bill to keep control of the bomb in U.S. hands rather than transfer it to the U.N. Security Council -- which he called a “reactionary attempt” created by “representatives of big industrial capital” -- is precisely the argument used today to explain opposition to Wallace by Stone and Kuznick, who actually present old Soviet and communist arguments as their own contemporary original analysis.
They also concur with Wallace’s statement to Gorsky that Harry S Truman was a man who fell under “the influence of people around him,” a group which Stone and Kuznick keep repeating was made up of reactionary Southerners like James F. Byrnes who represented big corporate industry.
Most importantly: Weinstein writes that Wallace’s call for Soviet support on behalf of those who shared his views “reached beyond the fragile boundaries of discretion,” particularly because Wallace asked the Soviet to “help this smaller group considerably,” referring to himself and his supporters.
Wallace, in other words, was a complete dupe of the American Communists, a group which -- as I have explained in an earlier column -- convinced him to run for president on the so-called Progressive Party ticket in 1948.
Further evidence for Wallace’s myopia comes from the pen of my colleague and co-conspirator in the history of American communism and Soviet espionage, John Earl Haynes. His material appears in Dubious Alliance: The Making of Minnesota’s DFL Party, and Red Scare: American Communism and Anti-Communism in the Cold War Era.
An incident I discuss took place in October 1946. Hubert Humphrey up to that point had greatly admired Wallace and at the 1944 national Democratic convention had led the Minnesota delegation in a demonstration for retaining Wallace as Roosevelt’s vice-president and, to the great irritation of the more regular Democrats in the MN delegation, had refused to shift to Truman even after Truman’s victory was clear. After FDR's death, he wrote an emotional letter to Wallace regretting that Wallace was not in a position to assume the presidency. In September 1946 Truman filed Wallace for his criticism of Truman's developing Cold War policies and in October Wallace made a nation-wide speaking tour, including an appearance in Minneapolis. At the airport then Mayor Humphrey officially welcomed Wallace and sought a meeting with him to discuss the political situation in Minnesota. That night Wallace met with Humphrey and a few of Humphrey's close political aides. After Humphrey explained his increasing difficult relations with secret Communists operating in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, Wallace told Humphrey that he personally knew of only one Communist active in liberal politics, Lee Pressman of the CIO. Humphrey was taken aback by this because Wallace had ridden from the airport with a delegation of Minnesota Wallace supporters, including several well-known Communists (turning down Humphrey's offer to escort Wallace to his hotel). Worse, however, Wallace then suggested that Humphrey privately approach Soviet officials and ask that they order their Minnesota subordinates to behave with greater discretion. Appalled by Wallace’s combination of naiveté and willingness to accept Soviet involvement in domestic American politics, Humphrey severed his ties with the man he once fervently hoped would be president of the United States.
One other incident confirms Wallace’s complete naiveté about the Communist control of his own movement in 1948. His good friend, C.B. “Beanie” Baldwin, whom he knew from New Deal days, became his top advisor and campaign manager. Baldwin, unbeknownst to Wallace, was a secret Communist Party member.
A congressman who was a member of the House Committee on Un-American Activities wrote Wallace to inform him that he had information that the leaders of the Pennsylvania branch of the Progressive Party were both members of the CPUSA. Wallace responded that he asked Beanie Baldwin about this, and Baldwin told him it was not true -- that the men were independent progressives. Baldwin, who had appointed these two Communists to the leadership of the movement in Philadelphia, lied to Wallace.
Had Henry A. Wallace become president in 1948, and had FDR let him stay on the ticket, Wallace would have proceeded to implement policies favorable to Stalin in Europe. There would have been no Marshall Plan, no NATO, and U.S. policy would have been to formally support the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe, including approval of the Czech coup that put the Communists in power after the killing of Jan Masaryk.
As John L. Gaddis suggested, the future of the world would have been very different, since there would have been no Western opposition to Stalin’s expansion as he moved politically to create Communist regimes throughout Europe.
In repeating a mythical history of the Cold War from the Soviet perspective, Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick continually misinform the American public about the real history of the Cold War. That the American media has featured them on virtually every major television and radio talk show -- without any challenge to the analysis they offer -- is more than a major disgrace.
It makes the talk show hosts who book them complicit in the spreading of lies about our own past, and hence does a great disserve to the public. It is bad enough that CBS has run their TV series on Showtime. To then allow them to spread their lies unopposed compounds the disgrace. Which will be the program brave enough to invite on anyone who can challenge the portrait of the Cold War painted by Stone and Kuznick? Even hosts like Joe Scarborough and Mike Huckabee have given their programs over to these dishonest and ill-informed would-be historians.
I have offered to appear with them in a debate, alongside someone like Prof. Wilson Miscamble of Notre Dame University (author of a serious book on the Cold War that proves how bad the history of Stone and Kuznick is and another book on the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan).
To date, Stone and Kuznick have not replied to the challenge. I think I know why. Both of them would not be able to handle real evidence and argument that challenges many of the assertions and so-called “indisputable facts” they present.
They are moral and mental cowards, willing only to appear on their own before hosts who do not know history, and before audiences of confirmed leftists who cheer them on.
It is time Showtime, CBS, and the programs that regularly book them on the air hear from those of us who are disgusted with their propaganda barrage and demand that others who hold a different perspective have the chance to counter their work.