For many years, the American left has combed the past for history lessons that will aid their effort to move the United States toward European-style social democracy, if not a full-fledged socialist utopia. The most successful leftist intellectual in that enterprise was the late Howard Zinn, whose books—such as “A People’s History of the United States,” first published in 1980—have sold millions of copies and are still used by high schools and colleges nationwide. Zinn believed that by emphasizing the struggles of working people, women and people of color against their supposed oppressors, his work could mobilize a new generation to carry on the fight of yesterday’s radical heroes.
I’m all for learning new things. But I’m all against propaganda. Zinn’s “bottom-up” approach may teach us new things about our country and its history, but it shouldn’t replace what we already know. It should enrich what we already know.
Alas, what he and Stone and their kind do is enrich selectively to make their political points. That’s not history, is it Leni?
That search for a usable past has been taken up in a new form by filmmaker Oliver Stone and historian Peter Kuznick in both their Showtime television series, “Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States,” and in the accompanying book of the same name. Mr. Kuznick, who wrote the volume and whose outlook frames the series, is frank about his mission.
He once wrote in a book of essays that he sees his role as a professor to be that of “creating a bridge between leftist and more moderate students,” so that he can “try to radicalize some of the more moderate and liberal students” who accept our political system instead of working for real radical change. Those who support “liberal capitalism,” he wrote, are “blind to the lessons of history.”
In discussing the TV series, Mr. Stone says in the first episode that he wants to counter the view that “we were the good guys” by telling the story of America “in a way that it has never been told before.” The series’ treatment of the Vietnam War, for instance, is intended, according to Mr. Kuznick, to show that the U.S. had moved so far “to the dark side” that “we were the wrong side.”
For these and other revelations, Messrs. Stone and Kuznick have found respectful listeners on many TV news and talk shows, from “CBS This Morning,” to CNN and even on Mike Huckabee’s radio program. The authors assert that no one can contest their facts about the true story that has been hidden from Americans for decades. Their spiel routinely goes unquestioned, let alone contested, by their media hosts.
The reality is that the book and TV series are little more than a synthesis of discredited leftist Cold War “revisionist” history. In many instances they parrot Soviet and communist propaganda of the 1940s and ’50s, and use the same arguments and the same citations as the ones that were first crafted by the KGB for agitprop.
One of the authors’ main goals is to tell Americans that the Cold War with the Soviet Union was unnecessary and avoidable: The Cold War happened only because President Roosevelt dropped the exemplary Vice President Henry A. Wallace off the ticket at the 1944 Democratic convention and replaced him with the villain of their series, Harry S. Truman.
I’ve seen most of this episode, and if I was to come away with the impression that Henry Wallace was a great American wronged by that fascist Truman, I blew it (or the filmmakers did).
If Henry Wallace was FDR’s VP for three out of four terms, I wondered, and a man on the verge of political and historical greatness, why is he all but forgotten today?
If Wallace had assumed the presidency when FDR died, they explain, he would have recognized Stalin’s just demands to have friendly nations—such as Poland—on Russia’s borders, thereby carrying on FDR’s wartime policy of cooperation with the Soviet Union. Instead, the authors argue, within two weeks of taking office, Truman needlessly angered the Russians, rejected attempts by Stalin to carry on an amicable relationship with America, and proceeded on a warlike path that turned the U.S. into an imperialist and dangerous national-security state.
In making the case for Wallace as a hero, Messrs. Stone and Kuznick leave out a great deal of what we know about the man who was vice president until 1945 and then, in FDR’s last term, the secretary of commerce.
The authors may approve of Wallace’s belief, as he articulated in a speech in the 1940s, that “fascist interests motivated largely by anti-Russian bias” were trying to “get control of our government.” But the series and book do not mention what intercepted Soviet messages and records—most famously the Venona coded intercepts, and the KGB archive papers brought to the West by KGB official Alexander Vassiliev as the Soviet Union crumbled—make clear: Had Wallace become president, a number of the men to whom he intended to give cabinet and other top positions were Soviet spies or agents.
After Wallace gave a speech in September 1946 opposing Truman’s tough policy toward the Soviets, the president promptly fired him. From then on, Wallace openly tried to stop the White House from blocking Stalin’s expansionist policies in Eastern Europe. Wallace opposed the creation of NATO, advocated abandoning Berlin at the time of the Soviet blockade in 1948, denounced the Marshall Plan as “the martial plan,” and justified the 1948 Communist coup in Czechoslovakia as a measure needed to thwart a fascist takeover.
What the “Untold History” never mentions is that in October 1945, while he was still in the cabinet, Wallace met covertly in Washington with Anatoly Gorsky, the station chief of the NKGB (a forerunner of the KGB). KGB files record that Wallace told Gorsky that he wanted the atomic-bomb secret shared with the Soviets, that Truman was being influenced by an “anti-Soviet group” that wanted the Anglo-Saxon bloc to be dominant, and that the Soviets could help Wallace’s “smaller group significantly.”
A member of the U.S. cabinet asking the Soviets to intervene to help his side win the internal political battle within the administration was more than indiscreet. It was the action of a willing tool of Moscow.
At least Wallace eventually admitted that he had been duped. In 1952, he publicly apologized to Americans in the Sept. 7 issue of This Week magazine, in an article titled “Where I Was Wrong.” You won’t hear about this in the “Untold History,” but Wallace wrote that “before 1949 I thought Russia really wanted and needed peace. After 1949 I became more and more disgusted with the Soviet methods and finally became convinced that the Politburo wanted the Cold War continued even at the peril of accidentally provoking a hot war.”
The Wallace article continued: “As I look back over the past 10 years I now feel that my greatest mistake was in not denouncing the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in February of 1948.” His analysis, he said, “failed to take into account the ruthless nature of Russian-trained Communists whose sole objective was to make Czechoslovakia subservient to Moscow.”
The “dark side”, the “wrong side”: that’s pretty much where the Left’s analysis of American History starts and ends. As a recovering liberal myself, I am intimately acquainted with that sort of thinking. Since 9/11/01, however, I have come to see America’s “dark” and “wrong” acts in the light of a greater conflict. Fascism, communism, Islamism—liberty is perpetually under siege, and by people and ideologies that are murderous and unimaginably cruel. Be the adversary Hitler, Stalin, Mao—or the many lesser devils like Castro, Che, Ho, Khomeini, Ahmadinejad, et al ad nauseam—America’s “darkness” has been eclipsed many times over. The tens of millions who died in their purges, famines, and executions may well used their last breaths to pray for the “wrong side” to win, eventually.
Even an intervention as “wrong” and “dark” as the Vietnam War looks a shade or two lighter when illuminated by the history of what happened after we left (the Killing Fields, boat people, etc.). And when those tragic results were predictable—and predicted—by anti-Communist Jeremiahs among the right.
I posted so much of this piece because I wanted both sides presented. Henry Wallace has his say, then Henry Wallace has his other say. You might say he was one of the first neo-conservatives (even if he wouldn’t). No wonder he is forgotten today. The Left wouldn’t have him after his denunciation of Communism, and the Right would never go near him. He is a man without an ideological following, hence abandoned, forgotten.
Except by the propagandists and liars like Oliver Stone.
PS: I chatted with someone who had also seen this episode. He had taken it all at face value, saying he had never known such things about Truman. I sighed and said he was a man more complicated than the simple mythology that had grown around him. But probably more complicated than the horned devil depicted by Stone. There’s only so much re-re-education you can do in a dog park.