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10: Wartime Illusions and Delusions - William Henry Chamberlin, America’s Second Crusade 
America’s Second Crusade (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Amagi, 2008).
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Wartime Illusions and Delusions
One might have supposed that an alert public opinion would have warded off some of the moral inconsistencies and political blunders which have been described in preceding chapters. Of course, complete freedom of speech is never maintained in time of war. Father Coughlin’s magazine, Social Justice, for example, was harassed into extinction. There were a few convictions for sedition, notably of some members of a Trotskyite group in Minneapolis and of a few obscure and politically illiterate anti-Semitic fanatics.
But there was fair latitude for discussion during the war. Critics and skeptics were not handled as ruthlessly as they were under the Espionage Act in World War I. What was lacking in most molders of public opinion was not the physical ability to speak out, but the perception and the moral courage to take advantage of the freedom which existed.
America’s wartime intellectual climate was a depressing compound of profound factual ignorance, naïveté, wishful thinking, and emotional hysteria. All this played into the hands of a small number of individuals who consciously placed loyalty to the Kremlin above all other considerations.
That the aims of the Soviet Government were above suspicion and reproach, that Russia had been wronged by the democracies in the past, that Soviet communism was just another form of democracy—these and similar ideas were constantly proclaimed under the most respectable auspices. They became the stock-in-trade of influential lecturers and radio commentators. Governors, judges, clergymen, and other eminent citizens joined Communist-front organizations.
Rapprochement with Russia, without raising any inconvenient questions, was the “party line” of the Roosevelt Administration. Under these circumstances infiltration of strategic government agencies by fanatical Soviet sympathizers encountered no difficulty. They were welcomed as fellow laborers in the vineyard.1
Some of this American wartime psychology was a product of sympathy for the achievements of the Red Army in fighting off the Wehrmacht. But its full scope and intensity are only understandable if one remembers that sympathy with communism had long been an occupational disease of many American intellectuals, not of the majority, of course, but of a very active and articulate minority.
One heard much before and during the war of Hitler’s fifth column in America. But when there were attempts to expose this supposedly formidable threat to American national unity, one got only the names of a few obscure crackpots of whom the vast majority of Americans had never heard. It would have been impossible for an avowed Nazi sympathizer to have published an article in a magazine of national circulation or to have delivered regular radio broadcasts.
The rejection of nazism and fascism by educated Americans was prompt, vigorous, and very nearly unanimous. Unfortunately this was not true with respect to communism. Ever since I left Moscow in 1934, with what seemed to me natural and human reactions to the slave-labor system, the liquidation of the kulaks, the man-made famine, the routine regime of espionage and terror, I have been surprised and dismayed by the curious double standard of morals which some Americans who regard themselves as liberals or radicals practice in regard to Soviet communism. Denunciation of Nazi and Fascist acts of cruelty and oppression was vigorous and justified in these circles. There was a laudable desire to cure imperfections and injustices in the American social order.
But when it was a question of feeling the normal reactions of civilized human beings to Soviet atrocities, these American Leftists simply flunked the most elementary moral tests. They either ignored indisputable evidence of these atrocities or swallowed the crudest propaganda apologetics, the kind of apologetics which they would have been the first to ridicule if the source had been Nazi or Fascist.
One had the spectacle, at once pitiful and ridiculous, of intellectuals bowing before the shrine of a dictatorship that had stripped the intellectual in Russia of his last shred of independence and self-respect, that enforced conformity by the most inquisitorial means. Individuals who quivered with indignation over occasional violations of civil liberties in the United States sang the praises of a regime which recognized no civil liberties whatever.
Some ministers of religions prostrated themselves in genuflections before a system which was not only dogmatically atheistic, but which was profoundly immoral in theory, and still more so in practice. Artists, playwrights, writers, musicians, whose knowledge of Russian language and history and Communist theory and practice was usually limited, to say the least—such people developed a habit of tossing off cocksure blanket endorsements of the wholesale death sentences meted out in Soviet political trials. “Hooray for Murder” is the appropriate phrase of Eugene Lyons.2
These tireless signers of Stalinite manifestoes experienced one letdown that might well have cured them of the habit. An initiating committee of ten persons, Corliss Lamont, Dorothy Brewster, Dashiell Hammett, George Marshall,3 Professor Walter Rautenstrauch, Vincent Sheean, Donald Ogden Stewart, Maxwell Stewart, Rebecca Timbers, and Mary Van Kleeck, persuaded some four hundred individuals of more or less distinction in the intellectual world to sign an open letter. This document denied “the fantastic falsehood” that Russia could have anything in common with Germany. “The Soviet Union,” which the signers confidently affirmed, “continues as always to be a consistent bulwark against war and aggression,” suddenly marched into Poland, Finland, and the Baltic states. Stalin and Molotov began to exchange greetings and toasts with Hitler and Ribbentrop.
This produced temporary demoralization in the fellow-traveler camp and worked a few permanent cures. But the ground lost by Soviet propaganda during the period of Nazi-Soviet collaboration was more than made up when Hitler invaded Russia. People of all shades of thought, from hundred per cent Communist addicts to individuals who knew little or nothing about the subject, joined the chorus hailing the Soviet Union as a gallant ally whose good faith and good intentions were not to be questioned.
A leading exponent of the “Russia can do no wrong” theory was Henry A. Wallace, Vice-President of the United States during Roosevelt’s third term. Wallace also headed two alphabetical wartime agencies, SPAB and BEW (Supply, Priorities and Allocations Board and Board of Economic Warfare). In the turgid writings and hysterical oratory of Henry Wallace one can find all the characteristic illusions of America’s Second Crusade. There is the naive assurance that the struggle is between absolute good and absolute evil. There is the confident assumption that Soviet imperialism and international communism would present no difficulties after the end of the war. There is the vague, comforting, inane belief that the common man, whoever he may be, is on the march, that a better life is somehow being born out of an orgy of ruin and destruction.
Wallace’s ideology and his peculiar English style have been amusingly and accurately analyzed as follows:
Wallaceland is the mental habitat of Henry Wallace, plus a few hundred thousand regular readers of the New Republic, the Nation and PM. It is a region of perpetual fogs, caused by the warm winds of the liberal Gulf Stream coming into contact with the Soviet glacier. Its natives speak Wallese, a debased provincial dialect.
Wallese is as rigidly formalized as Mandarin Chinese. The Good people are described by ritualistic adjectives, “forward-looking,” “freedom-loving,” “clear-thinking” and, of course, “democratic” and “progressive.” The Bad people are always “reactionaries” or “Redbaiters”; there are surprisingly few of them, considering the power they wield, and they are perversely wicked, since their real interests would best be served by the Progressive and Realistic policies favored by the Good people.4
Wallace is a man of many interests. He discovered a resistant type of hybrid corn and won a more dubious notoriety as the reputed author of the “Guru” letters. These letters, signed HAW, H. A. Wallace, Galahad, and also with a cabalistic sign, were addressed to Nicholas Roerich. The latter was a Russian painter, explorer, and dabbler in occult beliefs, with whom Wallace was intimately acquainted.
The letters refer to President Roosevelt as The Flaming One and to Cordell Hull as The Sour One.5 Churchill is The Roaring Lion, and Russia The Tiger. This is a sample of the intellectual content of these strange epistles:
“I have been thinking of you holding the casket, the sacred, most precious casket. And I have thought of the new country going forth to meet the seven stars under the sign of the three stars. And I have thought of the admonition: ‘Await the stone.’ ”6
Wallace has never specifically claimed or repudiated the authorship of the Guru letters. But there is no question that he delivered his “quart of milk” speech at a meeting of the Free World Association in New York on May 8, 1942. In this speech one can find every illusion and delusion of America’s Second Crusade, flamboyantly packaged in evangelical, mystical oratory:
“This is a fight between a free world and a slave world,” Wallace began, conveniently forgetting about the millions of slaves in Soviet concentration camps. “The peoples,” he continued, “are on the march toward even fuller freedom than the most fortunate peoples of the world have hitherto enjoyed.” This could hardly be considered an accurate forecast of postwar conditions behind the Iron Curtain. Then the orator, intoxicated with his flights of fantasy, proceeded to utter perhaps the crowning absurdity of the speech:
“The object of this war is to make sure that everybody in the world has the privilege of drinking a quart of milk a day.”
So, out of a war of unprecedented destruction, certain to lower, not raise the living standards of the vanquished and of many of the victors as well, there was to gush, by some miracle, an endless stream of free milk. Wallace insisted that the peace must mean a better standard of living not only in the Allied countries, but in Germany, Japan, and Italy.
This aspiration was generous and humane, if heavily tinged with wishful thinking. But Wallace never uttered a word of audible protest against the Morgenthau Plan and other destructionist schemes which made a mockery and an hypocrisy of the Atlantic Charter promises of a higher all-round standard of living. And when American policy toward Germany became saner and more constructive, Wallace’s was one of the loudest voices raised in opposition.
The mental level of the “quart of milk” speech may be judged from the following excerpts:
Satan is turned loose upon the world. . . . Through the leaders of the Nazi revolution Satan now is trying to lead the common man of the whole world back into slavery and darkness. . . . Satan has turned loose upon us the insane. . . . The Goetterdaemmerung has come for Odin and his crew. . . . We shall cleanse the plague spot of Europe, which is Hitler’s Germany, and with it the hell-hole of Asia—Japan. No compromise with Satan is possible.
This hysterical outburst elevated Wallace to the status of a major prophet in America’s Second Crusade. He stumped the world like a modern Peter the Hermit. He visited eastern Siberia, where the percentage of slave labor is highest in the world,7 and told the gaping citizens of Irkutsk that only free men could live in these free open spaces. He gave the benefit of his mystical lore to Chiang Kai-shek in Chungking. He dashed down to Latin America and lectured perplexed statesmen on the necessity of developing close relations with the Soviet Union and ushering in the century of the common man.
It is reasonable to assume that Communists and Communist sympathizers found a hearty welcome in any agency where Wallace was influential, for he pronounced the judgment on one occasion that the “few Communists” he knew had been very good Americans.
If Wallace was a major prophet, Wendell Willkie may be considered a minor prophet of the wartime era. After a swift flight around the globe and brief visits to Russia, China, and countries of the Near and Middle East, the former Republican candidate published a quickly written political travelogue entitled One World.
Willkie found that the war was, “in Mr. Stalin’s phrase, a war of liberation.” Russia, he assured his readers, would neither eat us nor seduce us. Without benefit of knowledge of the Russian language, he brought back the news that Russians exchange ideas in private conversation almost as freely as we do. And he offered the following blueprint for peace:
To win the peace three things seem to me necessary. First, we must plan for peace now on a world basis; second, the world must be free, politically and economically, for nations and men, that peace may exist in it; third, America must play an active, constructive part in freeing it and keeping its peace.8
These were resounding generalities. But they meant little unless there was some spelling out in terms of frontier settlements and definitions of freedom. But all Willkie and most other wartime writers and speakers could offer in this connection was more, and vaguer, generalities. The following passage in One World is a good example:
When I say that peace must be planned on a world basis, I mean quite literally that it must embrace the earth. Continents and oceans are plainly only parts of a whole, seen, as I have seen them, from the air. England and America are parts. Russia and China, Egypt, Syria and Turkey, Iraq and Iran are also parts and it is inescapable that there can be no peace for any part of the world unless the foundations of peace are made secure through all parts of the world.9
What Willkie and other “one-worlders” never perceived through the fog of platitudes in which they liked to envelop themselves was the tremendous, fundamental cleavage which western civilization sustained as a result of the emergence of totalitarianism after World War I. Technologically, to be sure, conditions for closer world unity had been created.
But political and cultural barriers had risen faster than the speed of airplanes had increased. There was far more opportunity for unhampered travel, although by slower means of communication, before the First World War than one found either before or after the Second. There were infinitely more possibilities of cultural communion between Russian, German, Polish, British, French, and American scholars and intellectuals before the chilly blasts of totalitarian thought control blew over the European continent.
There was probably less preaching of primitive hatred during the Second Crusade than during the First. Americans were a little ashamed in retrospect of such emotional indulgences as “goddamning” the Kaiser, banning Beethoven, and likening “Huns” to snakes. There were lapses, to be sure. Admiral William (“Bull”) Halsey let out enough bloodthirsty yawps to have earned himself a prime rating as a “war criminal” if his country had been on the losing side. Collier’s produced this racist masterpiece:
Suppose the ape race should suddenly find itself armed with all the modern appliances of human war—tanks, planes, machine-guns, etc. and should become imbued with a hatred for the human race. We could expect a fight like the fight now being waged on us under the tutelage of the Nazis. . . . This is a war between humans and subhumans for the mastery of the earth.
PS. The above remarks are made with apologies to the apes.
This is an exhibit of intellectual war profiteering which is just as familiar and just as obnoxious as the financial type. Writers of mediocre detective stories and specialists in literary criticism transformed themselves overnight into “authorities” on German and Japanese history, politics, economics, and psychology. The ranks of the intellectual war profiteers were swelled by eccentric poets, would-be philosophical moralists, ex-sports writers who professed to know all the answers in European politics, and some college professors.
Emerging blinking from their ivory towers of specialized knowledge, these men of learning often proved the most naive, gullible, and confused of commentators on the world tragedy that was being played before their eyes. The Stork Club was a familiar rendezvous where hymns of hate were intoned to an accompaniment of popping corks. And some suburban noncombatant readers of the New York Herald Tribune developed extreme bloodthirstiness in their letters to that newspaper.
However, the besetting weakness of most educated Americans who discussed war issues was not vindictiveness, but rather a kind of straw-chopping futility. Scores of individuals and many groups under the auspices of churches and universities worked out unimpeachable schemes for “just and durable peace,” based on the ideals of the Atlantic Charter.
But when the Atlantic Charter pledges of self-determination and equality of economic opportunity were most obviously and crudely violated, voices of protest were few and timid. The Yalta agreement and the Morgenthau Plan and the Potsdam agreement were complete repudiations of the Atlantic Charter. Yet, despite all the well-meant efforts to lay the bases of “just and durable peace,” there was little public criticism.
The typical American planner of the postwar international order lived in a curious dual world. He was prolific in schemes for human improvement, full of high-sounding if vague idealistic phraseology. But this seldom led him to take a clear stand against schemes of indiscriminate vengeance and unprincipled annexation.
An appalling amount of ignorant misinformation about Russia was circulated in America during the war. Apart from deliberate Communist propaganda, there was much hasty writing and speaking on the basis of imperfect or inaccurate knowledge. A widely syndicated journalist, for instance, gave the following picture of Stalin’s childhood environment:
“He was born in a tribal society in the remote Caucasian mountains. . . . His tribe was ruled by feudal princes. . . . In his childhood the masses of the people of Greater Russia were serfs who could be beaten by their masters and even sold from one landowner to another.”
This was a pure flight of fictional fancy. Stalin was born not in some remote mountain fastness where tribal customs prevailed, but in the town of Gori. He owed no allegiance to any “feudal prince.” And serfdom was abolished in the Russian Empire in 1861, eighteen years before Stalin was born. The same columnist endorsed the declaration of Brendan Bracken, British Minister of Information, that “Soviet Russia has never broken its word.” Yet the breach of nonaggression pacts with Poland, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia was surely a matter of public record.
One finds a medley of grotesque errors in Emil Ludwig’s wartime book Stalin, of which the following sentence is a sample:
“One half of all arable land—some people estimated it at 70%—belonged to a few hundred great lords, the Tsar and the Church; the rest was divided among sixteen million peasant families, owning an average of six to eight acres.”
As a matter of factual record the nonpeasant land-owning class in prewar Russia was composed of some 200,000 country gentry, not of “a few hundred great lords.” The Russian nobility in 1914 owned less than a quarter of the amount of land in possession of the peasants. The average size of the peasant holding in 1905 was 28 acres.
Similar examples of gross inaccuracy could be multiplied indefinitely. I made a collection of a few dozen which appeared in print over a short period of time. A research bureau could have filled a book with specimens of factual blunders in writing about Russia. Some of this was the result of ignorance, carelessness, and the American national vice of writing too much too quickly.
But there was a vast amount of deliberate slanting of American public opinion in a pro-Soviet direction. One publisher suggested that all books containing criticisms of any of the United Nations should be combed out of publishing lists and destroyed. Fortunately this proposal, which would have eclipsed the Nazi book-burnings, was not put into effect.
But an unwritten censorship operated against the publication of books containing material which might be offensive to the Soviet Government. Trotsky’s biography of Stalin was held back after review copies had been sent out. There was a vast hue and cry, sponsored by trade unions and other organizations where Communist influence was strong, against the publication of a novel, The Fifth Seal, by the Russian émigré writer Mark Aldanov. This essentially nonpolitical novel, dealing with the lives of Russians outside the Soviet Union, had been selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club.
Christopher Morley found an ingenious device for discrediting the clamor. He wrote to one of the most vociferous critics suggesting that perhaps his objection could be met by eliminating a passage in which a “Georgian renegade” ridicules Stalin. The reply was prompt and uncompromising:
“Other passages just as objectionable as the ones you mention.”
Here was convincing evidence that the objector had not even read the book before joining in the party-line demand for its suppression. For there was no “Georgian renegade” among its characters.
Pro-Soviet hysteria perhaps reached its highest point in connection with the publication of William L. White’s Report on the Russians in the spring of 1945. The author is a well-known journalist and writer who accompanied Eric Johnston, then president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, on a trip to the Soviet Union which included a visit to Siberia and Turkestan. The book was not and did not pretend to be a profound study of the Soviet Union. It was an excellent reporting job, vivid, clear-cut, and well balanced.
Far from being a one-sided tirade of abuse, as might have been imagined from some of the reviews, the book recognized every important fact that could fairly be cited in favor of the Soviet regime. White found the Russians superb artists and good farmers. He had high praise for the absence of discrimination against non-Russian nationalities. Stalin, in his opinion, was a great man.
White was enthusiastically in favor of the ideal of co-operation with the Soviet Union, in peace as in war. He leaned over backward to be fair, even favorable, in his estimate of Soviet foreign policy. He expressed the view, much more optimistic than the facts warranted, that the Roosevelt Administration had “done an excellent job” of dealing with Russia “on a basis of delicately balanced firmness and friendliness.” It would have required a very powerful microscope to discover any element of firmness in the Roosevelt-Hopkins technique of “getting along” with Stalin.
But what aroused the fury of many reviewers of the book was the author’s frank, unsparing description of such negative sides of Soviet life as police terror, widespread employment of slave labor, gross discrepancy in the living standards of the higher bureaucrats and the masses of the people, and general poverty and backwardness. All these allegations were supported by a mass of corroborating evidence.
But the feeling that Russia could do no wrong, that any criticism of Stalin’s dictatorship was akin to treason, had taken a strong grip on the American wartime mind. Leader of the chorus of vituperation was David Zaslavsky, professional literary executioner of the Soviet newspaper Pravda. Zaslavsky’s standard reaction to any foreign critic of Russia, however mild, was to call him a fascist, with a choice assortment of gutter adjectives.
As soon as a summary of the book appeared in the Reader’s Digest, Zaslavsky pronounced his elegant and scholarly verdict: “The standard stew from the fascist kitchen, with all its aroma of calumnies, unpardonable ignorance and undisguised malice.”
This was routine Soviet literary controversial style. But what seems surprising and disgraceful, in retrospect, is that many American reviewers echoed Zaslavsky’s sentiments, in slightly more sophisticated language.
Sixteen American writers and journalists who were or had been in the Soviet Union signed on the dotted line an abusive denunciation of the book which was forwarded to Moscow by the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship. This organization at the time was headed by Corliss Lamont, an untiring signer of pro-Soviet manifestoes. Subsequently it was placed on the Attorney-General’s list of subversive organizations. But in 1945 it boasted as members a number of governors, judges, professors, clergymen, and other well-meaning individuals who were ignorant of its true purposes: to spread adulatory propaganda about the Soviet Union and to engage in defamatory enterprises like the attack on William L. White’s book.
Reviewers in the United States, with a few honorable exceptions, followed the example of the sixteen correspondents10 and chimed in with the abuse of Zaslavsky and the Council of American-Soviet Friendship. Many proceeded on the assumption that there was a moral imperative to lie about Russia by publishing nothing unfavorable and nothing that might ruffle Stalin’s supposedly tender susceptibilities.
One of the curious features of the campaign against White’s book was that almost every reviewer started out with professions of high devotion to the ideal of individual freedom. Then there was a process of working up to a state of indignation with White for supplying specific evidence that a free society is preferable to a totalitarian one. An executive of the firm which published Report on the Russians offered the following illuminating comment on the American war mind:
“I have never known a case where a publisher came in for so many brickbats and so much name-calling, merely because we stand for the principle of free speech. Many of those who were loud in condemnation of the Nazis for burning books were equally loud in screaming to us: burn this one.”
I have dwelt at some length on this incident because it furnishes such clear proof of the mental subservience of many American intellectuals during the war to a foreign power, and to a totalitarian dictatorship at that. A muddled philosophy that might be called totalitarian liberalism came into fashion, with the Nation, the New Republic, and the newspaper PM as its main exponents. There was a tremendous revival of the prewar double standard of morals in judging those twin phenomena, communism and fascism.
The totalitarian liberal justified or apologized for many things in Russia which he found execrable and unjustifiable in Germany, Japan, or Italy. Measures that were abominable crimes if committed by fascists became acts of stern but necessary self-preservation if carried out by the Soviet Union. The New Republic on one occasion artlessly remarked: “Soviet policy is no more imperialistic than is our good-neighbor policy.”
But there was no indication of when and where the United States, even before the inauguration of the good-neighbor policy, had deported from their homes and sent to forced labor vast numbers of Latin Americans, thereby matching the Soviet record in the occupation of Eastern Poland and the Baltic states.
The creed of totalitarian liberalism found expression in an article which the editor of the New Republic devoted to “The Hang-Back Boys” of the war. In this category he placed all who refused to interpret the war on a more realistic plane than one would find in OWI handouts and refused to see the Soviet Union through the roseate lenses of Hollywood war movies and the fairy tales of the Dean of Canterbury.
These “hang-back boys,” in the opinion of the editor, “have deliberately cut themselves off from the two great centers of dynamic energy in the world today. With all its faults, one of these is the Roosevelt Administration; and, with all its faults, the other is Russia.”
Here was the totalitarian liberal’s dream: a kind of amalgam of the New Deal with Soviet communism. And if one reviews the wartime writings, speeches, and actions of some extreme proponents of this viewpoint, one may well wonder in which war they were more concerned, Roosevelt’s war or Stalin’s war.
The movies, in the Second Crusade as in the First, were a potent source of emotional propaganda. Germans and Japanese provided natural villains in many run-of-the-mill war films. Hollywood also made its contribution to pro-Soviet propaganda.
Two films, North Star (with the participation of one of the most indefatigable joiners of fellow-traveler organizations, Lillian Hellman) and Song of Russia, showed a Russia that no more resembled Soviet realities than a fanciful sketch of Shangri-la. Peculiarly ludicrous were the collective-farm scenes in Song of Russia. Neither of these films could have been safely shown in Russia; there would have been too much spontaneous laughter.
Another film which enjoyed tremendous promotion was Mission to Moscow, a distorted version of a highly superficial book by the former American Ambassador to the Soviet Union Joseph E. Davies. The occasional notes of criticism which could be found in the book were carefully eliminated in the film.
Besides being a thoroughly misleading picture of Soviet life, Mission to Moscow was full of absurd anachronisms and historical errors. Davies was shown talking with Paderewski, represented as a high Polish official, at least fifteen years after the famous pianist had completely retired from Polish political life. Marshal M. N. Tukhachevsky, one of the numerous victims of the purges of the thirties, was shown confessing his guilt in open court—something which never occurred. Ribbentrop was depicted as a visitor to Russia, although the Nazi Foreign Minister first set foot in the Soviet Union in August 1939, long after the Davies mission was ended.
Characteristic of the spirit of the time was the comment in an article in the Nation, “Hollywood Goes to War.”
“While this picture [Mission to Moscow] was criticized for the dramatic license it took with certain facts, it was an extremely useful film in that it gave a fundamentally sympathetic portrayal of our Soviet allies.”
In other words, any lie was good in such a good propaganda cause.
The pro-Soviet cult during the war was not the result of any marked growth of popularity for avowed Communist organs. The important factor was the willingness, amazing in retrospect, of some well-known established magazines to take an uncritical pro-Soviet line.
There was the strange case of the Atlantic Monthly. The very name conveys an aroma of the great days of New England literary creation. Its long list of distinguished contributors includes Longfellow and Lowell, Whittier and Hawthorne, William Dean Howells and William James. It was one of the least likely places where one would normally have expected to find pro-Soviet bias.
But from the middle of 1942 until the end of 1945 nothing appeared in the Atlantic Monthly that could not have passed a severe Soviet censorship. During that period it published five articles on Russia and the closely related subject of Poland. Three of these were by Anna Louise Strong, who made no secret of her passionate emotional sympathy with communism. One was by Raymond Gram Swing, whose role will be discussed later. The other was by Max Lerner, leading editorial writer on PM, whose familiar practice was to cry down any criticism of Soviet actions as a sinister plot to start another world war.
The same bias extended to all departments of the magazine. The author of its anonymous “European Report” devised a few pat formulas which added up to the proposition “Heads Russia wins, tails the West loses.” Acts which were denounced as outrageous aggression if committed by other powers were transformed into “vigorous security measures” if they bore a made-in-Moscow brand.
“Russia identifies fascism as the enemy and means it,” wrote the author of the Report, who had apparently never heard of the Stalin-Hitler pact. He was quick to hand out bad character certificates to any peoples who showed a misguided desire to preserve their independence against Soviet encroachments. Whether these peoples were Poles or Greeks, Turks or Finns, they were quickly tagged as “slippery,” “feudal,” “reactionary,” and what not in the pages of the Atlantic Monthly. Precisely the same kind of bias, in favor of Chinese and Japanese Communists, against the groups in those countries which were more naturally friendly to America, was perceptible in the “Far Eastern Report.”
Censorship of everything that might hurt Stalin’s feelings was pushed to the point of rejecting a satirical review of the absurd movie Mission to Moscow, by Edmund Wilson. The climax of the Atlantic Monthly’s strange role as unswerving champion of Stalin’s foreign policy was reached when it selected Anna Louise Strong as the contributor of two articles on Poland—a subject which it had hitherto avoided.
Miss Strong’s subsequent expulsion from Russia on the familiar charge of being an American spy cannot obscure the fact that for a quarter of a century she was an energetic and uncritical spokesman for the “party line.” Her two articles on Poland could have easily appeared in Pravda or any other Soviet newspaper. They were full of demonstrable factual errors and misstatements, all designed to support the thesis that the Soviet puppet regime in Poland was a high form of popular democracy. Poles who objected to the reduction of their country to the status of a Soviet vassal state were traduced as “fascists,” criminals, and German sympathizers.
Publication of these articles elicited a good many letters of criticism. The magazine printed two of these with an editorial note to the effect that “it is the Atlantic tradition to hear from both sides of a bitterly contested issue.” There was no explanation as to why nothing on the Polish nationalist side had ever appeared. And the commendable principle of “hearing from both sides” was to receive very peculiar application in practice.
The editor of the Atlantic Monthly invited a well-known American expert on Poland, Raymond Leslie Buell, to write an article on the subject. When this article was submitted, it was rejected—on the ground of insufficient objectivity. So, by implication, the ecstatic Communist sympathizer Anna Louise Strong was “objective.” The scholarly expert Buell was not. Absurdity could go no further. But this incident and the whole record of the Atlantic Monthly illustrate vividly the dream world in which many Americans who were not Communists and probably did not even think of themselves as Communist sympathizers lived during the war years.
Two men who enjoyed great influence in forming public opinion during the Second Crusade were Walter Lippmann, through his widely syndicated column, and Raymond Gram Swing, through his nationwide radio broadcasts. Both failed to recognize the moral and political implications of the betrayal of Poland. Both failed to sound a badly needed warning against the danger to American interest of an indiscriminately vindictive peace. Both failed to show any anticipation of the kind of world which would exist after the war. Both failed to prepare American public opinion for the necessity of organizing some kind of defensive dike against Soviet expansion. Lippmann in 1944 offered the following argument in favor of the permanence of the wartime coalition:
It is easy to say, but it is not true, that the Allies of today may be the enemies of tomorrow. . . . Our present alliance against Germany is no temporary contraption. It is an alignment of nations which, despite many disputes, much suspicion and even short and local wars, like the Crimean, have for more than a century been natural allies.
It is not a coincidence that Britain and Russia have found themselves allied ever since the rise of German imperial aggression; that the United States and Russia, under the Tsars and under the Soviets, have always in vital matters been on the same side. . . .
This is an example of bad reasoning, supported by bad history. For it is quite inaccurate to assert that the United States, Great Britain, Russia, and China behaved toward each other like natural allies for more than a century. Great Britain was repeatedly involved in conflict with China and was long regarded by Chinese nationalists as the spearhead of western imperialist aggression. Russia pushed into Chinese territory in Manchuria and Outer Mongolia.
The Crimean War was only the extreme expression of the attitude of hostile distrust which dominated Russo-British relations from the end of the Napoleonic Wars to the eve of World War I. And at no time were British-Soviet relations enthusiastically cordial.
The United States and Russia have not always been on the same side in vital matters. American diplomatic support and sympathy were for Japan, not for Russia, at the time of the Russo-Japanese War. America repeatedly clashed with Russia on the Open Door issue in Manchuria.
This distorted history was used to back up a weak case. And the fundamental weakness of this case was the overlooking of a principle of political relations as old as the Greek city-states. This is that coalitions are formed against strength, not against weakness. As soon as Germany no longer threatened any of the United Nations, the bond uniting these nations might reasonably be expected to disappear.
Moreover, it was extremely short-sighted to assume that Soviet behavior after all checks and balances in Europe and Asia had been removed by the smashing of Germany and Japan would be the same as Soviet behavior when confronted by a preponderance of anti-Communist power.
Lippmann occasionally recognized that communism was a disturbing element in international relations. In his U.S. War Aims (Boston: Little, 1944) he suggests wistfully that it would be nice if the Soviet regime would begin to carry out the democratic promises of its constitution. As he had never spent any appreciable amount of time in Russia, he could perhaps not be expected to understand the extreme unlikelihood, or rather, impossibility, of such a development.
Raymond Gram Swing lived in a cloud cuckoo land of illusion. Over and over again he returned to the idea that all would be well with the world if Americans would only overcome their distrust of Soviet intentions. He was so obsessed with this theory that he gave every impression of seriously believing that what troubled the course of American-Soviet relations was not Soviet acts of aggression and bad faith in Poland and elsewhere, but American recognition of these acts for what they were. In a speech which was reprinted as an article in the Atlantic Monthly in 1945 he said: “We in this country can choose whether to work with the Soviet Union as partner or whether to surrender to memories and fears.”
The plain implication of these words was that all responsibility for friction was on the American side, that Soviet foreign policy was above reproach. In this article, as in his broadcasts, Swing consistently followed the methods of Dr. Coué, disposing of unpalatable facts by pretending they did not exist. He was always eager to take Soviet words at face value while ignoring the more convincing evidence of Soviet deeds.
So in this speech-article the concrete issues which were already clear—Poland, the validity of the Soviet pledges at Yalta—are not even mentioned. But there is a gushing reference to “Stalin’s great speech, dedicating Soviet foreign policy to co-operation and to the establishment of a world society for the maintenance of peace and justice.” The mental attitude of supine appeasement of the Kremlin which Swing tried to cultivate in his radio audience recalls a pertinent passage in Arthur Koestler’s work The Yogi and the Commissar (New York: Macmillan, 1945):
The attitude of the Left and Liberal press in the Russian-Polish conflict was an uncanny replica of the Conservative attitude in the German-Czech conflict of 1939. The same flimsy arguments about ethnic minorities (Sudeten-Germans in the first, Ukrainians and Belorussians in the second case11 ) were invoked to soften an act of conquest by terror and military might; there was the same impatience with the annoying victim who refuses to be murdered in silence and the same desire not to antagonize the aggressor. . . .
The same pro-Soviet influence that affected American public opinion was noticeable in the activity of some war agencies. A surprising number of individuals who worked in these agencies seem to have cherished divided loyalties. Sometimes their devotion was obviously to the Kremlin.
The manipulation of public opinion at home and abroad in time of war is a necessary but delicate task. It should be entrusted only to individuals of proved patriotism. But the OWI (Office of War Information) was riddled with fellow travelers, many of them persons of foreign birth with political pasts strongly suggestive of Communist sympathies and affiliations. As the Polish Ambassador to the United States during the war, Jan Ciechanowski, writes:
Some of the new war agencies actively conducted what could only be termed pro-Soviet propaganda.
So-called American propaganda broadcasts to occupied Poland were outstanding proofs of this tendency. Notorious pro-Soviet propagandists and obscure foreign communists and fellow travelers were entrusted with these broadcasts.12
Ciechanowski’s protests to the State Department elicited only an explanation that the Department could not control the OWI. Three of the prominent employees of the Polish branch of that agency, Herz, Arsky, and a woman named Balinska, after the war appeared in the service of Communist-dominated Poland. Their place would seem to have been on Stalin’s payroll, not on Uncle Sam’s. The head of the Polish desk was a Pole who had lived in France and was well known for his Communist affiliations.
Other departments were little if any better than the Polish. The Yugoslav branch was quick to hang up a portrait of Marshal Tito. An OWI alumna was Annabelle Bucar, a woman of Croat origin who renounced her American citizenship in Moscow after the war and wrote or signed her name to a scurrilous book, attacking State Department and Embassy personnel.
The OWI was not supposed to exercise domestic censorship. But a suggestion from one of its offices caused the editor of a popular magazine to make changes, without the author’s knowledge, in an accepted article. The changes were designed to justify Soviet annexation of the Baltic states.
A personal experience throws some light on the prevalent spirit in the OWI. The New York office of that organization suggested that I broadcast to the Netherlands East Indies about the successes of Soviet industrialization and collective farming. It seemed to me inappropriate to use American broadcasting facilities to ballyhoo the achievements of a foreign dictatorship. Moreover, the subject seemed entirely irrelevant to the war effort in the Far East. After I made it clear that I would consider it necessary to emphasize the heavy cost of these experiments in suffering and human lives, the offer was dropped.
Again and again, in the years after the war, I have noticed articles critical of American and favorable to Soviet policy, signed by former employees of the OWI. Certainly the obvious concentration of Soviet sympathizers in that key agency suggests grave negligence, if not design, in the matter of personnel selection.
OWI was not unique. The State Department, the OSS, and other agencies had their quotas of “bad security risks.” Even before the war Soviet agents were able to obtain a large number of confidential State Department documents. This was proved by microfilm copies of these documents which Whittaker Chambers, a repentant ex-Communist agent, produced from his pumpkin hiding place.
Alger Hiss, a high State Department official, who accompanied Roosevelt to Yalta and was secretary of the United States delegation at the San Francisco conference, was indicted for perjury after denying the repeated assertions of Chambers that he had been a Communist underground worker and a main source of the stolen documents. Julian Henry Wadleigh, another former State Department employee named by Chambers in the same connection, confessed his guilt.
The first trial of Alger Hiss ended with a deadlocked jury, eight for conviction and four for acquittal. After a second trial Hiss was found guilty of all charges made against him and was sentenced to five years in prison. More corroborative evidence about the friendly relations between Hiss and his accuser, Chambers, was produced at the second trial. And a Vienna-born self-confessed former Communist underground worker, Mrs. Hede Massing, testified that she knew Hiss as the leader of an underground Communist organization in 1935. Mrs. Massing stated that she had disputed with Hiss about whether Noel Field, another State Department Communist sympathizer, should belong to her group or to his. Field, his wife, and his brother disappeared mysteriously behind the Iron Curtain in 1949.
Other officials in the Roosevelt wartime Administration were named as sources of information for Communist spy rings by Chambers and by Elizabeth Bentley, self-confessed Communist spy courier, in testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Perhaps the most important of these officials was Harry Dexter White, high Treasury official and principal author of the Morgenthau Plan.
Had this scheme, with its inevitable consequence, the death by starvation of millions of Germans, been put into operation, it would have been a political godsend to Stalin. In such a case Germany would most probably have turned to communism in sheer despair. So it is possible that other motives besides the desire to inflict vengeance on the German people for Nazi crimes helped to inspire this blueprint for destruction.
One is often impressed by the shocking carelessness which seems to have been shown in appointing individuals of dubious loyalty to responsible wartime posts. Consider the case of one Nathan Gregory Silvermaster, who, like many others mentioned by Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley, refused to answer questions “for fear of self-incrimination.” Naval Intelligence protested against his employment early in the war. The Civil Service Commission in 1942 reported:
“There is considerable testimony in the file indicating that about 1920 Mr. Silvermaster was an underground agent of the Communist Party. From that time until the present, according to the testimony of witnesses, he has been everything from a ‘fellow traveler’ to an agent of the OGPU [Soviet political police].” Yet Silvermaster, protected in some high quarters, went from one confidential appointment to another.
An attitude of strong distrust of Mr. Henry A. Wallace, the Vice-President of the United States during the war years, is reflected in an interview which General Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan project, gave to the Associated Press. This interview went as follows:
q. Did you withhold secret reports on atomic developments from Mr. Wallace?
a. Yes. I didn’t show them to him after showing him one in the fall of 1943.
q. Would they normally have been shown to Mr. Wallace in his position as a member of the President’s Special Committee on Atomic Energy?
a. Normally they would have gone to him, but they didn’t.
q. Was there any special reason for not showing them to him?
a. I preferred not to.
q. Would you consider this a deliberate withholding of information to Mr. Wallace?
a. Some people might think so.
q. Was there any special reason for not showing Mr. Wallace the secret reports?
a. We took a number of deliberate risks on security matters in an effort to bring the war to a quicker end, but we took no unnecessary recognizable risks.13 [Italics supplied.]
This is probably the first time since the days of Aaron Burr when a Vice-President of the United States has been stigmatized as a “poor security risk.”
Much graver was the exposure and conviction as a Soviet spy of Dr. Klaus Fuchs, German refugee scientist in the service of the British Government. Fuchs had access to the most confidential information about atomic research, in the United States as well as in Great Britain. His motives in betraying the country where he had found asylum, as stated in his testimony, were confused, childish, and naive. He was obviously a man whose brain had developed in his specialized field at the expense of his mind. A Philadelphia scientist, Dr. Harry Gold, was arrested on the charge of having served as contact man between Fuchs and Soviet espionage agents. Gold’s arrest was a sequel to FBI questioning of Fuchs in his prison in Great Britain.
There were strong fellow-traveler influences at work in shaping American policy in the Far East. This important fact should not be obscured by the obvious exaggerations which may be found in the charges of Senator Joseph McCarthy about Communist infiltration of the State Department.
The Institute of Pacific Relations became a focal point of American thinking on the Far East and during the war acquired almost semiofficial status. Many of its members were utilized on part-time and full-time government assignment. A study of the editorial policy of such Institute publications as Pacific Affairs and Far Eastern Survey reveals, with negligible exceptions, a pro-Soviet, pro-Chinese Communist, anti-Japanese, anti-Kuomintang bias.
As I know from a personal experience, Pacific Affairs was committed to the policy of printing nothing which might offend the Soviet Institute of Pacific Relations—a sort of premature UN veto arrangement. It editorially supported the official Kremlin version that the Soviet purges during the thirties were aimed at “fascist fifth columnists.”
Outstanding figure in the Institute and for some time editor of Pacific Affairs was Owen Lattimore, author of many books and articles on Far Eastern problems and a principal figure in McCarthy’s charges. Whatever may be thought of McCarthy’s allegation that Lattimore is a “top Soviet spy,” a study of Lattimore’s writings would scarcely support the idea that he is or ever has been an anti-Communist. This is how the Soviet Union appears to neighboring Asiatic peoples, according to Mr. Lattimore:
“The Soviet Union stands for strategic security, economic prosperity, technological progress, miraculous medicine, free education, equality of opportunity, and democracy: a powerful combination.”14
The publisher’s jacket on this book sums up its essential message as follows: “He shows that all the Asiatic peoples are more interested in actual democratic practices, such as the ones they can see in action across the Russian border, than they are in the fine theories of Anglo-Saxon democracies which come coupled with ruthless imperialism.”
One may reasonably feel that if Mr. Lattimore is really an anti-Communist, he has been very successful in concealing this fact in his published writings. Indeed there has been a remarkable, if accidental, parallelism between his recommendations on American policy in the Far East and the aims of the Kremlin. The principal points in a memorandum which Lattimore presented to the State Department in the autumn of 1949 may be summarized as follows:
Stalin might welcome more anti-Communists of this kind. Lattimore’s views carried considerable weight with the Far Eastern Division of the State Department, especially with its former head, John Carter Vincent. The elimination in the summer of 1945 of two able and experienced advisers on Japan, former Ambassador Joseph C. Grew and former Counsellor of Embassy Eugene Dooman, helped to leave a free field for those who regarded the Nationalist regime of Chiang Kai-shek as an embarrassing nuisance in China and were inclined to practice economic vivisection experiments in Japan. The result of the postwar American policy in the Far East has been to leave this country at a very low ebb in prestige and influence.
Suggestive of the influences at work in the field of Far Eastern policy was the strange case of the magazine Amerasia. Edited by a businessman, Philip Jaffe, and Kate Mitchell, a former associate of the Institute of Pacific Relations, Amerasia went further than Pacific Affairs in echoing the Soviet viewpoint on Far Eastern matters. The FBI announced on June 7, 1945, that it had discovered large numbers of confidential documents from the State, War, and Navy Departments and from other government agencies in the office of Amerasia. Jaffe and Kate Mitchell, Navy Lieutenant Andrew Roth, John S. Service and E. S. Larsen, of the Far Eastern Division of the State Department, and Mark Gayn, a Manchuria-born journalist, were arrested on charge of being implicated in the theft of confidential government papers.
Jaffe pleaded guilty and got off with a fine of twenty-five hundred dollars. Larsen entered a plea of nolo contendere and paid a fine of five hundred dollars. The charges against the others were dropped. The FBI has maintained a good record of not making arrests without strong supporting evidence. The quashing of the charges in the Amerasia case led to suggestions by Representative Dondero and others that the case was deliberately not pressed as it could have been on the basis of available evidence.
When Jaffe was brought to trial, the government prosecutor made no attempt to prove his long record of association with pro-Communist organizations, although this might well have been a motive for his unauthorized collecting of government papers. According to Senator Bourke Hickenlooper, of Iowa, a member of the subcommittee which investigated the Amerasia case, some of the stolen documents were of the highest importance, including the location of American submarines in the Pacific at that time and a highly confidential message from Roosevelt to Chiang Kai-shek.15
We do not know, and perhaps never shall know, how much outright treason was mingled with stupidity, opportunism, emotional fellow-traveler admiration of the Soviet regime, and sheer ignorance in shaping American wartime attitudes and activities. The pattern of Soviet espionage in Canada was revealed clearly and sharply because a Soviet cipher clerk, Igor Gouzenko, who knew all the essential names and facts, risked his life by turning over this information to the Canadian authorities. No Soviet agent who knew as much as Gouzenko turned state’s evidence in the United States. Consequently, revelations of Soviet espionage and American treason came out in haphazard, piecemeal fashion. It is sometimes impossible to know with certainty whether a man crossed the dangerously narrow no man’s land between emotional enthusiasm for communism and willingness to be a spy in the service of a foreign power.
Moreover, there has been continuity in the political character of the Administration. There has been no great desire in high Washington quarters to press home investigations which might be damaging to the character, or at least to the judgment, of men prominently identified with the New Deal and the Roosevelt wartime Administration.
On the basis of what is known beyond reasonable doubt, however, it may be said that in no previous war was the United States so plagued with infiltration of government agencies and warping of policies in the interest of a foreign power. A number of factors combined to produce this undesirable result.
There was the old intellectual occupational disease of fellow-traveler sympathy. There was the cult of totalitarian liberalism. There was the illusion, obstinately although most illogically cherished by the most fanatical anti-Hitler crusaders, that appeasement would work with Stalin. There was the significant and unfortunate fact that no one with intimate first-hand knowledge of Soviet communism in theory and practice enjoyed much confidence or influence in the White House.
All this created an atmosphere in which public opinion placed no effective brake on mistaken Administration policies, in which Soviet agents and propagandists, native and foreign, found it very easy to operate.
[1. ] The best and most vivid picture of this side of America’s wartime life is to be found in a novel, The Grand Design, by John Dos Passos. No future historian of the period can afford to overlook this revealing book.
[2. ] Lyons’s book, The Red Decade, in which this phrase occurs, contains massive documentation on the extent of Communist influence in American intellectual circles during the decade before the war.
[3. ] Not the famous general of the same name.
[4. ] MacDonald, Henry Wallace, 48.
[5. ] As one learns from his Memoirs, Hull was frequently irritated by the interference of Wallace’s Board of Economic Warfare with what the Secretary regarded as the proper functions of the State Department.
[6. ] Wallace’s Cabinet colleague, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., reports in a magazine article that Wallace got the Great Pyramid printed on the currency of the United States in the belief that it possessed some mystical value.
[7. ] One finds abundant and detailed proof of this statement in Soviet Gold, by Vladimir Petrov, a Russian who escaped from the Soviet Union after serving a sentence of several years in the slave-labor camps of eastern Siberia.
[8. ] Willkie, One World, 176.
[9. ] Ibid.
[10. ] The hackneyed expression “poetic justice” seems applicable to the fact that at least one of the sixteen was subsequently expelled from the Soviet Union, charged with being an American spy, and that several others were refused entrance visas.
[11. ] I do not think this parallel is altogether accurate. The Sudeten Germans had always disliked Czech rule and felt some attraction to Germany. There is not the least evidence that any considerable number of Ukrainians and Byelorussians wished to be absorbed into the Soviet Union.
[12. ] Ciechanowski, Defeat in Victory, 130-31.
[13. ] See the New York Times for December 9, 1949.
[14. ] Lattimore, Solution in Asia, 139.
[15. ] See the New York Herald Tribune for May 31, 1950.