Posts Tagged ‘Henry Wallace’

Could the Cold War have been averted?

February 2, 2015

The Cold War was a real war.  I have read that by some estimates 30 million people died in wars and conflicts between 1945 and 1991, and most of these were linked to the global duel between the USA and the USSR.

The casualties included those in the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam Conflict, the anti-Communist uprisings in East Germany in 1953 and Hungary in 1956, the Cambodians murdered by Pol Pot, the U.S.-backed death squads in Latin America, the Indonesians massacred in the overthrow of Sukarno, the wars in Africa between US-backed and Soviet-backed proxies, the Afghan war between a Soviet-backed regime and US-backed rebels, and countless other struggles now forgotten by the world.

UntoldHistoryStoneKuznick00379519Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, in their book and TV documentary, The Untold History of the United States, said this tragedy for have been avoided but for one thing.

It was that the President of the United States in the years following World War Two happened to be Harry Truman, a warmonger, rather than Henry Wallace, a lover of peace.

This is not how it appeared to me at the time.   I came of age in the early 1950s, and I thought the United States and its allies were in peril, the same kind of peril as in the 1930s.

The Soviet Union was as much a totalitarian dictatorship as Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.   By “totalitarian,” I mean that the government sought to subordinate all human activity, including science, art, literature, sport, education and civic life, to the control of the ruling party, and to demand not only passive acquiescence, but enthusiastic support.

Hitler and Stalin also were alike in that they killed millions of people, not for anything they had done, but for what they were.  While historians now think that Stalin murdered fewer people as Hitler, this is not how things seemed at the time, and, in any case, Stalin’s body count was large enough.

But the most terrifying thing about totalitarianism was the idea that the ruling party could somehow get into the minds of its subjects, and experience slavery as a kind of freedom.  George Orwell’s 1984 was an all-too-plausible vision of a future in which there was no individual liberty, no concept of objective truth aside from a party line and a Winston Smith could be brainwashed into loving Big Brother.  These things seemed all too plausible.

Stalin not only ruled one-sixth of the earth’s surface, but commanded the loyalty of Communists worldwide.  Millions of people, many of them idealistic, intelligent and courageous, believed it was their duty to subordinate their personal convictions and code of morality to a Communist Party line that put the interests of the Soviet Union above all else.

A revolutionary Communist movement is one thing.  A worldwide Communist movement that subordinated all other goals to being an instrument of Soviet power was a very different thing.


Henry Wallace wouldn’t have saved us

March 8, 2013

Oliver Stone in his new documentary, The Untold History of the United States, says the Cold War might have been averted if the Democrats had not nominated Harry Truman for Vice President in 1944, but instead had renominated Vice President Henry Wallace.

time.henry.wallaceWallace advocated a conciliatory attitude toward the Soviet Union, in contrast to the anti-Communist Truman.  I haven’t seen Stone’s documentary or read the companion volume.   I’m not going to comment on it directly, but just point out that Wallace himself admitted he had been mistaken about Stalin and his intentions.  In a 1952 article, “Where I Went Wrong,” Wallace stated:

More and more I am convinced that Russian Communism in its total disregard of truth, in its fanaticism, its intolerance and its resolute denial of God and religion is something utterly evil.

Henry Wallace was a distinguished plant scientist and a well-respected Secretary of Agriculture during the 1930s.   Like many Americans, he rightly admired and felt grateful to the men and women of the Red Army, who bore the brunt of the fighting against Germany in Europe during World War Two.   He was sent on a fact-finding tour of Soviet Asia and China in 1944, and visited, among other places, Magadan, one of the main Soviet forced labor camps.

I had not the slightest idea when I visited Magadan that this far-north Pacific port–center of a vast, sub-arctic gold field–was also the center for administering the labor of both criminals and those suspected of political disloyalty. … … 

… Elinor Lippor, who was a slave laborer in the Magadan area for many years, has subsequently described the great effort put forth by the Soviet authorities to pull the wool over our eyes and make Magadan into a Potemkin village for my inspection.  Watch towers were torn down.  Prisoners were herded away out of sight. On this basis, what we was prodded a false impression. I was amazed that the Russians could do so much in such short time–as was [1940 Republican presidential candidate] Wendell Willkie, who had visited the same region in 1942.  But unfortunately neither Willkie nor I knew the full truth.  As guests we were shown only one side of the coin.

time.henrywallaceWallace opposed President Truman’s anti-Communist foreign policy, and ran for President himself as a third-party candidate in 1948, gaining less than 3 percent of the popular vote.  A short time after that, he wrote, he began to change his mind.

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 indefinitely, even at the peril of accidentally provoking a hot war.

 … … I was deeply moved by reports of friends who had visited Czechoslovakia shortly after the Communists took control.  In the summer of 1949, a member of the Progressive Party visited Czechoslovakia and reported the dispossession of relatives whose only crime was to own a small business.  No one, I was told, could amount to anything who was not an outspoken critic of the U.S. and capitalism.  Only Moscow-trained Communists were allowed in positions of authority.

When Communist North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, Wallace supported President Truman’s decision to defend South Korea.   Although Wallace was naive about Soviet intentions, he was right about some important things.  In his 1952 article, he foresaw that Communist China’s leaders would not necessarily support Soviet policy, and he warned against supporting colonialism and imperialism in the name of anti-Communist.

Many present-day evils flow from the Cold War, as Henry Wallace and also Senator Robert A. Taft, the isolationist Republican leader, foresaw.   But given that Joseph Stalin and Stalin’s USSR were what they were, I don’t think it could have been avoided.  This will be a subject for another post.

Click on Where I Was Wrong for Henry Wallace’s full 1952 article.

Click on Untold Story: The Rise and Fall of a Progressive Vice President of the USA for an interview with historian Peter Kuznick, co-author of Oliver Stone’s documentary and companion volume.

Click on Cherry-Picking Our History for criticism by historian Sean Wilentz.