The Magazine

A Story Told Before

Oliver Stone’s recycled leftist history of the United States

Nov 12, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 09 • By RONALD RADOSH
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All these books have something in common: They are hagiographic treatments of Wallace as the man who could have brought the United States into permanent peace with the USSR, avoided the Cold War, and created a social democracy at home. For Stone, Wallace was the “nerve center of the New Deal.” At the Department of Agriculture, he used his power to develop new methods of plant fertilization. He opposed racist theories and stood up to party bosses. He was also a great athlete, a reader, and a “spiritual” man. In reality, Wallace was
a disciple of the Russian émigré theosophist Nicholas Roerich, whom he addressed as “Dear Guru” in letters published after Roerich’s death, revealing him to be a cheap hustler and a phony who conned a gullible Wallace. 

Viewers do not learn that, at the Agriculture Department, Wallace supported what historians call “the purge of the liberals.” Nor was he a radical as Roosevelt’s vice president. Stone omits facts that interfere with his depiction of Wallace as the embodiment of the left wing of the New Deal.

If Wallace was no radical on domestic issues, he did prove to be Stalin’s dupe in foreign affairs. The liberalism he came to espouse was that of the Popular Front, the call for an alliance between Democrats and American Communists and Socialists as the vehicle through which to advance the agenda of FDR’s expanding welfare state. As early as 1943, Wallace warned of “fascist interests motivated largely by anti-Russian bias” who were trying to “get control of our government.” These views are what endear Wallace to Stone.

So enamored of the Soviet Union was the vice president that in May 1944 he traveled to 22 cities in Soviet Siberia. There, the NKVD played Wallace for a fool. He described the slave labor colony of Magadan, which the Soviet secret police had transformed into a Potemkin village staffed by actors and NKVD personnel, as a “combination TVA and Hudson’s Bay Company.” 

According to his own testimony, if he had become president, Wallace would have made Harry Dexter White his secretary of the Treasury and given a position in government to Laurence Duggan. Both men were Soviet agents. As a KGB cable found in the Venona archives shows, the Soviets hoped that Duggan would aid them “by using his friendship” with Wallace for “extracting .  .  . interesting information.”

Instead, of course, Roosevelt replaced Wallace with Harry Truman on the Democratic ticket in 1944, and named Wallace secretary of commerce. FDR died on April 12, 1945, and in September 1946, President Truman fired Wallace. The provocation was a speech Wallace gave at a Madison Square Garden rally in which, contrary to administration policy, he called for recognizing Soviet spheres of influence—in effect, occupation zones—as just and necessary. Stone endorses Wallace’s support for turning the nations of Eastern Europe into Soviet pawns, arguing that what Wallace favored was no different from the Russians’ recognition of American influence in the Western hemisphere. Failing to distinguish between democracies and totalitarian regimes, Stone consistently portrays the Soviet Union as the victim of American imperialism, while regarding the monster Stalin as a peaceful leader who sought only to gain valid security guarantees on his borders.

Wallace not only opposed Truman’s decision to block Stalin’s expansionist ambitions, he also spoke of Stalin as a man of peace and Truman as a dangerous militarist. This is the view Stone endorses. But as Notre Dame historian Wilson D. Miscamble demonstrated in From Roose-velt to Truman: Potsdam, Hiroshima and the Cold War, Truman opted for a changed policy only after Stalin showed that his grip on Eastern Europe was nonnegotiable. Historian Fraser Harbutt of Emory University concurred, writing: “Truman genuinely tried to follow Roosevelt’s seemingly conciliatory line toward a Soviet Union whose policies, in the end, left him little alternative but a turn to resistance and thus to the Cold War.”

Two early Cold War episodes illustrate the mendacious method of Stone’s film. Stone asserts that Poland was meant to be in Stalin’s hands since Russia had been invaded twice by armies crossing the Polish border, and that after Yalta, Stalin never betrayed his agreement to allow free elections. This was the Kremlin line at the time to a tee. It is Truman who is portrayed as untrustworthy and feckless by resisting what was supposed to have been a done deal. 

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