A Story Told Before
Oliver Stone’s recycled leftist history of the United States
Nov 12, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 09 • By RONALD RADOSH
The truth is that Truman made concessions to the Russians on the border issue between Poland and Germany, even winning the praise of another of Stone’s favorites, former ambassador Joseph Davies, known for his pro-Soviet views. Truman left his meeting with Stalin at Potsdam hopeful that FDR’s grand bargain with the Soviets was continuing. As time passed, however, Secretary of State James Byrnes—a villain in the Stone series—soon saw the grave dangers that the expansion of Soviet power in Europe and northeast Asia posed to the United States. Stalin was set to exert pressure on the western part of Germany, hoping to move the entire country into the Soviet orbit. Again, it was Stalin’s expansionist ambitions that led Truman to change American policy and abandon hope that the wartime alliance could continue in the postwar world.
Stone allows no critical opinions by scholars who have studied the Soviet archives to disturb his rehash of Communist propaganda themes. His sainted Henry Wallace opposed the creation of NATO, advocated abandoning Berlin in response to the Soviet blockade, denounced the Marshall Plan for European reconstruction as “the martial plan,” and justified the 1948 Communist coup in Czechoslovakia as a measure to thwart a plot by fascist forces. Precisely the Kremlin line.
The film’s narrative mockingly presents viewers with Truman’s diary entry in which he said that Wallace “wants to disband our armed forces, give Russia our atomic secrets, and trust a bunch of adventurers in the Kremlin Politburo. I do not understand a ‘dreamer’ like that.” But many viewers, hearing these words, will deem them far more accurate than Stone’s attempt to discredit them.
There is one original aspect to what would otherwise be Stone’s mindless regurgitation of Stalin’s propaganda. Stone plays pop psychologist along the way, explaining that Truman talked tough to Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov because as a young boy, Truman had been ridiculed by his own father as a sissy, and now he had the chance to turn the tables.
Another event whose treatment reveals the shabby methods of Stone and his partner is Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs. Stone claims that Japan had already lost the war, that the Japanese military leaders were ready to accept a peace agreement, that major military figures including Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur opposed the bombs’ use, that Truman reached the decision after ignoring the pleas of Nobel scientists, and that he did so to intimidate Russia and end the war against Japan before Russia could join it, as Stalin had agreed to do.
This is the thesis that Soviet agents and apologists like Carl Marzani, P. M.S. Blackett, and Dana F. Fleming laid out in the first years of the Cold War and which was revived (and lent legitimacy) 40 years ago by left-wing historian Gar Alperovitz. In the interim, however, major books and academic articles based on archival research in Japan and the United States—by Wilson D. Miscamble, Richard B. Frank, Robert James Maddox, Sadao Asada, and many others—have discredited the argument. But for Oliver Stone, there is only one truth, the “truth” that discredits the United States.
According to Stone, the dropping of the atomic bombs was criminal because the war was over, Japan defeated, and its leaders wanted peace. According to Stone, Truman lied when he said that American lives would have been lost in the invasion that would have been necessary if the bombs had not been dropped. His purpose in dropping the bombs was to show Stalin “that the United States would stop at nothing to impose its will.”
But as Richard B. Frank, author of the magisterial Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire, wrote in these pages in 2005:
All three of the critics’ central premises are wrong: The Japanese did not see their situation as catastrophically hopeless. They were not seeking to surrender, but pursuing a negotiated end to the war that preserved the old order in Japan, not just a figurehead emperor. Finally, . . . American leaders . . . understood . . . that “until the Japanese leaders realize that an invasion cannot be repelled, there is little likelihood that they will accept any peace terms satisfactory to the Allies.”
In those last lines, Frank quotes from a July 1945 U.S. analysis of military and diplomatic intercepts. He adds, “This cannot be improved upon as a succinct and accurate summary of the military and diplomatic realities of the summer of 1945.” As for Stone, having dispensed with the facts, he is pleased to depict Truman as a moral monster and “war criminal.”
In the last segment of the fourth episode of his film, Stone waxes ecstatic over what might have been had Henry Wallace’s third-party bid for the presidency in 1948 succeeded. The Cold War might have been halted; the United States and the Soviet Union might have cooperated to usher in a world at peace; and America might have fulfilled FDR’s dream of a second Bill of Rights guaranteeing to all freedom from want, moving America to join postwar Britain in building a social-democratic future.
But as Stone tells it, anti-Communist paranoia directed at Wallace and his Progressive army doomed that wonderful prospect. “The Red-baiting, the dismissive treatment of Wallace by the major newspapers, Truman’s move to the left on domestic issues, and a last-minute rush to Truman by Democratic voters” who feared a Republican victory “resulted in an electoral disaster for the Wallace campaign. American voters backed the candidate who had driven the nation down the path of empire, nuclear arms race, and global confrontation.”
In concluding with these words, Stone reveals how little he understands this period of our recent past. Wallace’s Progressive party was created and run by the American Communist party, and all of its leaders were secret members, including Wallace’s friend, chief adviser, and campaign manager C. B. “Beanie” Baldwin. Even the leftist journalist I. F. Stone understood this. He wrote, “The Communists have been the dominant influence in the Progressive party. . . . If it had not been for the Communists, there would have been no Progressive party.” Indeed, the PP’s chief counsel was another secret Communist, John Abt. When Wallace asked Baldwin about Abt, not suspecting that Baldwin himself was a Communist, Baldwin simply lied and told Wallace that Abt “was not a Communist.”
John Gates was the editor of the Worker in 1948 and a member of the Communist party’s Central Committee. He left the party in 1956. In 1972, he wrote that “the Communists did not merely endorse the decision of Wallace to form a third party. They were also most instrumental in influencing Wallace to make such a decision.” He added that Baldwin worked day and night to convince Wallace to run, doing so on the instructions of party leaders Eugene Dennis, Al Blumberg, and William Z. Foster. Wallace caved to the pressure.
There was only one reason the Communists created the Progressive party: Stalin had instructed Western parties to ready themselves for war with the United States, and he demanded that old coalitions be split—including alliances with the left-wing CIO unions—unless those in them favored and supported Stalin’s adventurist foreign policy and opposed the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. Stone tells his viewers that Wallace had the support of true New Dealers like Eleanor Roosevelt. Stone never mentions that, as Wallace revealed himself to be a dupe of the Communists, Mrs. Roosevelt publicly rebuked him, correctly pointing out, “The American Communists will be the nucleus of Mr. Wallace’s third party.” Other anti-Communist liberal Democrats issued a public statement charging that Wallace had “lined up unashamedly with the forces of Soviet totalitarianism.”
No one put the truth about Wallace better than Dwight Macdonald, who wrote in his delightfully wicked 1948 exegesis Henry Wallace: The Man and the Myth that Wallaceland was “a region of perpetual fogs, caused by the warm winds of the liberal Gulf Stream coming in contact with the Soviet glacier.” In the 21st century, Oliver Stone still lives in that perpetual fog.
Ronald Radosh is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and a columnist for PJ Media. He is coauthor of The Rosenberg File.