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Saying It Ain't So on Joe | The Nation

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Saying It Ain't So on Joe

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Alger Hiss's case is crucial for understanding the period. His prominence in shaping FDR's domestic and foreign policies gave him both partisans and accusers. Hiss begat McCarthy, as well as Richard Nixon. His perjury conviction legitimized the dark criticisms of the Soviet Union and allegations about Communists in the State Department that elevated anti-Communism to a civil religion, with results that still haunt American society.

About the Author

Stanley I. Kutler
Stanley I. Kutler is the author of The Wars of Watergate (Norton).

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"This is not the place to rehash the issue of who, if anyone, 'lost' China," Herman writes. But he does exactly that, citing the central roles of such dupes/subversives as Truman, Acheson, Currie, the "China Hands" and, yes, Theodore White, plus, according to McCarthy, the greatest spy of all, Owen Lattimore. The "truth" about Lattimore has finally emerged, he argues, "thanks to a former Chinese espionage agent's memoirs and declassified FBI files, which go a long way to vindicate McCarthy's original charges."

Those who have used the FBI files--and there is no indication that Herman has--have found quite the opposite. A skilled scholar-journalist, Lattimore in 1945 shrewdly predicted the end of colonialism in Asia and the rise of indigenous governments. He was alert to the weaknesses of Chiang's regime and the growing power of the Chinese Communists. Lattimore had his share of flaws, but he certainly was not the "Number One Soviet Spy" in America, as McCarthy had contended. Hoover's FBI bureaucracy warned him of the dubiousness of the case against Lattimore, and Hoover distanced himself from the unsuccessful prosecution. Luther Youngdahl, a courageous Republican federal judge, twice dismissed different sets of indictments against Lattimore.

We look back in amazement now and ponder how this nation could have believed that the Chinese should have struggled to cast off the domination of their lives by Western imperialists and substitute for them Russian masters. Yes, Mao signed an alliance agreement to rebuild his country, but the United States, paralyzed by McCarthy and his allies, offered Mao nothing but hostility. Lattimore predicted that Mao would eventually break with Moscow and provide an opportunity for American foreign-policy-makers. Herman sheepishly acknowledges that "in the long run" Lattimore was correct. Maybe a posthumous medal is in order.

Herman ultimately recognizes that the policies fostered by the "dupes" proved correct. Frustrated, cornered, he is reduced to berating Kennan, Acheson and others for their "self-confident arrogance" and willingness to settle for the status quo. But Herman has no understanding of Kennan's "Long Telegram" of 1946 and its perceptive analysis of the Soviets' inner contradictions and weaknesses. What troubles him at bottom is that things turned out just as Kennan had predicted. He was the "rightist" of all.

The time has come to end the partisan, political squabbling over the cold war. To label Dean Acheson arrogant and Harry Truman a dupe is both silly and pernicious. Even R. Emmett Tyrrell, the conservative editor of the American Spectator (of all people), rejected such simple-mindedness among his fellow Reaganites and ordered a round of applause for those who had fought the cold war over the long run--specifically beginning with Truman, Acheson, Marshall and Kennan, and continuing through the parade of Presidents in late-twentieth-century America. Herman's natural allies can only be embarrassed by this work.

The end of the cold war has empowered and emboldened those who agree with McCarthy's aims, however they distance themselves from the man. The cold war triumphalists, as well as the keepers of the conspiracy faith, rarely consider whether the excesses in the search for subversives really were worth the social and political costs of the time. Beyond ferreting out real spies, did all that zeal, all that repression, all that suffering of innocents, or the tarnished reputations, give us victory in the long twilight struggle of the cold war? Commenting on the recent cases of Russian infiltration of the CIA, a former CIA officer noted that "I think we were fairly well penetrated. But the point is, so what? It didn't save the USSR. And it didn't bring down the US."

Exactly. We would have won anyway.

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