Victor Navasky, publisher emeritus of The Nation, was the magazine's editor from 1978 to 1995 and publisher and editorial director from 1995 to 2005. In 1994, while on a year's leave of absence, he served first as a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and then as a senior fellow at the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University.
Before coming to The Nation he was an editor at The New York Times Magazine and wrote a monthly column about the publishing business ("In Cold Print") for the New York Times Book Review. He is the author of Kennedy Justice (Atheneum, 1977), the American Book Award winner Naming Names and, most recently, A Matter of Opinion. He is co-author with Christopher Cerf of The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation, now in its second edition.
Navasky has also served as a Guggenheim Fellow, a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation and Ferris Visiting Professor of Journalism at Princeton. He has taught at a number of colleges and universities and has contributed articles and reviews to numerous magazines and journals of opinion. He is a graduate of Yale Law School (1959) and Swarthmore College (1954), where he was Phi Beta Kappa with high honors in the social sciences.
In addition to his Nation responsibilities, Navasky is also director of the George Delacorte Delacorte Center for Magazine Journalism at Columbia University and a regular commentator on the public radio program Marketplace.
Mr. Navasky, who has three children, lives in New York City with his wife, Anne. He serves on the boards of the Authors Guild, PEN and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
A little learning, the old adage has it, can be a dangerous thing.
Example: US Attorney General John Ashcroft's speech at the US Conference of Mayors.
His message: "Forty years ago, another Attorney General...
Robert F. Kennedy, came to the Department of Justice at a time when organized crime was threatening the very foundations of the Republic. Mobsters controlled one of the nation's largest labor unions [the Teamsters]. Racketeers murdered, bribed and extorted with impunity....
"Then as now, the enemy that America faced was described bluntly and correctly as a conspiracy of evil. Then as now, the enemy was well financed, expertly organized and international in scope. Then as now, its operations were hidden under a code of deadly silence.
His theme: "Attorney General Kennedy made no apology for using all of the available resources in the law to disrupt and dismantle organized crime networks. Very often prosecutors were aggressive, using obscure statutes to arrest and detain suspected mobsters. One racketeer and his father were indicted for lying on a federal home loan application. A former gunman for the Capone mob was brought to court on a violation of the Migratory Bird Act. Agents found 563 game birds in his freezer, a mere 539 birds over the limit.
His conclusion: "Robert Kennedy's Justice Department, it is said, would arrest mobsters for spitting on the sidewalk if it would help in the battle against organized crime.... It has been said that that was an effective policy, and I believe it was."
He then cites an unnamed "author" who "chronicled" Robert Kennedy's Attorney Generalship in support of his contention that the moral of this cautionary tale is that all sorts of freedoms and civil liberties will have to be sacrificed in any serious and effective war on terrorism.
At first I thought I might be the anonymous author to whom he referred, because I am indeed the author of Kennedy Justice*, a book about Robert Kennedy's Attorney Generalship, and I reported his use of the home loan mortgage applications and the Migratory Bird Act to "get" gangsters. But I also reported that the Migratory Bird Act conviction was eventually overturned, because it involved an illegal search and seizure. Ashcroft forgot to mention that, and he also neglected my larger point--that while Kennedy was indeed an effective Attorney General, his "Get Hoffa" squad and a number of his actions in the course of his war on organized crime lent themselves to easy abuse and were dangerous precedents for the future.
So much for the Attorney General's history lesson. Since September 11 our government has secretly rounded up and detained more than 1,000 people. Under the new antiterrorism law Ashcroft has not been required to tell us who they are, why they have been picked up, what their status is.
What is doubly distressing, however, is that the Attorney General's misreading of Robert Kennedy's Attorney Generalship was followed days later by the announcement that the President had signed a new executive order allowing the White House or a former President to veto release of presidential papers. This means that scholars and reporters as well as subsequent historical actors will be deprived of the raw materials that might help unlock the true lessons of our past. Taken together, the Attorney General's history lesson and the President's executive order suggest an unfortunate contempt for history.
The philosopher George Santayana famously observed that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. In this case we appear to have an Administration determined to distort it or, in the alternative, to withhold it.
* Now available from iUniverse.com, under the aegis of the Authors Guild.
My three favorite media stories in recent weeks were how Bill "Politically Incorrect" Maher kept his job at ABC-TV, how Ann Coulter got herself fired from National Review and how all the networks simultaneously agreed to the Bush Administration's request that they suppress any future Osama bin Laden tapes.
I also got a kick out of the Dan Rather interview on a cable channel in which he answered questions about whether it's OK for a network in the interests of objectivity to ban anchors from wearing American flags on their lapels, while a simulated American flag flew in the logo on the lower left-hand corner of the screen. (Rather himself prefers not to wear a flag but said nothing about appearing with a flag logo in the lower left-hand corner.)
Bill Maher got into trouble on Politically Incorrect when he correctly observed in the aftermath of September 11 that it's wrong to call the suicide bombers "cowards" and impolitically added, "We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away: That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly."
Two advertisers, Sears and Federal Express, pulled their ads, seventeen stations canceled his program and Maher apologized for being, well, politically incorrect. Or rather for being misinterpreted ("I offer my apologies for anyone who took it wrong," he said), although why he should apologize to people who misinterpreted him he never explained. The defecting advertisers claimed patriotism, but in fact they were the cowards for withdrawing ads from fear of the controversy Maher's remarks might spark.
So what do we learn from this first profile in cowardice? Maher demonstrated that at best he is only incorrect within permissible limits. The advertisers should come back, the seventeen stations should reinstall the show (if they haven't already) and Maher should resign, not for what he said but for flying under false colors. You can't have a show called Politically Incorrect and then abjectly apologize for not being PC.
Next case. Ann Coulter, rudely dismissed by the Boston Globe's Alex Beam as "a right-wing telebimbo" for her colorful but intemperate attacks on the Clintons, was fired by National Review after she wrote in National Review Online that "we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." My question is, In which order?
Technically, they didn't give her the boot until she wrote a follow-up about requiring passports from "suspicious-looking swarthy males." Now there are two possibilities here: One is that National Review fired her because they didn't like what she said. The other is that National Review fired her because by saying what too many National Review readers believe, she embarrassed the home team. Solution: After Maher apologizes for apologizing and resigns, Politically Incorrect should hire the truly politically incorrect Coulter.
Finally, on the networks, I don't understand why Condoleezza Rice didn't include Al Jazeera in the request to suppress the bin Laden tapes. It's true that Washington doesn't control the Qatar network, but it doesn't control the major US networks either, and surely Al Jazeera has a higher quotient of terrorist viewers. Originally, I thought the Administration's request had to do with not showing enemy propaganda, and I wondered whether this meant that the networks' much-vaunted claims of political neutrality--giving equal time to both sides in a dispute--stopped at the water's edge. But the Administration said the issue had to do less with propaganda than with national security, claiming that bin Laden might be using the occasion to send a message by secret code.
Since potential terrorists can still get bin Laden's message via Al Jazeera and via the Internet, I am baffled as to the networks' true motives, unless, like Maher, his advertisers and National Review, they are also in the controversy-avoidance business.
What this incident does show is that you don't need media concentration to have homogenization of the news. The simultaneous capitulation of all the major TV networks proves that concentration or no concentration, they are perfectly capable of marching in lockstep on their own.
We regret that space considerations permit us to print only a few of the many letters we received on Martin Duberman's "A Fellow Traveling," his review of Ronald Radosh's Commies, and Victor Navasky's "Cold War Ghosts," an essay on the new McCarthyism, both in the July 16 issue. Among those we're unable to print (but which may be read on our website) are letters from victims of McCarthyism, letters on the merits (demerits, actually) of the Hiss and Rosenberg convictions, scholarly letters filling in missing pieces of cold war history (including one from a Navy veteran who served in the Office of Strategic Services) and a letter finding a "cold war ghost" in the actions of "those who rule the National Pacifica Radio Board." Radosh invites readers to his website to read his answer to Duberman's review. We accept, and we invite readers to our special website letters page to read more on this topic. --The Editors
I would like to thank Martin Duberman for trying to be evenhanded and fair in his discussion of my memoir, Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left. I suspect that many Nation readers will be angry that he did not deliver the hatchet job expected by so many of them. Nevertheless, I have many points of difference with both him and Victor Navasky, whose piece appeared in the same issue. Rather than take up the limited space allotted in the letters column, which would not allow for a substantive answer, I refer interested readers to my archive at frontpagemag.com, where they will find my answers to both Duberman and Navasky.
I thank Victor Navasky and Martin Duberman for their sane and cogent analyses of the new anti-Communism. As a veteran of union organizing during the Great Depression and of military service in World War II, I long ago concluded that Communism and anti-Communism are equally absurd. They are absurd in being essentially theological, in the outdated mode of the Crusades or of Cromwell's Puritanism. Both Communism and anti-Communism derive tests of faith syllogistically from shaky first principles. Thereupon their opposing heresy-hunters are off and running. Heretics are judged to violate vague notions called loyalty and security. Our nation's Founding Fathers omitted these notions and defined treason narrowly and precisely. Later the notion of loyalty tests died with rejection of the Alien and Sedition Acts; died again with revulsion against the Palmer Raids; and died a third time with the deserved unpopularity of Joe McCarthy. (Espionage is another matter. Insofar as there really are national secrets, they must be protected, but only with strict observance of due process.) I began to recognize Stalin's paranoia and cruelty with Trotsky's murder and the "treason" trials. Nevertheless, I must raise a query about Sidney Hook's dictum that "the first priority" of our time has been "the defense and survival of the West." Did not the Red Army, despite Stalin's crimes, help to meet that priority?
JOHN M. PICKERING
Martin Duberman and Victor Navasky leave out one important point. During the cold war many anti-Communist liberals and leftists, with some very few honorable exceptions, spent more time inveighing against "domestic totalitarianism" on the left than they did agitating for peace and social justice. For all of their well-meaning ideals, those anti-Communist liberals did no more to advance progressive causes than did the right-wingers who were using anti-Communism to impede those causes.Meanwhile, rank-and-file Communists, as well as other leftists, without regard to who did or did not do what and with which and to whom, were among the most dedicated, passionate and successful people working for peace and social justice. And they and their political descendants remain so today.
Chevy Chase, Md.
The Soviet Union is no more, nor, effectively, is the CPUSA; yet the indefatigable experts on the Red Menace keep clambering over old battlefields and, with the help of such imperfect tools as the Venona Project, constructing new ones.
Victor Navasky and Martin Duberman adumbrate admirably the pathological nature of this quest, the dishonest methods employed by its practitioners, the absurdity of regarding Communism solely as a security threat and the American CP as just a tool of Soviet foreign policy. But both writers are guilty of some serious inaccuracies. Thus, while Irving Howe objected to Ronald Radosh's portrayal of the Sandinista regime as composed of "ultrarevolutionary Marxist-Leninists," it is absurd to suggest, as Duberman does, that Howe would warn Radosh not to criticize the Sandinista regime while they were "under attack by the American empire." I happen to know something about it, as I was close to Howe and wrote a few pieces for Dissent after visiting Nicaragua and interviewing some of its leading players.
In general, terms like "Marxist-Leninist" and "Stalinist" are often used incautiously vis-à-vis Central American revolutionary parties. There were certainly Marxist-Leninists among the Sandinistas, but the Sandinistas were a motley lot, and "anti-imperialism" or "anti-Yankeeism"was more relevant to their collective ideological makeup than the verities of Marx and Lenin: It could hardly be otherwise. Nor is it true that the Sandinistas simply followed the "Castro model." Rather, they tried to combine it with those of Eastern Europe's "people's democracies" and, curiously, with more authentic stress on democratic principles. Even the Polish elections of 1989, which brought Solidarity to power, stipulated that 65 percent of all seats in the new Parliament would be held by Communists and their allies.
As for the American CP, however small the number of members Moscow tried to recruit--successfully or not--few of them were starry-eyed idealists fighting for social justice, organizing unions (as long as they could control them) and joining Pete Seeger in singing "We Shall Not Be Moved." Almost all desperately believed that the Russian CP was always right and that frequent changes in the party line were explainable by the Russian comrades' superior wisdom. (Doubts and hesitations would be suppressed--though luckily not altogether banished.)
Hence the outrageous justifications of Stalin's heinous crimes, hence the inquisitorial means used against suddenly out-of-favor figures, and the groveling mea culpas by those who had, poor souls, defended the new enemies when they were still revered leaders.
During my many years as a Sovietologist, I got to know not a few ex-Communists, some of whom (Joe Starobin, for instance) became good friends. It was precisely their original commitment to a noble cause that made many realize that they had been serving false gods. Still, for a long time they had belonged to a party that was, in the words of French CP head Maurice Thorez, "unlike any other political party," a description that fits the American CP as well as the French. Exposing one set of simplifications is no reason for espousing another.
Washington Township, N.J.
Victor Navasky's "Cold War Ghosts" was as cogent and historically focused as anything I have read on this topic in a very long while. The old left, social idealists like me whose beliefs were contoured by the Depression and World War II, made mistakes, but we were never ideological "shills," as a Nation essayist recently called us. We believed in fundamental human rights for all Americans and, yes, in peace, and we put our youthful energies and our hearts into trying to move our country toward those goals. Espionage was never part of it. We bore harsh criticism for our efforts and some of us suffered severe punishment. It was not that we were wrong but that we underestimated the enormous power of the right wing, which distorted and misrepresented who we were to the American people. By raising the specter of espionage, they were able to successfully market their own antihumanist agenda and have been doing it ever since.
Misjudging the right was a mistake as destructive as the misplaced trust we put in our own demagogues, but at least our efforts were honest. That is not true, I believe, of most of this era's facile-tongued critics with their skewed hindsight, dishonest representations and scrambled historiography.
Victor Navasky is right that historians obsessed with Communist Party espionage have been unable to offer a convincing answer to the question, What was the essence of the Communist Party USA? The Comintern, Profintern (Red International of Labor Unions) and CPUSA archives in Moscow are vast, and are perhaps even more riddled with difficult problems of evidence and verification than most historical archives. It still seems to me, as someone who has done extensive research in those archives, that to focus selectively on some documents implicating certain CP leaders in espionage seems wildly misdirected and disproportionate. Even at the level of leadership cadre, the emphasis on espionage does not hold up very well. After all, even CP leader William Z. Foster (whom Harvey Klehr himself identified in his book Communist Cadre as the single most influential leader in the party throughout its history because of his degree of involvement with its everyday governance) has not been identified as connected with the espionage apparatus, nor has he been implicated in the Venona dispatches. Significantly, Foster, despite his shortcomings as a party spokesman, was primarily involved in labor organizing, the party's self-declared most important mission. Productive research into the party's goals and mission must begin by rejecting the functionalist and unilluminating "spies or dupes" dichotomies of the McCarthy era.
Pine Plains, N.Y.
The Haunted Wood was formed under conditions that should be known: The co-authors are not really co-authors. There was the researcher, Alexander Vassiliev, who spent two years in the KGB archives gathering the material, and the editor, Allen Weinstein, who put the book together. Vassiliev had virtually no say on what went into the book. It wasn't supposed to be that way. Vassiliev, an ex-KGB colonel, seems to have been overwhelmed by Weinstein's reputation, his rhetoric and by the prospect that Weinstein kept dangling in front of him of making big bucks from the book. Also, he was in England, and Weinstein was in the United States, dealing with editors and publishers.
The uneven collaboration unfortunately weakens the book in more ways than one. The heavy anti-Hiss slant is pure Weinstein; the substitution of Hiss's name wherever Vassiliev wrote "Ales" was not Vassiliev's idea. Victor Navasky (and everyone else) should know that Vassiliev told me that in the KGB files "I never I saw a document where Hiss would be called Ales or Ales may be called Hiss. I made a point of that to Allen. It might be important for you." Ah, yes. Just slightly.
Left out of the final copy is the list of code names that Vassiliev found in the archives. It is, according to Vassiliev, a list of names and code names of US sources and Soviet operatives who worked in the United States. Besides names that have been noted in various other books, such as Silvermaster, Bentley and Golos, the following appear: Alger Hiss, given the code name Leonard, noted as a former official of the State Department; Harry Dexter White, "Lawyer," noted as dead; Whittaker Chambers, code-named Karl. A measure of the limits of Vassiliev's understanding of US political history (and this underscores how Weinstein took control of the book) is that, according to Vassiliev, this list "was composed in connection with Bentley's defection," and of course Bentley defected in 1945, Hiss resigned from the State Department in 1947 and White died in 1948.
Also on the list, according to Vassiliev, is Noel Field, code-named Ernst, an idealist of whom much has been written, most of it wrong. Field was an authority on disarmament, an idealistic "Quaker communist" who, offered the German desk at the State Department in 1936, turned it down to work for the League of Nations in Geneva (not exactly the smartest thing to do if you are a Russian spy). By the late 1940s Field was in Europe working for world peace and by 1949 had been picked up by the Russians and thrown into a Budapest prison, accused of being an American spy.
But back to The Haunted Wood. Accompanying a photo there's a caption that reads, "Three high-ranking Soviet agents in policy-making position in the wartime Roosevelt Administration--Laughlin Currie, Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White--all provided Moscow with crucial documents...." Vassiliev says he never saw a document, or reference to a document, supplied by Hiss in the files.
Am I the only one who thinks that "Ales" might be almost anyone except Alger Hiss? Without any special knowledge of the field, it seems unlikely that any competent espionage organization would assign a code name so easy to decipher. (Not to mention Alger's willingness to identify himself this way.) Have the readers of the Venona files found other cases of similarly transparent anagrams? If not, maybe they should wonder why an exception was made in this one case, or if in fact "Ales" continues successfully to conceal the true identity of the real spy: Bill Buckley, perhaps, or Fala.
ROBERT M. FLANAGAN
I make no claim to be either a historian or an intellectual. But after reading Victor Navasky's "Cold War Ghosts," I wondered, Why would Hiss's name be mentioned at all in the Venona communications if he were innocent? To excuse that use of his name by saying the spies were not supposed to use real names is begging the question.
THOMAS BRYAN WARREN
Another "cold war ghost" occurred to me while reading Victor Navasky's article: To this day, civilian federal government agencies spend millions each year on security clearances that invade the privacy of career federal employees who have absolutely no access whatsoever to national security information. These costly and intrusive investigations are based on an Eisenhower executive order that created a cottage industry for the FBI and the OPM, who conduct the background checks.
New York City
Thanks to all who sent their thanks. Here I'll only say to Thomas Warren that my point was not that "spies were not supposed to use real names" but rather that under the informal rules of Venona, real spies were never referred to by their real names, only their code names. Thus the cryptic Venona reference to "Hiss" by his real name gives rise to the inference--to be weighed along with other evidence pro and con--that he was not a spy.
And to Abe Brumberg, whom I admire, I'll say only that while I may indeed be guilty of "serious inaccuracies," I can't find them in his letter. I didn't suggest that hard-core Stalinists and Moscow-recruited spies sang along with Pete Seeger (although they may well have), but rather that 99.9 percent of the CPUSA were not spies, and many of them did row the boat ashore (Hallelujah!) with Peter. I don't doubt that some of them were apologists for the party line.
New York City
To John M. Pickering: In insisting that "Communism and anti-Communism are equally absurd," you're equating Communism with Stalinism and ignoring communism with a small c. Those who did and do believe in lower-case communism are part of a complex lineage--an intertwined, shifting mix of Fourierist, anarchist, Marxist and socialist traditions--whose first principles, far from being "shaky," as you blithely state, are solidly rooted in the belief that (to employ one common formulation) the "highest social priority should go to the needs of the least fortunate." Nothing theological about that: It's about the distribution of opportunity and wealth right here on earth.
To Abe Brumberg: I knew Irving Howe only slightly, but through the years I read (and agreed with) his extended, sophisticated critique of Stalinism--which makes me suspect that you're right in saying it would have been out of character for him to warn Ronald Radosh (as Radosh claims) against attacking the Sandinista regime while it was "under attack by the American empire"; but I can't prove it one way or the other.I also accept your corrective that the Sandinistas combined a "Castro model" with that of the Eastern European "people's democracies," though I'd still question how much "democracy" that represented.
We agree that only a small number of those who joined the American CP became spies for Moscow, but I don't share your certainty that among them only a "few...were starry-eyed idealists fighting for social justice." How can you know that for sure? Where is the evidence to back your claim that "almost all...believed that the Russian CP was always right"? I doubt we'll ever have the documentation needed to prove or disprove such statements, given how many CP members are dead and how inordinately difficult it is to measure and quantify human motivation. In saying this, I acknowledge that my own opinion is also impressionistic--based, that is, on a selective list of readings and interviews that I could never prove are "representative."
And finally, to Ron Radosh: Yes, I've caught some hell from fellow leftists for being "too soft" on you in my review. That didn't bother me overly much until I went, as you directed, to your far lengthier response online. It contains so many startling misstatements about what I believe that I have to wonder, after all, whether I didn't give you too much credit for veracity. I never thought I'd have to set this particular record straight, but here goes: I've never believed, let alone "still" believe, that the Soviet Union was on the "right side of history." Nor do I believe, as you suggest, that "only apologists for Stalinism are true black people." Really, Radosh, that is a bit much!--even for someone who can claim that the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua "was comparatively moderate and merely authoritarian" when compared with the Sandinistas! To prepare me for your kind of "history," I'd better start reading more novels.
: Ronald Radosh h
IF I HAD A HAMMER...
I agree with Katrina vanden Heuvel on the
necessity of building a better infrastructure to combat the
right-wing corporate giant ["Building to Win," July 9]. The right has
the money and the media. The progressives have the brains and the
moral highroad. Let's keep to the latter while concentrating on how
best to position the former. Newt Gingrich used computer technology
to fire his misguided agenda. Progressives need to capture the
Internet as the means to train, inform, meet and proselytize (The
website Common Dreams is a good start). Technology can go far beyond
a simple reprinting of well-written articles. I suggest that the web
be our printing press as well as our town meeting hall to take back
our party, the Democratic Party, and to then move the rest of the
country back from the fringe of fascism.
New York City
infrastructure is essential. But until we regain command over the
buzzwords, conservatives hold the advantage. After a relentless
barrage of invective by conservatives and sixties radicals, "liberal"
became a term of opprobrium. "Marketplace" must be shown to be a
myth; "privatize," a synonym for corrupt favoritism; "missile defense
initiative," a form of corporate welfare; "interests" returned to its
original meaning, corporate oligopoly; "tax reduction," a transfer of
wealth from those who have little to those who have much;
"globalization," a search for the most repressive dictatorships that
deliver the lowest wages and costs. Government and labor must be what
they were in the past, the only counterweights to supranational
Katrina vanden Heuvel
perpetuates a common misunderstanding when she states, "The 1997
Supreme Court decision against the New Party...has chained us
constitutionally to the existing duopoly." Not so. Nothing in the
Constitution "chains" us to the two-party system. Only federal law
does. A statute passed by Congress forces states to gerrymander their
territories into single-member districts. This law entrenches duopoly
politics, because a one-winner election turns third parties into
spoilers and encourages voters to hold their noses and vote for one
of only two candidates. Thus, states are prevented from using
proportional representation (PR), which the Constitution would allow.
By using larger, multimember districts and preference or party-list
voting, PR would give third and fourth parties a chance. A bill in
Congress, HR 1189, the Voters' Choice Act, would eliminate the
single-seat requirement, allowing states to experiment with PR. The
duopoly can be broken without having to face the Supreme Court or
amend the Constitution. It's a legislative issue, like other election
reforms, and progressives should be leading the way.
New York City
I'm sorry if my
shorthand summary of our present predicament was confusing. It is
quite true, of course, that the Constitution does not mandate a
two-party system. Indeed, it says nothing at all about parties. Our
duopoly is a creation of statutory law and administration rule, and
in principle we could change it by the same means. The age-old
problem, however, is that the very duopoly the law protects also runs
our government and has never shown the slightest interest in
increasing competition. So those who wish to reform the system are
forced to use citizen initiative or the courts.
Supreme Court's decision in Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New
Party did was in effect to preclude the second line of attack.
Steered by the same Gang of Five that later gave us Bush v.
Gore, it held that the current major parties werefree to
construct electoral rules for the exclusive purpose of limiting
competition to themselves. Just how profound a departure from past
law this was is important to see. Before Timmons the Court
often recognized the endurance of our two-party system and even the
possible virtues of the duopoly over other electoral systems. But
what it had never done was misread the Constitution to favor
party duopoly, and it had always treated any effort by the two major
parties to reproduce themselves indefinitely as the duopoly--by
erecting artificial barriers to new party entry and effective
competition--with something approaching contempt. The Court said in
Timmons that existing parties had a legitimate interest in
doing just that. Moreover, it declared itself prepared to uphold this
interest regardless of a showing, as was made and accepted in the
case, that doing so hurt our electoral system's representativeness
with no gain in any other electoral value--accountability or
stability, for instance--traditionally recognized by the Court. After
Timmons, I see no constitutional argument that might
successfully be made against the rules upholding our duopoly. That's
what I meant by saying the decision "chained us constitutionally."
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL
I know a place
where the Navy can shift its bombing operations that will make
everybody happy--Martha's Vineyard [Angelo Falcón, "Liberating
Vieques," July 9]! Like Vieques, the Vineyard is a charming island
with easy access to sea and land. With more than three times
Vieques's paltry fifty-one square miles, it should afford the Navy a
much wider range of out-of-the-way targets. And since the peak season
runs only about three months, there'll be ample opportunity to
squeeze in the 180 days a year of bombing the Navy says it needs to
maintain readiness. Since the Navy claims these operations have no
significant impact on public health, safety, economy, ecology or
quality of life, I don't foresee a problem.
YOU CAN TAKE THIS VOTE & SHOVE
As one of those
blue-collar white folks examined in Andrew Levison's review of why
most supported Bush in the last election, I'd like to point out that
most of us didn't support anybody--refusing to take what time off we
have to vote for one elitist son of a politician over another. Just
whose version of NAFTA were we supposed to endorse? As best as I can
tell, a lot of scholarship went into explaining the obvious ["Who
Lost the Working Class?" May 14].
Working white folk have
been abandoned for decades by the Democrats and corporate labor, a
feeling native workers "of color" are beginning to experience. Racial
divisions were exploited by conservatives for profit and liberals for
posture. And while we knocked heads over jobs and wages, the libs and
cons retired to their clubs under the awning of loyal
Levison continues the obvious fallacy that
unions represent the majority of workers and their interests. After
they purged action-oriented activists a couple of generations ago,
their flaccid advocacies have served only to diminish their own
numbers, bolstered today only by a willingness to adopt scabs once
workers have lost their jobs. The new predominant service industries
require servility over skill. Americans suck as servants. Immigrant
labor, so unsurly and so adored by progressives, met no opposition
from the liberal side until it impacted jobs of college graduates in
the high-tech industries. Republicans don't have the working-class
vote any more than the Democrats have our interest at heart. It don't
take four years in the Ivy League for most of us to recognize the two
empty husks in the American shell game.
I recognized the
values Andrew Levison enumerates as "working class," and his
description of the 1950s, from my own experience as the daughter of
an East Texas railroad engineer and labor organizer. We used to iron
my father's striped work overalls, so he left the house each day
starched and clean and returned greasy. But in the 1950s he started
wearing a suit to work and would change into his overalls at the rail
yard. Even as a child, I sensed the shame that had replaced his
"Who Lost the Working Class?" fails to mention
two singular men who also toiled in Andrew Levison's vineyard. Where
is Will Gavin (whose prophetic 1975 sleeper, Street Corner
Conservative, argued that the "Right" kind of Republican could
take all the marbles in places like the People's Republic of Queens)?
And what about the late Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Tom
Fox (who in 1976 coined the phrase "Reagan Democrats")? I gave Fox my
own Rx for the GOP: Let Jerry Ford spend more time with Joe Garagiola
(and less with Henry Kissinger) and he wins. But they didn't. So he
NOEL E. PARMENTEL JR.
NOT BY SEX ED
Santa Cruz, Calif.
disputes myths of abstinence-only education only to uphold the myth
that better sex education would eliminate the difference between high
US and low European teen pregnancy rates ["Sex, Lies and Politics,"
May 7]. In fact, the biggest reason for the difference is poverty. In
more affluent communities where US teenagers have poverty rates as
low as those of European youth (around 5 percent), US teen pregnancy
rates are as low as Europe's; in America's impoverished inner cities
and rural areas, teen pregnancy rates are 20 times higher. Black and
Hispanic adolescents suffer poverty levels triple those of white
youths, and the Centers for Disease Control's latest report shows
that black and Hispanic adolescents have pregnancy rates three times
higher than whites'.
Comprehensive evaluations of American
teen pregnancy prevention do not show that sex and abstinence
education reduce pregnancy rates but that poverty exerts powerful
effects. The best evidence indicates that sex education and
contraception provision help to deter pregnancy only when accompanied
by social and economic reforms that provide expanded opportunities
for poorer populations. By drastically overstating the effectiveness
of programmatic interventions, sex education advocates interfere with
the crucial need to redress America's grotesque socioeconomic
inequalities and youth poverty levels.
COLD WAR CITATION REVISIONISM
New York City
In my July 16 essay, "Cold War Ghosts," I should have cited either
Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes's Venona or Allen
Weinstein's Perjury rather than The Haunted Wood (by
Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev) for the argument that since the
person code-named ALES returned from the Yalta Conference via Moscow,
and Alger Hiss did the same on a plane carrying three others, none of
them spy material, ALES was probably Hiss.
When the New York Times Op-Ed page called and asked whether I thought the death of Gus Hall, the perennial US Communist Party candidate for President who served time for "conspiring to teach and advocate the overthrow of the government by force," marked the end of an era, and would I like to write about it, I said yes I did, and yes I would.
Arthur Miller once observed that "an era may be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted." It occurred to me, as I typed my 750 words, that during his lifetime Hall, who criticized Gorbachev's reform program and remained a hard-liner to the end, never seemed to give up his illusions. But I also thought to use the occasion to observe that even as Hall passed from the scene, a new cadre of cold war historians seems obsessed with perpetuating a counterillusion--seizing fragments from cold war archives, ambiguous intercepts from cables between Moscow and its US-based operatives, and other ephemera to prove that the CPUSA had indeed not been a bona fide political party but rather was control-central for a nest of spies, as "Tailgunner Joe" McCarthy had charged--that McCarthy, despite his bad press, had been right after all.
"The matter, I would suggest, is still in dispute," I wrote, and I went on to say that although most illusions about Soviet-style Communism may be exhausted, the paranoia left over from those years persists.
As if to prove my point, no sooner did my piece appear than cold war historian Ron Radosh and former New Left journalist David Horowitz, not to mention the center-liberal New Republic, serially attacked the New York Times for...well, let me quote The New Republic: "[for allowing] a prominent writer [me] to play his tiresome and sickening games with history" in its pages.
I of course took the opportunity to ask in a letter to the editor of The New Republic whether it was possible to be both "tiresome and sickening" at the same time. But more seriously, I expressed curiosity as to whether that magazine really believed that the incorruptible one-man-band, maverick journalist I.F. Stone, "in the end agreed to work for the NKVD"; that J. Robert Oppenheimer was a "conscious collaborator with the Soviet secret police"; and that Harry Hopkins, Franklin Roosevelt's intimate friend and White House adviser, was a "Soviet agent." These were among the conclusions of the latest book drawing on cold war archives, The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors, by Herbert Romerstein and the late Eric Breindel. Did The New Republic really contend that such claims are beyond dispute?
Replied The New Republic: "Victor Navasky...only confirms his desire to continue playing 'games with history.' He ignores the consensus among historians that the Venona project files confirm the guilt of many accused in the 1950s of spying for the Soviet Union in the previous decade, including Alger Hiss, Julius Rosenberg...and [others]."
Now what is going on here? On the surface it appears to be either a fifty-year-old dispute about the guilt or innocence of various alleged American spies for the Russians and the nature of the Communist Party USA in the 1930s and 1940s, or a new dispute about whether, given the newly available evidence, the old dispute is now beyond dispute. But just beneath the surface lurks a contest over the image of the man whose name has come to symbolize the era in question, Joe McCarthy himself. An irony, by the way, since the phenomenon we now call McCarthyism came on the scene some years before old Joe burst forth with his fake 1950 boast that "I have here in my hand a list of 205--a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party" (later he turned out to have an empty hand). And its legacy persisted long after the Senator departed from the scene, having disgraced himself at the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954 and drowned in alcohol two years later.
Revisionist historians have proposed substituting the term Trumanism for McCarthyism because, they argue, Harry Truman accelerated the domestic witch hunt when he signed Executive Order 9835 in March 1947, which established a loyalty-security program for all federal employees and revived the Attorney General's list of subversive organizations. More recently, the historian Ellen Schrecker proposed that it be called Hooverism, after FBI Director J. Edgar, who presided behind the scenes over the anti-Communist crusade. The claims of the new cadre--those we may call the counterrevisionists--matter because, in the first place, until we come to terms with our cold war past we seem condemned to persist in its outmoded assumptions and thought patterns; and in the second, those whom one writer has dubbed "the new McCarthyites" (see below) would use the past to discredit the left-liberal project today. Thus the debate about the domestic cold war--including what to call the repression that was part of it--tells us that while the cold war may be over, its ghosts linger on. And they continue to haunt.
The reconsideration of Senator McCarthy may be said to have been jump-started in 1995, with the unveiling and release by the intelligence community of the Venona Project, nearly 3,000 decryptions of early 1940s cables between Soviet operatives working in New York, San Francisco and Washington, and their masters in Moscow. It has proceeded episodically in reviews and essays, books, documents retrieved under the Freedom of Information Act and from other archives, memoirs and even a novel, The Redhunter, by that old private-sector red hunter himself, William F. Buckley Jr. Much of that output has been made possible courtesy of right-wing foundation funding, although it's not merely a matter of the right: My friend the iconoclastic Nicholas von Hoffman, anything but a right-winger, has written in the Washington Post, "point by point Joe McCarthy got it all wrong and yet was closer to the truth than those who ridiculed him"; and "McCarthy may have exaggerated...but not by much." To me, "twenty years of treason"--McCarthy's famous charge against the Democrats--is "much," but oh, well.
It surfaced most blatantly with the publication of a new biography, Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator, by Arthur Herman, the coordinator of the Western Civilization program at the Smithsonian Institution, which argues, as the New York Times's reviewer, historian Alonzo Hamby, accurately summarized, that McCarthy "was an unfairly maligned patriot who ultimately became a victim of the immense conspiracy he was attempting to expose."
In March of 1999 Joshua Micah Marshall had complicated the matter. Writing in the liberal biweekly The American Prospect, he identified a cadre of middle-aged historians--among them Radosh, Harvey Klehr, John Haynes and the formerly radical journalist David Horowitz--as practitioners of what he called "the New McCarthyism," which he said "seeks to paint liberalism in general as a philosophy that is careless of the national interest, prone to being hoodwinked by malevolent forces, and even capable of sinister acts of betrayal." Moreover, "the New McCarthyism seeks not only to discredit Cold War liberalism by revising history, but also to attack liberal internationalism in foreign policy today by using the tactics pioneered by the red-baiters of a half century ago."
The New York Times Magazine lumbered into the fray some months later, in November, with an article titled "Cold War Without End" by Jacob Weisberg, although it dealt less with the substance of the issue than the psychology of those "obsessed" with these particular culture wars of yesteryear. Weisberg also observes in his Times magaziner that Herman's book echoes McCarthy and His Enemies, a forty-five-year-old apologia by Buckley, then a fiery young right-winger, and his brother-in-law Brent Bozell. Buckley puts forth a more warty take on the Senator in his fiction, which he calls "a documentary novel." Weisberg quotes Harry Bontecou, the character who stands in for Buckley, as saying, "It was one of Joe McCarthy's ironic legacies that it became almost impossible in future years to say that anyone was a Communist because you'd be hauled up for committing McCarthyism." Weisberg goes on to argue that "what unites Herman and Buckley is the belief that 'McCarthyism' is a millstone that shouldn't hang around the neck of the American right any longer."
But Weisberg's most original thought is that the deeper one delves into such battles, the greater the feeling that
these are not primarily arguments about historical fact at all. Espionage charges, initiated by subterranean and frequently unreliable sources, are a way of arguing about the past as if it were still present, a continuation of ideological politics by other means among people who are, charitably put, obsessive. Listening in, you get the sense that these arguments are less a posthumous sorting out of the cold war than a sublimated continuation of it.
The New Republic was nevertheless right about one thing: Most of the historians and journalists cited above--including, by the way, Weisberg and Marshall--share in the "consensus" that Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs, defendants in the two most famous cold war cases, and scores if not hundreds of others, were Russian spies. Further, they believe that, as Radosh, Klehr and Haynes collectively put it in The New Republic, "the CPUSA was not just another American political party.... Its Soviet ties defined its very raison d'être." It was, in other words, primarily an instrument of the international Communist conspiracy.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the rehabilitation. The same cadre of historians and journalists who share the consensus and would seem to be endorsing the von Hoffman proposition that McCarthy was, after all, more right than wrong, still want to distance themselves from McCarthy himself. David Horowitz, for example, took to cyberspace to make clear that neither he nor any of those dubbed New McCarthyites by Marshall deserved the label. Each of those denominated, he complained in a column he writes for Salon,
is on record as a sharp critic of McCarthy and McCarthyism, specifically his demagoguery and recklessness with the facts, his contempt for legal process and his unscrupulous attacks on innocent or half-guilty individuals. Each member of the group, me included, has also been careful in his writings to credit anti-Communist leftists with their actual achievements in the battles against domestic totalitarians and not to confuse them with the pro-Communist factions of the "progressive" cause.
And so they have. Radosh, Haynes and Klehr, for example, wrote in 1998 that "if Americans are ever going to understand their history, it is essential that McCarthyism and anti-Communism be disentangled."
At a conference on "McCarthyism in America" held on February 9, 2000, sponsored by the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans, the Yale University Press and the National Archives and Records Administration, although scores of historians and journalists were present, including many of those mentioned above (but not Herman), not a single one was willing to endorse Herman's thesis, his attempt, in a book "frankly admiring of his subject," as Sam Tanenhaus wrote in The New York Review of Books, "to vindicate McCarthy's claim to being the leader of a serious responsible movement." Tanenhaus, by the way, is the author of a frankly admiring biography of Whittaker Chambers.
During the darkest days of America's domestic cold war, many liberals (and others as well) would say of McCarthy, We approve of his (anti-Communist) goals but we detest his methods. What is new about the counterrevisionists is that they would disown the man and his methods but would retain his main contention: that the United States was seriously threatened by an internal red menace. To paraphrase another icon of the period, Richard Nixon, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am not arguing the merits here. Of course the Russians spied on us, even as we spied on them. And I believe there is much to be learned from Venona and other archives in the way of hypotheses about who stole what from whom in the great game of cold war espionage.
So, let us assume for the purposes of argument that any or all of the above are on to something. I include: Jacob Weisberg's dismissal of the combatants as better explained by Freud than Marx; David Horowitz and Radosh-Klehr-Haynes's call for disentangling McCarthyism from anti-Communism; Sam Tanenhaus's evisceration of Arthur Herman for attempting to refurbish McCarthy's image; and even Joshua Micah Marshall's mugging of most of the above as New McCarthyites. What is significant is that much as they may disagree with one another, they have three things in common: (1) They all make absolutist pronouncements about cold war matters that at best are still ambiguous--particularly with regard to the symbolically loaded Hiss case; (2) they all ignore or downplay evidence that contradicts what they increasingly prefer to call the "consensus"; and (3) they all treat those who challenge the so-called consensus with condescension. This is not the place to sift through the voluminous and complicated evidence--new and old--on the great cold war spy cases. It is, however, appropriate to note the fragmentary, incomplete, half-blacked-out, unsourced, out-of-context and ambiguous basis on which some of the more dogmatic claims have been made, and the ways in which inconvenient and contradictory evidence has been ignored.
Take, for example, the Hiss case, which post-cold war historians cite as Exhibit A when they argue that in effect McCarthy & Co. were right all along. Technically, the case had to do with whether Whittaker Chambers was lying when he called Hiss a Communist and produced microfilm of State Department papers that Hiss had allegedly passed to the Soviet Union through him. But the Hiss case is symbolically important, because as his accuser Chambers wrote in his bestselling 1950 memoir, Witness, "Alger Hiss is only one case that stands for the whole Communist penetration of government." Of what does the new evidence consist? There is, first and foremost, the single Venona cable (out of 2,900) said to implicate Hiss. As Time wrote, "the Venona message seems to remove reasonable doubt about Alger Hiss's guilt."
I have in front of me Venona document No.1822, dated March 30, 1945. The message refers to an agent code-named "ALES," and in a footnote dated August 8, 1969, ALES is identified as "probably Alger Hiss." On its face, this looks incriminatory, although as I and others have noted, we are told neither who wrote the footnote nor on what basis the anonymous footnote writer made this judgment. Perhaps, in the twenty-four-year interim, some new evidence had come to light. Perhaps it was simply guesswork based on the similarity of the initials ALES and the letters in Alger's name. Or perhaps the fact that Hiss had served time did the trick, and the footnote was mere speculation by an agent out to make points with his famously and obsessively anti-Communist boss, J. Edgar Hoover. We have no way of knowing. In another Venona cable, however, this one a fragment that is otherwise incoherent, Hiss is mentioned by his own name. Yet, in the world of Venona, spies are supposed to be referred to only by their code names. Typically, Time, along with a battalion of columnists like George Will and Robert Novak and other media heavies who make no claim to having done their own independent research, neglects to mention this possibly exculpatory fact, concentrating instead on the possibly incriminating one.
The omission of inconveniently exculpatory material seems something of a pattern. Thus Allen Weinstein, the new factotum of the Hiss-was-guilty school, omitted from the new edition of Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case, his book about the Hiss case, the fact that a half-dozen key sources denied his claims in the first edition of Perjury that they had confirmed Chambers's version of what happened. (He did briefly mention the one who sued and won a settlement and an apology.) Weinstein and his former-KGB co-author, Alexander Vassiliev, refer to but do not reproduce in their methodologically challenged book about Soviet espionage in America, The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America--The Stalin Era, a message that says ALES was one of four members of the US delegation at the Yalta conference "who returned to the US via Moscow." Because Alger Hiss returned via Moscow on a plane with three others, none of them spy material, on its face this seems an incriminating fact. But The Haunted Wood neglects to mention that there were 110 Americans in attendance at Yalta and surely more than four of them stopped in Moscow on their way home. In 1993 a Hungarian historian claimed to have discovered an incriminatory "bombshell" in the files of Hungary's Interior Ministry. Typically, Sam Tanenhaus, who relies on Weinstein's research but like Weinstein neglects to mention the half-dozen critical sources who deny his account, printed all the incriminatory material from the Hungarian archives in his Chambers biography but omitted half of the exculpatory material, relegating the other half to a footnote. Along with most members of the "consensus," he quotes historian Maria Schmidt, one of two Hungarian scholars granted access to Noel Field's 2,500-page dossier (Field was imprisoned as a CIA spy in Hungary during the cold war), who read the file as implicating Hiss in spying; he doesn't mention that Ethan Klingsberg, an attorney and former executive director of the Soros Foundation's Institute for Constitutional and Legislative Policy, who saw the identical material, contends that at best the files are inconclusive. Similarly, John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr in their book (Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America) quote former KGB officer Oleg Gordievsky, who said in a memoir that Hiss was a spy; but (as attorney, filmmaker and Hiss defender John Lowenthal has noted) they fail to quote another KGB officer, Gen. Vladimir Pavlov, who says in his memoir that Hiss was not a spy. And so forth.
When Gen. Dimitri Volkogonov, Boris Yeltsin's military adviser and overseer of all the Soviet intelligence archives, ordered a search of all Soviet intelligence files in response to a 1992 request from Hiss, he reached the conclusion that Hiss was never an intelligence agent for the USSR. Yet the counterrevisionists either ignored his finding or dismissed it as underresearched. This despite the fact that among others, he had enlisted in his search Yevgeny Primakov, then-director of the Foreign Intelligence Services and subsequently prime minister. When Volkogonov later agreed with a persistent reporter that perhaps he should have qualified his declaration of Hiss's innocence because it's impossible to prove a negative, the counterrevisionists proclaimed that Volkogonov had "recanted."
What is more noteworthy than their failure to consider inconvenient evidence is the counterrevisionists' condescension toward those who present it. Listen to Weisberg's voice in The New York Times Magazine, that beacon of objectivity, praising Tanenhaus for not bothering to deal with contradictory evidence: "Rather than obsess about those who fail to accept the obvious conclusion that Hiss was guilty, Tanenhaus ignores them. Instead, he concentrates on bringing to life a historical and human drama."
Only one more example, I promise. Weinstein asks how "to account for [KGB defector] Oleg Gordievsky's identification in 1988, over a half-decade before the decoded Venona cable was made public, of Hiss's Soviet alias as 'ALES'?" The answer to this rhetorical question may be at hand. As Eric Alterman pointed out in The Nation [April 29, 1996], Gordievsky's cited source was a New York Review of Books essay by Tom Powers, whose source was a counterintelligence agent who had seen the same Venona cable. So, perhaps Weinstein has the goods or perhaps he is using Venona to confirm Venona. We don't know which because even though Alterman's essay was out in time for Weinstein to include, and perhaps even try to refute, in the new edition of Perjury, he forgot to mention it. Help!
On the surface, the new Venona evidence appears to document that Julius Rosenberg, while no atom spy, may indeed have been involved in low-level espionage (in which Ethel was probably too ill to participate, had she been so inclined). Check it out! But Venona won't resolve, and shouldn't be expected to resolve, core questions, not to mention existential ones, such as, What was the essence of the Communist Party USA? Yes, as the counterrevisionist scholars argue, Venona half-documents that some CP leaders knew about and may have been middlemen for the receipt of secrets, and perhaps they even recruited some spies. But missing from Venona is the experience of 99.9 percent of the million comrades who passed through the CPUSA during the 1930s and early '40s--stay-at-homes who contented themselves with reading (and sometimes shouting at) the Daily Worker, demonstrators who sang along with Peter Seeger and social activists who organized trade unions and rent strikes in the North and fought lynching and the poll tax in the South.
In Appendix A to their book on Venona, Haynes and Klehr list 349 names (and code names) of people who they say "had a covert relationship with Soviet intelligence that is confirmed in the Venona traffic." They do not qualify the list, which includes everyone from Alger Hiss to Harry Magdoff, the former New Deal economist and Marxist editor of Monthly Review, and Walter Bernstein, the lefty screenwriter who reported on Tito for Yank magazine. It occurs to Haynes and Klehr to reprint ambiguous Venona material related to Magdoff and Bernstein but not to call up either of them (or any other living person on their list) to get their version of what did or didn't happen.
The reader is left with the implication--unfair and unproven--that every name on the list was involved in espionage, and as a result, otherwise careful historians and mainstream journalists now routinely refer to Venona as proof that many hundreds of Americans were part of the red spy network.
My own view is that thus far Venona has been used as much to distort as to expand our understanding of the cold war--not just because some researchers have misinterpreted these files but also because in the absence of hard supporting evidence, partially decrypted files in this world of espionage, where deception is the rule, are by definition potential time bombs of misinformation.
Although I don't underestimate the value code-breaking can play in wartime, I tend to agree with I.F. Stone, who told an interviewer in 1984 that
secrets play a very small part in human history. You don't come to understand what's happening by peeping through keyholes.... In writing history or journalism you get to understand by looking at the fundamental struggles, the interests, the classes, the ideas that become facts and you try to make sense of all that.
The virtue of a free society is that it doesn't have to depend on spies and secret police.... These people are all paranoid, trained to look for plots, but history is not made of conspiracies, history is made by fundamental forces.
"Espionage" is one of those words that is often out of context when applied to what went on in US left circles in the years leading up to and including World War II. There were a lot of exchanges of information among people of good will, many of whom were Marxists, some of whom were Communists, some of whom were critical of US government policy and most of whom were patriots. Most of these exchanges were innocent and were within the law. Some were innocent but nevertheless were in technical violation of the law. And there undoubtedly were bona fide espionage agents--on both sides. Even as in the 1980s, when our State Department was in high dudgeon over Soviet attempts to bug our embassy in Moscow at the very moment, we now learn, that the United States was building a tunnel to try to eavesdrop on their embassy in Washington. So it goes. For me, the political scientist Michael Rogin captured the essence of the McCarthy era when he wrote of the notion that "some kind of alien external force had entered the body politic and threatensto destroy it from within." During the 1940s and '50s the alien force was Communism, and the countersubversive tradition expressed itself by demonizing the American Communist Party (and by extension fellow travelers and pinkos and eventually liberals), making Communism an evil caricature of itself. The most frightening image of the cold war culture was the atom spy, linking the atomic bomb (which stood for ultimate destruction) and spy (which stood for ultimate betrayal). The fact is that whatever espionage went on--even if it were to turnout that Hiss, the Rosenbergs, Harry Dexter White et al. were all guilty as charged--there was no serious internal Red Menace. Communists undoubtedly used undemocratic methods to "infiltrate," "penetrate" and otherwise influence politics, the trade union movement and the culture; but they never really jeopardized the country's security.
McCarthyism was but a particularly virulent and nasty example of the countersubversive theme that has been the dark side of the American tradition since the beginning of the Republic--a force that has usually done more damage to our values than the subversion it was mounted to oppose. After the Revolutionary War we had the Alien and Sedition Acts. Before, during and after World War I we had the prosecution of 10,000 people under the Espionage Act, we had the Palmer Raids, and after World War II we had the great red scare, whose legacy is still with us.
Now that the cold war is no more, one would think the old images would lose their power. But no. The same mix of resentment (by Republicans, who had lost five consecutive presidential elections from 1932 to 1948) and triumphalism (by the world's one and only nuclear power) that informed and fueled America's domestic cold war may be at work again today: Republican resentment against their exclusion from power during the Clinton years and American exaltation over the meltdown of the former Soviet Union. Back in the 1940s, as Jessica Wang pointed out at the Eisenhower Center Conference, "the widespread presumption of the Atomic bomb as the cornerstone of American national security and the concomitant fear that Soviet-sponsored atomic espionage posed the gravest possible threat to the safety of the US lent an added sense of urgency to the anti-Communist quest for absolute security against the enemy within." This mentality of the vital secret and a misplaced faith in official secrecy as the best way to ward off the dangers of nuclear proliferation has apparently survived into the present day.
In the 1940s atomic espionage was real. Klaus Fuchs, who served nine years in prison in Britain, and probably Ted Hall, who left Los Alamos for Britain, passed on classified nuclear information to the USSR. What was unreal was the myth of the "vital secret" and the companion hysterical belief that the United States was threatened by an internal red menace. Way back in 1945 three of our leading scientists wrote in Life, "The fact is that a fundamental secret of the atomic bomb simply does not exist." The belief that if we could stop or prevent atomic espionage somehow America's security would be guaranteed simply had no basis in fact. Yet a half-century later, our inability to distinguish between real and imagined threats remains, and the image of "the vital secret" continues to exert its weird influence. There is no better illustration of the continuing hold that cold war modes of thinking exert over the American political culture in the nuclear realm than the fiasco surrounding the incarceration, amid wild spying changes, of Dr. Wen Ho Lee, the Taiwan-born US citizen singled out for vilification because of his ethnic background.
Even as Republican angst fueled the frantic Congressional inquisitions of the McCarthy era, the Wen Ho Lee case had its origins in a Republican-sponsored Congressional committee whose real purpose was to search for political evidence to impeach the by-then demonized President Clinton. The whole episode was eerily reminiscent of the 1940s and '50s, when, to deflect Republican critics, Harry Truman signed on to their red hunt. The Clinton Administration, recovered from impeachment and mired in a campaign finance scandal (including the charge that Beijing had secretly funneled money to the Democrats), worried that the China issue could be used effectively against Al Gore in the election. Like the Truman Administration a half-century earlier, the Clinton Administration went along. "[It] wanted to prove to its critics that it was tough on Chinese spying, whether or not that spying existed and whether or not it had anything to do with Wen Ho Lee," as Robert Scheer put it in The Nation [October 23, 2000].
Eventually, when the government's case against Lee crumbled, it agreed to dismiss fifty-eight of the fifty-nine counts that had been lodged against him, but only after the spy hysteria whipped up by the Cox Committee and the press had taken a terrible toll on the life of the scientist and, as Scheer reported, "cast suspicion over the entire community of Asian-American scientists, many of whom are now boycotting employment in the nuclear weapons labs." The furor has reflected more than Clinton-era factionalism. It also reminds us that the cold war mentality has not gone the way of the cold war.
Historians of American nativism have long contended that the nativist impulse connects the radical, the foreign or alien, and the immoral, linking them all as the Enemy Other. During the McCarthy era, as Arnold Forester, the general counsel of the Anti-Defamation League, once observed, "There was an evident quota of anti-Semitism in the McCarthy wave of hysteria. Jews in that period were automatically suspect. Our evaluation of the general mood was that the people felt if you scratch a Jew, you can find a Communist." Fifty years later, where national security is concerned, the Jews seem to have given way to the Chinese. In the policy arena, the reinvigoration of NATO, the defeat of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the decision of the Bush Administration to cancel talks with North Korea and the intent of the Administration to go forward with its Strategic Defense Initiative are all of a piece, as China (along with other nonwhite countries) begins to replace Russia in America's post-cold war demonology.
There is something in the national mood that is a stark reminder of the ugly underside of the McCarthy era. The hysteria over Wen Ho Lee; the expulsion of fifty Russians as possible spies after the discovery that one FBI man had been spying for the Russians; the malicious, inappropriate and disproportionately impassioned Republican attempt to impeach the President for sex-related lying; the blatant disregard for due process, legal precedent and constitutional doctrine by a partisan Supreme Court bent on installing a Republican President; even the incessant harping on and front-page recycling of charges--in the absence of proof--that Clinton staffers committed large-scale acts of vandalism before departing the White House; and the idea that his ill-advised pardon of Marc Rich might justify the removal of the pardon power from the Constitution, are reminiscent of nothing so much as the bullying and power plays of that bygone era when the country temporarily lost its moorings.
None of this is to deny that there are real-world problems out there, that like all countries in the intelligence game we are targets for friend and foe alike. Vide, Richard Hanssen, the FBI agent who still denies that he sold secrets to the Soviets and their Russian successors, while his lawyers bargain for his life; vide, Jonathan Pollard, now serving a life sentence for his espionage efforts on behalf of our ally, Israel; and vide, the brouhaha and continuing diplomatic disaster-potential of our surveillance flights near (or is it over?) China's borders.
But once again the security dangers proclaimed by the middle, near and far right seem based more on paranoia than reality. It would thus be a mistake to regard the rumblings from the right as solely a partisan matter, just as it would be a mistake to regard the fulminations of the counterrevisionists as solely an academic matter. Party politics and academic politics are both beholden to and work their influence on the surrounding political culture, just as they did in the overheated days of the domestic cold war. Together they send a troubling signal. The cold war is over, but it was never buried. The ghosts of the cold war--its culture and apparatus--live on, perhaps with consequences as troubling as the irrational forces that possess us.
In the words of
the old folk song, "When will they ever learn?" David Horowitz,
former radical who these days is in the business of promoting (1)
neoconservatism and (2) David Horowitz (although not necessarily in
that order), has done it again. A few weeks ago he placed an ad in
the Brown Daily Herald denouncing--in deliberately offensive
terms--the idea that black descendants of slaves should be paid
reparations. Instead of ignoring, answering or ridiculing the ad,
Brown student activists denounced the Herald and trashed most
of its 4,000-copy press run, thus giving the demagogic provocateur
undeserved high ground.
As our own Katha Pollitt put it in
a cyberconversation, "Publish it and then attack it, mock it, parody
it, I say. Use it as a springboard for a teach-in, discuss it in
classes.... Shutting down a discussion doesn't change anyone's mind
or introduce any new information--and the views Horowitz expresses
are held in whole or in part by many people. What message do they get
if a paper won't print them? That the real truth is too threatening
to publish. It's always better to promote speech than to silence
people. Force those views out into the open and have a debate. That's
how minds are changed."
As far as advertising policy goes,
we believe that it is the prerogative of the Herald and the
other college papers targeted by Horowitz to accept or to turn down
ads they consider repellent, at their discretion. At The
Nation, however, we start with the presumption that we will
accept advertising even if the views exposed are repugnant to some of
the editors. In fact, we go out of our way to refrain from making a
judgment based on our opinions of the views expressed in an
We are comfortable with this
policy--although it occasionally discomforts some of our
subscribers--because our editors are free to attack the views of our
advertisers and often do; because for the reasons Katha lists above,
we have confidence that our readers are more than capable of
determining for themselves what views to accept or reject; and
because we accept advertising not to further the views of The
Nation but to help pay the costs of publishing.
recognize that other papers can reasonably come to a different
conclusion about which ads go over the line, but in this case our
view is that if a right-wing propagandist like Horowitz is foolish
enough to put his money at our disposal, then it would be foolish for
us to turn it down.
The last chapter in Ring Lardner Jr.'s new memoir, I'd Hate Myself in the Morning (Nation Books), is called "Sole Survivor." When Lardner, who died October 31, wrote it he was indeed (a) the last of a family of four boys with a famous father, the humorist and sportswriter Ring Lardner; and (b) the last surviving member of the Hollywood Ten, who gained renown in 1947 when they refused to answer the House Committee on Un-American Activities' question, "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" They were indicted, prosecuted and convicted of contempt of Congress and sent to prison-- in Ring's case for a year.
Among the first victims of the great Red purge to come, The Ten, also known as the Unfriendly Ten, are historically important because they were willing to risk prison to help prevent it, putting First Amendment principle ahead of personal convenience.
At the time, Billy Wilder, the witty director, cruelly and unjustly said, "Of the Unfriendly Ten, only two had any talent; the other eight were just unfriendly." Ring, who had already won his first academy award for Woman of the Year, starring Katharine Hepburn, was one of the two. The other was his buddy Dalton Trumbo, the highest-paid writer in Hollywood, who went on to win an Oscar for The Brave One, a movie he wrote under the pseudonym Robert Rich.
At the time, the tabloid press and newsreels did their best to portray the Ten as obstreperous, dogmatic followers of the party line. Each of the Ten was, in fact, following his conscience, albeit they arrived at their decision on how to confront HUAC after collective deliberation with counsel, some of whom were party lawyers, others not.
Lardner's famously elegant response to the committee was a clue to how wrong that image was. "I could answer your question," he said, but "I would hate myself in the morning"--hence his memoir's title.
Even during the blacklist years, when he made his primary living writing under various pseudonyms, he never gave up on his social commitment. Thus in 1955, when Hannah Weinstein set up a production company in London and chose for its maiden effort in the new medium of television The Adventures of Robin Hood, Lardner, along with fellow blacklistees like Abe Polonsky and Walter Bernstein, leapt at the opportunity for, as he put it, commentary-by-metaphor "on the issues and institutions of Eisenhower-era America."
After he was finally graduated from the blacklist--it took twelve years--and able to write under his own name, he gave us M*A*S*H, the black comedy that was, on the surface, about life in a medical unit during the Korean war; but beneath the surface, like Joe Heller's Catch-22, it was about the absurdities and contradictions of war itself.
Although his public positions were militant, privately he was a gentle soul. His main target was often himself. He would delight in telling how he recommended to David O. Selznick that he not acquire Gone With the Wind, the highest-grossing picture of its time, "because I objected on political grounds to the glorification of slave owners and the Ku Klux Klan." When progressives praised him for his principled stand against HUAC he would observe that the Ten did the only thing they could do under the circumstances "short of behaving like complete shits."
The loss of Lardner is a loss for both The Nation and the nation. One part Marxist democrat and two parts humanist-rationalist, he stayed true to his vision to the end. A few years ago he listed in The Nation "some of the strange things Americans believe 200 years after Thomas Paine published The Age of Reason." (Typical entries: "Eating fish is good for the brain"; "There never was a Holocaust.") He felt no comment was called for. But when a reader wrote to complain that "Reason is a wonderful tool, but it is a tiny flashlight shining here and there..." Lardner responded, "What he sees as a tiny flashlight, I call, in the words of Cicero, 'the light and lamp of life.'"
In an introduction to his memoir, I call Lardner "recrimination-challenged." In fact he seemed incapable of bitterness. Although he did once say of Martin Berkeley, a screenwriter who named a record 161 names before HUAC and specialized in writing animal pictures, "I always maintained that was because he couldn't write human dialogue."
After last year's brouhaha surrounding the presentation by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of a Lifetime Achievement Award to Elia Kazan, one member of the academy had an idea.
In the run-up to Sunday's Oscar ceremony the focus was on Elia Kazan and whether the Motion Picture Academy was doing the right thing by honoring him with a Lifetime Achievement Award (see page 5