Haunted by the Cold War, Part II

Editors’ Note

: Ronald Radosh has chosen to answer Victor Navasky’s July 16 piece on Cold War Ghosts not in The Nation magazine and not on our website but on his website (www.frontpagemag.com). Here’s Victor Navasky’s reply:

The main problem with Ron Radosh’s response is its systematic distortion of what I said. So my main response to Radosh’s response is to ask readers to reread my original article.

Having said that, let me make just two observations. First, Radosh says my “real purpose is apparent.” For the record, my “real” purpose was (a) to document that in re the Hiss case many scholars and journalists recycle new archival and other material that on its face seems incriminating but neglect or misstate new archival and other material which on its face seems exculpatory; and (b) to speculate on the significance and meaning of these omissions and distortions.

Second, in his reply Radosh introduces one “new” piece of evidence when he says: “Navasky fails to inform readers that Noel Field’s late brother Herman [sic] Field, who spoke in Washington DC last year a short time before he passed away, stated publicly that the dossier was accurate, and that after Noel Field was released from prison and was in a hospital bed, he had told his brother the exact same thing–that Hiss was a spy.”

Radosh is right. I failed to inform my readers of what “Herman [sic] Field” said because as I understand it, that’s not what he said. Hermann Field had his suspicions, but according to other accounts he made no such accusation in Washington; he makes no such accusation in the 451-page book he wrote with his wife Kate, Trapped in the Cold War (Stafford University Press, 1999); and he made no such accusation when he met with me and others shortly after his book was published.


Limitations of space in the print edition of the magazine prevented us from including many of the letters we received in response to Victor Navasky’s piece and Martin Duberman’s review of Ronald Radosh’s book Commies (both from the July 16 issue). We are pleased to publish some of those additional letters here.

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Victor Navasky’s article “Cold War Ghosts” is a gem. It should be required reading by all historians, and by all who are concerned with truthtelling and understanding the United States of World War II, of the atomic bomb era and of our new century. It explains the major myths of the past half-century and provides some valuable lessons and guidelines for the future.

Julis and Ethel Rosenberg? Were they guilty? The trial record should serve as a guide: Everybody now knows that they were not guilty of the crimes for which they were executed–causing the war in Korea and its 50,000 GI casualties, or “putting the A-Bomb into the hands of the Russians,” as charged by trial Judge Irving R. Kaufman. Their trial was a “conspiracy of the greedy against fighters for the needy.”

At the time, the US Communist Party was the main fighter for workers, minorities, the underprivileged and the unemployed. It fought for free healthcare and free education. Death sentences for the Rosenbergs had nothing to do with justice, nothing to do with “agents of the Soviet Union.” It had everything to do with “agents of the needy.” By exposing and reversing the real conspirators, the Hoover-Kaufman sentences, we can restore justice and freedom of thought to the United States.


Pleasant Hill, Calif.

Victor Navasky quotes I. F. Stone’s view that “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…. [H]istory is not made of conspiracies, history is made by fundamental forces.”

The search for fundamental forces reveals a useful and illuminating context for events of the cold war. Is there any doubt that the fundamental basis of the cold war was the struggle between capitalism’s drive to continue to exploit the world’s population and resources for profit-making, and the aspiration of people of many nations to replace capitalism’s harshness with a more humane socialist society?

While the United States intervened without restraint–with military involvement in Siberia against the fledgling Soviet Union, with money and material in support of France’s war to regain control of Vietnam, and in national elections in Greece, Italy, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Chile, Cuba and formerly colonial countries in Africa and Asia–the Soviet Union provided moral and material support for movements for independence and the replacement of capitalism with socialist societies.

Of course, the US masked its goals by deliberately blurring the distinction between capitalism and democracy. In a “full-court press” the US disseminated its propaganda worldwide, demonizing socialists as anti-democratic, even assassinating political leaders of socialist and independence movements. Having twice demonstrated its willingness to destroy whole cities of human beings with its horrendous atomic bombs, the US terrorized the world and spurred the USSR to develop its own atomic weapon as a deterrent to the unrestrained force of the US. Those who sought to establish and protect socialism saw the USSR as their champion and greeted its development of atomic weapons with a sign of relief. And those who sought to help the USSR acquire this deterrent, like Julius Rosenberg, were in fact helping to protect democratic strivings and peace worldwide. Such actions were loyal to the professed ideals of the American people and therefore essentially patriotic, not inimical to America. It is obfuscating, if not shameful, to characterize McCarthy as patriotic, or to seek “protective coloration” by temporizing with the Red Scare.


Fremont, Calif.

Victor Navasky writes: “There is something in the national mood that is a stark reminder of the ugly underside of the McCarthy era…reminiscent of nothing so much as the bullying and power plays of the bygone era when the country temporarily lost its moorings.” To his pertinent examples, I add the totally undemocratic, machiavellian methods employed by those who rule the National Pacifica Radio board to gut the foundation upon which was built Pacifica Radio, and to destroy the stations one by one–until only Berkeley’s KPFA remains the sole source of non-mainstream information and analysis on the (decimated) Pacifica network.


New York City

Victor Navasky’s “Cold War Ghosts” was a welcome essay for us old-timers in the Nation family. I have not read many of the counterrevisionist books that Navasky mentions, nor do I pretend to be a historian, let alone an essayist. But, having been close to Alger Hiss during the last fifty years of his life, I have kept in touch with the plethora of books from Chambers to Weinstein to Venona and am as convinced as ever of Alger’s innocence. The spurious Whittaker Chambers, the ambitious liar Richard Nixon and the evil J. Edgar Hoover conspired to frame this most honorable of men. Hiss was incapable of being so stupid as to submit the “pumpkin papers” documents to the Soviets. It is clear that to be anti-Hiss is more profitable than to defend him.

It should be noted that our country changed for the worse immediately after the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in April 1945, just days before the opening of the United Nations Founding Conference in San Francisco. President Truman replaced FDR’s loyal Secretary of State, Edward Stettinius, with the arch-reactionary Jimmy Byrnes during the UN conference in June 1945. Alger Hiss was Secretary General of that conference and, along with Stettinius, tried to hold onto Roosevelt’s concept of a postwar world. The sabotage was begun by assistant Secretary of State (and phony liberal) Nelson Rockefeller, who pressed for the admission of Argentina as a founding member of the UN in spite of its German sympathies during World War II and its early welcome to the fleeing Nazis. Truman approved of this obvious anti-Soviet move. Within weeks he approved the killing and torturing of millions of civilians by dropping the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima–again, a cold war move to prevent the Soviets from having any say in postwar Japan.

(A little-known episode from the early days of the United Nations: Trigve Lei of Norway, the first Secretary General of the UN, collaborated with J. Edgar Hoover’s agents–against international law–in firing many US members of the UN Secretariat for being too progressive. This was documented in a film produced on the fiftieth anniversary of the UN in 1995, where participants and victims in the event revealed the sordid facts. As far as I know, the film was never shown in the US.)

It is also worth noting that the long period since World War II has shown a marked increase in religious fanaticism. I recommend Carl Sagan’s last book, Billions and Billions, as solid proof that science is more truthful than all the religious nonsense by our political leaders, from the hypocrisy of Bill Clinton to Bush’s phony “God bless” to Lieberman’s pompous declarations and Ashcroft’s insensitivity toward some of America’s best: the non-believers.


The writer is an architect and a Navy veteran who served in the office of Strategic Services during World War II and in the United Nations until 1946.

Oakland, Calif.

Victor Navasky quotes from I. F. Stone that “history is not made of conspiracies, history is made by fundamental forces.” That was then. Today there is a marriage of fundamental forces and conspiracies: the oil cartels, the auto cartels, the munitions cartels, the hotel cartels, the food cartels, the media cartels with their secret meetings which certainly can be seen as conspiracies (or am I just paranoid?). And for sure, these cartels are fundamental forces. So may we say that today, history is being made by fundamental conspiracies?


Lone Pine, Calif.

I was impressed and moved by the articles of Martin Duberman and Victor Navasky in your July 16 issue, and stirred to recollection of events now more than half a century ago. This past July 16 happened to be my 82nd birthday. In August of 1945, I was on a Liberty Ship coming in from the east side of the Philippine achipelago. Since I was chief radio operator I had the privilege of conveying to my shipmates news of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We were all of us–merchant crew and navy crew on that ship–young men, hoping, as everyone else was, to survive the war. We knew we were carrying a cargo of ammunition consigned to some harbor or beach head in the expected invasion of Japan and knew there was a reasonable chance this might be our last journey. The news of Hiroshima and Nagasaki came as a reprieve. We all joined in the celebration. Only after the war was over, and I was back in the United States delving into the literature on atomic energy that suddenly surfaced in 1946, did I realize that Hiroshima/Nagasaki could not have been necessary in any military sense as far as war with Japan was concerned, and that what I had celebrated with my shipmates was not so much the final act of World War II as a first act in the oncoming cold war. But we had not yet then heard of the cold war. What we were hearing about was the “American Century.”

Several years later I was an active defender of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. My wife, as head of the Rosenberg Committee in a county of Northern California, raised thousands of dollars. I spoke at meetings and wrote letters to the press. I thought then (as I do now) that nothing the Rosenbergs could have done could have made any decisive difference in the development of atomic weapons by the Soviet Union. That, however, was irrelevant, since by making the case central to its ideological armament, the United States government had given it world importance. What mattered at that level was not the effectiveness of the alleged deed, but its intent. The arguments I tried to present (perhaps the only ones realistically available to us) were to agree fifty percent with the prosecution–that the crime as charged was indeed atrocious and merited punishment, but that the Rosenbergs had not committed such a crime and that the case against them was flawed–probably a frame-up, as so many causes celebres in American history turned out to be, and at best (or worst) a politically contrived exaggeration of what could hardly have been more than minor derelictions. The prosecution prevailed, the Rosenbergs were executed; and now we have Ronald Radosh stepping forward like the implacable detective from Hugo’s Les Misérables who built his life’s career exacting the last iota of vengeance against culprints who transgressed class justice. Duberman and Navasky have responded honestly and ably to Radosh, and I admire them for doing so. Yet I think it worth noting they are repeating essentially the same arguments that we made in 1953; the two of them remain–as we were then–half in agreement with the prosecution.

In 1945, eager to go on living, I had joined in celebrating the saving power of atomic bombs. A year later I had no difficulty perceiving that the United States–my government–was planning to use its anticipated monopoly of atomic and nuclear power for purposes of world domination. The first atomic bombs were made in America, but they were not an American product. They were a gift to the Allied Cause by an international group of scientists moved by hatred and fear of Nazi Germany–not by any conviction that Washington ought to dominate the postwar world. Morally, these scientists should have had some collective voice in the uses to which atomic bombs were put. We know that those who had teamed in building the bombs pleaded with Roosevelt (later Truman) not to use them against human targets and to commit the “secret” of their construction after the war to some agency of international control. Doing so would have been a service to this country and to the human species.

I argued in the past that the Rosenbergs were not guilty. Yet even then I think I was hoping that they really were guilty of doing precisely what they were accused of doing, and that some day, in some more enlightened era, we (or our children) would place Ethel and Julius Rosenberg among famous betrayors of history–such as Prometheus, for example, or Socrates, or John Brown–and honor them accordingly. The cold war was an interval of a longer war that still defines the meaning of our own time. It is wrong to reduce the Rosenbergs to petty hustlers who blundered foolishly into a lethal setting. Even those who rejoice at their execution can perceive the Rosenbergs as among the great human actors of a tragedy in which to some extent we all choose our own roles.