On March 30, 2013, at the national conference of the Popular Culture Association and the American Culture Association, held at the Washington, D.C. Marriott-Wardman Park Hotel, I was moderator for a panel that examined Oliver Stone, as an artist and historian. Stone and Peter Kuznick, his co-author of The Untold History of the United States and his co-producer of the Showtime TV series of the same name, were honored at the conference and spoke and took questions the evening before this panel discussion took place.
The panel was organized by Dr. Peter Rollins, a former AIM Fellow who produced the AIM documentary, “Television’s Vietnam,” part one of which aired on PBS in the 1980s. Rollins, an author, former professor and Marine, with a Ph.D from Harvard, has written and taught about films in popular culture, particularly as they relate to war and politics. He was also the president of the Popular Culture Association in the 1980s.
The other panelists were Ronald Radosh and Richard Raack. Radosh is a Prof. Emeritus of the City University of New York, an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute, and a columnist for PJ Media. He is the author or co-author of over fifteen books, including The Rosenberg File, Red Star Over Hollywood and A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel. He writes regularly for The Weekly Standard, National Review, and major newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times and many others. He has been instrumental in waging a challenge to the distorted history of Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick.
Following the Stone/Kuznick session on March 29th, and our panel on the 30th, Radosh summed up what had taken place in a column for PJ Media:
Their [Stone and Kuznick] presentation, offered to a clearly leftist and liberal audience that greeted them as conquering heroes waging a battle against the supposedly right-wing establishment, was important for one major reason. It offered us insight into the mindset held by leftists such as the two presenters, and into how they depict themselves in order to gain an audience’s sympathy—how they make them believe their message is the sole truth.
Richard Raack wrote a Stanford Press book, Stalin’s Drive to the West, 1938-1945, published in 1995. Raack says that today’s censorship in academia is worse than scandalous, especially notable at the big name schools. He says it is just as bad among journalists who write history.
Raack taught “Analyzing the History Film” at Cal State U, East Bay, where he was involved in the creation of an M.A. program in Media and History, and has done film research for history shows on German TV, and for UK Channel 4. He did volunteer film research for the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis, and worked as a producer, consultant, sound man, film cutter, historical researcher and music composer.
Our panel, which lasted about 90 minutes, factually discredited significant parts of Stone’s version of history, which sadly is headed for much wider distribution than it has currently received. It is even slated to become part of the curricula in many schools across the country, and in many countries across the world that already view the U.S. with contempt.
You can view the transcript of this video below, for anyone interested in pulling quotes from our two outstanding experts on this subject.
3/30/2013: Popular Culture Association and the American Culture Association Conference Panel
Dr. Peter Rollins, Ronald Radosh, Richard Raack
Oliver Stone as Artist and Historian: Pro Et Contra
Transcribed by J. C. Hendershot & Bethany Stotts
ROGER ARONOFF: I want to welcome you all this morning. Thank you for coming here. I know you had a lot of choices, twenty or so, where you could be at this time, and we appreciate that you’re here. Just out of curiosity, how many of you attended the Oliver Stone session yesterday? All of you, good—or, most all of you. Anyway, we’re here to give a counterpoint to that discussion that took place yesterday. I think you will find it very interesting, and I’m glad you’re open to hearing this point of view—so we’ll get started here in just a second.
I’m Roger Aronoff, the Editor of Accuracy in Media. Accuracy in Media was founded in 1969 by Reed Irvine, who was a Marine intelligence officer in World War II, and an economist with the Federal Reserve for 28 years.
The idea for this panel came from Peter Rollins. He also was a Marine during Vietnam. He has a Ph.D. from Harvard, and was a former President of this very association, the Popular Culture Association. He had the idea to do this when he saw that there was going to be this session with Stone and Peter Kuznick talking about their Showtime series [Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States] and the accompanying book.
Peter also was a Fellow for Accuracy in Media in the 1980s, and he produced a two-part documentary called Television’s Vietnam, which was a response to the WGBH PBS series [Vietnam: A Television History] about Vietnam. So he had done that, and also had a book called America Reflected—one of a number of books that Peter wrote or edited—which has ten chapters on various examples of the distortions of the Vietnam experience, including the work of Oliver Stone, who Peter describes as a “paradoxical historian” and points out that Stone’s company commander in Vietnam [Robert Hemphill] was so upset that he wrote a book [Platoon: Bravo Company] to answer Stone’s portrait of the unit in which they both served. Peter, unfortunately, is not able to be here today for health reasons. He sends his regrets.
This is eventually going to be up on the website: We’re going to have this available. No one in the audience will be seen—it’s just going to be showing the people up here—but it will be up there if you ever want to refer to it.
A little background on Peter, to start with. He’s a Regents’ Professor Emeritus with a Ph.D. from Harvard. He’s the recipient of Oklahoma Humanities Award, and, until recently, from 1994 he was Editor-in-Chief of Film and History, an interdisciplinary journal of film and television studies, and was an associate editor and book review editor for the Journal of Popular Culture and the Journal of American Culture until the summer of 2003. Peter called me up one day at AIM and said “Television’s Iraq”—a reference to Television’s Vietnam—which led to this documentary that I produced and directed, Confronting Iraq: Conflict and Hope, which was an attempt to answer sort of the current thinking of how we were “lied and misled” into the war in Iraq.
Our first speaker is Ronald Radosh. He is Professor Emeritus of the City University of New York, an adjunct Fellow of the Hudson Institute and a columnist for PJ Media. He is the author or coauthor of over fifteen books including Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union and the Spanish Civil War, The Rosenberg File, and A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel. He writes regularly for The Weekly Standard, National Review, and major newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and many others. He’s been instrumental in waging a challenge to the distorted history of Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick. A couple of his other books include Red Star Over Hollywood: The Film Colony’s Long Romance with the Left, with his wife Allis Radosh, and Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left. So, without further ado, I give you Ron Radosh.
RON RADOSH: Thank you so much, Roger. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for coming out. Since you were all there last night, I was the guy who stood up in the back and started shouting out to them when he mentioned the “critics.” I must say, at this point, something you should know: I and other historians, including Wilson Miscamble and Bob Gellately—major historians of the Cold War and the Soviet Union—have offered to debate Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick in many venues. They have consistently turned down that offer. They will not debate anyone who knows anything that could counter them and oppose them on their own terms, because they know that we would win such a debate hands-down. They only want to speak to captive audiences, largely liberal or Left in sentiment, and act, as Stone did last night, as the great victims who the media ignores while, actually—which you know for yourself, and he made it clear last night—they have a captive media. Now we learn of Time Warner, after the Showtime contract expires, and they also have been virtually on every major radio and television talk show about their book and TV series in America without opposition.
This is the guy who plays the victim, who says he has no access to the media when, in fact, he has complete access to the media. Even that great conservative Mike Huckabee had them on, and sang their praises. Huckabee thanked them for writing “the true history of the United States.” Obviously Huckabee knows nothing about history, or anything except for his own chosen pet causes. So they have had the carte blanche of a welcome market from the entire media. They are anything but the victims of a media blackout.
Now, let me address the issue. The issue is history and the American past. Notice how they dealt with their critics last night: They mentioned one by name, Sean Wilentz. He is a well-known Left liberal historian, one of the major historians of the United States, at Princeton University. He holds a chair there. He was a major advisor and activist during the Hillary [Clinton] campaign. He was widely on television during the impeachment campaign against Bill Clinton, in which he defended Clinton, and he has written scores of articles, including the cover story in Rolling Stone: “George W. Bush: The Worst President in American History?” Sean Wilentz is a credible Left-wing liberal historian. He has said, in the February 21st issue in The New York Review of Books, that the book and the video series by Stone and Kuznick is total garbage. It is an assault on accurate history. How did they refer to it? How did [Stone] deal with this argument by Wilentz last night? He smeared him. He said, “After all, Sean Wilentz is a defender of the American Empire, and a Cold War liberal who has joined the conservatives in attacking [our] series.” In other words, “Don’t deal with what Wilentz said,” the essence of his documented critique, which you all can read for yourself online at The New York Review of Books—just go to the February 21st issue, it’s open to everyone. They do not deal with anything that Wilentz says. They just prefer to attack him with code words—conservative and Cold War liberal. In other words, there’s nothing to say. That is, for someone who claims to be presenting “the true history,” horrendous, because what they are going to do is miseducate a whole new generation of American young people with this series and with their book, which is a complete fraud.
Now, let me give you some examples. Fortunately, they picked the topic to emphasize last night in the episode they showed and, particularly, in Kuznick’s comments—and Kuznick, you can see, wrote the book and the video; Stone did just the editing and the TV part, and just parrots what Kuznick says. He is the author. Kuznick is a professional historian, a Ph.D. in history, but Stone is just a filmmaker who depends on what Kuznick says. I should point out that Kuznick himself—give me a moment to find this—does not really view himself just as a historian. His primary role is as an activist. I just want to—and I thought I had it right here!—quote to you what he says, himself, about how he regards himself. He says, “My role as a professor is creating a bridge between Leftist and moderate students, so I can try to radicalize the more moderate and liberal students who accept our system and support liberal capitalism, and are therefore blind to the lessons of history.” He is, in other words, a professional activist—that is his definition of his role—who wants to converts moderate and liberals to the path of socialist revolution, which is what he thinks the Unites States should be. He has a right to expound and believe in that, but that shows you how his approach to history is totally colored by his political agenda. Indeed, he actually says, in this essay he wrote, that he left Rutgers University, where he went to study under well-known Left-wing historians, because he found out they’re mainly historians and not Leftists, and weren’t radical enough, so he left Rutgers to go elsewhere where he could be educated by true activists—people like his hero Howard Zinn, who has been demolished two weeks ago in The New Republic in an essay by a brilliant historian, David Greenberg of Rutgers University. In that essay, David Greenberg says he is not paying attention to Stone and Kuznick because they are so crazy, so outright outside the realm of any serious history, that they’re not even worth talking about. So you have to understand that people who know anything about history have nothing but disdain for Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick: They think they are idiots. I tried to yell out last night that they are also moral cowards, since they refuse to face anyone in debate over the real issues. That’s something you should realize from the start.
Now let me turn to Henry A. Wallace, where he reiterated last night—this is Kuznick—the arguments for why America would have been different if Henry Wallace had won the Presidency: There would have been no Cold War, peace with the Soviet Union; we would have proceeded to build a social democratic America that expanded on the New Deal of [Franklin Delano Roosevelt]. Of course, only the political bosses played a game, keeping [Wallace] out at the last minute because Claude Pepper—known affectionately as “Red Claude” Pepper, he had red hair but the “Red Claude” Pepper fit both ways back then, he was a leading Senate apologist for the Soviet Union—almost reached the stand, and then they adjourned the convention. Two things you should know about that. FDR said to his aides—this is in many history books—“Have you got that guy Truman lined up? We’ve got to get Wallace out of the nomination. We must get Truman in.” You do not learn that quote. You do not learn that Wallace’s supporters got forged entry cards to pack the convention, so they could appear to be delegates and so create a steamroller for Wallace.
So, in other words, Kuznick, in writing his book, leaves out evidence, widely available all through the literature, that contradicts what they assert. The way they deal with evidence that disputes them is simply to pretend it does not exist. That is just the way in which they leave out the works. You look at their footnotes. They say, “Oh, you know, we’ve been vetted, we’ve got footnotes—well, footnotes prove it’s legitimate!” The footnotes are all to secondary sources—we’re talking about the books here—from Left-wing historians and scholars, without any footnotes at all to the scores of historians who have written major works on the Cold War that have a different position than [Stone and Kuznick] take. Here are two of the most recent. Dick Raack over here wrote one in , Stalin’s Drive to the West, 1938-1945, but these are very recent ones. This is the Truman Library Prize winner by Wilson Miscamble, From Roosevelt to Truman: Potsdam, Hiroshima, and the Cold War. Not a mention of this, or anything Miscamble argues. Here is the very recent one—it just came out two weeks ago—by Robert Gellately, Stalin’s Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War. Both of these books are serious, archival-based books. Gellately, particularly, here has used all the archives in the former Soviet Union that used to be closed, all through Eastern Europe. He speaks many languages. He’s done a yeoman’s job of research, proving that [Josef] Stalin was ideologically motivated to spread Communism throughout as much of Europe as he could. [Stalin] bamboozled all of the Western negotiators, skillfully used what he had available to try to get from the West what he wanted. He was an expansionist seeking to expand the sphere of Communism throughout Europe. He was not a benign power acted upon by the “American Empire” who was against him. If anything, both these authors show that Truman came into office trying to do what he thought FDR wanted, to create a cooperative era of peace with the Soviet Union, only to find that that path was blocked by Stalin and the policies he pursued. [Truman] even sent the most pro-Soviet aide FDR had, Harry Hopkins, to see Stalin in Moscow, to show he had good faith in Stalin. He also depended upon Joseph Davies, the man who wrote Mission to Moscow, the pro-Soviet book justifying the purge trials of the 1930s. And he quickly found that he was getting walked over entirely by Stalin, and over time shifted to other advisors like Averell Harriman, who saw what the Soviets were up to. You learn nothing of this in what Kuznick has written—and, again, they do that simply by ignoring any scholarship that challenges them.
Now, let me get back to Henry Wallace. What do we really know about Henry Wallace? You have my article from The Weekly Standard which deals with this, so let me make some other points. First, the book and the TV series, I argue, is really an update with very little new of the so-called Cold War “revisionist history” of the ’60s. As I argue in the piece that I handed out, that you have from The Weekly Standard, it really is, and does not go any further than, the 1952 book [We Can Be Friends: Origins of the Cold War] by a Communist named Carl Marzani that was actually subsidized and published by the KGB in the United States in their disinformation program. [Stone and Kuznick] use the same quotes, from secondary sources available in the ’50s, that Marzani used, in exactly the same way. It might be plagiarism, or it might that Kuznick read the 1970s reissue of the book and had it in his library, but they don’t even seek to update it! The quotes were taken out of context by Marzani, and they have the same out-of-coxtent quotes that Marzani had—leaving out quotes from Truman, leaving out the rest of a sentence that shows the opposite of what they wanted to prove. I recommend highly Michael Moynihan’s piece that you can get online, at thedailybeast.com, where he shows how, in what they wrote, they distort completely the evidence by leaving out sections of things they quote that lead you to the opposite conclusion. This is the kind of scholars they are—and they have the nerve to talk about “This is history”! Stone keeps saying, “We’ve been thoroughly vetted for the truth.” As he said on television, “CBS lawyers vetted me.” Well, lawyers for CBS do not vet for the truth—they vet to avoid libel. They don’t care if a quote from Truman misses [unintelligible] the portion they quote is what Truman said. They do not vet for truth or historical accuracy. Another slippery argument by Oliver Stone.
Now, they say that if Wallace had assumed the Presidency when Roosevelt died, he would have recognized Stalin’s just demands to have friendly borders on Russia’s borders—thereby carrying out FDR’s policy of cooperation. They argue that Truman needlessly angered the Russians, rejected Stalin’s peaceful attempts to carry on an amicable relationship with America, and proceeded and set on a warlike path that led to the national security state. Now. They approve of Wallace’s belief, as he articulated in 1940s that “fascist interests, motivated largely by anti-Russian bias, are trying to get control of our government.” They fail to mention—and this is available since the mid-1990s—all the new messages we have from the decoded Soviet intercepts, known as the Venona files, as well as the files sneaked out of the old U.S.S.R. by [Vasili] Mitrokhin, who is in England, and Alexander Vassiliev, who is also in England, who brought out all KGB archives and copied them, and now they’re both available on the Internet. So we know that Wallace opposed the creation of NATO; he wanted to abandon Berlin at the sign of the Soviet blockade; he denounced the Marshall Plan, one of the great accomplishments of Western policy, as the “Martial Plan,” M-A-R-T-I-A-L; and he supported and justified and apologized for the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia that put the Communists into power in that country. They never mention—and here is an amazing thing—that in October of 1945, while Wallace was still in Harry Truman’s Cabinet, he met covertly in a secret meeting with the NKVD—the predecessor of the KGB—station chief in Moscow, Anatoly Gorsky. He told Gorsky, in the secret meeting, that he wanted to share the atomic bomb with the Soviets, that he regretted that Truman was being influenced by an anti-Soviet group that wanted the Western bloc to be dominant, and that Soviets could do something to help him and his small group significantly win the internal power struggle in Washington, D.C., in the White House. So here you have a member of the Cabinet, a Cabinet member of the President of the United States going to the Soviet secret police chief in Washington, D.C. to ask Soviet aid in helping Wallace win a political battle against the anti-Soviets in Washington. You can view this as you want, but it says two things: Henry A. Wallace was either a traitor, ot a dupe—or both. This was also said—and you can watch the C-SPAN from a month or so ago—by the esteemed major historian of American foreign policy, John Gaddis at Yale University, in his forum that you’ll find in YouTube at the William F. Buckley Forum on the Cold War. It was held at Yale a month or so ago.
[Stone and Kuznick] also leave out Wallace’s 1952 article [“Where I Was Wrong”], in which Wallace wrote: “As I look back over the past ten years I feel my greatest mistake was to not denounce the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in February of 1948. I failed to take into account the ruthless nature of Russian-trained Communists whose sole objective was to make Czechoslovakia subservient to Moscow.” What an irony: Henry Wallace—a scant seventeen years after his run for the Presidency on the Communist-created ticket, the Progressive Party—repudiated everything he believed, said he was wrong, and that he had learned from history. This is something that Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick do not do: Instead of learning from history, they even ignore their hero’s second thoughts about what he himself believed.
Again, I urge you: Read my piece in The Weekly Standard. Read the devastating piece in The New York Review of Books, February 21st of this year, by Sean Wilentz. There you will see substantive, documented critiques which decimate what Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick are doing. I think this is an important issue. They have to be stopped, they have to be opposed. They’re going to poison the minds of American students for generations to come with lies and distortions, claiming they’re only “teaching history.” They’re not teaching history, they are propagating a Leftist political agenda that uses history—a distorted, false history, ignoring everything that contradicts them—in order to a create a new generation that will see America as the bad guys, and everyone else as the good guys. Even his shocking answer when a questioner asked him about North Korea and Kim Jong-un’s horrendous nuclear bluffs, or whatever you want to call them: He said it’s understandable, given American imperialism’s hostility to North Korea. Give me a break! In that answer you saw the true Stone and Kuznick: America’s enemies, even the worst of them, are all good; America is all bad. This is not history—it’s crap. Thank you.
ARONOFF: We’re going to start now. I hope you have some questions for Ron. Let’s do that for a few minutes, and then we’ll go on to our next speaker, as well. Yes?
RADOSH: We get to everything in short article. Marzani’s book, first of all, it’s rather unknown. Marzani, if you read the book, and I’ve read it—for example, takes—and I don’t have—again, look at Michael Moynihan’s article, where he shows you what they left out. It’s the same thing Marzani left out, the rest of some sentences of Truman’s quote that they used. You’ll have to check that online; I don’t have it with me. But Marzani’s argument is, again, this false one, which, I wanted to say, there’s no way to deal with this except to read books—Robert Gellately’s book. Let me just read you something. I think this answers it. There’s a historian, a distinguished, well-known historian named Robert Service who’s written many books on Communism. In a review of Anne Applebaum’s recent book [Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe], which I didn’t mention, on the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe, Robert Service writes—this is from the magazine The National Interest:
The idea has gained ground that [Stalin] might well have been open to a less repressive settlement for Eastern Europe if only the Western Allies had handled him with greater respect and understanding. Poor old Joe! Misunderstood and unappreciated . . . he allowed the balance of governance to swing in the direction of . . . communization. The chances for the USSR to dominate Eastern Europe without . . . suppressing its limited democracy and market economy evaporated in the heat of the Marshall Plan.
And, he says, Applebaum “will have none of this. The author contends that the communizing process began as soon as the Communist leaders, who lived in Moscow since the 1930s, returned to the lands of their birth with the Red Army.” There they laid “the preparatory groundwork for communization, a process . . . well underway in the last years of [the Second World War].” The “Communist returners did not confine themselves to assuming powers in ministries of internal affairs,” they “sought to impose their influence on the minutiae of everyday life. Communism was dreamed up not in 1947 or 1948 but in 1945 or earlier.”
This is the theme of Anne Applebaum’s book. This is what Bob Gellately—his just came out, it has been reviewed in this week’s Economist, a rave review, but ignored by The New York Times or the New York Review—talks about, going back to the ’30s, the plans Stalin laid out for the post-war world that he tried to implement. This is based on real, serious historical research. This is the answer, and the only way to answer [Stone and Kuznick] is to read books like this. They ignore—you will not find one footnote even to John Gaddis’s book of a few years ago, Now We Know, in which he said he had reversed his earlier view that both sides were responsible for the Cold War, to the new view, based on his own research, that the Soviet Union was responsible; and then he wrote a later book on the Cold War. How come they do not deal with any scholarship, that, in effect, gives the answer to your question?
They are liars. They are not historians. They are propagandists of the Left. They are not historians. Look at what the very liberal David Greenberg says about them in The New Republic magazine two weeks ago. I don’t have it in front of me, but he says no one can take them seriously, they are beyond contempt—something like that. This is not just my view, this is the view of liberals. Of course, didn’t [Stone] condemn them as “Cold War liberals” who have joined the conservatives? He doesn’t deal with them. They demonize opponents. You have to ask them why they won’t debate me, or Wilentz, or Miscamble, or Dick Raack. Why do they continually refuse to engage in public debate in a panel before the American Historical Association, or the Organization of American Historians, and sit there, with me and someone else, both of them answering specifics. They won’t—and they refuse because they are scared. Until they do that, I, too, have nothing but contempt for them.
ARONOFF: Let me just follow up, because he also asked, if you’re going to accuse them of distortions, you had a couple of your own about what they said about North Korea, and about Oliver Stone, all he did was the editing. You want to respond to that?
RADOSH: Yes, I just meant that Kuznick wrote everything. Oliver Stone does no history. You watch him on television—
AUDIENCE MEMBER: That’s not true—
RADOSH: It is! I don’t care what he says. Watch him. I’ve watched every television appearance. I defer to Peter, I defer to Peter—I mean, he doesn’t know anything. He’s a filmmaker! He doesn’t know history. Watch his JFK if you think he knows history. What of a bunch of conspiratorial crap! He is an idiot—per se. I have no respect for him, and I have hardly any less respect for Kuznick, who is a fraud, an insult to the profession of history.
QUESTION 2: I was wondering if you could just speak to their claim that the Japanese were about to surrender, and there was no need to drop the atomic bombs, it was only to show power against Russia?
RADOSH: Yes, that is actually very complex. Again, the second book that came out a year ago, by Wilson Miscamble on Hiroshima and the bomb [The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan], is based on the current research. Let me tell you something else they leave out: Truman is painted in this series as a moral monster, a horrendous man who had no regrets about the mass incineration of the Japanese people. Now, it is horrendous. We agree. You do not know—and this is in other history books; in fact, Miscamble’s new book has a whole chapter on the moral issue of the bomb, and I urge you to read it, you will find—how come he found it and they didn’t?—that Truman had great regrets about dropping the bomb. He said, “It was horrendous. I have nightmares about it. I wish I didn’t have to use it; it’s awful. I do not want any nation on the Earth to ever use that bomb again.” You don’t hear that in Kuznick’s history. Truman is just a monster, has no feelings at about what the horrible effects the bomb had—because if they quote this stuff from Truman—which, again, is available to all historians—it would undercut the thesis of how horrible Truman was. That’s, again, an example of how they leave out evidence, available to everyone, that somehow they missed or didn’t know about.
They don’t know about a lot. In fact, I have an E-mail from Peter Kuznick—we’ve been E-mailing back and forth, and in one of his E-mails to me he actually says, when I talk to him about what he should read, because I don’t think he reads, he says, “Gee, you know, maybe I should take a look at these books, maybe there’s something in there that I don’t know.” This is what he said to me in an E-mail. This is incredible! The guy admits to me he doesn’t know this stuff I’m talking about! How can he write a book when he isn’t even reading the latest history? I don’t know. Obviously, judging from what he said last night, he didn’t go ahead and read any of these books. Maybe he prefers not to. You have to ask him.
But, on that question, I argue that the “evidence” is not true. The Japanese Emperor was not about to surrender. The military was not about to surrender. The latest research—and there’s scores of books in the past ten years about this, I cannot go through with the documentation—shows that the Japanese were not about to surrender, and that invasion by the United States would have lost not only thousands and thousands of American lives, but it also would have led to more Japanese killed than were killed by the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is developed in Miscamble’s new book, which synthesizes and puts together all the recent literature by scores of different authors, both Japanese and American. Again, there’s no way to answer these kind of questions except by reading these books. If I was debating Stone and Kuznick, I would prepare thoroughly and have the quotes laid out in direction so we go through all these questions; I would have them at hand, hit them with the exact facts, and see how they answer them. But that’s what I suggest: Get Miscamble’s new book on the bomb. It came out a year ago.
QUESTION 3: I appreciate the counter-perspective and I also appreciate your discussion, whether I’m not sure it’s explicit, about the role of the historian, and how a historian writes history. I’d actually like you to discuss a little bit about that, because you seem to be working from a very clear position of what a historian is, and what the historian’s role is. I’m also curious, too—you sort of give these political descriptions to a number of historians. How do you determine the politics of the historian? I’m very much sympathetic to some of the claims and criticisms that you’ve raised about Stone’s work, but, to me, some of your responses border a little bit on the polemic. So I’m just curious about—I’d like to know a little bit more about your perspective about history and the historical craft.
RADOSH: Exactly. That’s an excellent question. The fact is that history should be based on looking back at the past, and reevaluating and reinterpreting it, and trying to answer some questions, i.e., How did the Cold War start? Who was responsible? Were both powers responsible? What lies on the origin? How do you find out why the Cold War took place? You do that by going through archival material, by evaluating evidence and the record, and trying to put it together. Now, part of the problem—the fact is, we all come to it with our own biases. No one is, quote, “objective.”
Gar Alperovitz: I was in the seminar with him, under the master of Cold War revisionists—I used to be a Cold War revisionist, I was a student of William Appleman Williams at the University of Wisconsin, I used to believe all this stuff. Gar Alperovitz was in the senior honors seminar with me when he wrote his first early position on why the bomb was dropped. He then went on, developed it into his book [Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam], which, in the [’90s], became an ABC documentary [Hiroshima: Why We Dropped the Bomb] with Peter Jennings, [for which Alperovitz was a consultant]. He had a thesis that sounded compelling: The bomb was dropped not to stop the war against the Japanese, but to get in before the Soviet Union, to prevent them from having a role in the post-war process in Asia, and to scare them—“to scare the hell out of them,” as he has one quote. Well, since Alperovitz wrote that book, there were scores of new books about the Japanese and the bomb, and many books directly show evidence ignored or misunderstood by Alperovitz, particularly this historian Robert James Maddox—M-A-D-D-O-X—who’s done a masterful job in dissecting Alperovitz’s book, and also has a reader [Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism] of all the most recent essays and articles on the bomb; it’s another recent book he published, on the debate over the dropping of the bomb, with lots of historical essays. If you go into it, as many historians have done since Alperovitz wrote his original book, Atomic Diplomacy, in the ’60s, you find the new evidence shows that his thesis is wrong. Even if you believed him then, you have evaluate what has been found since then, to see if his thesis holds up; that’s how you do history—and if it doesn’t, you say so. I think it’s been done successfully, but Gar Alperovitz still maintains he was totally right, as all the people who believe him do.
I find, dishearteningly so, that no matter what the evidence if people believe something they don’t change their mind, particularly Peter Kuznick, because he wants to paint the U.S. as the “Evil Empire,” and therefore the other side was right. Look what Oliver Stone said: “Well, we were going to try in Britain, but the British are anti-Soviet.” Huh. That’s bad? Maybe there’s a reason that a lot of people in Britain were anti-Soviet. After all, Truman was educated—and this you can find on the Web—when [Winston] Churchill lost the election, and Labour came into power, it was—my mind is slipping out—the Foreign Minister of Great Britain who educated Truman, in a long series of major letters, about what the Soviets were about, and how they viewed the Soviets. These were released about a year ago. Read those letters. Who was the Foreign Minister?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Ernest Bevin.
RADOSH: Yes, Ernest Bevin! His name slipped my mind. Ernest Bevin’s letters to Truman: They’re incredible. So that’s why they’re anti-Soviet: Labour, because of their experience with the Communists in Britain, knew what the Communists were trying to do, and it was not a good thing. So Labour—the Left in Britain—was anti-Communist for a very good reason, but to Stone and Kuznick, anti-Soviet is a bad word. That shows you their approach is based on ideology, not on study or analysis of history.
Look: I used to be a Cold War revisionist. I also used to be a man of the Left. I changed because the evidence, and my understanding of things, proved to me that I was wrong. I view things intellectually, not emotionally. I understand where the Leftists are coming from, because I used to be a Leftist—I mean, I was a Communist. I learned that I was wrong because of evidence.
The only way [Stone and Kuznick] can deal with people like me are to smear us. Conservative: Bad word. Cold War liberal: Bad word. I’m the same as Sean Wilentz. In The New York Review of Books they attempted to answer—and this is the last point I’ll make—Wilentz’s article. The first thing they say to discredit Wilentz is that I gave Sean Wilentz’s book on Ronald Reagan [The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008] a good review. Well, that proves how bad Wilentz is: I liked his book on Reagan. That’s the kind of history and analysis they deal with: Demonization. Just because I said something Wilentz wrote was good, that shows Wilentz is beyond the pale, too. That’s not the way real scholars talk and evaluate. They are ideologues first and foremost, not historians.
ARONOFF: Our next speaker is Richard Raack. He wrote a book for Stanford Press called Stalin’s Drive to the West, 1938 to 1945. The book was published in 1995. Since then he has researched and written many articles dealing with Stalin and aspects of his foreign interventions. Raack says that today’s censorship in academia is worse than scandalous, especially notable at the big-name schools. He says it’s just as bad among journalists who write history.
Mr. Raack was born in Los Angeles in 1928, and grew up surrounded by people in the film industry. He went to UCLA, and, thanks to the GI Bill, he went to Harvard where he received a Ph.D. in history in 1957. In the ’70s, he joined with various colleagues, including a composer and musicologist, made four films designed for history instruction [Goodbye Billy: America Goes to War, 1917-1918; The Frozen War: America Intervenes in Russia; Will Rogers’ 1920s; Storm of Fire: The Bombing of Dresden]. All were produced along with instructional materials to promote their critical evaluation by students. He was part of a group of historians producing history films, which they undertook to ensure they would be viewed critically by viewers. At his place of work, Cal State [University] in East Bay, Raack was involved in the creation of an M.A. program in media and history where he taught “Analyzing the History Film.” When first introduced, there was nothing like it in the U.S., even abroad. Although, in those days, there was much by the way of the critical use of film as historical evidence underway, but most was in Britain and Germany. The East Bay program vanished with his retirement about 25 years ago.
He’s done research for his writings in ten or so languages, including four Slavic languages, several Romance languages, and German, Dutch, and English. He has done film research for history shows on German TV and for U.K. Channel 4. He also had film archive research grants in the State Archives in the U.S.S.R. and Russia, in Poland, in East and West Germany, the U.K., and in Washington. He’s worked at the archives in Stanford and in Hollywood at the Sherman Grinberg archives. He did volunteer film research for the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis, and worked as a producer, consultant, sound man, film cutter, historical researcher, music composer—or all of the above—on four celluloid history films, at least two of which received awards, and for two public policy films at his university. Ladies and gentlemen, Richard Raack.
RICHARD RAACK: Thank you very much. I, too, am a man from the old Left. I come from an old labor union family, and became critical of my own stance, wondering how I came to that point of view, in the 1950s, after the denunciation of Stalin, or at about the same time, by Nikita Khrushchev. I’d been to East Berlin, and took a look around me, and said to myself, “Now, why do people stay here when it seems so affluent—” relatively speaking, of course—“on the other side, and lacking affluence here?” And there seemed to be so many police around. I was naïve.
I then took a fellowship which was offered by the International Research and Exchanges Board in Poland as a way of spending a year under a so-called socialist dictatorship, with a view to seeing how the society developed there. Well, of course, I became, as an upshot of that, not friendly to Communism in any of its forms. I could describe so many experiences with various police echelons in the East bloc over my many years of travel there, but it’s not my place to do that. What I wanted to do is talk about the background of the documentary film in the United States with a view to putting the Stone-Kuznick performance in context, so I’ll just switch to that. I said that to add to the biography because Ron had brought it up in his own context—real Lefties, some of us can manage to change!
My first effort here, after that, is to put what we’ve seen, and saw yesterday, in context. Let me look into the past television series on history. I recall that there were three—there were probably more, but three—in the 1980s and 1990s, when I was working in film itself, which appeared on television, all of them on PBS. One was Vietnam: A Television History. I’m sure most of you have seen all, or sections, of that. The second was a series called The Struggles for Poland, and the third was—all of them were done by British television, two of them by the BBC—on the Cold War. But you need to keep a sharp eye on the credits of all these if you want to see something that will be astonishing: You’ll find out that either the producer, or co-producer, of all these British-produced, PBS-transmitted series was the same fellow. I worked with him, so I came abreast of the way they work, and was hired as a consultant in film research by them for the Polish series back in the 1980s. So although the films, the BBC parts, were listed under the editorship of a certain Sir Jeremy Isaacs—who was also an opera producer, and for whom, obviously, history was a sideline—he nonetheless hired the same fellow I mentioned. Of all of these series, neither of the first two had any academic historians as advisors. Even though I worked as a film researcher for the second name, that on Poland, when I offered my opinion that the series would be misbegotten if they did not deal honestly with the role of Josef Stalin in the destruction of Poland and collaboration with [Adolf] Hitler in 1939, and that they were downplaying the intentional genocide of the Polish people in the U.S.S.R. and the Soviet-annexed part of former Poland, both before and after 1939, I was ignored. My film advice came largely, then, in helping the unnamed—so far—producer select the film footage for the series.
The series on the Cold War was slightly different because it was financed by an American TV magnate, Ted Turner. His politics are pretty well known. He hired some professional academics, however, as consultants—by contrast with the foregoing series—to provide central parts of the history discussed in the series. 23 films long—the same, I guess, as Kuznick and Stone produced—in the Cold War series, as it was done by Sir Jeremy Isaacs in London. In any event, the same academic consultants hired by Turner, the leading one of them, eventually denounced the productions, though he did not do so on camera; he did so in a later-printed essay. I think it’s worthwhile to point out that, whereas the first two—again I emphasize—had no consultants, when they hired a legitimate historian and several of his sidekicks as consultants for the [third], the first thing he did was disown it, saying the production was “beyond my control” in doing so! The only other academic affiliated with the Vietnam series, by the way, was a professor of communications—and I, of course, say. “What was he communicating?”—among the named creators. I want to emphasize, again, the British origins of all the series, and point out that in this country all were transmitted by PBS, which indicates, I say, the latter network’s manifest contempt for professional history—as is clear, it seems to me, for the two United Kingdom networks involved. I also emphasize that I came to know quite well the person involved in all the series in our weeks of research side-by-side in the Warsaw Archives. His politics were not confrontational, but very much to the Left, as one might judge those of Sir Jeremy and, of course, of Ted Turner. As one critic has pointed out, all the programs of the Cold War and Polish series were written by members of the old British Left, not by Americans, not by those American consultants who were hired. One name standing out may not be familiar to you, but if you look at all the credits, it is that of Neil Ascherson.
Now what’s my point? That the Left-wing from the United Kingdom controlled most of the U.S.A. television enterprise in terms of history all through the 1990s, and that they provided these—needless to say—controversial productions.
Nonetheless, some attention was at least paid to the fact that the film footage was relevant to the subject matter—which one cannot always say about the Kuznick-Stone production—and the events that the footage portrayed. Yet by eschewing the comments of qualified historians as “talking heads,” as each production did, the history producers rolled out material under their own control and their own limited states of understanding and information. In the current case of the Stone-Kuznick production, all my caveats remain true, but in this case, one of the producers is an academic historian. The other is a film storyteller, the upshot of this combination because the academic has abandoned serious efforts to give complete historical knowledge of the subject matter—I’ll deal with one aspect of that later. The work of the story-telling amateur has prevailed. What we have is not a fresh-told history in pictures; we have, accompanied by a voice narrative full of insight, nothing but what I’ve always called a “lecture with pictures.” That is to say, they deliver a lecture, they illustrate the lecture with whatever film footage they can throw in that might possibly be relevant, and it goes so fast you can’t possibly keep up with it, either the narrative or the pictures, to which we add, of course, the emotional reinforcement of the music, which is applied. You end up with a blur—a convincing blur, I must say—of the productions by Stone-Kuznick that I have seen, and this is the tragedy that is involved. I hope you noticed that, when you were watching the Stone-Kuznick performance, the narrator was terribly gifted and would modulate his voice for emotional impact or for emphasis—a professional actor. The man was immensely talented and well-chosen for the task—
RADOSH: It’s Stone narrating. That’s Stone.
RAACK: Was that Stone?
RAACK: A genius, at that! But is that what we want for professional history’s purveyance? It was—I didn’t know that, that’s most interesting to say. If you want to convince yourself of this point just get a copy of the picture, film, and turn off the sound—I mean, turn off the picture and listen to the sound. You can hear—it just will stand out in your ears.
So the showman from Showplace, behind the story, has employed this trick, just like he employed his music selection. For example, he uses the music of the Polish composer Henryk Górecki’s Symphony of [Sorrowful] Songs to underscore emotionally many of the assembled sequences—for example, mangled or atomic-afflicted corpses. But see here: Not even these two blighters of professional historical reporting, with all the deceptive methods they have employed, have contended that the American and British governments ever sought the annihilation of the Japanese people, as Hitler and the Nazis sought to destroy the Jews, the Poles, and other folk of Europe they regarded as lesser folk. Henryk Górecki wrote his music for these latter dead. He wrote his music for the intended Holocaust victims and those actual victims—not the for accompaniment of pictures of war that were joined together willy-nilly in order to demonstrate the lecture that was being delivered. Here we have it again: deliberate emotional overkill; the use of film footage which is irrelevant; the unadmitted, unnoted use of feature film footage to cover scenes which have nothing to do with the argument purveyed. For example, that long series on the assassination of the Czar: I wondered what it was doing there, but, beyond that, it was feature footage. But there, it was, if I recall, noted, but in many places you find feature footage—that is to say, reenacted footage—inserted where they simply had to cover a few words.
Now I come to the misuse of the subject matter—and only one bit of subject matter: Henry Wallace getting along with Josef Stalin. Has anyone ever articulated any more preposterous line of argument? I mean, the Stone-Kuznick narrative attacked almost all the leading figures of Anglophone states connected with the war: Roosevelt only obliquely, by the way; Harry Truman; Winston Churchill, who was denounced by Stone as, quote, “the chief architect of the Cold War”—I quote him there. The remark is so preposterous. To say it should bring us to convulsions. I mean, I have no great sympathy for Churchill, believe me, but I mean, this goes far, far too far. It’s preposterous as history, and utterly at odds with Stone’s own film message, which is that Truman was the author of the Cold War because he was put in office and Henry Wallace was not! But the others mention for special commination are all Anglophones. You don’t hear any Russophones. You don’t hear anything about [Georgy] Zhukov, or [Andrey] Vyshinsky, or any of Stalin’s other tools, who are mentioned as architects of the Cold War. [Sir Arthur] “Bomber” Harris gets big notarization—he was Churchill’s chap who ran the British air war—and so does General Curtis LeMay, the American, and so forth. By contrast, who is exalted but the politically naïve Henry Wallace, who eventually became a Republican? Pas un problème, the argument being that Henry Wallace, had he become President with Roosevelt’s early death, had gotten along with Stalin and the Cold War would have been obviated. How foolish can we get? How foolish can we get? Done by historians who either know nothing about Stalin—one is tempted to say that since they know so little about so many things—a Stalin who even managed to outkill Hitler while mismanaging a war more successfully, perhaps, than even Adolf could manage!
No one got along with Stalin. It was impossible to get along with Stalin; they were all terrified of Stalin. It came to the point where if he said something the Politburo thought dangerous, that they thought they should not agree with him, they were terrified—instead of saying “Comrade Stalin, let me place a contrary opinion or put a gloss on your remarks,” or whatever, they sat in utter silence. They were so terrified until one of them got up the gumption to say, “I wonder if perhaps we should reconsider some of the aspects that went into that judgement,” or somesuch words.
It was typical: He killed off deliberately all of his closest coworkers. He put the wives of those coworkers not killed into the gulag in order to make certain that the others behaved themselves. He even, in his paranoia, incarcerated his personal MDs, who only escaped death because their chief died—the mad chief died before he could pull the handle. The most bizarre madness, and the history of Stalinist crime is so widely known that all viewers should be able to point it out—if the film makers had not striven so assiduously to make sure that thought could not accompany their production with their music and their emotional voice. I presume this was done deliberately. I think viewers seeing this series either done slowly or repeatedly would come to my point that it’s perhaps the worst thing that’s ever happened in history in recent times.
ARONOFF: Let’s take some questions for him. After a while, we’ll open this up so you can ask either party, but for right now, direct your questions to Mr. Raack, please.
RAACK: Thank you. Yes, sir?
QUESTION 1: Last night it was stated the book and/or the series is now—there’s an interest in China, Turkey, and when I was hearing, that I was thinking, Well, is there an interest, and what would be the response to those in the Ukraine, Russia, the other former Soviet bloc countries? Now, I don’t know if there’s an answer to that, but what are your thoughts of that announcement last night?
RAACK: I don’t know what the response will be in Turkey because I’m totally unfamiliar with Turkey. I’ve been there, but only as an observer and a tourist. What would happen in the former Soviet Union or some of the East bloc countries is that there would be an enormous outcry—except for the fact that the people there are unfamiliar with the events of the United States’s history, probably even of the name Harry Truman, in some of them, so that it would be difficult for them to criticize the series, since it’s so overwhelmingly United States. It’s so narrowly U.S.A.-focused.
Second, Mr. [Vladimir] Putin runs a propaganda service for history in favor of Mr. Stalin. He puts out a lot of money to get people to publish books in favor of Stalin in the Soviet Union. I’ve even some evidence, pretty strong evidence, to believe that he’s now putting out money in other countries to make sure their historians, or some of their historians, present a more favorable picture of the U.S.S.R. than was formerly intended. Putin—or, as I call him, the “Russian Mussolini”—is an adamant Stalinophile, right? He says the greatest catastrophe in modern history was the fall of the Soviet Union. He says things like that. He’s managed, in this grotesqueness, to alienate just about everybody outside the Soviet Union, but that doesn’t make him quiet there, and that doesn’t keep him from funding patsies who will write the kind of history he wants. So, given those circumstances—first of all, the ignorance of what happened in Anglophonia, Britain or the States, and, second, the mass propaganda in favorite of the Soviet past—it’s hard to know.
ARONOFF: Let me put something on the table, then: People watching last night might wonder, let’s say, “Well, what’s the matter with having supported the Soviet Union? Weren’t they our allies? Didn’t they do the heavy lifting in the fight against the Nazis?” So what is the matter if they happen support the Soviet Union, and believe that they’ve gotten a bad rap in history?
RAACK: Well, I haven’t read Gellately’s book, but my own published research—by the way, most of my research is published in Russian, some in German, I have an excellent translator who does both languages, and that’s because it’s very difficult in the academic milieu here in the United States, even for scholars of long standing, to get books published and approved, or articles, for that matter; I did publish a recent article in The Polish Review in the United States, but most of my other things published in the last ten years have been published in either Russia or in Germany. The question, would you repeat it?
ARONOFF: My question is, they would say, like, about [J. Robert] Oppenheimer, perhaps, “So they support the Soviet Union. Didn’t they do the heavy lifting in the war? Didn’t they defeat the Nazis? We get the credit but they did the work.”
RAACK: Well, I’d like to go back before the war and wonder how the Second World War came about. You’re all familiar with the fact that there was the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 23, 1939, when Stalin and Hitler agreed to in secret protocol that was attached to the pact, to divide up East Central Europe—all the cordon sanitaire states, as they were called—between themselves after the wars. This was done so that Hitler could be freed from any Polish threat—the Poles then had an alliance with Britain and France—to throw all his forces into the war in the West against France and Britain, eventually. Stalin calculated that that war would then go on like the First World War, for years—it would be the trench fighting of the Western Front all over again—when he made the pact with Hitler. That was his calculation. He said it in a speech which has been published in Moscow in the leading historical journal; I was one of the co-authors of the article, and I was the discoverer of the text, the original text, of the speech. So there’s no question that that’s what he was up to, and his policy, his purpose, was to get the war started. By 1940, a year later, though he was Hitler’s nominal ally—and not on paper, but in fact, and Hitler thanked him for all his help—he sent enormous, he called off the Finnish war early, and sent enormous legions of the Red Army to the East German extended border, which was in the middle of Poland, and then Hitler’s Romanian friends, along their border, in order to prepare the attack on the Germans once their back was turned in the West. As soon as Hitler attacked France and Britain in the West, the British helping the French, [Stalin] was convinced that this mass world war on the model of World War I would occur, and as soon as they were all weakened and the revolutions broke out—as they did in 1917 and 1918 in many of the Western countries, as in Russia—the Red Army would come in and salvage the revolution, and carry the Red Army all the way to the Channel. There’s absolutely no doubt of that. You’ll find it in a number of history books—presumably in this brand new one of Gellately. It’s simply the truth!
RADOSH: I just want to read one thing Gallately says in his book. I really urge you, of all the books, either Miscamble, which is much more academic, or [Gellately’s], this is much more really old-fashioned narrative history based on phenomenal material. I will eventually review it, and hopefully other people will, too.
Now, to answer your question: It is true the Soviets, the Soviet troops, made gigantic sacrifices. We all know that to be true. But part of the reason they made such sacrifices is the complete mishandling of the war. We all know that Stalin purged his top generals, leaving the Soviet Army almost defenseless—I mean, the [Nazis] came in the edge of taking Moscow, and Stalin was cowering in fear until he finally got the courage up to do something and urge the populace to resist. Things could have been much better—and when Stalin got information from his secret agents, the Red Orchestra, the famous Red Orchestra in Germany, about how Hitler was ready to break the pact and invade Europe, Stalin said, “This is disinformation,” and he totally ignored it. If he had got his hands on the people telling them what they knew was true—and it did turn out to be true—he would have had them all killed. In fact, when Leopold Whatshisname [Trepper], the head of the Red Orchestra at the end of the World War, returned to Moscow, instead of being greeted as a hero—having escaped the Gestapo more than a few times—he was greeted in Moscow airport, and they took him right to the gulag, where he was incarcerated for over a decade. When released, he finally went to Poland and then to Israel. Stalin had this incredible intelligence cell in Germany, and he treated the intelligence cell as his enemies once they came back, because they knew too much. After all, they lived in outside of the Soviet Union, so he couldn’t trust them.
I just want to read something that Gellately says about the start of the Cold War. He says, “The documentation shows, quite to the contrary”—and it could have been written about Stone and Kuznick’s book and series—“that Moscow made all the first moves, and that, if anything, the West was woefully complacent until ’47 or ’48, when the die was already cast.” He asks the question, “What would have happened”—as Henry Wallace said—“if the West gave Stalin the so-called security zones he wanted?” He writes, “Given the dozens of states along the borders of the U.S.S.R., granting Stalin’s demand for such a security zone would admit forcing millions of people to submit to domination from Moscow, and as Stalin demonstrated, time and time again, he did not care what the Americans theorized about his motives as long as they did nothing to stop him from getting what he wanted.” He said, “Had the West not opposed Stalin, he might well have advanced the Red Empire to the shores of the English Channel.” And, he writes, that “Well before the shooting stopped in 1944 and ’45, Stalin set out to shore up his dictatorship, to straighten out the ideological wanderings that had crept into Communist theory.”
Stalin started the Cold War. If the Cold War was to be avoided, it would been avoided if Stalin had a different policy—only that. But Stalin did not. If Henry Wallace had won—and this is the main point I’d make about Henry Wallace—the U.S. would have had a client of Stalin as the President of the United States, and Stalin would have successfully swept all through Western Europe, as well as Eastern Europe, and the United States would have become a client, a patsy, of the Soviet Union. That’s the truth. Wallace, by his own word, was going to put two people on the KGB payroll into the Cabinet: Laurence Duggan and Harry Dexter White. As we now know, from a new biography [The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order] and the cover story of Foreign [Affairs] magazine last month, Harry Dexter White—the architect of Bretton Woods and the [International] Monetary Fund, the post-war economic plan for the Western world—was a Soviet spy. Foreign [Affairs] is an established magazine of foreign policy. Benn Steil’s article—Steil, S-T-E-I-L—in Foreign Affairs gives you the evidence—it’s online, free—that Harry Dexter White, Assistant Secretary to the Treasury who Wallace would have put in as Secretary to the Treasury, was a paid KGB agent on Stalin’s payroll. This is the people Henry Wallace would have put in to gain peace. This is the man Stone and Kuznick treat as a hero. It is disgraceful.
ARONOFF: We’re getting close to our time, but I’d like you both to wrap it up. Maybe talk about what you believe is the motivation for Stone and Kuznick in making this presentation. What are the implications that this is going to be taught in our schools for years to come? A little bit about sort of being pro-Soviet Union after the fall of the Soviet Empire, also. Why don’t you each give a few minutes of comments, and that will wrap it up?
RADOSH: Yes, what are the implications? Well, I always quote the Communist theorist Antonio Gramsci, who said that “the war, we Communists have to wage a war of position for cultural hegemony. We have to change the culture in order to achieve the eventual Communist revolution. The war is not one of politics, it’s a war over the culture.” This is Stone and Kuznick’s motivation. By his own words, in an essay published a few years ago, Peter Kuznick says he is not really an historian, he says he’s a radical revolutionary trying to get America to become a Left-wing nation, a socialist nation. That’s his motivation, not a proper understanding of history. This is a guy, as I said, who left Rutgers because the Left-wing professors weren’t revolutionary, they were just academics. He is, first and foremost, a revolutionary socialist partisan. He’s not a historian. That’s his motivation.
Oliver Stone is a Leftist, continually regretting his fighting with the Marines of Vietnam, to present an alternative view of America as the enemy, and since the Soviets were the main enemy of the United States in the Cold War, he is proudly pro-Soviet. This makes him immune to understanding what history could teach us. It makes him an ideological partisan, not someone who wants to educate our youth. His motivation is to transform America, and, as the Communists understand, he who wins the study of the past, wins the future. He wants to transform the future by leading our young people to believe America was the evil power because it was “imperialist,” and, therefore, if they understand that, they will eventually oppose America and become good Left, just like he is. That’s his motivation, and I think it’s one that must be opposed.
RAACK: I think that Ron has done such a good job on that, I’ll give up. I don’t want to go into anybody’s motivation, but he has grounded it so well in the cases of these two, that it seems to beggar further comment.
ARONOFF: Any final question, here, real quickly? Yes?
QUESTION 4: There’s something I’m just really struck by—I’ll try to get to it quickly—that’s really come through here, and that’s the role of the—I guess, to kind of use the language here—the “non-academic” in terms of interpreting, writing, or filmmaking about history. I’m interested kind of in the thoughts about the importance of credentials, in general, in terms of preparing history. Exactly what are the appropriate credentials? But, also, there’s been an attack on credentialed historians, as well, particularly Left and liberal. Is there something inherent about such credentials that make that history problematic, because of that emphasis, particularly on more Left historians, as opposed to mentioning other historians, and talking about their conservative credentials, otherwise?
RADOSH: You know, when I told my late parents I was going for a Ph.D., they said, “Oh, with a Ph.D., can you even get a ride on the New York subway?” In other words, “What is that going to do?” Hopefully, if you went to a good graduate school, you learned something from a good professor about rules of evidence, and how to research and write history—hopefully.
There are good historians, and there are bad historians. There are bad historians on the Right, I should point out, a lot of historians I know who are conservative. I will name one since I criticized him in print before—God, what’s his first name?—[Thomas E.] Woods, Woods, Jr., who is a self-defined “paleo-conservative.” He’s a got a book [The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History] in that series about history published by Conservative Imprint. He says a lot of things in there, what’s bad with liberal history, and he’s totally wrong—Lincoln was a tyrant, was the enemy in the Civil War, things like that; Joe McCarthy was totally right about everything. There are a lot of bad historians with Ph.D.’s: This guy is one of them. He’s a conservative. There are good conservative historians and bad conservative historians. The same for Left-wing historians: Sean Wilentz is a Left-wing historian, but even if you disagree with him, he’s a serious historian who writes first-rate history. There are bad liberal historians, Leftist historians, and Peter Kuznick is one of those.
So having a Ph.D. doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to write good or bad history. It just, hopefully, gives you the framework, the tools, to do real historical research. That’s why I think Gellately’s book is a readable history and narrative, accessible to any serious reader who’s not a professional historian; it’s written for the public, not for the academy. The big problem with many monographs that are published is, they’re written just for the fellow historians, and they’re writing in a bubble that only they read. That’s why some professional historians disdain the successful popular writers; many of them who write history are journalists, not historians—and that’s who the public reads. The famous biographer—you know who I’m thinking of, the famous historian who’s written Truman and—McCullough, David McCullough. He’s a writer. He knows how to craft a narrative, and the people read it and eat it up. Now, he’s written some good things, some bad things, but that’s what the public reads in history: They read dramatic things that can be made into moving TV series like John Adams—the old New Republic had a great debate over the TV series on John Adams by the late John Diggins and others, summing up what was right and what was wrong about it, but it makes history accessible to the public.
So many people can write history. Jon Meacham is called a historian; I think he’s an elected member, now the most popular historian in America. He’s a journalist, an editor: He’s an editor at Knopf, he was an editor of the old Newsweek—I don’t know how, with two or three full-time jobs, he wrote all these histories, I assume he had a lot of ghostwriters or people working with him—but he’s the most popular historian in America today, he does real research, and he’s a journalist, not a historian. So people can do it without a degree, and be scrupulous, and do real historical research. You just have to be smart. I mean, maybe they should even give up the degrees and let anyone write history who wants to. The only thing is, you need a degree if you want to get a job and get paid to live while you write—you’ve got to get a Ph.D. to get a job in a college or a university.
ARONOFF: Mr. Raack has to leave us now. Let’s thank him for his presentation. If you’d like, we’ll take a couple more, one or two more questions, for Mr. Radosh.
QUESTION 5: I’m a Ph.D. candidate in the American Religious History program at Florida State, and I teach courses on American religious history. And sometimes I’ve actually been called a liberal professor; I’m not a professor, but I’ve been called that by one or two students. It happens every semester, so, because you can get called that by, say, pointing out that Thomas Jefferson is not a born again, charismatic, evangelical Christian. Undergraduates can be extremely sensitive to the political implications of nearly anything, and I don’t know that I would ever show a film like Oliver Stone’s in a classroom setting because of that. But my question is, one thing that I’ve seen that seems to be in common between what Stone is doing and your critique of him is that they want to hold up heroes and villains in American history, and one of the rules that I have with undergraduates is, “Don’t tell me that Martin Luther King was a great man, just tell me what he did, tell me what he did that was different.” Do you think that there is a use for heroes, and do you think that there are uses for villains in rigorous historical scholarship, or for scholarship targeted towards undergraduates or the public in general?
RADOSH: Another great question. I think, if you read a book like Gellately’s, or Miscamble’s, it’s hard to read the history of what led to the Cold War without seeing some figures as rising to the occasion of their times; whether that makes them up as heroes is our judgement. Were Stalin or Hitler villains? Well, I think anyone rightfully looking at their record would have to say they were monsters. What they did was horrendous things. So if that makes them a villain, yes, they’re villains. When you write history you don’t write to glorify or demonize them, you write to understand why they acted as they did.
Gellately’s view is that Stalin acted as he did out of commitment to Marxist-Leninist ideology. That’s what drove him, first and foremost. That’s a new view of what drove Stalin. It was not just to resurrect the old Czarist empire: He was a believing Communist. So, if you reach a conclusion that he’s not a hero, that’s your conclusion; the historian shouldn’t say that. [Stone and Kuznick] are doing that in their film: Truman was a villain, an evil person, a moral monster. They try and push that on their audience, instead of letting their audience make up their own mind. I maintain that if you do accurate history you’re never going to reach the conclusions they reach. That’s why they want to push them on you. He called him a “war criminal” last night. Well, he’s not a war criminal. That is—again—an outrageous charge. I must say I debated this ten years ago on the History News Network website with a journalist [Philip Nobile]. The debate, there were two sides, I spent a lot of time on it. “The Dropping of the Bomb: Was Truman a War Criminal?”—that was the question. A panel of historians, prominent historians, were judges. I won the debate: I had almost every judge on my side after the very lengthy exchanges on the question of was Truman a war criminal. You can find that on the hnn.us archives.
I don’t think it’s useful to paint history as heroes and villains. I think Churchill is too much made out to be a hero by some people who glorify him, and a villain by others. Churchill did some good things and some bad things.
QUESTION 6: As we’re talking about the different ways that we’re looking at history, obviously, Oliver Stone is a very skilled filmmaker—
QUESTION 6: —so I think one thing that we need to be thinking about is, how do we teach our students to read a film so that they can see how the arguments are being constructed, so that they can be better at making determinations of what their seeing, as opposed to just accepting that if it’s made as a documentary then it must be true? I think part of it’s our responsibility to teach our students how to read film.
QUESTION 7: Last night, I heard you, and I turned around and saw you.
QUESTION 7: But I didn’t hear your words, and I was wondering, What was all that about? My question is, what happened? I turned my head and then suddenly I didn’t see you.
QUESTION 7: I need to ask what happened.
RADOSH: Oh, I took the occasion, since it looked at the time that there were never going to be questions and answers in the audience; the moderator was doing it all. When he started talking—remember, he said, “We’re glad we have exceptionally favorable, a great favorable response,” then she asked him, “Was there anybody not favorable to you?” and then he mentioned Sean Wilentz; that’s when he said, “[Wilentz] is a Cold War historian, he supports the American Empire—” and so forth—“and my critics, of course, they’re conservatives or Cold War liberals. They want to attack us.” So that’s when I stood up and I said, “I’m right here! We’re here!” I started screaming “You guys will not debate!” I thought a lot of people did hear me. I said, “You guys won’t!” I said what I said today—“You guys won’t debate. There are a lot of facts that and interpretations that you refuse to acknowledge, and in fact you refuse to deal with us because we have facts on our side! I urge you to come to the session this morning and read the handouts we’re giving out.” That’s all I said. I wanted to let them know that there was a critic he was attacking sitting amongst them.
QUESTION 7: What happened after?
RADOSH: Nothing. I mean, then they just went on as if I hadn’t—
QUESTION 7: [Unintelligible]—
RADOSH: Yes, no.
QUESTION 8: Hi. I’m sorry I was later for this session. You may have already talked about this, but one of the things I found so compelling about the film last night was the argument that perhaps it was not necessary to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
RADOSH: We had dealt with that, I’m sorry.
QUESTION 8: Oh, okay.
RADOSH: We dealt with that. Somebody asked about that before.
Questioner 8: All right. Okay.
RADOSH: Again, I just say it’s a false argument. Get the new book—it came out last year—by Wilson Miscamble on the bomb, or get the—
QUESTION 8: Uh-huh.
RADOSH: —slightly older book by Robert Maddox, which has a whole series of essays about what we know about the dropping of the bomb that brings it up to date.
QUESTION 8: Uh-huh.
RADOSH: Again, the simple answer: As in every other issue, they ignore evidence and arguments and scholarship that contrasts with their own argument as if it doesn’t exist. It’s easy to make an argument if it’s been answered already, and they know their audience doesn’t know any of this stuff, hasn’t read any of this stuff. So even in the book—which is even more outrageous, because in the book you could have addressed the contrary argument—they ignore it. It doesn’t exist. They are sticking to their narrative to make people believe it’s true and it’s the truth. They hope no one will look beyond what they write—
QUESTION 8: Uh-huh.
RADOSH: —and that’s really the outrage to me.
QUESTION 8: Yeah.
QUESTION 9: The episode last night was the only one that I’ve ever seen, but I was just wondering if there’s any counter-narrative or counter-history that they’ve written that you would agree with. Or do you just dismiss everything in the—
RADOSH: Yes, as I said already, it’s the book I held up, the most recent one, is the most readable. It came out a few weeks ago, by Robert Gellately: Stalin’s Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War. It was reviewed in this current issue of The Economist magazine in Britain. Rave review. This is the book I would highly recommend as a counter-narrative.
QUESTION 9: I’m sorry, I meant—
QUESTION 9: —is there anything in their book that you would agree with, or do you just—
QUESTION 9: —dismiss everything?
RADOSH: No. I mean, absolutely not. Again, here I recommend—Wilentz mainly reviewed the book, my piece is basically on the film. I skimmed the book. It’s a huge book; I’m not going to spend time reading it. I looked at it, I glanced through it, I read one or two or three chapters, I looked at the footnotes, and it’s all to people on their side. They have one quote—the most prominent historian of the American foreign policy’s Yale’s John Gaddis, who wrote the prize-winning biography of George F. Kennan. They have one book of Gaddis’s that they refer to—his old book [The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941–1947] from, I think, 1970, that he has thoroughly gone beyond. He’s written, what, six books since then? They don’t mention one of them. They only mention the one they agree with. That’s why you can’t depend on their book: Their narrative, it’s really a polemic, it’s not history.
QUESTION 10: Hi. One thing that I want to know what your take on was, is sort of the rhetorical device of using the word hidden history, about a book full of arguments that have been made over and over again, particularly the atomic bomb-dropping; when I read the moral questions, and that these were never discussed—in 1993 my document-based question on the AP U.S. History test was about that topic. We covered it in my high school textbook. These aren’t hidden things. So I was just wondering if you had a take on that use of the word hidden history as sort of a rhetorical device.
RADOSH: Well, it’s hardly hidden. First, did they use untold or hidden? They’ve used both. I think they changed the title once from Untold to Hidden or Hidden to Untold. So I don’t remember which it is now without the book in front of me!
But—Untold? It’s Untold History? Yeah, well, it has been told, and it has not been hidden. I mean, it is old stuff. There’s nothing new about it. As Wilentz says, anybody who knows anything about what’s been written or what’s been said, the first thing they know is, the title is totally inaccurate—because it’s not! He said beware of anyone who says they’re writing something “new” and “untold,” because you can know from the start that’s not true.
QUESTION 10: Well, thanks for coming.
ARONOFF: All right. Thank you all for coming and spending this time. I hope this has been enlightening. I thank our speaker, Mr. Radosh.