For many years, the American left has combed the past for history lessons that will aid their effort to move the United States toward European-style social democracy, if not a full-fledged socialist utopia. The most successful leftist intellectual in that enterprise was the late Howard Zinn, whose books—such as A People’s History of the United States, first published in 1980—have sold millions of copies and are still used by high schools and colleges nationwide. Zinn believed that by emphasizing the struggles of working people, women and people of color against their supposed oppressors, his work could mobilize a new generation to carry on the fight of yesterday’s radical heroes.
That search for a usable past has been taken up in a new form by filmmaker Oliver Stone and historian Peter Kuznick in both their Showtime television series, Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States, and in the accompanying book of the same name. Mr. Kuznick, who wrote the volume and whose outlook frames the series, is frank about his mission.
He once wrote in a book of essays that he sees his role as a professor to be that of “creating a bridge between leftist and more moderate students,” so that he can “try to radicalize some of the more moderate and liberal students” who accept our political system instead of working for real radical change. Those who support “liberal capitalism,” he wrote, are “blind to the lessons of history.”
In discussing the TV series, Mr. Stone says in the first episode that he wants to counter the view that “we were the good guys” by telling the story of America “in a way that it has never been told before.” The series’ treatment of the Vietnam War, for instance, is intended, according to Mr. Kuznick, to show that the U.S. had moved so far “to the dark side” that “we were the wrong side.”
For these and other revelations, Messrs. Stone and Kuznick have found respectful listeners on many TV news and talk shows, from CBS This Morning, to CNN and even on Mike Huckabee’s radio program. The authors assert that no one can contest their facts about the true story that has been hidden from Americans for decades. Their spiel routinely goes unquestioned, let alone contested, by their media hosts.
The reality is that the book and TV series are little more than a synthesis of discredited leftist Cold War “revisionist” history. In many instances they parrot Soviet and communist propaganda of the 1940s and ’50s, and use the same arguments and the same citations as the ones that were first crafted by the KGB for agitprop.
One of the authors’ main goals is to tell Americans that the Cold War with the Soviet Union was unnecessary and avoidable: The Cold War happened only because President Roosevelt dropped the exemplary Vice President Henry A. Wallace off the ticket at the 1944 Democratic convention and replaced him with the villain of their series, Harry S. Truman.
If Wallace had assumed the presidency when FDR died, they explain, he would have recognized Stalin’s just demands to have friendly nations—such as Poland—on Russia’s borders, thereby carrying on FDR’s wartime policy of cooperation with the Soviet Union. Instead, the authors argue, within two weeks of taking office, Truman needlessly angered the Russians, rejected attempts by Stalin to carry on an amicable relationship with America, and proceeded on a warlike path that turned the U.S. into an imperialist and dangerous national-security state.
In making the case for Wallace as a hero, Messrs. Stone and Kuznick leave out a great deal of what we know about the man who was vice president until 1945 and then, in FDR’s last term, the secretary of commerce.
The authors may approve of Wallace’s belief, as he articulated in a speech in the 1940s, that “fascist interests motivated largely by anti-Russian bias” were trying to “get control of our government.” But the series and book do not mention what intercepted Soviet messages and records—most famously the Venona coded intercepts, and the KGB archive papers brought to the West by KGB official Alexander Vassiliev as the Soviet Union crumbled—make clear: Had Wallace become president, a number of the men to whom he intended to give cabinet and other top positions were Soviet spies or agents.
After Wallace gave a speech in September 1946 opposing Truman’s tough policy toward the Soviets, the president promptly fired him. From then on, Wallace openly tried to stop the White House from blocking Stalin’s expansionist policies in Eastern Europe. Wallace opposed the creation of NATO, advocated abandoning Berlin at the time of the Soviet blockade in 1948, denounced the Marshall Plan as “the martial plan,” and justified the 1948 Communist coup in Czechoslovakia as a measure needed to thwart a fascist takeover.
What the Untold History never mentions is that in October 1945, while he was still in the cabinet, Wallace met covertly in Washington with Anatoly Gorsky, the station chief of the NKGB (a forerunner of the KGB). KGB files record that Wallace told Gorsky that he wanted the atomic-bomb secret shared with the Soviets, that Truman was being influenced by an “anti-Soviet group” that wanted the Anglo-Saxon bloc to be dominant, and that the Soviets could help Wallace’s “smaller group significantly.”
A member of the U.S. cabinet asking the Soviets to intervene to help his side win the internal political battle within the administration was more than indiscreet. It was the action of a willing tool of Moscow.
At least Wallace eventually admitted that he had been duped. In 1952, he publicly apologized to Americans in the Sept. 7 issue of This Week magazine, in an article titled “Where I Was Wrong.” You won’t hear about this in the Untold History, but Wallace wrote that “before 1949 I thought Russia really wanted and needed peace. After 1949 I became more and more disgusted with the Soviet methods and finally became convinced that the Politburo wanted the Cold War continued even at the peril of accidentally provoking a hot war.”
The Wallace article continued: “As I look back over the past 10 years I now feel that my greatest mistake was in not denouncing the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in February of 1948.” His analysis, he said, “failed to take into account the ruthless nature of Russian-trained Communists whose sole objective was to make Czechoslovakia subservient to Moscow.”
It took time and perhaps bitter experience, but Henry Wallace finally accepted the facts before him—that Soviet policy was not the benign and peacemaking force he once believed it to be. Would that Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick were so open to the truth.