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Oliver Stone’s Cold War Melodrama

Posted By Bruce Thornton On January 7, 2013 @ 12:30 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 20 Comments

Editor’s note: The following is the fourth installment of a series of articles Frontpage is running in response to Oliver Stone’s neo-Communist documentary series, “The Untold History of the United States,” currently airing Mondays on Showtime. Frontpage will be reviewing each episode of the Stone series, exposing the leftist hateful lies about America and setting the record straight. Below is a review of Part 4 of Stone’s series.

Oliver Stone is the mastodon of the La Brea tar pits of left-wing ideology. In his movies over the years he has recycled stale left-wing narratives with all the nuance and complexity of a Soviet-era Pravda editorial. Now he has brought his agitprop gifts to cable television in the Showtime series “The Untold History of the United States.” In episode 4, “The Cold War: 1945-50,” Stone once again tells the fossilized and duplicitous tale of America’s greed and aggression against a Soviet Union that just wanted to get along with its war-time ally.

Those of a certain age will recognize the story Stone tells, for it was dominant among left-wingers all the way up to the day the Soviet Union collapsed into the dustbin of history, and still can be found among diehard true believers. In this rewriting of history, the Soviet Union had been a stalwart ally during World War II, bearing the brunt of the fight against Nazism and suffering 27,000,000 dead. In 1945, the possibility of continuing cooperation between the West and the Soviets was destroyed by America’s aim to use its overwhelming economic and military power to dominate the world and to destroy the socialist and communist challenges to its hegemony. Winston Churchill is one of the villains in this story. Eager as he was to maintain the British Empire, Churchill’s famous “iron curtain” speech delivered in Fulton, Missouri represented to Stone a “quantum leap in bellicosity” against the Soviets.

President Harry Truman also took a hard-line against the Soviet Union and the democratically elected communist parties in France and Italy, and in 1948 helped England to crush a “popular leftist” government in Greece. This aggression, camouflaged as the  “Truman Doctrine,” against a wartime ally was rationalized by propagating what Stone calls the false “image of the Soviet Union out to conquer the world.” In fact, Stone explains, the Soviets––“stunned” by Truman’s bellicosity–– were simply trying to rebuild their war-shattered country and alleviate its “crushing poverty,” defend their western borders against their historical enemy Germany, and seek the “warm water ports” necessary for their geopolitical interests. Ignoring these understandable needs, Truman bullied the Soviet Union, using nuclear blackmail to drive them from Iran, forcing Germany to cut off reparation payments, and continuing to test nuclear weapons.

Fearful of Truman’s imperialist expansionism, the Soviets responded to intervention in Greece with a coup in Hungary, and imposed on its Eastern European satellites a “new and stricter order,” as Stone euphemizes the brutal totalitarian regimes imposed on Eastern Europe. The hero in Stone’s tale is communist fellow traveler Henry Wallace, who “tried to put a stop to the growing madness,” but was spied upon and denigrated by the Truman administration, ending any chance of stopping the “nuclear arms race.” Yet fearful of the “Republican right,” Truman at home instituted surveillance of suspected “subversives,” demanded loyalty oaths, and investigated suspected communists in Hollywood and unions, thus pandering to the irrational fear of communism widespread among Americans vulnerable to the machinations of capitalist overlords. What followed this “red scare” were anti-communist propaganda in movies, and the “witch hunts” conducted by the FBI and CIA, “capitalism’s invisible army,” as Stone calls it.

So goes Stone’s melodrama, in which peace-loving Soviets are driven to occupation and subversion by the imperialist hegemonic ambitions of a United States eager to become the world’s dominant power in order to maximize capitalist profits. Every Soviet move is explained as a natural response to American provocations and aggression. Thus the Soviets overturned the Czech government and installed a puppet regime in 1948, a “purely defensive move,” Stone explains, because the Czech acceptance of Marshall aid was understandably seen as a tool of American penetration. This is the same stale apologetics for tyranny that I remember parroting in my left-wing callow youth, and it will only impress those who are as ignorant of historical fact as I was then. And it works, as most bad history does, by omitting inconvenient truths.

Take, for example, Stone’s central justifying assumption: the implication that the West’s fear of Soviet plans for “world domination” was a paranoid fantasy manipulated by the U.S. government to further its own ambitions to control the world. To believe this requires not only ignoring or explaining away, as Stone does, the decades of mass murder and brutal tyranny perpetrated by Soviet leaders in thrall to an expansionist ideology, but also forgetting the words of Soviet leaders themselves.

In fact, as the great historian of Soviet tyranny Robert Conquest writes, “The Soviet assumption that all other political life-forms and beliefs were inherently and immutably hostile was the simple and central cause of [the] Cold War.” Thus there “was never any question of a permanent accommodation between the USSR and the ‘capitalist’ world.” Any “temporary relaxation, a reining back, of the ideology’s inherent expansionism” was strictly tactical, a delay made necessary by Soviet weakness, as in the period following World War II. As Stalin said in 1945, “We shall recover in fifteen or twenty years, and then we’ll have another go at it.” In that same year, Deputy Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov, in response to ambassador Averell Harriman’s question what the West could do to satisfy Stalin, answered, “Nothing.” In 1946 Litvinov told a Western journalist that the “root cause” of the confrontation with the West was the view in Russia that such a conflict was “inevitable.”

The ultimate triumph of communism was the supreme goal of Soviet foreign policy, as codified by Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. In 1968––the year the Soviets brutally crushed the liberal democratic uprising in Czechoslovakia known as the Prague Spring––Gromyko said that “the range of our country’s international interests is not determined by its geographical position alone,” and “despite an acute situation, however far away it appears from our country, the Soviet Union’s reaction is to be expected in all capitals of the world.” Later in his 1975 book The Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union, Gromyko wrote, “The Communist Party subordinates all its theoretical and practical activities in the sphere of foreign relations to the task of strengthening the positions of socialism, and the interests of further developing and deepening the world revolutionary process.” So too General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, who said, “Our Party has always warned that in the ideological field there can be no peaceful coexistence” with capitalist countries. In 1972 he added regarding the policy of détente, “While pressing for the assertion of the principle of peaceful coexistence, we realize that successes in this important matter in no way signify the possibility of weakening our ideological struggle. On the contrary, we should be prepared for an intensification of this struggle and for its becoming an increasingly acute form of struggle between the two social systems.” This belief had been consistent with Soviet communism ever since Lenin proclaimed a necessary “series of frightful clashes” between communism and capitalism, and so cannot be explained away, as Stone attempts to do, as defensive reaction to American aggression.

It seems, then, that Stone’s paranoid anti-communists like Truman had a valid point, one confirmed by the extensive Soviet spying and subversion that in fact took place in America, as well as the violent subjection and oppression of other countries across the globe. It also explains the point made by historian Richard Pipes in 1975, and confirmed by documents from Soviet archives accessible after the regime’s collapse, that despite protests to the contrary, the Soviet regime was prepared to fight and win a nuclear war. As Soviet official V.V. Zagladin said in 1988, “Repudiating nuclear war and conducting an active struggle for peace, we nevertheless proceeded from the assumption of the possibility of victory in a possible conflict.” Conquest adds, “The Communist armies, as we now know, were on a very short notice for an invasion of West Germany, with the certainty of a tactical nuclear exchange. And military thinking in Moscow inclined to a view that nuclear war, while to be avoided, was winnable.” Given these beliefs, the U.S. aim to maintain superiority in armaments, derided at the time as a dangerous “arms race,” and to resist communist expansion across the globe were necessary for peace and American security.

This evidence of Soviet ideologically driven expansionism destroys the central assumption of Stone’s apologetic narrative: that the West overreacted irrationally against the understandable foreign policy interests of the Soviet Union, thus instigating reciprocal overreactions by the Soviets. Many other distortions of history, of course, riddle the film. The implication that the Soviet Union was a friendly ally during World War II is absurd. Stone neglects to mention that in August 1939 Stalin signed a treaty with Hitler and for nearly two years provided much needed resources to Germany until Hitler invaded Russia. Stalin became our ally on the principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and cooperated with the West not on principle but in order to survive and to receive much-needed aid. The explanation of Ukrainian resistance to the Soviets in 1948 as fueled by American subversion and support of fascists ignores the 5 million Ukrainians slaughtered by Stalin before the war during the terror-famine campaign of 1932-33. In his encomium to Henry Wallace, Stone doesn’t tell us that Wallace’s Progressive Party was mostly a creation of a Communist Party that took its money and marching orders from Moscow, and that Wallace’s candidacy according to one writer was “the closest the Soviet Union ever came to actually choosing a president of the United States.”

Stone’s film is a tired reprise of decades of apologetic revisionist history on the part of leftist radicals who subordinate truth to ideology. Yet we should not dismiss it as unimportant or without consequence. As John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr––two historians whose studies of Soviet archives provide the evidence of communist subversion ignored by Stone and others––write, “Communism as a social fact is dead. But communism as a pleasant figment of the ‘progressive’ worldview lives on, giving a phantom life to the illusions and historical distortions that sustained that murderous and oppressive ideology. The intellectual Cold War, alas, is not over. Academic revisionists who color the history of American communism in benign hues see their teaching and writing as the preparation of a new crop of radicals for the task of overthrowing American capitalism and its democratic constitutional order in the name of social justice and peace. Continuing to fight the Cold War in history, they intend to reverse the victory of the West and convince the next generation that the wrong side won, and to prepare the way for a new struggle.” In the age of Obama, this warning is more important than ever.

Related articles on Stone’s series:

1. Bruce Thornton’s introduction to this Frontpage series.

2. Matthew Vadum’s review of Stone’s first episode.

3. Daniel Flynn’s review of “Roosevelt, Truman and Wallace,” the second episode.

4. Daniel Greenfield’s review of “The Bomb,” the third episode.

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