Nuclear Nostalgia

Why the Left loved Stalin’s atomic bomb.

Fiftieth anniversaries tend to be the last, but not with war in general and nuclear weapons in particular. Every August 6, the day the United States dropped the atom bomb on Japan in 1945, the articles appear like clockwork, all with the same theme Gar Alperovitz outlined in The Nation in 2015, on the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima.

The bomb was dropped, the U.S. generals said, to save the lives of thousands of Americans who would otherwise have been killed in an invasion of Japan, and brought the war to a close. For Alperovitz, that story is “largely myth,” and the USA was simply indulging malice, inflicting revenge, and above all scaring the Soviet Union with a demonstration of American military might. 

For Peter Kuznick, co-author with Oliver Stone of The Untold History of the United States, President Truman “knew he was beginning the process of annihilation of the species,” so dropping the bomb was “not just a war crime; it was a crime against humanity.” And so forth, every August 6. A better day to remember would be August 29. 

On that day in 1949, at a remote site in Semipatalinsk, Kazakhstan, Josef Stalin’s USSR denoted a 20-kiloton atom bomb codenamed “First Lightning.” The Soviet scientists who worked on the bomb were honored as “Heroes of Socialist Labor,” but they had plenty of help from American Communists. 

For Stone and Kuznick, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were “accused atomic spies,” and the campaign against them part of a vast McCarthyite “Red Scare.” In reality, as Ronald Radosh noted, “the Rosenbergs were actual and dangerous Soviet spies. It is time the ranks of the left acknowledge that the United States had (and has) real enemies and that finding and prosecuting them is not evidence of repression.”

August 29, 1949, also recalls Ted Hall, the youngest scientist on the Manhattan Project. In 1944, Hall gave the Soviets what was probably the first atomic secret from Los Alamos, information on the creation of the plutonium bomb. Hall used a code based on Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass to set up meetings with Soviet couriers. 

Unlike the Rosenbergs, Hall escaped discovery but decades later, in 1995, the Venona declassifications confirmed his espionage. As Hall explained: “It seemed to me that an American monopoly was dangerous and should be prevented.” So in Hall’s moral calculus, nukes were not dangerous and Stalin’s USSR was not a threat. Only an American monopoly on nuclear technology was dangerous, and as Hall said, “I was not the only scientist to take that view.” 

While stationed at U.S. atomic headquarters during World War II, German-born physicist Klaus Fuchs gave the Soviets technical information about the U.S. atomic program, including blueprints of the “Fat Man” bomb later dropped on Nagasaki. Busted in 1950, Fuchs was stripped of British citizenship, served nine years of a 14-year sentence, and spent the rest of his life as scientist serving the Communist regime of East Germany. 

In similar style, British Communist Alan Nunn May began passing information to the Soviets in 1941. In 1943, he was transferred to Canada to assist scientists working on Britain’s atomic program. There Nunn May began leaking everything he could to the Soviets, including his contacts with American scientists on the Manhattan project. 

With input from Alan Nunn May, Klaus Fuchs, Ted Hall, the Rosenbergs and other spies including John Cairncross, David Greenglass, Harry Gold and Lona Cohen, Stalin was able to detonate the 20-kiloton “First Lightning” on August 29, 1949. For the left, that blast was a triumph. 

Now the worst mass murderer in human history had the atomic bomb, the very outcome the left wanted. Nuclear weapons helped buttress Stalin’s occupation of  Eastern Europe, his persecutions of writers and artists, and resurgent anti-Semitism that branded Jews as “rootless cosmopolitans.”

The American left was okay with all that, even after Stalin’s death in 1953 and Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 revelations. Under Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Andropov, the USSR continued to build its arsenal of nuclear weapons such as the SS-20 missile.

When President Reagan and NATO attempted to respond by deploying U.S. Pershing missiles, the left championed a nuclear freeze that would leave Soviet advantages in place. When Reagan sought to develop the Strategic Defense Initiative, Senator Ted Kennedy derided it as “Star Wars,” and sought Soviet help to defeat Ronald Reagan in the 1984 presidential election. 

The American left was never anti-Soviet or anti-dictatorship. The American left was only anti-American, and anti-democratic. The left has always portrayed the USA as a menace and capitalism as evil – except for the Hollywood left’s movie deals, mansions and Mercedes-Benz automobiles. 

Likewise, the American left has never been anti-war or anti-nuclear. The American left only opposes any American or Western advantage or victory in any conflict. Those are realities to remember on August 29, 2017, the 68th anniversary of Stalin’s “First Lightning” nuclear explosion, achieved with the assistance of American Stalinist spies.