“The campaign against subversion redrew the boundaries of acceptable Democratic liberalism to exclude both Communists and those willing to cooperate with them.” Professor Eric Foner
Political beliefs in this country run the whole gamut from the far right to the far left, but most Americans hold views that are fairly close to the center. The political mainstream includes people who differ with each other on important political issues, but continue to see themselves as loyal Americans, and endorse and support our current constitutional form of government.
People on the radical fringes make up a very small minority of the America population, but they tend to put themselves in positions of influence in government, in the media, and especially in academia. College faculties attract left wing extremists the way a picnic attracts ants, and history faculties, for whatever reason, appear to have an especially strong appeal for radicals.
The Left and the Hard Left
Making the distinction between mainstream liberals and hard core left wingers is a subjective thing, but support for totalitarian Communism should be a good enough place to draw the line. Everyone in the political mainstream should be able to agree that the hundred million innocent dead, the horrible violations of human rights and human dignity, and the aggressive imperialism of twentieth century Communism make it an ideology that deserves to be condemned.
Mainstream Republicans and Democrats agree on this. In the preamble to their party’s 2008 campaign platform, the Democrats quite rightly equate Fascism with Communism, and quite rightly applaud the United States for vanquishing both. This is the platform on which Barack Obama successfully campaigned for President.
During the Cold War, many prominent Democrats were leaders in the fight against Communism. Anti-Communist leaders like Daniel Patrick Moynihan and President John F. Kennedy are still idolized by many liberals today.
Communism Through Rose-Colored Glasses
America does, however, have its share of radicals who view the days of Soviet-based Communism with nostalgia. People on the hard left still accept at face value the Utopian theories of Communism (“From each according to ability, to each according to need”) and studiously refuse to notice how bloody and cruel the movement has always been in actual practice.
Unfortunately, many of the professors teaching American History in our colleges and universities hold this radical point of view. For many scholars, including those who write some of the most widely used history textbooks, the real villains of the Cold War were the people who fought against Communism, not those who fought for it. The real victims, according to this view, are Soviet agents in the US who lost their government jobs after being exposed, not the millions of Russians and Chinese who lost their lives at the hands of their own governments.
College history textbooks are distressingly consistent in the way they excoriate anyone who ever forcefully opposed Communism. Whether it’s a foreign leader like Chiang Kai-shek, an American politician like Ronald Reagan or Joseph McCarthy, a law enforcement figure like J. Edgar Hoover, or a repentant ex-Communist like Whitaker Chambers; anyone who fought against Soviet-backed Communist forces is demonized in the history books.
Crimes against Communism
Most of the widely used freshman history textbooks describe the government of Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek, for example, as “reactionary and corrupt,”1 a “one party dictatorship,”2 and treacherous to the United States.3 Mao, who in actual fact was a monster who murdered innocent people literally by the millions, is portrayed in much more positive terms. A previous HistoryHalf post describes in detail the hatchet job campus historians have done on Chiang and the whitewashing they give Mao.
Chiang is not the only foreign leader to be demonized by American historians for the crime of fighting against Communism. Nicaraguan ruler Anastasio Somoza gets the same treatment. Textbooks describe him as a “dictator” who was “so corrupt that he alienated even the normally conservative propertied classes.”4 One textbook even states as fact an apocryphal story about President Franklin Roosevelt declaring support for Somoza despite his sins. Roosevelt supposedly said of Somoza “He’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”5 (This story has been debunked by the Snopes website among others, and it has no place in a history textbook.) Somoza was a dictator, but the Castro-backed Communist regime that overthrew him was just as repressive, and is portrayed by the history books in a much more positive light, as a “popular movement.”6
Castro himself is portrayed in history books as a freedom fighter “whose successful revolution was an example for the rest of Latin America.”7 When Cuba was ruled by Fulgencio Batista, a “dictator” who “had close ties both to the US government and to major crime figures who operated gambling, prostitution, and drug rings in Havana,” Castro “gained the support of impoverished peasants in the hills and…drove Batista from power.”8 No mention is made of the thousands of political opponents executed by Castro and his henchman Che Guevara once they got control of the island, nor of the thousands tortured or imprisoned on trumped-up charges,9 nor of of the desperate measures the Cuban people often undertake in their attempts to escape from the Communist island.
Even the claim that the dictator Batista had “close ties” to the US government is not true. Batista was hostile to the US, and one factor that helped Castro overthrow him was an arms embargo against Batista, imposed by the US government.10 But as corrupt as Batista was, he was never as murderous as the Communist regime that replaced him.
Villains of the “McCarthy Era”
Even more nefarious than military leaders like Chiang and Somoza, in the eyes of history department leftists, are Americans who exposed and embarrassed Communist agents in our own government. The Devil of Devils, of course, is Senator Joseph McCarthy. Textbook writers will abandon balance, perspective, and even truthfulness to make McCarthy look evil.
Most of the commonly used textbooks over-work the word “hysteria” in describing the concerns the American people had about Soviet infiltration of their government during the 1940’s and 50’s. Professor Eric Foner, for example, tells us that when a federal prosecutor brought charges against the Rosenbergs for stealing nuclear weapon secrets for the Soviets, the charges against them were bogus, but “in the atmosphere of hysteria, their conviction was certain.”11 The truth is very different. The jury in the Rosenbergs’ case saw sufficient evidence of their guilt to convict them in 1951; and in recent years the Venona decrypts, and Soviet KGB files, neither of which was available in 1951, have abundantly confirmed their guilt.
Professor Foner, who has served as president of various historical associations, actually has some pretty intimate knowledge of the anti-Communist purges of the 1940’s and 1950’s. His father, Professor Jack Foner, was one of a group of over fifty faculty and staff members fired by City College of New York in 1941, after being identified as Communists by three other faculty members. The investigation of Communists at CCNY was conducted by New York State legislators on the Rapp-Coudert Committee, which was formed in 1940 to study “subversive activities” in the State’s colleges and universities.
The legislative committee that forced the senior Professor Foner out of his job was formed during a period of heightened public concern about totalitarianism. Hitler and Stalin were acting as partners under the terms of their “non-aggression pact,” which was in effect from August of 1939 to late June of 1941. During this period the Communist Party USA was doing what it could to support Hitler by opposing US support for England while the English were at war with Germany. There is a page at the website of CCNY (now called City University of New York) about the Rapp-Coudert Committee investigation, and it makes for interesting reading. The article alludes to the committee ending its investigations soon after the Hitler-Stalin partnership dissolved: “The purge ends when the US enters WWII as an ally of the Soviet Union in the fight against fascism.”
In hindsight, it may have been a mistake for American legislators to stop worrying about Communist infiltration of American institutions just because Stalin and Hitler had had a falling out. Time would show that Stalinist Russia would be just as big a threat to the United States as National Socialist Germany. The idea of expelling Communist agents from academia and government was always a good one, even if it engendered a lot of resentment among the “victims.”
Today, of course, it would be impractical to simply fire every history professor whose sympathies lie with the disgraced and defeated ideology of Communism. For those of us who are concerned about the left wing radicalism that is so prevalent on college campuses, a better place to start would be pressuring university administrators to hire a few profs whose political views put them closer to the mainstream.
1 Rorabaugh, Critchlow, and Baker; America’s Promise, p. 579
2Davidson, Gienapp, Heyrman, Lytle, & Stoff; Nation of Nations p. 680
3Rorabaugh, Critchlow, and Baker; America’s Promise p. 572
4Nation of Nations p. 935
5Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty p. 739
6ibid., p. 674
7Nation of Nations p. 678
8ibid., p. 845
9Courtois, Werth, Panne, Paczkowski, Bartosek, and Margolin; The Black Book of Communism, hardcover, pp. 648, 656
10ibid., p. 647, 648
11Give Me Liberty p. 800