Washington — Fifty years ago this month in Moscow Joseph Stalin died. He and his Red Army had been our allies (not formally but informally) in defeating Nazism and Fascism. Winston Churchill thought well of “old Joe” for a time. During the war American propaganda referred to his armies as “Our Heroic Soviet Allies,” and President Franklin Roosevelt joshed that he was “Uncle Joe.” Then we had a falling out with the mustachioed Georgian. Upon the 1945 death of FDR (who, historians tell us, was growing uneasy about Joe), Harry Truman became president. He was even more uneasy about Stalin than Roosevelt. Truman rearmed the country, was rude to Uncle Joe’s ambassador, and made Joe angry.
By the late 1940s hostilities between Truman and Stalin had become serious. World peace was imperiled. Thankfully from the more sophisticated sectors of American society a peace movement blossomed. Hollywoodians and professors, usually of a leftish persuasion, began marching for peace and beseeching Washington to negotiate with Stalin. Their peaceful protests provoked what Americans persist in calling the Red Scare, which featured such scoundrels — the playwright Lillian Hellman’s word — as Senator Joseph McCarthy, who claimed the peace movement and even the government were being subverted by Soviet sympathizers and spies. By the 1960s scholars — then referred to as revisionists — were advancing the proposition that President Truman’s foreign policy and the fiendish McCarthy’s Red Scare almost drove us to war with Uncle Joe, who died on March 5, 1953.
Now after years of research in the Soviet and KGB archives, two historians, a Russian and an American, are about to publish a 402-page book, Stalin’s Last Crime, propounding the thesis that Uncle Joe was poisoned by members of his government probably led by the head of his secret police, Lavrenti Beria, to prevent Stalin from beginning a war with the United States, the preparation for which Stalin by 1953 had well underway. Is it really possible that Uncle Joe was preparing world war in the early 1950s when the American peace movement insisted that Washington was the provocateur? The evidence suggests that it is. In fact, so concerned were Stalin’s colleagues in the Politburo that he was about to enmesh the Soviet Union in war with the West that, argue the authors of Stalin’s Last Crime, they poisoned him, fittingly enough using rat poison.
Historians, working in Soviet and KGB archives, have also dug up documents bearing on the Red Scare. From such sources as the Venona documents and the KGB archive we now know that from the 1930s through the 1940s there really were reds for Americans to be scared of. Working as agents for the Soviet Union or as artless sympathizers, Americans were practicing espionage for Moscow. Just as McCarthy said they were active in our government, the American communist party, and the peace movement. Soviet archives have revealed that such so-called victims of the Red Scare as Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White were really working for Uncle Joe.
Now the thought naturally occurs, why would such admired members of the American establishment as Alger Hiss side with Stalin against the United States? For that matter why are so many of Hollywood’s bien pensant demonstrating against the American government and to save Saddam Hussein’s neck? My guess is that, as with Hiss, they simply cannot believe that the United States is a great force for good in the world. What this reveals is a very low opinion of America and a very cavalier regard for a dictator’s capacity for evil. Joseph Stalin, we now learn, was contemplating nuclear war when his colleagues gave peace a chance and poisoned him. We know this from the Soviets’ own archives. Why would we doubt that Saddam is up to equally grisly acts?
Both men have quite publicly been responsible for the brutal deaths of multitudes: for Stalin by 1953 perhaps one hundred million, for Saddam by now perhaps a million. These are moral monsters. No one should side with them. Yet members of peace movements have. Today just as in the 1950s vociferous members of these movements have made it clear, their major motivation is not admiration for dictators but misgivings about America. Do I go too far? The other day Harry Belafonte informed Finnish television that President Bush and his Administration are “misguided…and I think they are men who are possessed of evil.” I wonder where Harry stood on Uncle Joe Stalin when even Joe’s head of secret police thought he was too dangerous a threat to live.