Anti-Communism as Toxic American Apple Pie
Full disclosure: In the early fifties, when I was eight or ten years old I had a recurring fantasy that, if I could only meet and talk with a Russian boy, I could convince him that I didn’t hate him, and that might be the beginning of the end of the Cold War. My take on the subject today is essentially still the same.
As I was growing up in rural Michigan I never stopped wondering how the all-powerful American anti-communist obsession came about, what drove it and where was it taking us. One thing was clear to me: the whole issue was seriously instrumentalized by the American establishment, who converted the threat of communism into a blunt instrument for dominating the minds of the American people and physically bludgeoning the people of other lands utterly to death. It seemed then that everything evil or simply negative in the world could conveniently be explained away by blaming it on the “commies,” and not much has changed in that respect today. Even after the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union “the Russians” are still perceived as enemies, threats to the “free world” and are still held responsible for everything from those subversive little nested dolls to influencing American elections. Having heard that cry of “Wolf!” so many times already, I think I’m entitled to be a bit skeptical.
When I arrived in Spain in 1968 one of the first friends I made was Pablo, a Spanish TV correspondent who was a communist, the first one I ever met. They called them “Eurocomunistas” in those days to distinguish them from Soviet communists.Their program was just about constructing a more decent society in their own country, something they helped to do in the intervening years. During that time they were the only organization on the Spanish political scene to take any real risks in opposing the murderous Franco military regime. Franco, who was a smart, ruthless dictator, ultimately died in bed in 1975. In the meantime my friendship with Pablo developed and he introduced me to his friends, all committed, altruistic young people working towards a Spanish democracy. Today the majority of our Spanish friends are ex-eurocommunists, Spain’s finest folk. The geopolitical wisdom of Captain America was long forgotten until I ran across him on the web the other day.
Allies to Enemies, an Assisted Metamorphosis
A US Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing was already at work in early 1919 presenting “Bolshevik horror stories” which were picked up by the sensationalist press–including the New York Times–adorned with lurid headlines like “Reds Seek War With America” and sold to the American public. This introductory education on Russian communism lasted throughout the 20s and set the tone of what was to come during the rest of the century.
Ironically, America’s mortal enemies since the Second World War were their most-important allies during the war, not Britain and certainly not France. It was the Russians who defeated the most Nazis and paid the highest price in destruction and lives of both soldiers and civilians–more than 20 million. President Roosevelt was convinced that he could work with the Russians after the war. But Roosevelt died and the American right–including President Harry Truman, the know-nothing Democrat, turned on the Soviets. He famously said on the day after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union: “If we see that Germany is winning, we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible…” He and his British allies then proceeded to sit on their hands for three years, leaving the Russians to take on the Germans by themselves.
After the war the expert American propaganda machine saw to it that those Russians were metamorphosed from allies into adversaries and from there into enemies. The advantage of enemies is that you don’t have to play fair against them and you can kill them if you need to.
For decades the question lurked in the back of my mind: How the hell did that happen? Then I ran across a book by William Blum entitled, The CIA, a forgotten history. Released in 1986 by Zed, an independent non-fiction publishing company based in London, UK, the book’s introduction presents a brief and cogent history of American anticommunism. It occupies a scant 14 pages but it immediately cleared away all the cobwebs in my head on the subject of American anticommunism. Most of the facts in this article come from that introduction to Blum’s book.
Here’s How America’s Geopolitical Blood Feud Began
Soviet communism resulted from the Bolshevik revolution, the derrogation of the Tsar of all the Russias, which coincided with the end of the First World War. Communism experienced its greatest growth during the 1930s. While Western economies were muddling their way through the Great Depression, Russian industry boomed and technology advanced. One of Stalin’s pet projects was the formation of engineers. Communism was admired by working people from around the world, but not so much by the owners of the means of production. Thanks mainly to Stalin’s purges and gulags, that utopian mirage didn’t last long but it was long enough to throw a powerful scare into the world’s capitalist oligarchs, one they never recovered from. It didn’t take them long to mobilize.
As early as 1918 the United States launched two military attacks on Russia from the north, one (the Polar Bear Expedition) at Arkhangelsk and another (the American Expeditionary Force, Siberia) at Vladivostak, Russia’s important Pacific port near the Chinese border. These initiatives, which coincided with the Russian civil war, were ill conceived and executed and allegedly gave rise to a mutiny among the 5,000 troops at Arkhangelsk–two thirds of which were from Michigan. The principal results of these senseless military missions were to terrorize the population of north Russia and cast a lasting shadow over relations between the US and the Soviet Union.
The inspiration for this attempt “to strangle at its birth” the Bolshevik state came from the British Minister for Air and War, the young Winston Churchill, who remained throughout his life a bitter enemy of Russia and one of the principal animators of the Cold War.
Blum asks, “What was there about this Bolshevik Revolution that so alarmed the most powerful nations in the world?” He relates how the Russians had dared to make a separate peace with Germany, abandoning the First World War after three years of bloody fighting. Graver still, they overthrew a capitalist-feudal regime and proclaimed the world’s first socialist state. Says Blum, “This was the crime the Allies had to punish, the virus which had to be eradicated lest it spread to their own people.”
The Dreaded Enemy Becomes a Useful Pawn in the Game
For years, numerous Americans, in high positions and obscure, sullenly harbored the conviction that World War II was “the wrong war against the wrong enemies.” Communism, they knew, was the only genuine enemy on America’s historical agenda. Was that not why Hitler had been ignoired/tolerated/appeased? So that the Nazi war machine would turn East and wipe Bolshevism off the face of the earth once and for all? It was just unfortunate that Adolf turned out be be such a megalomaniac and turned West as well. (William Blum, The CIA: A Forgotten History)
The shrewd American foreign-policy team, headed by Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, figured out by the 50s how to turn Soviet Communism to their advantage by casting the Russians as the quintessential enemy, responsible for misdeeds all over the world. There was nothing so far off nor so tenuous that it couldn’t be attributed to “the Russkies.” According to Wisconsin Senator Eugene McCarthy they had even deeply infiltrated the US government . The Americans continued beating the same tired drum during President Ronald Reagan’s Crusade Against the Evil Empire in the 80s.
One hundred years of overt and covert hammering on the American subconscious has had a devastating effect on their perception of the world outside their own borders. Today the average American’s reaction to any mention of communists or communism is wholly Pavolvian. They immediately start to salivate.
William Blum, sums it up:
The American people have been subjected to a relentless anti-communist indoctrination. It is imbibed with their mother’s milk, pictured in their comic books, spelled out in their school books; their daily paper offfers them headlines that tell them all they need to know; ministers find sermons in it; politicians are elected with it and Reader’s Digest becomes rich on it.
Blum then goes on to elucidate in elaborate detail the pecadilloes of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the United States’s principal agency in the fight against communism (which incidentally can include socialism, liberalism and, at times, simple nationalism or self determination.) As Blum makes clear over more than 400 pages, the cure has been vastly more serious than the illness.
Meanwhile, the reality of US-Soviet relations since World War II was much more nuanced than Captain America would have us believe. The most outstanding example was during and after the Cuban missile crisis, 13 days in October, 1962, which was the closest humankind has ever come to total extermination. Both President Kennedy and Chairman Krushchev were acutely aware of the extreme gravity of what almost happened in Cuba and both were convinced that it was up to them to take measures to obviate the possibility of a catastrophic, world-ending “misunderstanding.” Both leaders faced bitter opposition to peace initiatives in their respective military establishments but Krushchev was determined and Kennedy seemed to be inclined. He was encouraged by Norman Cousins, his private envoy to Krushchev, who informed him that the Soviet leader sincerely sought “a new relationship with the United States…” Cousins suggested that Kennedy deliver an address offering “a breathtaking new approach toward the Russian people, calling for an end to the cold war and a fresh start in American-Russian relations.”
This new departure was suggested in Kennedy’s June, 1963, American University address, prepared by the President and his staff without the intervention of the Joint Chiefs, the CIA or the State Department. Stone and Kuznick, authors of The Untold History of the United States, consider this talk “the most enlightened speech made by any president in the twentieth century.” This is the version published in that history book. The President said:
I have…chosen this time and this place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth is too rarely perceived–yet it is the most important topic on earth: world peace. What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war… I am talking about genuine peace–the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living–the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children–not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women–not merely peace in our time but peace for all time. I speak of peace because of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age when great powers can maintain large and largely invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all of the allied air forces in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by the wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations unborn… Second: Let us re-examine our attitude toward the Soviet Union…it is sad to…realize the extent of the gulf between us. But it is also…a warning to the American people not to…see only a distorted and desperate view of the other side, not to see conflict as inevitable, accommodations as impossible and communication as nothing more than an exchange of threats… Today, should total war ever break out again…all we have built, all we have worked for, would be destroyed in the first 24 hours… In short, both the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race… And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal. Third: Let us re-examine our attitude toward the Cold War…we shall also do our part to build a world of peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just. We are not helpless before that task or hopeless of its success. Confident and unafraid, we labor on–not toward a strategy of annihilation but toward a strategy of peace.
Five short months later, on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was murdered. Premier Krushchev was deposed in October of the following year, and the world returned to the status quo ante.
Thanks for following and sharing.