Last chance for America: In September and October of 1948, the last debate took place on the policies America should adopt towards the Soviet Union. But that election was more than just a referendum on how we should relate to Russia and Communism. Henry A. Wallace, the Progressive Party candidate, opposed Truman’s policies that created the Cold War; he spoke forcefully about the dangers of creating a militarized society in which personal freedoms would be compromised and America would be denied the kinds of investments needed to convert our economy from its wartime mode to a more peaceful form of prosperity through investments in our economy and the well-being of our citizens. But red-baiting by many of his fellow Democrats who labeled him as a dupe for the Soviet Union and the Communist Party, led to a colossal defeat in that election and the more peaceful postwar model of America that Wallace championed was denied a seat at the table. Wallace had spoken passionately about a twentieth century America that could prosper as the “century of the common man,” with international peace as a goal for the brave new world of the United Nations. He was in favor of sharing atomic secrets with other nations through the United Nations. His electoral defeat meant the Cold War policies of Truman would not only continue, but would now be energized as America would be denied the opportunity to explore a different post-war future. From then on, the future of America and our Cold War policies marched in lock-step and provided us with an over-investment in the military-industrial complex, as these policies robbed us of the capacity to more innovatively develop our economy and stabilize our society. Dwight Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex at the end of his Presidency, about which nothing much has been done. We remain a militarized and now securitized state in which our personal freedoms continue to be compromised, our heroes are treated as criminals, while multinational corporations impose their will on our laws as they create wealth through the economic strangulation of the poor and the Middle Class.
Wallace was not afraid of Communism: Unlike Truman, Wallace did not fear Communism; he had resonated with the Russian people when he visited that country in 1944. Indeed, Wallace’s travels during the Second World War (ten days after Pearl Harbor, FDR formed the Board of Economic Warfare and named Wallace to head it; never before or since has a Vice President had so much executive authority) had taken him to many countries, where he assimilated a far more international sense of the global condition than Truman would ever have. His focus was much more on the people being governed rather than the form of government imposed on them. He always took a keen interest on farm productivity and how it might be improved in each country to feed more people. When Wallace thought and planned for improved agricultural techniques, he wasn’t just thinking about America, he thought about the global conditions of agriculture. This is an issue today that has come full circle as we face food shortage problems created by global climate change. The Arab Spring revolt had a lot to do with food price escalation created by food scarcity emanating from a poor wheat crop in Russia that year. Food production was a constant theme when Wallace visited other countries. In contrast, Truman’s policies, in part stimulated by America’s development and use of the atomic bomb, began the process that we are only coming to grips with now as a nation—to establish American hegemony over Russia: Truman’s rigid, hard-line attitude, allowed him to succeed in dividing the world in two—the Communists and the Capitalists, with the United States as the flag-bearer intent on stamping out the evils of Communism which, according to the Truman doctrine, was a system designed to rule the world, while robbing us of our capitalist pleasures. In the post-war anticommunist fever, it increasingly became a minority opinion that Russia was a country who had lost 27 million of its citizens during the war, with an economy in shambles, destroyed by Hitler’s invading Army. Russia finally won out through a war of attrition against the invading army and improvements in the production and quality of Russian armaments. Though Russia was a World War II victor, the cost was devastatingly high. It also seemed to occur to few in America that Russia was demobilizing rather than preparing for a global conflict. It was America that rattled her sword and talked of war.
We didn’t give Russia enough credit for winning WW II: On top of this, we gave Russia little credit and no appreciation for their defeat of the German army, thus saving thousands of American lives, since something like 94 percent of the casualties inflicted on Hitler’s army was done by Russian soldiers. Russia had to face up to 200 German divisions, while at the most, the Allied forces faced about 10. Truman also reneged on promises that FDR had made to Stalin to provide loan support for rebuilding the Russian economy. Wallace correctly identified the Marshall Plan to help rebuild Europe as merely the “economic branch” of Truman’s Cold War policies. Ostensibly, Russia could have received Marshall Plan resources, but to do so would have required Stalin to surrender Russian sovereignty. The sole purpose of the Marshall Plan, although advertised as an act of American generosity, was to spread American Hegemony and provide new business opportunities for American Corporations, while insuring that the countries receiving money would turn away from Communist party influence in their political institutions. Given these errors of commission under-girding the intentions of America in the early post-war period, one might expect a string of errors to follow through folly compounding, and so they did.
Truman didn’t understand the world: Truman failed to properly grasp the world before him, and separate nationalist movements and civil wars from attempts at Communist conspiracies. Truman was a decent domestic President—he wanted his administration to pass universal health care to serve as continuity with the principals of the New Deal of FDR. He was shocked when he couldn’t achieve it. But in foreign policy, he succumbed to the influence of hard-liners who conformed to his own view of Russia and Communism. The hard-line view of the world painted an image of a titanic struggle between two incompatible systems that couldn’t share the same planet. Wallace was far better prepared to assume this responsibility because he saw the people first and their governing system as something of an after thought. For Wallace it was the fortunes of people that mattered and for Truman, the ideologue, it was the system of government, one of which had to be stamped out and Truman was going to lay the template that we would have to follow. And so we did, right into the Korean War, right into Vietnam War, right into a string of ideologues as Presidents, into Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and Iraq and Afghanistan. Truman made his decision-making much easier by surrounding himself with hard-liners like himself, who reinforced and helped shape the postwar world of America. Historian Jeffrey Perret, in his excellent book “Commander in Chief” revealed that, “the buck stops here” President needed drugs provided by the White House physician to embolden his decision-making process. Perhaps it was through the use of drugs that we got the Cold War. We are still living in that world, still living in the bubble, created by Truman and his crew at the end of WW II. Through his naivete Truman unleashed the bogey man in America. The black and white binary world he fabricated for himself led directly to the Korean War and the war in Vietnam, as the portrayal of Communism in America transmogrified from appropriately viewing Russia as an ally, into Russia as a mythological, grotesque, evil force designed to enslave the world and swallow all the wee little capitalists. What America was really afraid of was the possibility that people might find something highly valuable and socially redeemable in the Communist system. Thus the Cold War was really a war to insure that America would not tolerate a system other than toxic capitalism we have today. After all, it had only been about 10 years or so earlier that the Russian system was being touted by many as a system that could feed its population as opposed to capitalism in America, where thousands of children suffered from malnutrition and labor abuses that became apparent during the Great Depression. Of course this was America’s thrust into world hegemony urged on by the neoliberals who could foresee an “American Century” in our future. Those sentiments are still advocated by the neoliberals of today, such as William Kristol. And, as a victor of WW II and the sole possessor of atomic weaponry, America under Truman not only began the Cold War, but the increasing fear of Communism unleashed America’s dark side by stimulating the witch hunts of McCarthyism with similar actions carried out by the House UN-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Watching replays of the HUAC or McCarthy in action makes one’s blood curl to imagine how we, as a nation, could generate such hysteria that it was necessary to ruin lives and destroy the ability of some Americans to get jobs and make a living. In that era, America became self destructive and fed on her own children. And yet we see something like that period repeat itself today in our reaction to 9/11, where we unleashed an illegal war against Iraq and a failed war in Afghanistan, coupled with national hysteria directed towards Muslims. Would the recent bombing in Boston have taken place without Harry Truman and George W. Bush as Presidents? That may seem like a stretch, but there is far more continuity in our electoral politics that there are truly surprising results. A Wallace victory in 1948 would have been a truly surprising result.
McCarthyism helped create the folly of Vietnam: McCarthy’s initial focus was the State Department; he purged many in that unit, eliminating old hands who might have steered us clear of needless wars and these same Cold War forces left us with a military—industrial economy that we still don’t know how to tame. We continue to manufacture things like tanks and planes that were planned when we were still at the height of the Cold War. Without Truman’s Cold War, we would not have had the red-baiting, black-balling mess in which a bold group of Americans, searching for a better form of government in the depression of 1930s, came under suspicion by the Federal Government and were outcast in part by false stories created by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Tragically, it was one branch of the Democratic Party, the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) who helped fan the flames of an irrational attitude towards Communism in America and who called Wallace a dupe for Soviet Communism during the election of 1948. That split in the Democratic Party is still with us today but now runs across the fault line of “socialism” rather than Communism.
The wars: The Cold War that Truman started and the sharp right turn that he used as a template for the country’s future, paved the way for the Korean war, followed by the Vietnam war, and his policies opened the gates for McCarthyism, and eventually Ronald Reagan walked through the door opened by Truman, as Reagan put us on the trajectory that eventually demolished the remnants of the New Deal of FDR and introduced us to the new gilded age as neoliberalism became the new model for life in America. Truman also set in play the events that led to the military-industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned us about, but about which, everyone since has said very little. Truman’s policies eventually built up a national hysteria against Communism, such that other countries learned to play the American reflex against Communism as one might play a fiddle: despite FDR’s objections, after the war, the French were allowed to go back into Vietnam because they said they would fight a Communist takeover (we fell for this one hook, line and sinker) and the British got American cooperation to overthrow Mogadishu in 1953, the democratically elected leader in Iran, as they portrayed him as a Communist. On and on rode the American anticommunist army into the valley of death and destruction.
A split in the Democratic Party: In one of the most crucial periods in postwar development, the Democratic Party split into two divisions based on how they viewed the Soviet Union and the Wallace candidacy of 1948. The Progressive Citizens of America (PCA) advocated viewing Russia in more modest way. Organizationally, the PCA included Communists in its organization and often in positions of leadership. The opposition to the PCA was the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), which was an outgrowth of the Union for Democratic Action (UDA); it was resolutely anti-communist and excluded Communists from their organization. The ADA had as their luminaries most of the New Deal FDR Democrats, including Eleanor Roosevelt, while the PCA had Henry Wallace, who at the time was the heir-apparent to the more liberal and progressive instincts of FDR. Both organizations were formed within weeks of one another in December 1946 and both were formed with the 1948 election in mind. The ADA consisted of members such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who provided some of the salvos that were launched against Wallace leading up to the election. These were the same people that pushed for Wallace as FDR’s Vice President in 1944. The chairman of the ADA was Reinhold Niebuhr, a Protestant theologian who was highly influential in the postwar era. He stated that on domestic issues, the PCA and the ADA shared the same views, but on foreign policy, the ADA felt that Wallace and the PCA were too tolerant of Russia and Stalin. Stalin was a ruthless, savage, paranoid dictator, but we might have helped move him, for the benefit of his own people, towards a more modest position by following through with our promise to provide aid for rebuilding the Russian economy and sharing the atomic secrets which the scientists wanted to do. Then too consider what Nixon did when he went to China and opened the door for trade and development. Nixon did it to resolve the Vietnam conflict, realizing that he couldn’t win the war on the battlefield. You can argue whether Stalin or Mayo was the most ruthless dictator, as both leaders initiated policies that killed hundreds of thousands or more of their own citizens. Furthermore, we aided in the development of ruthless dictators in Haiti, Iran and many countries in South America. Pinochet is a recent example of a dictator we put in place, as Reagan referred to him as another “George Washington.” It became more like a hobby for us to install foreign military dictators who were compliant with our interests and business policies, which typically included support for anti-labor practices.
The End Game for Wallace: As the election of 1948 approached the finish line, it was clear that Wallace was going to lose–the question was by how much. Wallace always knew that he couldn’t win the Presidency in 1948, but his political calculation was that if he could get something like 10 million votes, it would have an impact on slowing the Truman administration down in their march towards the Cold War. But, all the red-baiting that went on during the campaign, largely perpetrated by the ADA wing of the Democratic Party, was beginning to weigh heavily on his campaign. In addition to the ADA faction of the Democratic Party, Wallace lost the support of labor. Yet, he continued to advocate his belief that America was headed down the wrong path, not just with respect to Russia and the emerging Cold War that the Truman administration had started, but also with respect to the long-term future of America, which he saw as a country preparing for a new war, rather than trying to get over the most horrific conflict man had ever perpetrated on his own species. Wallace also predicted and was witness to the anti-democratic institutions that were put in place as a result of the Cold War. Truman introduced loyalty oaths, which every government employee had to take and this spread to many states reaching a crescendo of hysteria in which all one had to do was accuse someone of being a Communist and they would be fired. Wallace had his own problems, but one feature of his campaign that his opponents found very frustrating was that wherever he went, he drew huge crowds of enthusiastic supporters. He was the first candidate to conduct a non-racial campaign in the South, where both blacks and whites were allowed to attend. As a result, he received many death threats to worried his campaign organizers. Wallace was not an effective politician and he didn’t relate well to members of the press. He was a visionary, and as such lacked the political skills required to be a success in American politics. As the campaign was drawing to a close, it seemed like he and he alone had the gift of long-term thinking that most politicians cannot afford to have, because they must box themselves in to time frames limited by the election cycles of their office, either two, four or six years. Thinking beyond those cycles is hard to do for any politician and yet that’s where Wallace shined. The vision that Wallace projected for the country was one that grasped the future, not by any election cycle but his vision projected into the future by decades if not more than a century. Global climate change today would be handled far differently by our government if Wallace had been elected President in 1948, or if he had been chosen as the Vice President during the Democratic Convention of 1944. He saw the acute need to transform the American economy into a civilian jobs program and wrote a book “Six Million Jobs” in which he laid out a plan to transition the American economy from its wartime footing to that of a peaceful, progressive country highlighted by new industrial growth. But America never got there. Who is to say where the country might be today if Wallace had been Vice President when FDR died. As President, would his model for the country have stimulated others with diverse backgrounds to enter politics—more longitudinal thinkers? Would his Presidency have prepared the country to accept a more long-term view of history and would he have been able to convince the country to form a more peaceful relationship with Russia and Communism? (the Communist Party in America was a legal party but never very large one America—I have read counts that put the figure of membership anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 range at its peak). Could Wallace’s vision for America have taken us on a pathway against militarism, in favor of a more sound and just development of our postwar economy? Perhaps he would have been another assassinated President because of the opposition to his policies. One thing is certain however. Had Wallace become President and stayed alive during his Presidency, we would not have had the Korean War, nor the War in Vietnam and if he had managed to convince the country to emerge on a more peaceful, progressive path, we would not be dragged down by a military-industrial complex that prevents us from developing a more sound and resilient economy, with more economic justice than anything we have today.
Communists under arrest: On July 20, 1948, just a few days before the Progressive Party Convention, the United States indicted the entire leadership of the Communist Party, charging them with advocating the “destruction of the government of the United States by force and violence.” Major figures in the Communist Party were indicted, including William Zoster, national chairman, Eugene Dennis, general secretary and John Gates, editor of the Daily Worker. This began a terrible siege against the Communist Party and further alienated the general public against Wallace and the Progressive Party. Across the nation individual states made similar charges against party members. As one leader succeeded another, he too was indicted. This action by our government took a terrible toll on the emotional and financial well-being of party members and the timing was such that the Progressive Convention was held under a cloud, as these indictments further alarmed Wallace’s supporters and drained his campaign of its vitality. In the end, Wallace got fewer votes than did Strom Thurmond running as a Dixiecrat, who bolted from the Democratic Party.
Wallace retires from politics: After the disastrous 1948 election, Henry Wallace never entered politics again and the nation lost a visionary leader who might have steered us clear of the confrontational military mentality that remains as our first reflex for viewing global conflict. We still live underneath the umbrella-void of policies put in place during the aftermath of WW II. The ADA continued their support of the non-communist Cold War policies of Truman through the Eisenhower administration and on into the Vietnam War. It was during the Vietnam War that many members of the ADA began to see the error of their policy support for Truman. The Vietnam War was a civil war, in which Ho Chi Minh was a nationalist trying to unite his country. As a personal aside, I had to serve in the Navy during the Vietnam War from 1969-1971. As a Navy officer stationed in Pensacola Florida (I had a scientific research billet), I had to attend weekly indoctrination sessions where we were given special “insights” into the cause of the war. The presiding officer knew little about the war and as soon as I began to challenge his assertions, that the Viet Cong were sponsored by the Soviet Union, at the first hint of a voice opposing this interpretation, he hesitantly backed down as if he didn’t have the courage of his convictions. During those sessions, we were first told that North Vietnam was a client state of Russia, who was spreading Communist revolutions throughout the world. But when challenged to show evidence in favor of such an interpretation, he eventually, over the course of weeks, switched by claiming that Ho Chi Minh was supported by the Chinese, acting in support of their expansionist ambitions. Eventually these meetings seem to run out of steam and faded in parallel with with the public perception that we were confronted by a war we could not win perhaps because the military had run out of countries with whom to pin the donkey on the tail. I did notice however, that being in the South, I was the only officer who was challenging the interpretation of the Navy’s propaganda officer (oddly enough I met plenty of enlisted men and non-commissioned officers that seemed to have much better insights and curiosity about the justification for the war), and came away with the strong impression that if you are committed to war as an ideologue, it doesn’t really matter if you understand its origins, it only matters that you win the war, which of course we did not do. Hubert Humphrey was a member of the ADA and gave castigating remarks against Wallace in the election of 1948; years later as Johnson’s Vice President he was obligated to support the war effort, though he had acquired enough visual capacity by then to see that the Vietnam War was an American disaster and that we were becoming a monster in the way we were conducting the war. Only during the last month or so of his campaign for the Presidency, was Humphrey released by Johnson to pursue what had become his opinion that the war in Vietnam was a disaster that needed to end immediately. Humphrey never got a chance to end the war and Nixon, who won the 1968 election, continued to prosecute the war until we were exhausted and then he went to China to end the war through that doorway.
A final note: I have read many articles and books about Henry A. Wallace, which accounts for the long pause in MillerCircle articles. My favorite book was written by Richard J. Walton entitled “Henry Wallace, Harry Truman and the Cold War.” Walton’s book was published in 1976, at which time some perspective was available for judging the Wallace campaign of 1948 and Truman’s continued pursuit of phantom threats to America. On page 355 of the hardback edition, Walton states “Nonetheless, despite these and, no doubt, other criticisms that can be made of him, Henry Wallace was essentially right and Harry Truman was essentially and tragically wrong. Henry Wallace said that the United States couldn’t purchase reliable friends. He said that the United States would end up supporting corrupt, incompetent and repressive dictators all over the world. He said the United States would not be able to stamp out revolution the world over. He said that the effort to contain Communism would be costly in blood and treasure. He said that a crusade against Communism would lead to repression of civil liberties at home. He said that American foreign policy would lead to militarism. He said that the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO would divide the world into hostile camps. He said that Truman’s foreign policy would cause colonial peoples of the world to identify Russia and Communism as their friends and the United States as their enemy. He said in short, that Harry Truman’s foreign policy would lead to disaster at home and abroad. Henry Wallace was right. Henry Wallace has been vindicated by history.” Henry Wallace retired from politics and went back to farming. He died in 1965 of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
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