Thursday, June 14, 2007

Another seat-sniffer.

Oliver Kamm has devoted a post to my brief article for Socialist Worker about the Cold War. He doesn't link here, and I am reluctant to direct readers to his little-read website. At most, it would contribute to his already aggravated superiority complex. I'm sure you can find your way there if you have committed some mortal sin you feel you must expiate. I'll deal with it by the numbers:

1) "It would be invidious, and not my point, to go through this article's various inanities minutely and individually (starting with the proposition that the origins of the Cold War apparently had no connection with any actions by Stalin)."

Naturally, I didn't make any such proposition. Here is what I said:

Although it is commonly held that the Truman Doctrine, under which the US worked to impose pro-US regimes in a number of countries, was a response to Soviet aggression in partitioning Europe, documentary evidence shows that this is not the case. Russia did impose dictatorial control over the territories that it had conquered in Eastern Europe. However, the US was determined to see Europe partitioned and worked hard to achieve this, finally winning support for the idea among Western European states by offering Nato as a form of protection against the Soviet Union and a potential resurgent Germany.

US intelligence estimated that it would take the Stalinist regime 15 years to recover from its losses during the war, while the US itself was in a position of considerable economic dominance. The US was fully aware of the Soviet Union’s military weakness.

Yet in its most crucial policy document from 1950, policymakers made fanatical claims about Russia’s “implacable purpose” which was to achieve “total power over all men”. On the basis of a fictitious “Kremlin design for world domination”, they recommended an aggressive policy of “containment” and “rollback” against the Soviet Union.

In fact, the US had already begun to prepare for the post-war order in 1943, planning a series of bases to encircle the Western hemisphere and ensure access to vital raw materials.

They also sought to procure military access in critical locations and to expand their control of six zones in Latin America known for their strategic importance and raw materials.

The main concern in Latin America was to prevent commercial competition from Europe, and US leaders settled on a policy of extended bases across the continent, training military leaders from each country and formulating a defensive military pact.

In practice this involved training generations of future dictators and death squad leaders, who would overthrow left wing governments and terrorise the population.


Kamm won't know this, because his entire understanding of the Cold War is constructed around a lifetime of monomaniacal Chomsky-stalking (whereas some of us have actually had to study the material), but much of this is drawn from Melvyn Leffler's contributing essay to a book he co-authored with David Painter on the origins of the Cold War. Another source is Carolyn Eisenberg's essay about the Berlin Blockade in Ellen Schrecker's Cold War Triumphalism: The Misuse of History after the Fall of Communism. Both are serious scholars, while Kamm is a City employee and an occasional scribe for the David Horowitz Freedom Centre.

2) "I can recognise what Seymour has read, and more particularly what he hasn't".

No, he can't. He can't even read what I've written: see above.

3) "I'm certain Seymour hasn't read Kennan's original document, known as "Policy Planning Study 23: Review of Current Trends in U.S. Foreign Policy", and which can be read in full here. I suspect that Seymour has taken it from a pamphlet by Noam Chomsky entitled What Uncle Sam Really Wants, 1993."

I have read that pamphlet, but I don't happen to have taken the quote from there (which is, at any rate, widely reproduced, often in standard text books about the Cold War); and I have read or at least scanned Kennan's document online (I have linked to it here a couple of times as well): see point two.

4) "Seymour won't have realised, is that it's a classic Chomskyism: the quotation has been excised from its context, artfully edited and then twisted to insinuate pretty much the opposite of what Kennan was arguing. I encourage you to read the full passage from Kennan, which Chomsky has ruthlessly edited. It comes in section VII of the document, entitled 'Far East'. You should note immediately that Chomsky has omitted a sentence that I would argue is crucial to the message Kennan is giving (my emphasis): 'For these reasons, we must observe great restraint in our attitude toward the Far Eastern areas.' That is very far from a call for imperialist domination."

The accusations made by Russil Wvong about this "classic Chomskyism" are more than adequately addressed by Chomsky here. This is, of course, not strictly relevant to anything I have written, since what I adverted to were 'strategic interests' that are highlighted in the Kennan quote. I didn't stipulate what policy the document called for. Once more, I direct you to point two.

5) Kamm is 'flabbergasted' that I describe the Rosenbergs as having been executed on trumped up charges. "I don't know whether Seymour is aware that he's doing this, but his account could have been taken verbatim from contemporary apologists for Stalinism. Most revealing, there is the preposterous notion that the trial of the Rosenbergs was part of an antisemitic conspiracy by the US authorities. It is a revealing fiction: the Soviet Union adopted this line at the time, because it wished to divert attention from a real case of antisemitic persecution, the Slansky Trial in Czechoslovakia."

This would be more impressive if a) I had described the trial and execution as an antisemitic conspiracy (see point two) and; b) Kamm knew what he was talking about. He concedes that the trial was rigged: in terms of false evidence, improper intervention by special assistant prosecutor Cohn, 'unsatisfactory' handling of the court case. Yet he cites the declassified VENONA documents to suggest that the charges made against them were accurate, and therefore not trumped up. Kamm claims that the documents show that "Julius Rosenberg was a spy, his wife was his principal accomplice, and they were guilty as charged of conspiracy to commit espionage." I did not have space to go into this, but the case is simply not as Kamm states it. I have, unlike him apparently, read the available documents. There is no evidence within these documents that Ethel Rosenberg was involved at all. She is described in these documents as knowledgable of her husband's activities, but that is the fullest extent of it. Even the National Security Agency, which released the documents, does not claim that they show Ethel Rosenberg to be an accomplice, much less the "principal accomplice". Therefore, taking the documents and the attending explanations at face value would at most result in the conclusion that Julius Rosenberg was a fairly insignificant spy and that his wife was not a spy at all. Of course, these documents were not presented to a court: false evidence was, and that was the sole basis of the conviction. The sentence was applied by Judge Kaufman in light of charges made by him of treason, which were not tried in court (thus also trumped up). And it could only be applied at any rate because the charges were made under the wrong legislation: such, at any rate, was the argument contained in an amicus curiae petition which was being considered by two members of the Supreme Court, which is one reason why the Justice Department worked so hard to compromise that body. There is another way of summing this up, rather concisely: the Rosenbergs were executed on trumped up charges. Happily, that is the way I put it.

Anyway, that is now the second time in as many days that I have troubled to correct a cluster of idiotic misrepresentations from a member of the illustrious Henry Jackson Society. I now feel dirty, and not in the good sense.