To the Editor:
Before I comment on the latest episode in Arthur Schlesinger’s battle against the world of fact [“Letters from Readers,” December 1969], let me fill in the relevant background.
In my American Power and the New Mandarins I cited a number of examples of fabrication in the service of government policy, among them several that appeared in Schlesinger’s Bitter Heritage. Nevertheless, I emphasized not the falsehoods, but rather the explicit statements of position: for example, Schlesinger’s willingness to applaud the “wisdom and statesmanship of the American government” if only its policy succeeds in establishing the rule of our chosen reppresentatives in South Vietnam, at a cost that he describes quite vividly.
Schlesinger had an excellent opportunity to correct the errors and, one might hope, withdraw from the positions cited, in a review of my book in Book World. He chose, instead, to add a new series of misrepresentations (though his review contained one correct and useful observation, to which I return). Some of these I enumerated in a footnote in my exchange with Lionel Abel [“Vietnam, the Cold War & Other Matters,” October 1969]. Again, Schlesinger had an opportunity to correct these mistakes. Again, he chose to try to drown this dismal record in a flood of vituperation and new falsehoods. Schlesinger refers to the footnote in question only as follows: it “makes evident,” he claims, my belief that “in his conduct of foreign policy, Franklin Roosevelt was striving to serve the very moneyed interests who were fighting him so savagely in domestic politics.” The section of my footnote which, he claims, “makes evident” this belief reads as follows:
Schlesinger sees a merging of the New Left and the Old Right in the conclusion, which he attributes to me, that: “Confronted with such pressure from American imperialism, what else could Japan do but act in self-defense.” To support this interpretation of my views, he cites this quotation: “It is an open question whether a more conciliatory American diplomacy that took into account some of the real problems faced by Japan might have helped . . . It is hardly astonishing, then, that in 1937 Japan began to expand at the expense of China.” The unwary reader of his review could not know that the three dots, in this quotation, cover 13 pages of text and six years of time. The first part of the quotation refers to the impact of Stimson’s diplomacy of 1931 on the efforts by “the civilian government (backed by the central army authorities) to prevail over the independent initiative of the Kwantung Army” in Manchuria. The second part refers to Japanese expansion on the mainland in 1937 in response, in part, to the economic policies of “the American and British and other Western imperial systems, which abandoned their lofty liberal rhetoric as soon as the shoe began to pinch.” In both of these (independent) cases, I merely summarize standard sources and present conclusions that would not be surprising to a historian, though, evidently, they still come as a shock to the more fervent ideologues. Neither conclusion has anything to do with the “New Left” or the “Old Right,” as can be determined by checking the references in my discussion.
Comparing the text with Schlesinger’s paraphrase, we see that in this case the lie is more brazen than usual. Nowhere does the footnote “make evident” my belief that Roosevelt was serving the interests of his domestic enemies (whether it is true, when properly reformulated, is another matter); rather, the footnote documents a series of Arthur Schlesinger’s fabrications and errors.
One who thinks that this degree of falsification might suffice has a surprise in store. In the very same paragraph in which Schlesinger speaks of my “limitless credulity” in believing that American policy in the 1930’s involved a departure from economic liberalism (note that this is the content of my statement) he also deplores my failure to understand that “American business and its political representatives have been characteristically protectionist rather than multilateralist on questions of international trade.” Thus within one paragraph Schlesinger accuses me of being wrong in believing that American policy has been protectionist, and wrong in believing that it has not been protectionist. These two accusations have one property in common: neither is documented, and as any reader of Schlesinger will immediately guess, both are distortions. I could go on at this point to restate my actual position, but it seems pointless to dignify this mendacity with a serious response.
Evidently, Schlesinger has no intention of following the usual practice of acknowledging and correcting error. Let me therefore turn to the one correct comment that he has so far made in his repeated efforts to come to grips with material which, not surprisingly, he finds outrageous. As I explained in the October issue of COMMENTARY, in my book I erroneously attributed to Truman two statements that were, in fact, paraphrases of his Baylor speech by D. F. Fleming and James Warburg. In the book I also gave a precise page reference to the source from which I took the quotes (which, to compound the error, I mistranscribed). As I stated, this was a careless and inexcusable error, which I am glad to have pointed out, and which is corrected in the second printing along with a few others that I have discovered. Schlesinger was quite justified in pointing out this error, though his elaborate pretense that he couldn’t find the quotes, that I had invented them, that this is fakery, fabrication, etc., was perhaps somewhat exaggerated.
In his letter in the December COMMENTARY, Schlesinger takes issue with my statement that the remarks of Fleming and Warburg were “accurate and perceptive,” and he cites as an example of my “unbeatable instinct for distortion” my statement (A):
(A) Truman argued that freedom of enterprise is one of those freedoms to be valued ‘even more than peace.’
At issue, then, is the accuracy of (A) and also the following statements by Fleming and Warburg, respectively:
(B) He explained that freedom was more important than peace and that freedom of worship and speech were dependent on freedom of enterprise.
(C) Truman “made it quite clear that he believed that the whole world should adopt the American system . . . [which] . . . could survive in America only if it became the world system.”
Schlesinger denies the accuracy of (A), claiming that:
(D) when Truman said “that Americans valued freedom even more than peace . . . he made it clear that he meant above all intellectual and religious freedom.”
Let us consider first whether my (A) or Schlesinger’s (D) is a correct rendition of Truman’s statement, which is as follows:
(E) There is one thing that Americans value even more than peace. It is freedom. Freedom of worship—freedom of speech—and freedom of enterprise. It must be true that the first two of these freedoms are related to the third.
Comparing now (A), (D), and (E), we see at once that (A) is accurate and that (D) is inaccurate. (A) follows directly from (E) (to be absolutely precise, we must add the premise that in Truman’s view, what “Americans value” is what is “to be valued”); nowhere in the speech is there anything to support (D). So much for Schlesinger’s charge concerning my “unbeatable instinct for distortion.” It simply provides one additional example of his difficulties with fact and logic.
Let us now turn to the accuracy of (B) and (C). As far as (B) is concerned, the quotation (E) is enough to show its accuracy. Let us turn then to (C). Here the matter is slightly more complex, in that to see its accuracy one must be able to follow a rather trivial argument.
After stating (E), Truman explains that “our devotion to freedom of enterprise, in the United States, has deeper roots than a desire to protect the profits of ownership. It is part and parcel of what we call American.” He then describes “the pattern of the 17th and 18th centuries,” in which “Governments make all the important choices,” and warns that: “Unless we act, and act decisively, it will be the pattern of the next century.” The danger is that Governments will be “curtailing the freedom of traders . . . [or] . . . raising tariffs,” or will rely on even more drastic measures of control, determined by a central plan, as “countries that were devastated by the war are seeking to reconstruct their industries . . . [and] . . . countries that have lagged in their development are seeking to industrialize.” But such methods, says Truman, are “regimentation.” Unfortunately, “this is the direction in which much of the world is headed at the present time.” Furthermore, “If this trend is not reversed the Government of the United States will be under pressure, sooner or later, to use these same devices to fight for markets and for raw materials. . . . It is not the American way. It is not the way to peace.” Rather, the American way, the way to peace, is by international agreements that “limit the present freedom of Governments to impose detailed administrative regulations on their foreign trade.” “This program is designed to restore and preserve a trading system that is consistent with continuing freedom of enterprise in every country that chooses freedom for its own economy. It is a program that will serve the interests of other nations as well as those of the United States.” We will thus move toward “an international order in which peace and freedom shall endure.”
Now consider Warburg’s comments in his Put Yourself in Marshall’s Place (1948):
Briefly, what the President said was this: Political freedom is bound up with freedom of individual enterprise; that pattern of international trade which promotes individual enterprise and leaves the direction of the international movement of goods and services to private individual initiative is the pattern which leads to peace; that pattern of international trade in which governments direct or control the flow of goods and services between nations is the pattern which leads to war. Therefore, we, the economic giant, are going to use our power to set a world pattern of free-enterprise capitalism. Mr. Truman was not merely reaffirming the American belief in the American system as the best system for America. He made it quite clear that he believed that the whole world should adopt the American system, first, because it was the best system and second, because the American system could survive in America only if it became the world system. This was an unequivocal challenge not merely to those governments or peoples who believed in the Marxist doctrine but also to the far greater number of nations which had come either to believe in or to accept as necessary some form of national economic planning and some degree of government control over their respective economies. The challenge—though little noticed or understood at the time in this country—was very much noted abroad and formed an important part of the background against which the Truman doctrine of March 12 was interpreted. [(C) is italicized.]
Observe that Warburg’s paraphrase is quite accurate. Truman makes clear his belief that the American way should be adopted by all countries, and, further, asserts that if other countries adopt “regimentation” we will be under pressure to do so as well, leading to a breakdown of the American way and turning the world away from the way to peace. Unless we act decisively, this will be the pattern of the next century. Warburg’s statement (C) follows from these claims, which also buttress still further Fleming’s remark (B) (to be precise, it is necessary to add one premise to reach Warburg’s conclusion: i.e., that we will yield to the pressure and adapt ourselves to the pattern of the next century). Hence (C) too is accurate.
I have been discussing the accuracy of (B) and (C) on the assumption that Schlesinger has made a serious effort to resolve a debatable issue. The assumption is questionable, however. Consider the rhetoric in which he couches his denial of my assertion that Fleming and Warburg were accurate: “intellectual crook,” “phoney,” etc. This because I stated that two eminent commentators were accurate in their rendition of Truman’s remarks. Suppose, contrary to fact, that Schlesinger were correct in denying this. Would such rhetoric be a sane response? I hardly think so.
I should note that Truman’s Baylor speech does not merit the attention it is receiving as a result of Schlesinger’s insistence on publicly misinterpreting it. In my exposition it played a minor role and could have been replaced by dozens of other references cited by Williams, Kolko, LaFeber, and numerous other serious historians who, in recent years, have been systematically demolishing the interpretation of modern history for which Schlesinger has been one of the chief apologists. Furthermore, there is a tinge of the absurd in this meticulous analysis of the accuracy of (A), (B), and (C). We can concede at once that by the standards of mathematical proof, it is possible to fault these paraphrases because of hidden premises (two of which I have already mentioned), assumptions about the precise interpretation of such words as “dependent,” etc. Of course, these standards would quickly empty the shelves of the library. The remarks at issue are not theorems deduced from Truman’s text; rather, they are efforts to formulate concisely the essence of his remarks. By any reasonable standards, their accuracy seems to me undeniable.
When we go on to consider whether Warburg and Fleming were not only accurate but perceptive as well, the criteria are of course less clear and there are grounds for honest disagreement. To me it seems that the remarks are, indeed, perceptive. Truman’s words recall those of Palmerston, when he denounced protectionism as “a principle of fatal injury to the country and inimical to the prosperity of every country to whose affairs it may be applied.” The analogy is apt in other ways. It was during its period of economic dominance that Britain espoused liberalism, by and large, just as the United States tends to adhere to this doctrine (highly selectively, to be sure), insofar as it guarantees our ascendancy. In the special circumstances of 1947, it was not surprising that the world-dominant power should oppose “regimentation” of the sort that Truman describes. Consider the historical context. American industrial production had quadrupled during World War II while every other industrial society was devastated or severely crippled. Gabriel Kolko, in his The Politics of War, shows in detail how we proceeded, during the war, to lay the groundwork for a postwar economic empire. Similarly. postwar loans were used to compel the British to dismantle the Imperial preference system and restrict nationalization (Clayton: “We loaded the British loan negotiations with all the conditions that the traffic would bear”—see LaFeber’s America, Russia and the Cold War). LaFeber formulates the general outlines of America’s European policy, as advocated by the Executive Department, as follows:
Then, a rejuvenated Europe could offer many advantages to the United States: eradicate the threat of continued nationalization and spreading socialism by releasing and stimulating the investment of private capital, maintain demand for American exports, encourage Europeans to produce strategic goods which the United States could buy and stockpile, preserve European and American control over Middle Eastern oil supplies from militant nationalism which might endanger the weakened European holdings, and free Europeans from economic problems so they could help the U.S. militarily.
Meanwhile, “The economic relationship with Latin America and Canada could be assumed; none had to be developed.” As Stimson put it rather nicely, in trying to work out a strategy for breaking down European regional systems while preserving our own: “I think that it’s not asking too much to have our little region over here [i.e., South America] which never has bothered anybody” (Kolko, op. cit., p. 471). Where we could, we imposed unequal treaties, as in the Philippines, thus perpetuating what the Philippine UN Ambassador refers to as a “colonial economy of the classical type.” The meaning of Truman-style economic liberalism under these circumstances is sufficiently clear. It was a prescription for the economic dominance over Europe which has since been proceeding apace, and for the perpetuation of underdevelopment in the “Third World.”
Schlesinger states that “Many of us have come to doubt the automatic value of the reduction of trade barriers . . .” and have come to understand the value, for developing nations, of what Truman describes as “regimentation.” It is a bit late in the game for this discovery to be made by “many of us.” As Schlesinger is fully aware, such “regimentation” was a principle of American economic development since Hamilton. Indeed, the American experience was a primary model for such theoreticians as Friedrich List, who, well over a century ago, pointed out what “many of us” are now belatedly discovering. Alfred Marshall, for one, observed that “The brilliant genius and national enthusiasm of List stand in contrast to the insular narrowness and self-confidence of the Ricardian school . . . [for] . . . he showed that in Germany and still more in America, many of its indirect effects [Free Trade] were evils. . . .” (cited in Frederick Clairmonte, Economic Liberalism and Underdevelopment—one of the numerous studies from which “many of us” could have learned these lessons, had “we” wished). Furthermore, the point has surely been clear to those who set American policy. In The Political Economy of American Foreign Policy (study group of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and National Planning Association), some of the effects of economic liberalism on the underdeveloped countries are noted, with this comment: “However, as the example of the U.S. suggests, this is probably not the way their resources would have been used had these countries been fully independent and had local enterprise existed capable of managing its own development.” The impact of such policies in India, the Caribbean and South America, the Philippines, and elsewhere, has been discussed at great length in scholarly works. Given such facts as these, Schlesinger’s observation strikes me as rather disingenuous, particularly when it appears in a tirade against those who are reiterating these familiar facts.
Schlesinger asks what I would have preferred to Truman’s proposal. Again, I am disinclined to discuss the matter in the context set by his mendacity, but for a start, he might look at the book that so irritates him, e.g., p. 347. Beyond this, he might refer to the many reasonable proposals of UNCTAD, and many other sources.
There is only one other point raised in Schlesinger’s letter. He once again expresses his rage at my remark that it is the sane and reasonable and scholarly men who are “the terror of our age.” As an example, I mentioned Mike Mansfield, who felt the need to criticize the “sense of utter irresponsibility” shown by the peaceful demonstrators of October 1965, and who felt “ashamed for the image they have portrayed of this country” and deplored their refusal to live up to our commitment to “a government of laws” (referring to a small group of militants in October 1967), but who has never applied these standards to those who launched and pursue the war, to those “who stand by quietly and vote appropriations as the cities and villages of North Vietnam are demolished, as millions of refugees in the South are driven from their homes by American bombardment.” As a further example, I referred to the political scientists who give calm disquisitions “on just how much force will be necessary to achieve our ends, or just what form of government will be acceptable to us in Vietnam.” It is these scholarly and reasonable men, I wrote, who are the terror of our age. I would say exactly the same thing about the Soviet Union, even Nazi Germany. Other cases might be cited, for example, the historians who “pray that Mr. Alsop will be right” in his belief that we will win in Vietnam, and who protest only when victory seems beyond our grasp. Schlesinger, not surprisingly, finds these views shocking. To me they seem rather banal.
With this remark, I have covered all of the points that Schlesinger has raised. His efforts have so far produced one correct observation: the confusion of quotations noted above. Apart from this, all is misrepresentation and falsehood, as I have now shown in some detail.
One final comment. When misrepresentation and falsehood appear in print, one is strongly tempted to try to set the record straight. Thus I fully intended to reply to Lionel Abel’s incredible piece in the October issue of COMMENTARY, until informed by the editors that they felt the matter should be closed. The inductive evidence suggests that this further exposure of Schlesinger’s remarkable record will be followed by still another outpouring of falsehoods, distortion, and plain misunderstanding of elementary facts of modern history. At this point, there is a competing temptation: to leave it as an exercise for the reader. But there is a serious issue involved. Schlesinger has in general defended the most extreme pro-war position that was at all tolerable among American liberals. For example, in May 1965 he urged that “if we took the Marines now in the Dominican Republic and sent them to South Vietnam, we would be a good deal better off in both countries.” And in his Bitter Heritage his position turns out to be a shade to the hawkish side of the Pentagon, as shown in my book, cited above. Throughout, he makes clear his commitment to an American victory, if it can be achieved. For him the question is not “should we win?” but “can we win?” This stand—which seems to me totally unprincipled—is accompanied by a rejection of any effort at historical or political analysis that goes beyond his “politics of inadvertence.” Perhaps such a position is arguable. What is informative, however, is Schlesinger’s refusal or inability to argue it, his regression to the technique and style of the Stalinist hack attempting to shore up a discredited ideology. Perhaps it is fair to conclude that Schlesinger himself regards this ideological position as indefensible on intellectual grounds. In any event, I can only urge that readers trace through the arguments and the documents point by point, tedious though this may be. At stake, ultimately, is a question of some significance for anyone concerned with American policy in Vietnam, and throughout the world.
Department of Foreign Literatures and Linguistics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology