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Stalin’s War: Victims and Accomplices – by Charles Lutton

27 Ott

Review Essay

Stalin’s War: Victims and Accomplices

By Charles Lutton

STALIN’S SECRET WAR, by Nikolai Tolstoy. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1981, 463 pp., $18.50

PAWNS OF YALTA: SOVIET REFUGEES AND AMERICA’S ROLE IN THEIR REPATRIATION, by Mark R. Elliott. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982, 287 pp., $17.95

Our “present” has to a large degree been shaped by the events of 1939-45. The outcome of the contest between Stalin and Hitler, as “relevant” to so many of our contemporaries as those earlier struggles between Persia and Greece or Carthage and Rome, does cast its shadow over our lives. Count Nikolai Tolstoy, in his latest [1981] book, sets out “to interpret Soviet policy, internal and external, during the crucial years 1938 to 1945. Above all, I have tried to lay bare how Stalin himself saw events and reacted to them.” The author draws on much new material, as well as on evidence long before available but often “over-looked” in previous publications of other writers, to support his conclusions in what is a significant contribution to our knowledge of the Second World War on the Eastern Front.

It is Tolstoy’s contention that Stalin was haunted by the fear that the Communist state was essentially a house of cards that could easily collapse. His overriding concern was to shore up the position of the regime, largely through a policy of terrorizing the various peoples who inhabited the USSR.

The first four chapters review Stalin’s pre-war management of the Soviet Union. The “New Society” so admired by many Western intellectuals was an unrestricted police state, run by perhaps the foulest collection of congenital criminals ever assembled (thus far). Its economy rested upon the output of 15-20 million slaves, laboring in Siberia and mines in the Arctic Circle, where the annual death rate of 50-70 percent far surpassed that of any previous slave society. Stalin’s Russia was a land with three categories of citizens: prisoners, former prisoners, and future prisoners. There was scarcely a family that had not been touched by the secret state police (NKVD). For the overwhelming majority living in the USSR, conditions were far worse than they had ever been under the Romanovs. In Tolstoy’s view, “Stalin’s great achievement was to place the entire population of nearly two hundred million people wholly in the power of the police, whilst himself retaining in turn absolute power over the police.”

The author explains that Stalin was consumed by the fear that, given an opportunity, his hapless subjects would rise up against the Communist dictatorship. After spending a year in the Soviet Union, an American diplomat concluded that “Not very much leadership would be required to start a counter-Stalinist revolution … Many people have come to believe if Germany turned eastward she could find enough people in Russia who were fed up with present rulers to welcome any outside aid, even from the Germans.”

Part Two, the major portion of the book, deals with Stalin’s diplomatic maneuverings and wartime direction of internal security and military affairs. In August 1939, while Western diplomats were engaged in negotiations with the Soviets, Stalin signed non-aggression and trade agreements with Hitler. These benefited both parties: Germany, for the time being, was able to concentrate her slender military resources against a recalcitrant Poland and Britain and France, and also received food, oil, and other supplies from the USSR. In exchange, the USSR obtained technical aid and freedom to enlarge her sphere of influence at the expense of Poland, Rumania, the Baltic states, and Finland. In the newly absorbed areas most vestiges of Western culture were extinguished. The author describes what happened when the Russians invaded Poland in September 1939:

“As the Red Army edged nervously up to the demarcation line, terrified lest the Wehrmacht change its mind and roll onwards, thousands of NKVD troops spread over the defenseless countryside behind. The Red Army confined itself to rape (old women were the principal victims, owing to a belief that the rapist would live to the age of his victim: as a result ninety-year-old women were frequently raped over and over again), and pillage. Even the pillage was occasionally restricted by the invaders’ blank terror when faced with astonishing devices like electric irons … It was the NKVD, however, which struck real fear in the Poles. Arriving a few days after the “regular” troops, they set up headquarters in every town, working by preference at night-time …”

The NKVD had categories of citizens subject to immediate arrest, from aristocrats and priests to Red Cross officials and even stamp collectors. Men were separated from their wives and children and those who were not executed upon arrest were shipped off to the slave-camps of GULAG, where they were literally worked to death. The pattern was the same in the Baltic states. Tolstoy reveals that about one-tenth of the population of the newly occupied countries was deported. A Jewish Zionist who had looked with favor upon the USSR “as a great social experiment” only to end up in the GULAG camps himself for four years, declared after his release:

“Russia is indeed divided into two parts, the “free” Russia [and] the other Russia — the second Russia, behind barbed wire – is the thousands, endless thousands of camps, places of compulsory labor, where millions of people are interned … Since they came into being, the Soviet camps have swallowed more people, have exacted more victims, than all other camps — Hitler’s and the others – together. and this lethal machine continues to operate full-blast … An entire generation of Zionists has died in Soviet prisons, camps, and exile.”

Tolstoy remarks that “History is accordingly presented with the extraordinary fact that Jews resorted to bribery and other desperate measures in efforts to escape from Soviet territory to the tender mercies of the Nazis.”

Stalin still moved with caution in 1939-40. He feared that Germany, which served as a buffer from the Arctic Ocean to the Balkans, might be defeated by France and Britain, thus jeopardizing his own conquests. It seems that he breathed a sigh of relief once France capitulated in June 1940.

Hitler, who had made a career out of opposition to Bolshevism, decided to launch a pre-emptive attack on the USSR following Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov’s visit to Berlin in November 1940. Molotov presented a long list of Soviet territorial “interests,” which included the Petsamo nickel deposits in Finland, the Baltic Sea up to the sound between Norway and Denmark, Rumania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Turkey. Later that month, at a meeting with German Ambassador Count von der Schulenburg, Molotov added other regions to the list. Hitler, long uncomfortable with the Soviet pact, had come under increasing criticism from Mussolini for seeming to abandon the anti-Communist struggle. [1] Stalin’s new territorial demands decided the matter, as Hitler concluded that “they were thoroughly untrustworthy allies, who would seize the first opportunity of profiting by a German reverse to move forward into Europe. This is what he had always known and prophesied.” On December 18, 1940, Hitler released War Directive No. 21, Operation Barbarossa, which ordered the invasion of Russia the following Spring. Tolstoy notes that Stalin, who had enjoyed a number of diplomatic successes up to that time, had over-reached himself: “The Soviet tactic (well-nigh universally employed) of demanding twice what they wanted and being content with half, had for once gone seriously astray. Hitler had no intention of conceding anything to an ally whom he rated many degrees lower than Mussolini, and was angered by what he saw as an emerging Soviet threat.”

As has long been known, Stalin received numerous warnings about an impending German attack, including those from his master spy in Japan Richard Sorge. (On this point see General Charles A. Willoughby, Shanghai Conspiracy: The Sorge Spy Ring, E.P. Dutton, 1952.) Even after Germany and her anti-Comintern allies Rumania, Hungary, Finland, and Slovakia launched their invasion of Russia in June 1941, Stalin’s primary fear was not of his foreign enemies but of the Russian people themselves. During the first weeks of the attack “the country seemed to be disintegrating precisely in the manner his worst nightmares had foretold.”

The “secret war” Tolstoy goes on to vividly describe was the fierce campaign Stalin waged against the Russian population — a struggle which often took priority over pressing military problems. For example, Stalin tied up much of the rail network in western Russia with slave trains of captives from the Baltic states, instead of devoting all rolling stock to the reinforcement of the frontlines. At Lvov, where the Soviet 4th Army was fighting desperately to prevent its surrender, Stalin’s major concern was that the NKVD finish liquidating potential Ukrainian opponents of the regime rather than order the local security forces to join in the battle against advancing Axis units. While Stalin pleaded with the British to rush more aid and take further action, the NKVD labor camp guards were doubled in number from 500,000 to one million heavily armed men.

Standard treatments of this period always claim that the Soviet Union lost over 20 million people during the Second World War. Tolstoy makes a convincing case that the actual total is probably closer to 30 million, maybe even more — with about a third of these deaths attributable to Axis actions. The blame for as many as 23 million deaths is placed with Stalin and his NKVD henchmen.

Casualty figures for the Eastern Front have been estimated as follows: two and a half million German soldiers died in the East. It is believed that three Red Army men died for every German soldier killed. Of those 7,500,000 military deaths, approximately three million Russians died as POWs.

Tolstoy’s analysis of these statistics does much to revise our understanding of the war on the Eastern Front, as he demonstrates that these high Russian military casualties were largely due to the Soviets’ crude methods of waging war. ‘Penal battalions” composed of “enemies of the people” (that is, inmates of prisons and camps, and luckless peasants, including women and children) were hurled in waves against German defensive positions. Frequently unarmed and at times deprived of camouflaged uniforms to better draw enemy fire, they were often used to clear minefields. With NKVD machine-gunners poised behind them, they were forced across minefields until a path was cleared. The wounded were killed off by the NKVD.

General Ratov, chief of the Soviet Military Mission to Britain, actually declined an offer of British mine-detectors, remarking that “in the Soviet Union we use people.” SMERSH (from the initials “Death to Spies”), the NKVD’s special murder arm made famous by Ian Fleming in his James Bond thrillers, was created in 1942 as an additional guard on Soviet front-line troops. The NKVD placed large heavily-armed formations at the rear of Soviet units to discourage withdrawals and to pick off “stragglers” and “cowards.” In a number of instances, NKVD units fought pitched battles with Red Army detachments trying to retreat in the face of superior enemy forces. Stalin continued to purge his armed forces even as the Axis advanced. It is likely that hundreds of thousands of Russians were killed in such actions.

As for the POWs who died in German captivity, Tolstoy reminds the reader that the Soviet government refused to sign the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War, refused to cooperate with the International Red Cross (the Nazis allowed the Red Cross to visit concentration camps), and rebuffed German feelers forwarded through neutralist concerning compliance with the Hague Convention. A 1941 directive ordered Red Army men to commit suicide instead of surrender and Soviet law regarded Russian POWs as traitors. Besides their own “penal battalions,” the Russians occasionally used POWs to clear minefields.

German attitudes toward the Russians were further colored by evidence of NKVD massacres encountered at such places as Lvov, Vinnitsa, and Katyn. They found not just piles of corpses, but apparently mass-produced torture instruments, including devices for squeezing the skull, another for the testicles, and tools used to skin prisoners alive. Ice picks, broken bottles, or whatever else was handy or preferred were also used. Tolstoy observes that “Soviet cruelty far outstripped that of National Socialism … Torture in the USSR was (and is) employed on a mass scale as an important punitive means of overawing a resentful population.” He goes on to explain that these ghastly scenes of state-sanctioned depravity “confirmed the German view that Bolshevik Russia was irredeemably savage and backward.” Considering how civilians and POWs were treated by the Communists, the Germans felt no obligation to show much consideration for Russian POWs. According to the author, there was a purpose behind all of this cruelty:

“Stalin went out of his way to invite Nazi ill-treatment and later extermination of Russian prisoners-of-war … It is quite clear, therefore, that the deaths of over three million Russians in German custody was a piece of deliberate Soviet policy, the aim of which was to cause the liquidation of men regarded automatically as political traitors, whilst directing the anger of the Soviet people against the perpetrators of the crime … It should not be forgotten, either, that Soviet cruelty greatly prolonged the conflict, costing all belligerent nations millions of lives … This evidence of how the Soviets treated their own people, coupled with the harsh treatment they visited on prisoners-of-war, was the major cause of Germany’s obstinate determination to fight on to the end, long after it had become clear her cause was doomed.”

Having accounted for the seven and a half million military casualties, Tolstoy states that four million Russian civilians were killed by the Germans (although this includes those involved in anti-Partisan operations, military sieges of such cities as Leningrad, and 750,000 Jews). This leaves 18-20 million additional Russians killed in the course of Stalin’s “secret war” against his own subjects. In his study Tolstoy sheds additional light on the British role in the immediate post-war forced repatriation of Russian POWs and refugees back to the USSR, a topic dealt with at length in his earlier book, The Secret Betrayal. [2] Nikolai Krasnov, one of the few “returnees” who survived ten years in the GULAG and was then allowed to leave Russia in 1955, is quoted as having been told by Beria’s deputy Vsevolod Merkulov:

“But the fact that you [and the other Cossacks] trusted the English — that was real stupidity! Now they are history’s shop keepers! They will cheerfully sell anything or anyone and never bat an eyelid. Their politics are those of the prostitute. Their Foreign Office is a brothel … They trade in foreigners’ lives and in their own conscience.”

In Chapter 16, “Western Attitudes,” Tolstoy attempts to reach an understanding of why so many in the West, especially “intellectuals,” avidly supported the Soviet Union. He notes that there has long been a fascination with totalitarian solutions among the Left and that Soviet Marxism appealed to certain intellectuals’ desire to rule society. Simple greed and envy are other factors. Tolstoy refutes the oft-made claim that the excesses of Communism must be weighed against the need to fight Fascism: “As Communism formed the prior totalitarian threat, this argument is surely more exculpatory of Fascism and Nazism than the reverse.” [3]

Stalin’s Secret War successfully counters such treatments of this period as Harrison Salisbury’s The Unknown War and Alexander Werth’s Russia At War, 1941-1945. It deserves to be considered a standard reference work about Stalin and his role in World War II.

The issue of American involvement in the forced repatriation of Russians at the end of World War II, touched upon by Tolstoy in Stalin’s Secret War, is the topic of Mark Elliott’s recent study Pawns of Yalta. It is an expansion of the author’s 1974 University of Kentucky Ph.D. dissertation, and takes into consideration additional material declassified in the 1970s and now available at the National Archives in Washington – such as the “Operation Keelhaul” papers.

When the war in Europe ended, there were several million POWs and refugees in the Western occupational zones. Among them were “Soviet citizens” whom the United States and Britain had pledged at the February 1945 Yalta conference to return to Soviet authorities. These included Red Army POWs, some of the estimated five to six million civilians who had been press-ganged by agents of Hitler’s Plenipotentiary-General for Labor Mobilization Fritz Sauckel to work as laborers in the Reich’s factories and farms, thousands of pre-war émigrés who had fled Russia during the turbulent years 1917-1922, as well as a portion of the one million Soviet soldiers who served in the Wehrmacht during the war.

It is still a surprise to many in the West when they learn that by 1944-45, up to 40 percent of some “German” formations, and 10 to 15 percent of all units, were composed of Osttruppen (ex-Red Army men). In addition to the Hilfswillige scattered throughout the German armed forces, three divisions composed of Soviet racial minorities fought on the Eastern Front with the Axis: the Cossack Cavalry Division, the Turkish Division (made up of Moslems from Soviet Central Asia), and the Ukrainian Waffen SS Division “Galicia.” And by November 1944, the first division of the proposed Russian Liberation Army, commanded by former Red Army General Andrei Vlasov, became operational. It did engage in some fighting against the Red Army in 1945, and from May 6-8 helped the Czechs liberate Prague from the Germans, before surrendering to the U.S. Third Army on May 10. Elliott points out that these one million ex-Red Army soldiers who performed duties in German uniform “amounted to the largest military defection in history.”

Both the U.S. and Britain were signatories to the 1929 Geneva Convention dealing with the treatment of Prisoners of War. This obligated parties to treat POWs “on the basis of the uniforms worn at the time of capture.” While the war continued, the U.S. complied with this bilateral agreement, not wishing to give the Germans cause to mistreat American POWs of German, Italian, or Japanese descent. After VE-Day, when there was no longer danger of Nazi reprisal, the U.S. (and Britain) quickly set about repatriating German POWs on the basis of their nationality, in flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention. A secret protocol of the Yalta agreement also provided for the forced return of Russian ex- concentration camp inmates and others who had managed to escape from Stalin’s slaughter house, thus obliterating, in the words of the author, “all trace of the proud Western tradition of political asylum.”

The British went a step further by handing over to the NKVD a number of former White Russian officers, some of whom had fought the Bolsheviks during the Second World War. All of them had been living outside of Russia since the end of the Russian Civil War and carried foreign passports or League of Nations stateless persons IDs. Alexander Solzhenitsyn has characterized this as “an act of double dealing consistent with the spirit of traditional English diplomacy.”

American servicemen, led by wartime pro-Soviet propaganda to believe that Stalin was kindly “Uncle Joe” overseeing a noble human experiment in the USSR, were shocked at how most Russians in their charge reacted to the news that they were going to be repatriated to their Soviet homeland. This is illustrated by what took place at Dachau on June 17, 1946, after American authorities informed 400 Soviet refugees that they were going to be sent back to Russia:

“The scene inside was one of human carnage. The crazed men were attempting to take their own lives by any means. Guards cut down some trying to hang themselves from the rafters; two others disemboweled themselves; another man forced his head through a window and ran his throat over the glass fragments; others begged to be shot. Robert Murphy reported that ‘tear gas forced them out of the building into the snow where those who had cut and stabbed themselves fell exhausted and bleeding in the snow.’ Thirty-one men tried to take their own lives. Eleven succeeded: nine by hanging and two from knife wounds. Camp authorities managed to entrain the remaining 368. Despite the presence of American guards and a Soviet liaison officer, six of these escaped en route to the Soviet occupation zone. More and more the repatriation of unwilling persons was coming to disturb battle-hardened troops.”

The following month similar events took place at the Plattling camp in Bavaria. These were described by an eye-witness, U.S. Army translator William Sloane Coffin, Jr.:

“Despite the fact that there were three GIs to every returning Russian, I saw several men commit suicide, Two rammed their heads through windows sawing their necks on the broken glass until they cut their jugular veins. Another took his leather boot-straps, tied a loop to the top of his triple-decker bunk, put his head through the noose and did a back flip over the edge which broke his neck … The memory is so painful that it’s almost impossible for me to write about it. My part in the Plattling operation left me a burden of guilt I am sure to carry the rest of my life.”

Through suicide, several thousand Russians managed to escape the horrors that awaited returnees in the East.

Like Tolstoy, Elliott reviews the Stalinist attitude toward Russians who had spent time outside Soviet control during the course of the war. Soviet Decree #270 of 1942 labeled as deserters Red Army troopers who surrendered to the enemy. Forced laborers were also considered to be traitors. Relatives of POWs and dragooned workers were likewise treated as if they had personally committed acts of treason. Stalin’s government, as noted above, rejected attempts by the Germans and the International Red Cross to obtain Soviet compliance with the Hague Convention.

After the 1939-40 Winter War with Finland, returned Soviet POWs were either shot or sent to slave labor camps in the Far North or Siberia. This is also how the victims of forced repatriation were dealt with. According to Elliott, of the approximately 2,500,000 Russians repatriated by the Western Allies, some 300,000 were executed by the NKVD soon after their delivery to Soviet authorities. With a few exceptions, the rest were condemned to the lingering doom of 10 to 25 year sentences in labor camps, from which ordeal few survived. Elliott also points out that the USSR never released 1.5 to 2 million German POWs, 200,000 to 300,000 Japanese POWs, and did not repatriate those few ex-Axis soldiers who did manage to survive the rigors of GULAG until 1956.

Elliott argues that the U.S. participated in this sordid business out of concern for the safety of 24,000 American servicemen who were in Soviet-controlled territory at the end of the war. However, he admits that U.S. cooperation with Soviet authorities was not reciprocated. And even after the last G.I. returned in July 1945, the U.S. continued the forced repatriation of luckless Russian POWs, refugees, and Vlasovites. (The last documented cases of forced repatriation took place in May and June 1947, Operations “Keelhaul” and “Eastwind”; Allied Forces Headquarters obtained Soviet assurances that they would accept corpses if the repatriation operation led to fatalities.)

Not everyone in higher circles approved of the repatriation policy; the author reveals instances where individual military officers and civilian government officials disobeyed or opposed the Yalta provisions. In June 1945, General Patton simply let 5000 Russian POWs go, and other commanders permitted lightly-guarded Russians to slip away. Secretary of War Henry Stimson was a vigorous opponent of forced repatriation, as were Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew and Attorney General Francis Biddle, who felt that “Even if these men should be technically traitors to their own government, I think the time-honored rule of asylum should be applied.” In the opinion of R.W. Flournoy, the State Department’s legal advisor. “nothing in the [Geneva] Convention either requires or justifies this Government in sending the unfortunate Soviet nationals in question to Russia, where they will almost certainly be liquidated.”

This book serves as a companion volume to Count Tolstoy’s The Secret Betrayal which deals largely with the British role in forced repatriation. It is a grim chapter of our recent history — and one totally ignored in contemporary textbooks and most treatments of the Second World War and its aftermath.


1. In a long letter to Hitler dated January 3, 1940, Mussolini warned Hitler of the danger of pursuing a war with the Western powers without taking into account the threat posed by the Soviet Union. Criticizing Hitler for the August 1939 pact with the USSR and accusing him of abandoning anti-Communism, the Italian Duce wrote:
    “You cannot permanently sacrifice the principles of your Revolution to the tactical exigencies of a certain political moment. I feel that you cannot abandon the anti-Semitic and anti-Bolshevik banner which you have been flying for twenty years and for which so many of your comrades have died; you cannot renounce your gospel … Permit me to believe that this will not happen. The solution of your Lebensraum problem is in Russia and nowhere else… Germany’s task is this; to defend Europe from Asia. That is not only Spengler’s thesis. Until four months ago Russia was world enemy number one; she cannot have become, and is not, friend number one … The day when we shall have demolished Bolshevism we shall have kept faith with our two Revolutions. It will then be the turn of the big democracies, which cannot survive the cancer which is gnawing at them and which manifests itself in the demographic, political and moral fields.”
(Source: Department of State, Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918-1945, Series D, Vol. VII, pp. 604-609. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.)

2. Reviewed by this writer in The Journal of Historical Review, Winter 1980 (Vol. 1, No. 4), pp. 371-76.

3. In his book An End to Silence (Norton, 1982), Stephen Cohen points out that “judged only by the number of victims, and leaving aside important differences between the two regimes, Stalinism created a holocaust greater than Hitler’s.” Writing in the New Republic of May 26, 1982 (an article headlined on the cover as “Why Stalin Was Even Worse Than Hitler”), Richard Grenier further reflects this most interesting phenomenon of recent years — the semi-revision even among traditionalist liberals of attitudes toward Hitler, vis-a-vis Stalin:
    “It is no doubt a by-product of our having fought a great war against Nazi Germany, and not against the Soviet Union, that general notions of the Nazis’ system of government. history, and unspeakable crimes have entered into American folklore and popular parlance, while those of the Soviet Union have not … At the war’s close thousands of journalists and photographers, both civilian and military, climbed all over Nazi death camps, saw the dead and dying. As a result, Hitler’s lieutenants — Himmler, Goering, Goebbels — are still household names in America. Almost everyone knows of Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald, Treblinka. Fascism is still popularly taken to have no rival in political evil, which is not without irony since the Fascist states, in defense of private property and their own form of mixed economy, copied most of their techniques of government slavishly from the Bolshevik model.
    “But when it comes to the Soviet Union, how many Americans have heard of the assassination of Sergei Kirov? How many know the name of the dread Yezhov, onetime grand master of the NKVD, who sent many more people to their deaths than Himmler, and in less time? This with the additional idiosyncrasy that whereas Himmler, quite hideously, was murdering mostly people he considered subhuman or members of a slave race, Yezhov, perversely as well as hideously was killing the very “workers and peasants” in whose name Stalin ruled. Much honor is paid to Solzhenitsyn, but how many remember the names of the Gulag’s great camps … where many more millions died than in the Nazis camps?”

From The Journal of Historidal Review

, Spring 1984 (Vol. 5, No. 1), pages 84-94.

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American Policy Toward Europe: The Fateful Change Notes On The Legacy of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt – by Karl Otto Braun

27 Ott

American Policy Toward Europe: The Fateful Change
Notes On The Legacy Of Woodrow Wilson And Franklin Roosevelt

By Karl Otto Braun

Following the final defeat of Napoleonic France, the leaders of Europe gathered for the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to reorganize the war-torn continent. European recovery from the consequences of Napoleon’s downfall was considerably aided by the decent and magnanimous treatment of defeated France by the victorious powers. Henry Kissinger aptly entitled his study of the Congress of Vienna A World Restored. /1

In contrast, the leaders of the victorious coalition that defeated Germany in 1945 imposed a virtual Carthaginian peace upon the vanquished nation. Germany and Europe itself was split into two hostile camps: American-style democracy was imposed in the West and Soviet-style socialism was established in the East. The peace settlement of 1945 prevented European recovery from the consequences of Hitler’s downfall. Princeton professor Martin Sherwin gave his scholarly study of the consequences of the Second World War the appropriate title A World Destroyed. /2

Hitler’s primary aim in the Second World War was the eradication of the world threat of Soviet Bolshevism. By halting General Eisenhower, Roosevelt enabled Stalin to conquer Berlin and thus establish an Asian presence in the middle of Europe. When Roosevelt and Churchill met off Newfoundland in August 1941 to plan their common war strategy, they sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” before the cameras. Their exhortation later became, in practice, support for the anti-Christian Red Army in its subjugation of half of Europe. In 1945 the German commander invited U.S. General George Patton to seize Prague, but Patton’s superior, General Eisenhower, forbade it,

The peace established in 1945 by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin laid the foundation for a long-term conflict which has regularly broken out in crisis: the West Berlin blockade of 1948, the East Berlin uprising of 1953, the Budapest uprising of 1956, the Prague uprising of 1968, and the recent worker’s uprising in Poland, a country sacrificed by Roosevelt and Churchill to Stalin’s rule. No less than ten countries found themselves under Moscow’s rule in 1945, an ominous development with foreboding for the future of Western civilization as a whole. It is not surprising that after nearly forty years, there is still no peace treaty between defeated Germany and the victorious powers. Instead, Germany and Europe remain divided, plagued with turmoil and facing the threat of annihilation in a new war. Historical failures of this magnitude have always had a deep and lasting impact.

In his 1961 historical study, Russia and the West Under Lenin and Stalin, diplomat and historian George F. Kennan wrote: “The pattern of the events that led the Western world to new disaster in 1939 was laid down in its entirety by the Allied governments in l918 and 1919. What we shall have to observe from here on in the relations between Russia, Germany, and the West follows a logic as inexorable as that of any Greek tragedy … In 1917, the Western powers, in their determination to inflict total defeat on a Germany far less dangerous to them than that of Hitler, had pressed so unwisely for the continuation of Russia’s help that they had consigned her to the arms of the Communists. Now, in 1939, they were paying the price for this folly.” The First World War, Kennan has correctly noted, was “the great seminal catastrophe of this century, excepting only perhaps the discovery of nuclear weaponry.” /3

The career of William C. Bullitt, whom Roosevelt appointed as America’s first ambassador to the Soviet Union, strikingly exemplifies the contradictory nature of U.S. policy toward the Kremlin over the years. President Wilson’s close advisor and alter ego, Colonel Edward M. House, encouraged young Bullitt to visit the fledgling, civil warracked Soviet state and its leader, Lenin, in 1919. Bullitt returned to the Versailles conference with a sensational proposal from the Bolshevik government. In return for an immediate cease fire on all fronts, an end to the Allied blockade, establishment of normal relations, and Soviet access to the railways and ports of the former Russian empire, the Soviets would agree to accept the loss of all territories then under de facto non-Soviet control.

Bolshevik rule would be confined to central Russia (including Moscow and Petrograd), while relinquishing Finland, Murmansk-Archangel, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, western Byelorussia Bessarabia, western Ukraine, Crimea, Caucasus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the whole of the Urals and Siberia. /4 Wilson tabled this unique offer until it expired on April 10, 1919. Sigmund Freud, who co-authored a psychological biography of Wilson with Bullitt, considered this “the most important single decision that he [Wilson] made in Paris.” /5

This fumbled opportunity deeply disappointed Bullitt, and he resigned from the foreign service. In his resignation letter to Wilson of May 17, 1919, Bullitt denounced the Versailles Treaty which the Allies had imposed on defeated Germany as unjust and prophesied that the unresolved issues of Danzig and (detached) East Prussia would “make new international conflicts certain.” /6 In his youthful idealism, Bullitt did not foresee that one day, as Roosevelt’s ambassador to France in 1938-39, he himself would energetically promote uncompromising Polish opposition to any revision of the Versailles settlement. Twenty years later Bullitt helped to implement his own fateful prophecy! This was the first great historical irony of Bullitt’s life.

In the 1930s it was trendy for American intellectuals to idealize the Bolshevik revolution and the new Soviet regime, although the Red reign of terror had already claimed many times more victims than the guillotines of the French revolution. Bullitt shared that fashionable enthusiasm. He married Louise Bryant Reed, widow of American Communist leader John Reed, who had authored the flattering portrait of the Bolshevik revolution, Ten Days That Shook the World.

Roosevelt called Bullitt back to the diplomatic service in 1933 and appropriately sent him to Moscow as America’s first envoy to the USSR. When he arrived, he laid a wreath at the tomb of John Reed by the Kremlin wall. He was honored by the Soviet dictator in extraordinary fashion: “Stalin took my head in his two hands and gave me a large kiss! I swallowed my astonishment and when he turned up his face for a return kiss, I delivered it.” /7 But Bullitt’s sincere enthusiasm for the Soviet regime “ended in frustration.” /8 The Ambassador’s confidential dispatches to the President on the terror of the Soviet Commissars became as critical as the articles appearing in German newspapers of the time. His reports to Washington echoed the speeches of German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. He thus became an obstacle for Roosevelt, who sought friendship with Stalin. Bullitt was transferred to Paris in 1936.

After America and the Soviet Union became allies in the Second World War, the latent friction between Bullitt and Roosevelt surfaced and finally led to a complete break between them. (The break was hastened by Bullitt’s circulation of stories about the sexual peccadillos of a rival and Roosevelt favorite, Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles. For this Roosevelt never forgave him.) According to Kennan, in early 1943 “Bullitt predicted with startling accuracy the situation to which the war would lead… He urged the President to use the great influence he still had with a view to bringing Stalin to a specific renunciation of all conquests and annexation in Europe.” Bullitt was “remarkably prophetic on what would happen in Europe, if the Russians were allowed to reach Berlin.” /9 He told Roosevelt: “This is not the old British policy of the Balance of Power in Europe, but a new one of the Balance of Impotence…” /10 His brother Orville remarked: “In retrospect it would appear that had Bullitt accompanied Roosevelt and later Truman, the meetings with Stalin might have been on a more realistic basis and might have saved the world untold misery.” /11 But Roosevelt remained totally deaf to Bullitt’s many realistic warnings. This was the second great historical irony of Bullitt’s life.

Bullitt left a valuable book to posterity. Together with the renowned Sigmund Freud he wrote a fascinating psychological study of President Wilson. /12 This analysis of Wilson’s character was so devastating that its publication had to be postponed until 1967, following the death of Wilson’s widow. Bullitt and Freud explain that Wilson was psychologically unable properly to carry out his duties at the Versailles Peace Conference. On April 8, 1919, he even suffered what Bullitt and Freud called a “moral collapse” in relinquishing his highly touted “Fourteen Points” peace plan on the promises of which Germany had laid down its arms. /13

The German Social Democratic party had welcomed returning German soldiers to the homeland in 1918 with the words: “Welcome back, brave soldiers. God and Wilson will help us from now on.” By abandoning his peace pledges, Wilson squandered his enormous popularity in Germany and paved the way for the sham peace which, in Kennan’s words, was “forced upon the loser” and “had to be accepted in humiliation under duress.” /14 Versailles gave birth to Hitler, just as the Polish “Solidarity” movement is the child of Yalta.

Yet another irony of history is the fact that at a second crucial international conference after a world war, an American president was physically incapable of fully understanding the awesome issues which were decided and which affect us still today. President Roosevelt was a visibly dying man. Churchill’s personal physician, Lord Moran, noted in his diary at Yalta on February 9, 1945: “Everyone was shocked by his [Roosevelt’s] appearance and gabbled about it afterwards. The President looked old and thin and drawn. He sat looking straight ahead with his mouth open, as if he were not taking things in.” /15 In his critical study of Roosevelt’s foreign policy, Hamilton Fish deals extensively with the great cover-up about the President’s mental and physical deterioration in 1944 and 1945. “This tragic deception over the status of his health… was one of the most unjustifiable, cruelest and most dangerous of all the political tricks and stratagems ever used to deceive the American people.” /16

Fish came to the same devastating conclusion about Roosevelt’s health in 1945 as Freud and Bullitt had about Wilson’s condition in 1919. These are two of the most appalling cases of failure in American leadership during critical periods of world history. In each of its “crusades” in Europe, America failed to reach the “Holy Land” of a world made safe for Democracy! On the contrary, the present “Great Wall of Europe” (or “Iron Curtain”) which divides the continent down the middle with barbed wire, explosive mines, baying dogs, and killer guards, is the real legacy of the last crusade. It is the most shameful monument of our age.

In light of all this, one must admit that the voice of the sober historian is often drowned out in the noise of rough power politics. Human passions prevail in history. Both President Wilson and President Roosevelt were imbued with blind hatred. In Wilson’s view, the French and British Allies were fighting in September 1915 with their backs to the wall against “wild beasts.” Roosevelt, in turn, went so far as to tell the Senate military affairs committee in May 1939 that it would be a good thing if Hitler and Mussolini were to be murdered. /17

In 1943 Roosevelt laid the basis for the destruction of Germany by unexpectedly demanding unconditional surrender, thereby surpassing the blunders of the Versailles conference. The destruction of the sovereignty of the German Reich had the effect of unilaterally promoting Soviet expansion. The intense hatred fomented by subversive pressure groups in America changed the course of U.S. foreign policy in a direction detrimental to the nation’s welfare. But hatred and vengeance have always been the most awesome tools of politicians.

The crucial turning point in American foreign policy dates from President Wilson’s fateful rejection of Washington’s admonition in his Farewell Address. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson warned against any U.S. entanglements in European disputes and called for strict neutrality in the Western hemisphere. For Jefferson, England was always the enemy. In 1776, when the thirteen colonies were still ruled from London, Thomas Paine prophetically wrote in Common Sense: “It is the true interest of America to steer clear of European contentions, which she can never do while, by her dependence on Britain she is made the makeweight in the scale of British politics.”

Backed by his intimate pro-Marxist advisor, Colonel House, Wilson proclaimed a hazy internationalism as the new foundation of U.S. foreign policy. The adoption of Marxist principles under a smokescreen of liberal rhetoric contributed tremendously to the decline of American national strength. Sixty years later, the full working-out of this progressive decline was made dramatically manifest in the humiliating, chaotic fall of Saigon in April 1975.

In 1913 President Wilson signed the law which established the Federal Reserve system. In contradiction to the U.S. Constitution, private enterprise was thereby authorized to print and circulate money, outside of the control of Congress. Under Roosevelt the term of office of the System’s governors was extended from seven to fourteen years, thus putting the governing Board’s membership beyond the reach of any president. During the debate on the proposed System, Representative Charles Lindbergh, Sr. (father of the famous aviator) warned in February 1912 that “the great special financial interests” of America would use the System to try “to control absolutely by law as well as by environment and manipulation the finances of this country, and eventually, I believe, the markets of the world to form a world trust.” The System “would practically put the people of this government and the government itself into a receivership. It would place within the control of a few the means of commercial exchange by the use of which they would control the rest of us to eat out of their hands on such terms as they fixed.” /18 After the financial association was established, he wrote: “The Federal Reserve Act panics are scientifically created.” /19 With the establishment of the Federal Reserve System, Wall Street finally triumphed over the White House.

In his 1979 study of Bismarck, George Kennan meticulously exposed the way in which international finance began promoting the Franco-Russian military alliance beginning in 1888. /20 Later, Wall Street financing of Britain’s war program between 1914 and 1917 virtually insured America’s eventual entry into the First World War on the British side. In 1939 Britain had still not repaid her war debt of 1918 to the United States and could not dare engage in a new conflagration without assurances of U.S. financial backing from the outset. With crucial help from Henry Morgenthau, head of the U.S. Treasury Department, and from Wall Street banking houses, Britain received the (then) staggering sum of 30.75 billion dollars in Lend-Lease aid during the course of the Second World War. The Soviet Union received aid amounting to 11.4 billion dollars. /21 These figures prove — better than could a thousand documents — America’s prime responsibility for the intensity and duration of the Second World War. The results of the enormous American sacrifices in money, material, and lives are utterly disappointing. George Kennan was right when he spoke at the end of the war of the “wreckage of FDR’s policy with relation to Russia and Poland.” /22

It was Wilson and, above all, Roosevelt, who were responsible for abandoning an independent, national and American foreign policy. Instead, American interests were twice subordinated to British interests in support of the antiquated British “balance of power” policy in Europe. Americans have been encouraged to forget that it was only after Napoleon’s fall that the British occupied Washington and burned the Capitol and White House (in 1814).

George Kennan was filled with “horror and shame” when he suddenly learned in Moscow from British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden of the secret Yalta agreement to “repatriate” all Russian, Cossack, and Ukrainian prisoners held by the Germans. The result was a Soviet-made holocaust. Britain induced America to participate in the crime. Between 1943 and 1947, 2.27 million Soviet citizens — many of whom had fought on the Axis side — were forcibly delivered to Stalin’s revenge by the British and Americans. /23

The U.S government similarly betrayed the traditional hemispheric principles of President Monroe and its Pan-American commitments when it sided with Britain in the recent tragi-comic colonial war over the Falklands/Malvinas Islands. (The forcible removal of the Argentine Governor of the Islands by a British military force in 1833 was a clear violation of the Monroe Doctrine proclaimed in 1823.) America’s support for (divergent) British interests may drag the United States into the abyss unless financial sovereignty is restored to Congress and the White House. In short, the “Paradise Lost” with Wilson’s abandonment of a sovereign foreign policy must be regained.

When this writer was a teenage student in Munich in 1927 he had to write a composition, “Germany, the Heart of Europe.” Until 1945, the German Reich was the heart and defender of Europe. The Reich defended Europe against Hungarians, Mongols, and Turks, and enabled Western culture to develop from the Middle Ages onwards. In this century, British envy attacked this continental heart without considering the consequences. America blindly followed the British slogans. America has paid for it. Bismarck once said: “Whoever rules Bohemia is master of Europe.” German culture and influence prevailed there for more than 900 years. A German emperor built Prague.

In 1945 German power was crushed. Consistent with the geopolitical principle that power abhors a vacuum, Soviet Russian influence filled the void. The Western-minded Czech Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk was thrown from a Prague window in 1948 as a prelude to complete Soviet rule, another consequence of Roosevelt’s lack of geopolitical awareness.

How did America come to war against Germany, the heart of Europe? Could not Roosevelt have acted as a great peacemaker by mediating the Danzig conflict in 1939, instead of instigating the Poles against Germany? Roosevelt knew full well that war between Germany and Poland would mean the end of Poland. Just a week before the outbreak of war, a traitor in the German embassy in Moscow informed the U.S. government that Germany and the Soviet Union had agreed to divide Poland between them. /24 Roosevelt knew this but refrained from telling the hapless Poles. Veteran New York Times correspondent Harrison Salisbury reports in his memoirs that Roosevelt knew in advance of the German-Soviet pact of August 1939 and could have delayed (or prevented?) war had he leaked this information to the press. /25 The American President could very possibly have saved the peace in 1939. Instead, he fed the American people inventions about a hypothetical German plot to take over the United States and the whole world. Of course, a Germany which was incapable of crossing the English Channel to conquer Britain had not the slightest ability (or intention) of conquering America from across the Atlantic ocean. Roosevelt and Truman should have easily realized that Churchill’s 1934 dream of finally destroying Germany for all time and subjecting her to a new super-Versailles would end in global chaos. /26 Bullitt’s prophecy became reality.

After dispatching his declaration of war to Berlin on August 4, 1914, British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey said: “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” In his book on Roosevelt, Hamilton Fish com- mented: “That remark was only partly true then but it does describe the aftermath of World War II. With communism dominating half the world and nuclear missiles threatening us all, the lights are dimmer. An overt act of aggression might unleash a nuclear war that would extinguish lights everywhere.” /27


  1. Henry Kissinger, A World Restored(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973).
  2. Martin J. Sherwin, A World Destroyed(New York: Knopf, 1975).
  3. George F. Kennan, Russia and the West Under Lenin and Stalin(Boston: Little, Brown, 1961), pp. 164, 330.
  4. Orville H. Bullitt (ed.), For the President — Personal and Secret: Correspondence Between Franklin D. Roosevelt and William C. Bullitt (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972), pp. 5-6; Sigmund Freud and William C. Bullitt, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Twenty-Eighth President of the United States(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976), p. 253.
  5. Freud/Bullitt, pp. 253-54. (“Incidentally, Lenin had also offered to recognize Soviet responsibility for the debts of the Russian Empire.” p. 253)
  6. Ibid., p. 271.
  7. Orville H. Bullitt (ed.), p. 69.
  8. Ibid., Introduction by George F. Kennan, p. vi.
  9. Ibid., p. xiv.
  10. Ibid., p. 583.
  11. Ibid., p. 572.
  12. See note 4.
  13. Freud/Bullitt, pp. 255, 260.
  14. George F. Kennan, American Diplomacy 1900-1950(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), pp. 66, 68.
  15. Charles M.W. (Lord) Moran, Winston Churchill: The Struggle for Survival 1940-1965(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966), p. 234.
  16. Hamilton Fish, FDR: The Other Side of the Coin(New York: Vantage, 1976; Torrance, Calif.: Institute for Historical Review, 1980), p. 181.
  17. Report by Charge d’affaires Dr. Hans Thomsen from the German Embassy in Washington to Berlin of May 17, 1939. Cited in David L. Hoggan, Der Erzwungene Krieg(Tuebingen: Grabert, 1974), p. 520.
  18. Speech of February 27, 1912. Congressional Record, Appendix (62nd Congress, 2nd Session), Vol. 48, part 12 (289) pp. 60 (col. 1), 64 (col. 1).
  19. Charles A. Lindbergh, Sr., The Economic Pinch(Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1923), pp. 145, 95.
  20. George F. Kennan, The Decline of Bismarck’s European Order(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), p. 389. See especially the chapter “Financial and Military Stirrings.”
  21. Twenty-Second Report to Congress on Lend-Lease Operations [for period ending December 31, 1945] (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946), pp. 17, 26.
  22. George F. Kennan, Memoirs 1925-1950(Boston: Little, Brown. 1967), p. 212.
  23. Nikolai Tolstoy, Victims of Yalta (London: Corgi, 1979), p. 468. See also: Charles Lutton, “Stalin’s War: Victims and Accomplices,” The Journal of Historical Review, Spring 1984 (Vol. 5, No. 1 ), pp. 84-94.
  24. Charles E. Bohlen, Witness to History(New York: W.W. Norton, 1973), pp. 69-87. Confirmed in telegram 465 of August 24, 1939, from Steinhardt in Moscow to Washington.
  25. Robert Sherill, review of Harrison Salisbury, A Journey for Our Times, in Washington Post, May 29, 1983, “Book World” section, p. 14.
  26. Heinrich Bruening, Briefe und Gespraeche 1934-1945(Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1974), p. 31. See also pp. 29, 206, 211, 220, 223.
  27. Fish, p. 178.

About the author

Karl Otto Braun (1910-1988) was a German diplomat and historian. From 1938 to November 1940, he served in Japan as a cultural attaché with the German embassy in Tokyo and as an economic affairs Vice Consul with the German Consulate General in Osaka. From 1941 until the end of the Second World War he was with the East Asia section of the Political Department of the German Foreign Office in Berlin. During the final two years of the war, he headed the section.

From The Journal of Historical Review, Winter 1984 (Vol. 5, Nos. 2, 3, 4), pages 241-249.


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On the Importance of Revisionism for Our Time – by Murray Rothbard

27 Ott

On the Importance of Revisionism for Our Time

by Murray Rothbard

Revisionism as applied to World War II and its origins (as also for previous wars) has the general function of bringing historical truth to an American and a world public that had been drugged by wartime lies and propaganda. This, in itself, is a virtue. But some truths of history, of course, may be largely of antiquarian interest, with little relevance to present-day concerns. This is not true of World War II revisionism, which has much critical significance for today’s world.

The least of the lessons that revisionism can teach has already been thoroughly learned: that Germany and Japan are not uniquely “aggressor nations,” doomed from birth to menace the peace of the world. The larger lessons have, unfortunately, yet to be learned. The United States is again being subjected to that “complex of fear and vaunting” (in the brilliant phrase of Garet Garrett’s) which drove us, and the Western world, into two other disastrous wars in our century. Once again, the American public is being subjected to a nearly unanimous barrage of war propaganda and war hysteria, so that only the most searching and rational can keep their heads. Once again, we find that there has emerged upon the scene an Enemy, a Bad Guy, with the same old Bad Guy characteristics that we have heard of before; a diabolic, monolithic Enemy, which, generations ago in some “sacred texts,” decided (for reasons that remain obscure) that it was “out to conquer the world.”

Since then, the Enemy, darkly, secretly, diabolically, has “plotted,” conspiratorially, to conquer the world, building up a vast and mighty and overwhelming military machine, and also constructing a mighty international and “subversive” “fifth column,” which functions as an army of mere puppets, agents of the Enemy’s central headquarters, ready to commit espionage, sabotage, or any other act of “undermining” other states. The Enemy, then, is “monolithic,” ruled solely and strictly from the top, by a few master rulers, and is dominated always by the single purpose of world conquest. The model to keep in mind is Dr. Fu Manchu, here trotted forward as an international bogeyman.

The Enemy, then, says the war propaganda, is guided by but one purpose: conquest of the world. He never suffers from such human emotions as fear — fear that we might attack him — or belief that he is acting in defense, or out of self-respect and the desire to save face before himself as well as before others. Neither does he possess such human qualities as reason.

No, there is only one other emotion that can sway him: superior force will compel him to “back down.” This is because, even though a Fu Manchu, he is also like the Bad Guy in the movie Western: he will cower before the Good Guy if the Good Guy is strong, armed to the teeth, resolute of purpose, etc. Hence, the complex of fear and vaunting: fear of the supposedly implacable and permanent plotting of the Enemy; vaunting of the enormous military might of America and its meddling throughout the world, to “contain,” “roll back,” etc., the Enemy, or to “liberate” the “oppressed nations.”

Now revisionism teaches us that this entire myth, so prevalent then and even now about Hitler, and about the Japanese, is a tissue of fallacies from beginning to end. Every plank in this nightmare evidence is either completely untrue or not entirely the truth. If people should learn this intellectual fraud about Hitler’s Germany , then they will begin to ask questions, and searching questions, about the current World War III version of the same myth. Nothing would stop the current headlong flight to war faster, or more surely cause people to begin to reason about foreign affairs once again, after a long orgy of emotion and cliché.

For the same myth is now based on the same old fallacies. And this is seen by the increasing use that the Cold Warriors have been making of the “Munich myth”: the continually repeated charge that it was the “appeasement” of the “aggressor” at Munich that “fed” his “aggression” (again, the Fu Manchu, or Wild Beast, comparison), and that caused the “aggressor,” drunk with his conquests, to launch World War II. This Munich myth has been used as one of the leading arguments against any sort of rational negotiations with the Communist nations, and the stigmatizing of even the most harmless search for agreement as “appeasement.” It is for this reason that A. J. P. Taylor’s magnificent Origins of the Second World War received probably its most distorted and frenetic review in the pages of National Review.

It is about time that Americans learn: that Bad Guys (Nazis or Communists) may not necessarily want or desire war, or be out to “conquer” the world (their hope for “conquest” may be strictly ideological and not military at all); that Bad Guys may also fear the possibility of our use of our enormous military might and aggressive posture to attack them; that both the Bad Guys and Good Guys may have common interests which make negotiation possible (e.g., that neither wants to be annihilated by nuclear weapons); that no organization is a “monolith,” and that “agents” are often simply ideological allies who can and do split with their supposed “masters”; and that, finally, we may learn the most profound lesson of all: that the domestic policy of a government is often no index whatever to its foreign policy.

We are still, in the last analysis, suffering from the delusion of Woodrow Wilson: that “democracies” ipso facto will never embark on war, and that “dictatorships” are always prone to engage in war. Much as we may and do abhor the domestic programs of most dictators (and certainly of the Nazis and Communists), this has no necessary relation to their foreign policies: indeed, many dictatorships have been passive and static in history, and, contrariwise, many democracies have led in promoting and waging war. Revisionism may, once and for all, be able to destroy this Wilsonian myth.

There is only one real difference between the capacity of a democracy and a dictatorship to wage war: democracies invariably engage much more widely in deceptive war propaganda, to whip up and persuade the public. Democracies that wage war need to produce much more propaganda to whip up their citizens, and at the same time to camouflage their policies much more intensely in hypocritical moral cant to fool the voters. The lack of need for this on the part of dictatorships often makes their policies seem superficially to be more warlike, and this is one of the reasons why they have had a “bad press” in this century.

The task of revisionism has been to penetrate beneath these superficialities and appearances to the stark realities underneath — realities which show, certainly in this century, the U.S., Great Britain, and France — the three great “democracies” — to be worse than any other three countries in fomenting and waging aggressive war. Realization of this truth would be of incalculable importance on the current scene.

Conservatives should not need to be reminded of the flimsiness of the “democratic” myth; we are familiar now with the concept of “totalitarian democracy,” of the frequent propensity of the masses to tyrannize over minorities. If conservatives can see this truth in domestic affairs, why not in foreign?

There are many other, more specific but also important, lessons that revisionism can teach us. The Cold War, as well as World Wars I and II, has been launched by the Western democracies so as to meddle in the affairs of Eastern Europe . The great power-fact about Eastern Europe is that the smaller nations there are fated to be under the dominance, friendly or otherwise, of Germany and/or Russia .

In World War I, the U.S. and Britain went to war partly to help Russia expand into the part of Eastern Europe then dominated by Austria-Hungary and Germany . This act of meddling on our part, at the cost of untold lives, both West and East, and of an enormous increase in militarism, statism, and socialism at home, led to a situation in Eastern Europe which brought the U.S. and Britain into World War II, to keep Germany from dominating Eastern Europe .

As soon as World War II was over (with its enormous consequent increase in statism, militarism, and socialism in the U.S.), the U.S. and Britain felt they had to launch a Cold War to oust Russia from the dominance over Eastern Europe which it had obtained as a natural consequence of the joint defeat of Germany. How much longer is the United States to play with the fate of the American people, or even the human race itself, for the sake of imposing a solution of our own liking on Eastern Europe ? And if we should wage a holocaust to “destroy communism,” and there should (doubtfully) be any Americans remaining, how distinguishable from communism will the American system, in reality, be?

There have been two major facets to the Cold War: trying to establish U.S. and British hegemony over Eastern Europe , and attempting to suppress nationalist revolutions that would take undeveloped countries outside of the Western imperialist orbit. Here again, revisionism of World War II has important lessons to teach us today. For in World War I, England, backed by the United States, went to war against Germany to try to hobble an important commercial competitor which had started late in the imperialist game. Before World Wars I and II, Britain and France tried to preserve their imperialist domination as against the “have-not” nations Germany and Japan that came late in the imperialist race.

And now, after World War II, the United States has assumed the imperialist scepter from the weakened hands of Britain and France . Revisionism thus provides us with the insight that America has now become the world colossus of imperialism, propping up puppet and client states all over the undeveloped areas of the world, and fiercely attempting to suppress nationalist revolutions that would take these countries out of the American imperial orbit.

As Garet Garrett also said: “We have crossed the boundary that lies between republic and empire.” Communism having allied itself with the immensely popular movements of national liberation against imperialism, the United States, in the hypocritical name of “freedom,” is now [1966] engaged in the logical conclusion of its Cold War policy: attempting to exterminate a whole nation in Viet Nam to make very sure that they are rather dead than Red — and to preserve American imperial rule.

All these lessons revisionism has to teach us. For revisionism, in the final analysis, is based on truth and rationality. Truth and rationality are always the first victims in any war frenzy; and they are, therefore, once again an extremely rare commodity on today’s “market.” Revisionism brings to the artificial frenzy of daily events and day-to-day propaganda, the cool but in the last analysis glorious light of historical truth. Such truth is almost desperately needed in today’s world.

From The Journal of Historical Review, May-June 1995 (Vol. 15, No. 3), pages 35-37. This item first appeared in the Rampart Journal of Individualist Thought, Spring 1966 (Vol. 2, No. 1).

Murray Rothbard (1926-1995) was a prominent libertarian scholar. A tribute to him appeared in The Journal of Historical Review, May-June 1995.


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