Ronald Radosh: Criticizes new NYU center on cold war scholarship





Last year, New York University announced the creation of a new institute, The Center for the United States and the Cold War. There is nothing surprising about a major university establishing a center meant to explore and shed light on one of the defining periods of the past century. Indeed, a few such institutes already exist. Since 1991, the Wilson Center has run a first rate operation, The Cold War International History Project, which has hosted scores of conferences, with panels composed of major scholars representing all points of view. Similarly, Harvard University is home to the Harvard Project on Cold War Studies, which publishes the invaluable Journal of Cold War Studies. A world-class editorial board supervises the peer-reviewed entries, and the center and journal have earned the respect and admiration of all who value the work of its many contributors.

Unfortunately, NYU's new endeavor seems to have quite a different agenda from its fellow centers of cold war scholarship. A joint project of NYU's Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Tamiment Library, the center announced last year that it would run a regular series of conferences "to encourage research on how the Cold War and the red scares shaped domestic political culture and foreign policy." Desirable proposals, the announcement went on, would deal with "political repression and resistance." No proposal, it implied, would be welcome that took as its starting point the belief that, in the 1930s and '40s, American communists just may have posed an actual threat to America's national security, and that does not view the question of how to deal with this problem as anything but repression.

Now that it has published a schedule of forthcoming events, we can see the fruits of the new center's labors. The inaugural event on April 5 will be a conference called "Alger Hiss and History." One might guess that such a gathering would have featured one of the two major scholars and writers who have worked on the Hiss case. Our current archivist of the United States, Allen Weinstein, ended the debate over Hiss's claim that he had not spied for the Soviets with the publication of Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case, in 1979. Weinstein proved that Hiss was guilty of perjuring himself in court and before the House Un-American Activities Committee when he claimed he was innocent. More recently, Sam Tanenhaus, now editor of the New York Times Book Review, provided further evidence in support of Weinstein's conclusion when he issued Whittaker Chambers, the definitive biography of the other key figure in the case, who testified against Hiss. Of this book, Christopher Hitchens wrote: "Sam Tanenhaus has closed the case of Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss, and thus put to rest one of the most persistent (and repelling) myths of the fellow-traveling Left." When Weinstein (as a government archivist) and Tanenhaus turned down their invitations, why didn't the organizers try to find replacements to represent their (well-documented) views? Presently, they have only one such person--law professor Edward White of the University of Virginia. And he will have limited time to make a comment on a panel.

Hitchens's comment gets to the heart of the NYU conference. Clearly, what the institute desires is the resurrection of Old Left myths that have, since the cold war's end, begun to disappear. ...


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