The Historian Who Called Harry Truman "America's Stalin"


Mr. Beichman is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and a columnist with the Washington Times.

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Paul Buhle teaches courses on American civilization at Brown University, a prestigious Ivy League institution in Rhode Island. In 1994, he called President Truman "America's Stalin." This is what he wrote in an academic magazine, Radical History Review: "Like all post-World War II presidents, Richard M. Nixon stepped into the shoes of America's Stalin, the initiator of the peacetime military-industrial economy and security state, Harry S. Truman."

Having equated President Truman with Stalin, Mr. Buhle went on to say "when the judgment of the 20th century's second half is made, every American president will be seen as a jerk. After Truman, Nixon yields only to Reagan — still another Truman heir — as the jerkiest of all."

Mr. Buhle repeated the description of Truman as "America's Stalin" in 2002 in a Swedish film history journal. And more recently he wrote: "Our task is to use all means available to combat the global race to the bottom (and toward ecological hell); to help students, colleagues, and the public understand that capitalism's much-vaunted 'progress' endangers everything we hold dear."

Why bring up Mr. Buhle's writings in Radical History Review? After all, most mainstream American historians share his views. Why not forget it? Impossible, because more recently this academic has demonstrated professional irresponsibility in another article in which he claims members of the American Communist Party fought alongside Jewish settlers in Israel in 1948 and that a series of books on American communism published by the Fund for the Republic were CIA projects.

He has been challenged by other scholars to produce a single piece of evidence to support these allegations. He has declined to do so. Mr. Buhle is an editor of the Encyclopedia of the American Left. Such behavior by a faculty member at a university of distinction borders on the scandalous.

Mr. Buhle's actions fit the pithy description by City University Professor John P. Diggins: "in our academic world of postmodernism, where all politics is power and knowledge has no foundation in truth... ."

Here's the background on another one of the many scandals that have afflicted American historians in the last three decades. Between 1959 and 1966, before American history had been politicized by the academic left, the Fund for the Republic, a spinoff from the Ford Foundation, financed and published 10 highly prestigious volumes on communism in America. They were written by distinguished scholars and publicists: Daniel Aaron, Theodore Draper, David Shannon, Clinton Rossiter, Ralph L. Roy, Nathan Glazer, Frank S. Meyer, Earl Latham and Robert W. Iversen.

Mr. Buhle charges that these volumes were secretly planned by the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, (ACCF). No evidence is offered for the charges. (The ACCF was an affiliate of the Congress for Cultural Freedom which was exposed in 1967 as a CIA stipendiary.)

Well, I can offer some personal evidence, having been a charter member of the ACCF executive committee and its last chairman. The ACCF suspected that the parent Congress financing came from the CIA and when we were stonewalled by the Congress about their finances, we rejected their subsidies and announced that the ACCF was "an independent affiliate" of the Congress. And as for involvement by the ACCF in the Fund for the Republic volumes, I can say from personal knowledge that we were not involved in selecting topics or authors because the Fund for the Republic declined our offer of help.

Professor Harvey Klehr of Emory University and Dr. John Earl Haynes, 20th-century political historian in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, have challenged Mr. Buhle's research. He wrote in the Encyclopedia of the American Left with no supporting evidence that American communist assistance to Soviet espionage was dwarfed "by the largest incident of illegal activity: the shipment of arms and assorted war materials to the new state of Israel [and] among those Americans wounded or killed in battles protecting gains from Arabs, communists played a prominent role."

Where is the evidence, they asked in a long article in the New Criterion? Go look in the Daily Worker, Mr. Buhle replied, but he offered no dates or citations from the presently defunct communist daily. The former Daily Worker correspondent in Palestine in 1947-48, derided his claim.

Mr. Buhle also came up with an oral interview that did not support his argument. The fact is Mr. Buhle has no evidence for his claims. He simply made up his assertions out of hot air. The biases and corruption of the history profession are such that left extremists such as Mr. Buhle can make preposterous claims, confident they will not be challenged.

Mr. Buhle's shoddy scholarship is regarded by the liberal historical establishment as useful for bashing conservatives, so his egregious violations of fundamental scholarly requirements such as documenting assertions will be passed over in silence by establishment historians who know very well that Mr. Buhle's facts are falsehoods and distortions.

Copyright © 2003 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times:"Visit our web site at http://www.washingtontimes.com."

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Derek Catsam - 2/6/2003

So Buhle speaks for the entire left? Even though most liberal historians admire Truman? That's ok, because I've decided that David Irving speaks for the entire right.

donald k pickens - 2/6/2003

Diggins is right ---the academic left has lost it. But have no fear they are safe in name institutions and are well funded. The Left in US history has a proud history until recent comments such as Buhl's. He is engaging in sound bite history or man bites dog because dog bites man is so boring. Gee I must revise by lecture notes for the laterst "truth" has been delievered from on high.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/6/2003

Poor Dale. Didn't bother to read the article. Doesn't know what he's talking about.

Dale Hinote - 2/6/2003

Many stupid comments and analyses are posted on this site, usually by amateurs promoting a particular ideology. This article takes the cake for idiocy. The author seems to think that any patriotic son of the lower middle class who becomes President, e.g., Truman, Nixon, or Reagan, must be a dictator in waiting. An objective analysis reveals three very different men with a similar background and different but equally sincere commitments to the free, democratic country they loved. we will learn much more by understanding their differences, instead of trying to lump them into the same carton of mass-produced eggs and mas-produced ideologies.

Charley Lurker - 2/5/2003

Posted By: Brian Kelly
Date Posted: February 5, 2003, 1:05 PM

More egregious, it seems to me, is the contention of the Cold Warriors that the CP (for all its flaws, all its Stalinism, all its subservience to Moscow, none of which I would hesitate to acknowledge for a second) was simply a spying franchise for the Russians....


Of course not. It was All of that and Much Much more.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/5/2003

Mr. Kelly,
The point is that, once Klehr and Haynes raised their questions about Buhl's work, Buhl responded in the _OAH Newsletter_, not with a substantive answer, but with a dismissal of the questions as "politically motivated" "gossip." If he can explain his having taken apparently contradictory positions in print and can explain the conundrum or if he has misled us in this discrete matter, he should acknowledge that in print publicly and quickly. His first published response to the question is exactly what he should not have done if he cares about his professional reputation. He was again offered an opportunity to give a substantial answer to the questions Klehr and Haynes raised here on HNN. I am confidant that its editor would yet publish Buhl's answer should he care to offer one. But, until he responds to the charges of intellectual dishonesty, these questions will continue to hang over him.

Brian Kelly - 2/5/2003

My only question about the piece on Buhle is why HNN chose to print it, when an almost identical critique/challenge to Buhle appeared here within the last month. I am a left-wing historian, a marxist, and someone who has found some of Buhle's work useful. _Radical America_ of the early 1970s was one of the best examples we have of high-quality engaged scholarship (read for instance the special issue they did on Busing and Desegregation in the Boston public schools). This latest piece attempts to do the same thing Prof. Klehr's entry of a few weeks back did: to point to single contested issue in Buhle's work and thereby to discredit his scholarship in its entirety. Buhle has already responded that he will address these charges in an appropriate academic forum, and my guess is that he will. And if he has been proven wrong on the issue of CP mobilization in the establishment of Israel, then he is wrong, and I would have no problem acknowledging that. It doesn't seem to me that his entire scholarly reputation hangs on that issue, however, as the right is so anxious to convince us. More egregious, it seems to me, is the contention of the Cold Warriors that the CP (for all its flaws, all its Stalinism, all its subservience to Moscow, none of which I would hesitate to acknowledge for a second) was simply a spying franchise for the Russians. A more perfect example of ideologically-driven, over-simplified historical writing would be hard to find.

Bill Heuisler - 2/4/2003

Mr. Luker,
You misunderstood my inept attempt at humor. Anyone holding such collective misunderstandings of any discipline -
"...which you already believe or want to believe." - would be thought dogmatic or fanatic or Leftist in my Right-Wing-Militia-Group. We are always shocked and appalled by generalizations.
Bill Heuisler

Richard Henry Morgan - 2/4/2003

That was an unsupported throwaway line by Beichman, who doesn't hold a post in academia. And, yes, there are any number of schools you could send your kids too if you wanted to scrub their brains. For every University of Dallas, Hillsdale, and Bob Jones University, there is an equal and opposite Reed, Bennington, and UC Santa Cruz (don't I get points for not mentioning "may I touch you here" Antioch?). I do find it rather bizarre, though, that Buhle has yet to document his claim about Communists and Israel -- I suspect it is as unsupportable as Beichman's comment.

Steve Lowe - 2/4/2003

Note that the sentence in question is an assertion. It is, in fact, an example of exactly what Beichman is criticizing: groundless and unsupported by evidence. Most of the historians I know (and I know a lot) actually like Harry Truman, despite his faults. Admittedly, they aren't too fond of Nixon or Reagan, but dislike of those two isn't limited to historians, obviously.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/4/2003

Mr. Heuisler,
Note that Beichman is at Stanford's Hoover Institution and that he published this piece in Washington's "Moonie" Times. He is, then, some stripe of conservative, feeding you a generalization about "mainstream historians" which you already believe or want to believe. You are free to believe that if you wish and to take your "college-age kids out of such pernicious surroundings" if you choose. Send them to the University of Dallas, Hillsdale College, Bob Jones University or Moonie U, if you like, where their minds are unlikely to be damaged either by mainstream or significant alternative streams of thought. Meanwhile, mainstream historians will expect Buhle to explain himself.

Bill Heuisler - 2/3/2003

Mr. Beichman,
In your fourth paragraph you wrote, "Why bring up Mr. Buhle's writings in Radical History Review? After all, most mainstream American historians share his views."
Our worst fears are suddenly realized. Should we take our college-age kids out of such pernicious surroundings or what?
Do most American historians share Buhle's views, or was there a misprint in your article?
Bill Heuisler