John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr respond to their critics

Historians in the News

While we were writing Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, based on Alexander Vassiliev’s notebooks, we anticipated a hostile reaction from battered but still rancorous remnants of the pro-Communist left in the academic world and partisan pundits. Together they have denied for more than fifty years that Soviet espionage in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s had much significance, denounced claims linking the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) with Soviet espionage, and proclaimed the innocence of many of those identified as Soviet agents.

We expected the most antagonistic reaction would involve the traditionally two most contested cases: that of Alger Hiss, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. No one who studies 20th century American history can fail to be astounded by the quantity and the viciousness of the assaults leveled on scholars who dared question the innocence and martyrdom of Hiss and the Rosenbergs. Historians Allen Weinstein and Ronald Radosh, most notably, were subjected to years of attacks on their personal integrity and professional competence for their pioneering and superbly researched books on the Hiss-Chambers and Rosenberg cases.[1]

The opening chapter of Spies, entitled “Alger Hiss: Case Closed,” ended with our Hiss conclusion that in light of new and definitive evidence from the KGB archives recorded in Vassiliev’s notebooks, as well as the ample evidence available earlier from other sources, “to serious students of history continued claims for Hiss’s innocence are akin to a terminal form of ideological blindness.” But we also noted, “it is unlikely that anything will convince the remaining die-hards.”[2] Similarly, we foresaw continued protests of innocence from the ranks (albeit much-thinned ranks) of the Rosenberg defenders in the academy and elsewhere to the extensive documentation in Spies of the extraordinary size of the espionage apparatus Rosenberg established. Spies revealed for the first time, for example, that Rosenberg had recruited a second atomic spy, Russell McNutt, in addition to the his long-identified brother-in-law David Greenglass.

Somewhat to our surprise, however, the defenses of Hiss and the Rosenbergs, while not disappearing, have taken a back seat to the protection of I. F. Stone.

In the grand sweep of Spies, which tells the story of KGB activities and networks in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s, Stone is a very minor player, with only a bit part. Most of the references to him are in passing, and the totality of his activities take up only six pages out of 548 pages of text. In contrast, Hiss has an entire chapter, thirty-one pages, devoted to his case, while the section on Julius Rosenberg and his extensive technical and atomic espionage apparatus is even longer. Indeed, numerous other Americans who assisted Soviet intelligence receive more attention in Spies than Stone simply because their roles were more important than his were.

Stone, however, is an icon in certain journalistic precincts, and to his devotees those six pages are the only ones in Spies that matter. Their responses match in distortion, whitewashing, spinning, and ad hominem viciousness any that we have received over the years and give us a better understanding of what Weinstein and Radosh had to put up with. The history of communism and Soviet espionage have never been fields for those seeking the scholarly quiet life, but the displays of rage (real and faux) in regard to Stone have been impressive....

Read entire article at John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr at Washington Decoded

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