Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Marshall Plan in Context

America's famous effort to assist in the rebuilding of war-torn Europe in the late 1940's has become a prime example of the type of help which western democracies lend to other countries. Between 1948 and 1951, $12.7 billion dollars, in the forms of loans and grants, went to France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and other nations.

The thinking behind the Marshall Plan was complex. The primary impulse was altruistic - western civilization's peculiar desire to help others. But there were political motives as well. Introducing the plan in a speech given at Harvard University, Secretary of State George Marshall noted that parts of Europe had been so devastated that "The modern system of the division of labor upon which the exchange of products is based is in danger of breaking down." He continued:

Aside from the demoralizing effect on the world at large and the possibilities of disturbances arising as a result of the desperation of the people concerned, the consequences to the economy of the United States should be apparent to all. It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health to the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy is not directed against any country, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Any government that is willing to assist in recovery will find full co-operation on the part of the U.S.A. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.

In its historical context, the Marshall Plan was both forward-looking and backward-looking. In terms of the past, it had become undeniable by 1947 - the year of Marshall's speech at Harvard - that the Versailles Treaty of 1919 had created not only economic misery in the 1920's and 1930's, but it had also created the political climate for WWII. The treaty that ended World War One had essentially created World War Two, or at least the European part of it. The Marshall Plan would avoid repeating that mistake by creating a more cooperative and optimistic postwar era.

In terms of the future, the Marshall Plan would strengthen the prospects for a free Europe in three ways: it economically and politically fortified the free nations of western Europe, giving them greater capacity to resist not only a direct military invasion by Stalin's Soviet Union, but also the indirect influences of communist propaganda and internal subversion. It boosted morale among the western nations, ensuring their solid participation in NATO and diminishing any chances for home-grown socialism or communism within them. Finally, it created an object lesson which nations of eastern Europe, suffering under Soviet communist oppression, could not overlook - they would understand what a price they were paying to be part of what would become the Warsaw Pact.

Although the idea of the Marshall Plan may appeared simple, there were a variety of complex thoughts behind it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

HUAC: The House Un-American Activities Committtee

The HUAC was started long enough ago that it is now almost as much about myth and legend as about detailed historical data. At a time when Senator Joseph McCarthy was gaining much attention in the Senate, the House of Representatives wanted to do something different. So the HUAC was born.

Although in competition with Senator Joe McCarthy, the HUAC was actually older. It was formed in 1945, and had been preceded by several similar committees in earlier decades. Author Michael Savage writes that

it was an investigative committee of the United States House of Representatives charged with uncovering subversive activity in the United States. It looked into the activities and associations of, particularly, those in the government and the entertainment industry, especially in Hollywood, who were suspected of being communists.

At this time in history, 'communism' was more than merely an interesting political theory. It was an organization which owed allegiance to Joseph Stalin, whose aim was to ensure the end of freedom among the nations of the world, and placed Soviet soldiers on every continent to oppress people everywhere. Insane because he thought world domination possible, and ruthless because he calmly planned and carried out the deaths of millions, Stalin had followers in America. This is what it meant to be a communist, a member of the Communist Party, in the 1940's and 1950's.

HUAC rooted out Soviet operative Alger Hiss, who was convicted of perjury on January 21, 1950, and it revealed the extent of communist infiltration of the film industry, ultimately resulting in prison terms for the so-called "Hollywood Ten," people found guilty of contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about their communist affiliations. In addition, many other Hollywood communists were blacklisted and refused employment in the film industry.

These communists were not 'freethinkers' who wanted to exercise their freedoms of thought and speech. They were organized operatives and agents of a foreign government whose stated purpose was the dismantling of the United States and its government.

HUAC served America and protected it from what was then the most serious threat to the national security of the United States: the spread of Soviet Communism.

One need only remember that the Soviet Union had thousands of atomic warhead, mounted on missiles, and aimed at major American cities. This was what it meant to be a communist.

The evidence of history, particularly since the Venona Papers were released after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's, tells

us that things were even worse than the HUAC feared. The number of paid Soviet spies in the government and in the news media was more than the HUAC had guessed or suspected.

The Venona Papers were a collection of transcriptions of encoded radio messages by Soviet KGB agents in the United States to their superiors in Moscow between the years 1943 and 1948. They reveal that by the time World War II had ended, the United States government had been infiltrated at every level by Soviet agents who influenced policy and recruited others as Soviet spies. The Venona Papers revealed that HUAC's pursuit of communists was a justified attempt to identify and weed out traitors to America who had infiltrated our government and our entertainment industry.

It is breathtaking to realize that the U.S. government and the American news media were saturated by foreign spies whose mission was to undermine and destroy our society. It is a tribute to the strength of our national character that we survived such an attack

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Many Praises for Ford

When President Gerald R. Ford died in December 2006, many speeches and eulogies were spoken in his memory. More than for many other presidents, ceremonies were held in California, in Michigan, and in Washington, D.C.

This outpouring of affection and honor was given in recognition of Ford's unique role in American history, and his personal honor and integrity. Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, said that

I don’t think it is a coincidence that American history seems to be an almost providential narrative – a story about finding the right man at the right time to lead the nation. The Presidency is more than agendas and ideas. It is, at its core, a human institution molded and shaped by the character of the men who have served there. In the summer of 1974, America didn’t need a philosopher king or a warrior prince, an aloof aristocrat or a populist firebrand.

John A. Boehner, serving in the House of Representatives, said that

The Watergate crisis was one of the most difficult times in our nation's history, and President Ford's unflinching leadership helped heal a nation and restore the American people’s faith in their government. His decision to pardon President Nixon was a controversial and difficult move that drew a great deal of criticism. But in hindsight, I think most Americans would agree it was the right decision, the honorable decision, and reflected President Ford's good judgment and straightforward approach.

Congressman Bart Stupak, from Ford's home state of Michigan, said that

Gerald Ford did not seek power or fame, but he answered the call of our Nation's highest office when our Nation needed him. He was selected to be Vice President because of his high character, bipartisanship, and integrity. Eight months later, these qualities were evident when President Ford helped heal a divided Nation after the Watergate scandal.

An amazing amount of emotion was displayed at the several state funerals for President Gerald Ford. The affection shown for him reflected that nation's pain during the years of Watergate and Vietnam, and the subsequent healing from those year - a healing facilitated by Gerald R. Ford.

Rumsfeld Eulogizes Ford

Donald Rumsfeld, who served impressively as Secretary of Defense for both President Ford and President Bush, and who also served in the House of Representatives, as well as being White House Chief of Staff, Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, and Ambassador to NATO, included the following paragraph in his speech at one of the several state funerals given for President Ford:

When I joined Gerald Ford as a member of Congress in 1962, I found a skillful legislator who had earned the respect of his colleagues. He was energetic in his desire to serve and to contribute. But he did not wake up every morning wondering how he could get ahead. In fact, in 1964, Betty will remember that a small group of us had to work very, very hard to persuade Jerry Ford to run for minority leader of the United States House of Representatives. And I was able to see him work skillfully to achieve passage of the historic civil rights legislation during the 1960s. Later, as White House chief of staff, I was standing next to President Ford during two assassination attempts that stunned an already traumatized country, which he handled with courage, with poise, and, I should add, with good humor.
President Gerald R. Ford had perhaps more funerals, and more speeches and eulogies given in his memory, than any other U.S. president. This is a reflection of the unique role he played in American history, restoring, through his personal integrity and honor, a sense of stability and trust.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Catching a Spy

Although the Soviet Union's effort to dominate other nations took decisive shape after WWII, it had already set its intentions into motion before the war. One of the steps it took was the creation of a network of intelligence and counterintelligence agents planted inside the United States government. These operatives would do immense damage - costing lives and placing entire nations under Stalin's political oppression.

The Americans learned of this plan when a few of these agents defected - they switched sides. One of these defectors was Whittaker Chambers. He decided that he did not want to be a part of Stalin's plan; he did not want to take people's freedom away. Ann Coulter writes about him:

In what would turn out to be one of the most significant events of the twentieth century, Whittaker Chambers broke with the Communist Party. The political battle lines were drawn over Chambers and they have never been redrawn. His story would become the story of the nation. Years later, Chambers would write of his fear that the Communist Party would murder him, as it had murdered so many other apostates, saying, "They must sometimes have thought bitterly since about their failure to do so."

When Chambers and other defectors left the Communist Party, they took with them information which helped the United States government discover plots by various spies. Stopping these plans would prevent the Soviet government from obtaining military and political control over other nations. The Communist Party often murdered such defectors. It was so dangerous to defect that people jokingly referred to it as suicide, and the murders committed by the Communists were often disguised as suicides.

Chambers had planned his break for months. In addition to the practical concern of avoiding a "suicide," leaving the Communist Party was more than "leaving one house and occupying another." He was "reversing the faith of an adult lifetime, held implacably to the point of criminality." When he took up the cause of the free world against the Communists, he said he had moved to a house "manifestly in collapse and the caretakers largely witless." But had had no choice. Agonizingly, he had come to the realization that he had been working on the side of evil - for terror, torture, fascism, and death. A fellow ex-Communist, Walter Krivitsky, would force him to state the painful truth out loud: The Soviet government was a fascist government and it had been from the beginning.

Defectors like Chambers were able to tell the rest of the world about the Soviet Union: the prison camps, spy networks, torture and execution of ordinary civilians for merely questioning the wisdom of the Communist Party, millions living in constant fear of accidentally saying something which would cause their imprisonment.

Krivitsky was the first to tell Chambers of Stalin's feverish efforts to align with Hitler in 1939. The proposed alliance, Chambers said, was "thoroughly justified" as Communist strategy, but from "any human point of view, the pact was evil." As Chambers imagined the coming conflict, he rued that conservatives would be "all but helpless." He said the fate of the free world could only be decided in a struggle between the Communists and the ex-Communists, for "no other has been so deeply into the total nature of the evil with which communism threatens mankind." After meeting with Krivitsky, Chambers said, "I knew that, if the opportunity offered, I would inform." Soon thereafter, the Hitler-Stalin Pact was signed. Days later, as Hitler's armies marched into Poland, Chambers was on a plane from New York to Washington, D.C.

Insiders like Chambers and Krivitsky understood that the Communists would stop at nothing. The Soviets would not even pause at the deaths of millions of innocent civilians if it meant an expansion of Communist power. These defectors were able to alert the world to grave danger.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Create Jobs, or Fix Imaginary Problems?

Since the 1960's, certain political groups have hypothesized that the government needs to regulate industry for the sake of the environment. It is clear that some industrial practices can harm the environment; there is no doubt that dangerous emissions have damaged air and water quality in specific cases. But is government regulation the best way to address those situations?

The trend for several decades has been constantly increasing regulation, with occasional periods of respite when rules were relaxed for the sake of giving well-paying jobs to the Americans who needed it most. These regulations took their toll on workers, eliminated some jobs, and reducing pay in others. But did these regulations actually do anything to help the environment? Historian Howard Zinn states that

Reflecting on this years later, Herbert Stein, who had been the chairman of Nixon's Council of Economic Advisers, lamented that "the juggernaut of environmental regulation proved not to be controllable by the Nixon administration."

Specifically, Nixon had signed the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act) into law in 1970.

Regulations which failed to help the environment simply caused unemployment and suffering for those at or near the poverty level. Meanwhile, non-regulatory measures were making real progress toward protecting the environment. Without legislation, the American consumer gradually phased out the use of chlorofluorocarbons and other chemicals. Giving people options, and letting them choose, proved to be a significant step toward protecting the environment - without coercive regulation.

In a different part of the world, this principle was being taken to an extreme. The eastern European countries of Poland, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia - under the domination of the Soviet communist army - had the most controlled economies on the globe, and the worst environmental conditions. Pollution was at its worst behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet Bloc countries, proving that regulated economies do not help the environment.

Meanwhile, rules continued to intervene in the marketplace, stifling job creation. By the late 1970's, Jimmy Carter was president, and economic misery started by oil supply issues was being made worse by various regulations which prevented the marketplace from fixing itself. Economies are self-correcting mechanisms, and automatically restore themselves to equilibrium, if allowed to do so.

But as the American economy showed signs of trouble, Carter seemed more and more concerned about the difficulties the act created for businesses. He became an advocate of removing regulations on corporations and giving them more leeway

to create new jobs. This cycle - new regulation signed into law, and later to be gradually reduced when it is discovered that it helps neither the environment nor the working class - would be repeated in the next few decades. Although well-intended, regulation doesn't help the environment as much as a free marketplace.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Typewriter C.S.I.

Although modern audiences have become familiar with high-tech crime solving through TV shows like CSI and NCIS, one dramatic instance of scientific investigation changed history in a rather low-tech era.

Unlike modern computer printers, old-fashioned typewriters, because of their more physical nature, left a distinct pattern on any document. Under a high-power microscope, the letters left on paper could be traced back to the individual machine which made them. This technique would prove pivotal in the “Hiss case,” as an editor of the Michigan Law Review explains:

The “Hiss case” referred to Alger Hiss, the top FDR advisor and accused Soviet spy, convicted of perjury for denying that he was a Soviet agent. As a young congressman Nixon had exposed Hiss by pursuing the testimony of Hiss’s former fellow spy, Whittaker Chambers. The crucial evidence against Hiss consisted of some highly sensitive government documents that Chambers claimed he had received from Hiss when they were both spying for the Soviet Union. Chambers produced the documents from a hollowed-out pumpkin in response to a subpoena from Nixon’s congressional committee. Though Hiss denied the documents had come from him, the Pumpkin Papers, as they came to be called, were proved to have been typed on the Hiss family typewriter.

As it turned out, Mr. Hiss, who had been highly regarded and appointed to important positions within the U.S. government, was copying secret documents by typing them on his typewriter, and sending them to the Soviet government. Alger Hiss was part of the same network of spies which would later send the plans for America’s atomic bomb to the Soviet Union, creating a huge threat to the security and ordinary lives of millions of Americans. Deadly secrets left the United States, typed out letter by letter, page by page, on Alger Hiss’s typewriter. The fact that the Soviet government obtained this information meant misery and death for people on several different continents. But the microscope proved that Hiss’s typewriter had been the source for these betrayals:

Forced to explain the unexplainable, Hiss expressed amazement on the witness stand, saying he would always “wonder how Whittaker Chambers got into my house to use my typewriter.” The jury laughed out loud at Hiss’s excuse - and then convicted him of perjury.

Alger Hiss was convicted in 1950 and sent to jail. Although that might seem to be the end of the story, it wasn’t.

Decrypted Soviet cables were declassified in 1995, proving that Hiss had been a Soviet spy - even to the satisfaction of the New York Times.

Forty-five years after being definitively exposed and convicted as a Soviet spy, it turned out the Alger Hiss was even more dangerous that anyone in the 1940’s or 1950’s had thought. The Soviet Union was operating an extensive network of spies in the United States, at a time when massive amounts of nuclear weapons were aimed and ready to be launched toward America. The threat at the time was worse than we knew.