Wednesday, May 4, 2016

President Harry Truman Was Tough on Communism - Except When He Wasn't

President Harry Truman spoke forcefully about his intentions to stop the USSR’s global imperial ambitions. He famously proclaimed the ‘Truman Doctrine’ in a speech, as he sought Congressional approval to aid the nation of Greece against an attempted Soviet takeover:

I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

Truman also indicated that he would resist Soviet attempts to infiltrate the United States government with ‘moles,’ and that he would root out those communist agents who had already lodged themselves inside federal bureaucracy. Historian Stan Evans writes:

In many standard histories and bios, Truman is depicted as a tough cold warrior who bravely faced down Moscow, being teamed in this respect with his foreign policy vicar Acheson at State. Even more to the present point, we’re told, Truman cleaned up security problems on the home front.

The Soviet Union was about the business of taking over nations who did not want to become the victims of communist dictatorships. Truman successfully put forth the image of someone who would fight Soviet socialist aggression, as he did, e.g., in the case of Korea.

It was logical, therefore, if the public were to assume that Truman was also dedicated to eradicating the agents of the various Soviet intelligence agencies who had worked their way into positions inside the U.S. government.

The cleanup was supposedly effected through the Truman loyalty program, announced in March of 1947. Thanks to this draconian effort, it’s said, whatever Communists or security risks had got on official payrolls were ousted.

Puzzlingly, Truman’s actions on the domestic front did not always match his words. His efforts against the well-developed Soviet espionage network in North America were lackluster and halfhearted.

Some of the most notorious communist spies held position inside Truman’s administration. Robert Oppenheimer, Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, and William Remington were a few of the many Soviet operatives who had access to sensitive information which they sent to Moscow, and also had access to the ears of policymakers, who could be influenced to unwittingly make pro-Soviet decisions.

This well developed intelligence network connect these individuals, and others, back to the USSR and eventually back to Stalin.

Truman, however, did not act on information given to him by the FBI which indicated that these men were major security risks, as Stan Evans writes:

Sad to say, this portrayal of Truman’s policy on the home front is almost entirely fiction. That he was a visceral anti-Communist is not in doubt. However, he seemed to know little about the way the Soviets and their U.S. agents functioned, or their presence in the government he headed, and didn’t show much interest in learning. This ennui persisted despite the myriad FBI reports supplied to the White House and Truman cabinet about the vast extent and serious nature of the penetration. Accordingly, not only was the security problem not cleaned up by 1950, some of the most flagrant suspects imaginable were flourishing in the federal workforce.

Why did Truman, who seemed dedicated to freeing the world of the communist threat, turn an inattentive eye to Soviet spies inside his own offices? Why did he not act when others attempted to alert him to this danger?

There are several possible answers.

Perhaps Truman was concerned about the image of a U.S. president having to publicly admit the presence of communist operatives inside the federal government. The political damage to his administration and to his party would be grave.

Or perhaps Truman, like many presidents, had to answer to higher powers - the leaders of his party, and the shadowy figures who operate internationalist conferences - who told him not to root out the dangers.

It’s possible that we’ll never know the cause of Truman’s mystifying inaction on this topic.