Here are some ramblings on the domestic Cold War Here(the land of the Free)and There(Gulagville):
You've seen some of the fallout associated with the beginning of the Cold War, as the drama played out between the USSR in the dueling speeches, the Czech coup and the Berlin airlift. Now, we’re going to look at the impact of this escalating conflict on the home front. Foreign affairs always come home, after all.
In the United States, just after the war, there was a general euphoria—life was good and getting better.
The war had finally brought the country out of the Great Depression; unemployment was down, prosperity was up, and the United States was the lone economic superpower. Everyone was excited about a new era, and the foundation was being laid for the country’s future prosperity. Mrs. Roosevelt gave a little hint of it in one of her columns from l944: “there is a great fear in the heart of any servicemen, and it is not that he will be killed or maimed, but that when he is finally allowed to go home and piece together what he can of his life, he will be made to feel he has been a sucker for the sacrifice he has made.’”
Both President and Mrs. Roosevelt had thought for a long time about how to guarantee a strong economy in the postwar years, and how to acknowledge the service of the thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, wacs, everyone who had fought for his or her country. What they came up with was the GI bill of rights –a legislative project that passed unanimously in both houses of congress, something that promised to “provide the returning veteran with a chance to command the status, education and training he could have enjoyed if he had not served in the military.
So veterans would enjoy a variety of privileges when they returned: the GI bill guaranteed loans for housing; It authorized those unable to find a job right away with a weekly stipend for an entire year. Most importantly from the standpoint of people like my dad, it provided $500/year for college tuition, plus $75/month for living expenses.
In l940, when the average worker who had a job earned just l,000 per year, and when tuition, room and board averaged $453 at state colleges to $979 at private colleges, college education was the “preserve of the privileged few.” The GI bill guaranteed that virtually anyone who qualified for admission could get his college education, and in so doing lifted the educational horizons and achievement of an entire genereation of Americans.
And this postwar group did great things: a Fortune survey of the nationwide class of l949, of which 75 percent were veterans, concluded that it was “the best, most mature, the most responsible, the most self-disciplined group of college students in history.”
So people in the country were proud of having prevailed in the war, having prevailed over depression and privations, and they were happy and engaged with new opportunities.
But inevitably, beneath the hoo-rahing and new life-making and transitioning and prosperity, there was a vague uneasiness. By the late l940s, it had dawned on people that their great victory in the World War was complete, that they had vanquished Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, only to find themselves at odds with their former ally, the Soviet Union. Nazi Germany had repressed and enslaved and murdered people, and we had taught them a lesson, beaten them. Now….our former ally was doing the same thing…what had happened?
Americans had gotten used to thinking about the Soviet Union in benevolent ways:
--our gallant Russian allies who had a revolution just like we did.
--our brothers in arms who have created a new type of society where the “radio has no commercials.”
n a nation way over there somewhere that was led by a man we called “uncle Joe” stalin who was known to bounce children on his knee.
Now they learned, or at least those who read the paper learned, that this same nation was doing underhanded, sneaky, sometimes openly outrageous things—it had returned to an earlier incarnation, the crusading, hostile, revolutionary entity of the l920s, maybe.
--harassing non-Communists in the e. European states
--making mischief in Greece and Turkey, to the point that President Truman had to proclaim the Truman doctrine to combat them
--imprisoning religious leaders, such as Cardinal Mindzenty in Hungary.
People were confused, at the very least, and a little angry: they were asking two questions:
a) how did this happen?
b) are we in any danger from these developments here?
This anxiety expressed itself in several tangible ways:
--efforts on the part of some civil and business leaders to circle the wagons a little bit, promote what they called “unity,” “americanism,” “American strengths,” Everyone should be united in faith and patriotism and condemn Communism.
--Two advertising agencies, namely the Joint Committee on Economic Education for the Nation and the Freedom Foundation of Valley Forge(EF Hutton and D.D. Eisenhower), launched a crusade to publicize the virtues of the American economy(free enterprise)and created an awards scheme to reward those who “revere and promote democracy.”
First winner: Housewife for her “freedom chocolate chip cookies” and her “recipe for freedom.”
In September l948…KC Missouri held “Democracy beats Communism” week—a week-long, city-wide comparison of the American and Soviet systems.
Goal: to convince Missourians that “one of the major threats to the democratic institutions of this country is the failure of many of its citizens to understand the basic principles of the “antagonistic philosophies that have come to threaten them
They had city council members and selected citizens study the fundamentals of the Soviet and American governments for six months, then those who had studied up fanned out to spread the word in high schools, unions, service clubs and on the radio. Their message? “Americans won’t buy Communism if they know what they are getting.”
Of course, any anxiety in the body politic will always be picked up and acted upon by politicians, especially young, ambitious ones. Take the case of one Richard Milhous Nixon:
The Republican Party in l946 was massively frustrated. It had been out of power since l932. It was hard-pressed to find an issue to run on; St. Franklin Roosevelt had cured the nation’s ills, led it through the war, and Harry S. had picked up where St. Franklin had left off…
What to do?? You have to have an issue to run on.
There were several options, the most attractive of which was to latch on to the Communist threat, all the trouble the Soviet Union was causing in Europe.
The other party hadn’t caused this, but the worsening of relations and the breakup of the allies had occurred on the Democrats’ watch…so the questions came from candidates: Whose fault is divided Europe? Who in the country is sympathetic to the Communists, maybe is helping them out, in the government, in the media, in the schools, wherever?!
This was the general direction of the thoughts southern California Republicans as they searched for a good candidate to run against the democratic incumbent, Jerry Voorhis.
They found one in a young graduate of Duke Law School, a Whittier, California boy and Whittier College alumni, named Richard Milhous Nixon, who was destined to be front and center through most of the great cold war struggles from the Congress, as a private citizen, and eventually as President of the US.
Nixon had just been discharged from the service, and his lifelong ambition was to get into politics. Nixon was tough, hard-working, smart and determined, as you will see. He’s also a good California boy in that he recognized a wave, the issue of Communism and its dangers to America, and rode it with skill, all the way through his campaign for Congress, to victory.
Just as the Communist issue had caught the attention of Nixon and other politicians, veteran and otherwise, so it began to show up on the Congressional Agenda.
Nixon’s first committee assignment was to something called the House Un-American Activities Committee, or HUAC.
This was actually established in l938 by Democrats to uncover “malign, foreign influences in the United States;” after l946, it passed into the hands of Republican members.
Their agenda seemed to be to prove that Democrats had allowed “Communist subversion” to reach alarming levels.
The Movie Industry—Hollywood—was the first target. The charge was that Communists had so infiltrated Hollywood that American films were being tainted with Soviet propaganda, deliberate attempts to soften the brains of Ams and make them susceptible to Communist propaganda. Committee members began to investigate the issue of Communism in Hollywood labor unions, and they were given the names of ten screenwriters who were members of the Communist Party. They never hid it. The committee summoned them to Washington to submit to questioning; these ten screenwriters, who later became known as the “Hollywood Ten,” refused to testify and openly ridiculed and condemned the process. They pointed out that it was not illegal to be a Communist, and that there was no proof that they had done anything subversive. Congress held them in contempt; all of them went to prison for 6 months in l950.
The screenwriters’ guild, in its wisdom, declared that none of them would ever work in Hollywood until and unless they were acquitted of contempt charges and declared they were not Communists.
So essentially, these guys’ careers were over because they allegedly belonged to the Communist Party, which was never illegal. The original ten never really recovered from this ordeal; there were others blacklisted for being affiliated with the ten, like Barbara Bel Geddes, did recover, but it took awhile for them to find work.
The Hollywood Ten investigation was pretty much a disgrace to everyone involved. The next big investigation was a lot more controversial, and it involved newly-minted Congressman Nixon. HUAC also was investigating possible subversion in government, whether people sympathetic to the Soviet Union at any time in their lives were in positions of power in influence. In so doing, members charged a high-ranking State Department official, Alger Hiss, with disloyalty. Alger Hiss had been an aide to Franklin Roosevelt, a close aide, and had been with him at the Yalta Conference. In other words, the committee members alleged that there was a mole at the highest echelons of the American government.
The source for this allegation was Whittaker Chambers, a self-described “former communist” who told the Committee that Hiss had passed him classified documents—the famous “pumpkin papers,” so called because they were hidden under a pumpkin in a patch.
Nixon really latched onto this case, went after it with tenaciousness, as you wil see here. He was convinced that hiss was lying. Some would say it was an honest passion, some would call it “witch hunt…
Hiss was never convicted of espionage; he WAS convicted of perjury, because it was demonstrated that he HAD known Whittaker chambers.
But the case was and is controversial—
Soviet archivists, people who went through the foreign ministry archives, repeatedly have maintained that there was nothing about Alger Hiss anywhere in those collections. HOWEVER, a couple of ex-Soviet agents said they had had contacts with Alger Hiss. There is no proof, but they maintain that they knew Hiss. It was subsequently proven that Alger Hiss’s typewriter actually produced the documents that whittaker chambers found in the pumpkin patch. BUT those documents never turned up anything that couldn’t be found in the public records, and later an fbi man who said that a typewriter could not be used in a forgery was found to be lying under oath.
The general feeling of these first years of the domestic cold war is that the Communist world appears to be on the march, where we are treading water, that they have dynamism and the ability to control events, where we don’t seem to; that they appear to be speaking with one voice, where we have a lot of loud people here demanding explanations and answers.
It was only going to get worse, for a number of reasons: First, the SOVIET UNION GOT THE ATOMB BOMB.
Previous to that, having the bomb gave the US a degree of security, a degree of certainty that the Soviet Union would be constrained by the knowledge that the US could use the bomb against them if it so desired. For example, when the Soviet Union sought to control Berlin in l948, the Soviets felt secure in shutting off the city, but shrank from aggressive actions, like shooting down an American plane. That all changed, of course, in August l949, when the Soviet Union, after years of frenzied work and experimentation, exploded its own bomb.
Almost immediately, the Soviet Union felt secure in giving its blessing to Kim Il-Sung in his quest to invade south Korea and forcibly unite it with the Communist north.
When Stalin and the Soviet Union got that bomb, and immediately sanctioned an aggressive war in Korea, it certainly sent a message to people here that the United States could become a target.
Stalin could target an American city and use his a-bomb. Some people called that unlikely, because that was the end of a big swatch of civilization, and quite possibly the end of the Soviet Union, too, but no one had great confidence in his prudence or good judgment.
So the country was introduced to the concept of learning to live with the threat of the bomb. Some manifestations?
The armed forces, in the first years after the Soviet Union got the bomb, began working on a war plan that envisioned WINNING a nuclear war. In other words, launching our own bomb and sending in the infantry either to accompany or FOLLOW the bomb drop(!)
Other institutions, like the public schools in New York state, wondered about preparedness in the event that Americans got hit suddenly—forget offensive operations, how can we play defense, keep from being killed in the event of a sudden attack?
The Public Schools of New York City and Astoria, New York, in connection with the US Civil Defense Agency, pooled the conventional wisdom on the subject in l951 and put together a preparedness video for children and adults. You might have seen it—it’s called “Duck and Cover.”
When Americans were not actively thinking about preparing for nuclear war or a nuclear bomb, they were seeing a lot about it on TV and at the movies, and listening to it on the radio.
As before, “The Twilight Zone,” which debuted in the late 50s, devoted a lot of time to the Cold War, and nuclear war in particular—see episodes entitled “Time enough at last,” “the Shelter,” and “Two.”
In popular music, there were at least four popular songs about the bomb: The Hydrogen Bomb, Atom Bomb Baby, When they Drop the Atom Bomb, followed presently by the Kingston Trio, “The Merry Minuet.” And then, of course, film…the most famous, of course, is Dr. Strangelove, or How I learned to Love the Bomb, about a nuclear-trigger-happy American general and his Soviet counterpart. ALSO: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD…ONE OF MY ALL-TIME FAVES—remember, the corpses were resurrected and sent walking mindlessly towards the people in that farmhouse by an underground nuclear test gone awry.
So concern over the nuclear issue, the threat of nuclear annihilation, the idea of using the bomb against someone, having a President who would, maybe, and/or having the bomb dropped on us, is a major preoccupation of the domestic Cold War in America.
Another really big theme on the domestic front in the early cold war years is the threat of Communist invasion and/or takeover of the United States. On the face of it, this seems extremely unlikely, because of geography and the sheer size of the US—it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to invade and hold this place. Nonetheless, Communism seemed to be on the march, and people here clearly entertained the possibility.
Early in the Cold War, in the l940s, you saw the beginnings of patriotic pageantry, in the Freedom Day celebrations, in efforts to promote awareness of the differences between American democracy and Soviet Communism. After the Korean War, there’s going to be a lot more such pageantry, pageantry not just celebrating American democracy but warning against the possibility of Communist invasion or takeover of the country.
The most famous of these took place in Mosinee, Wisconsin. Citizens there, members of the American Legion and the Mayor, decided to give themselves, their whole town, an important lesson about Communism by staging their own mock Communist takeover. The chairman of the committee charged with planning this takeover, a local lawyer named John Decker, thought it would be a great idea to “dramatize the American liberties that would be forfeit in the event of a real Communist invasion of America.” You can access a great site dedicated to this and other manifestations of the Cold War here.
Inevitably, you always get around to politics, because whatever is on the minds of the body politic is going to be on the minds of their elected officials, who after all want to stay elected. Richard Nixon is probably the most prominent anti-Communist in American politics as of l950—the issues are with him, he seems to be on a roll, a national superstar, already a potential vice Presidential or Presidential candidate on the Republican side. But he’s about to be overshadowed, or at least joined at the forefront of American politics, by a man who gave the world one of the most well-used political phrases EVER:
You had Communism, you had Socialism, you had Bolshevism, you had Fascism, you had Nazism, you had Stalinism, Maoism, and a whole bunch more isms. Joseph McCarthy’s late political career and works gave the world “McCarthyism .” a phenomenon that occupied most of the nation’s attention, at least in terms of domestic politics, between l950 and l954.
Joe McCarthy was a good old Irish pol, Irish-American Catholic, from Wisconsin. He was a graduate of Marquette, the Catholic University of Wisconsin, and then its law school by l921. He always wanted to be in politics…he made a couple of unsuccessful runs for state representative as a Democrat, then switched to the Republican party and was elected to a judgeship in l940, after which he ended up in World War II, just like everyone else of fighting age. Once he got home, he began plotting a run for national office, and set his sights on the seat held by Robert Lafollette, one of Wisconsin’s famous political families. He seemed to have no chance, because Lafollette was well-liked and respected, an FDR democrat, but this was l946, a good year for Republicans, and Lafollette took the seat for granted. Ultimately, McCarthy won the race and headed for the Senate.
In the Senate, he was like a lot of freshmen senators—he was an established anti-Communist, like a lot of Irish Catholics because of the treatment of religion and religious people in the Soviet Union, and because he represented people whose relatives now lived in the Soviet bloc states. But he had trouble getting identified with a big issue—almost everyone was concerned with Communism and developments in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. By l950, he was already worried about the l952 election—he had to have an issue to carve out on his own.
In January 1950, he had dinner with some influential Washingtonians, among which was the first dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, Edmund A. Walsh. Walsh was an Irish Catholic just like McCarthy, and very well thought of—he was an expert on the Soviet Union. McCarthy asked them what he should do, what they thought he should emphasize, and Fr. Walsh said, “Communists in government.” Look at this, you’ve had the Alger Hiss case, you’ve seen President Truman impose loyalty oaths, and Communism continues to march on. There’s something to that, the idea that there are Communists in government, some people on the inside, in the establishment, selling us out:
Run with it!!
So McCarthy DID run with it. About a month later, he went before a Republican Women’s meeting in Wheeling, West Virginia, and made a sensational charge: “While I cannot take the time to name all of the men in the State Department who have been named as Communists and members of a spy ring, I have here in my hand a list of 205 that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who, nevertheless, are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department.”
205 people. That was a lot of people, that was a serious charge, and it sounded real—why would you say 205 people if you didn’t have pretty good info?
The State Department promptly challenged McCarthy, after which he changed his tally a bit. In a speech in Denver, he said that he knew of 205 “security risks.”
In Salt Lake City a few weeks later, he revised the tally downwards, to 57, but added “card-carrying Communists” to the 57.
These charges brought forth a lot of reaction…some people were skeptical and angry about them, because the Senator never produced the names, or the documentation for his charges, The New York Times, for example, said, “Senator McCarthy has been giving a good imitation of a hit-and-run driver in his attacks on the state department.” The major paper from his home state of Wisconsin declared, “We suspect that this oratorical spree is cut of demagogic cloth. It is up to the Senate to prove it is NOT.
But McCarthy had a lot of supporters, too. Fellow Irish Catholics certainly supported him, because they hated Communism and cheered on one of their own, ethnic Poles and Czechs and Slovaks certainly supported him, because they felt he was speaking up for their oppressed family members in Soviet bloc Europe, and quite a few people rooted for McCarthy because he was like them—came from a working class family and wasn’t afraid to take on the “establishment,” which consisted of “bright young men born rich, with silver spoons in their mouths.” All of that was important to the people who believed McCarthy. Plus, don’t forget, no one had been able to explain cogently why all these terrible things were happening—the Soviets got the bomb, the Chinese went Communist, Communism on the march in Korea.
So McCarthy’s supporters communicated their feelings to their elected representatives, and the Senate was moved to launch an investigation of the State Department and alleged Communist influence within it.
The head of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Subversive Influences was the group formed to investigate these charges, and Senator Millard Tydings of Maryland was the chairman. The committee called witnesses, conducted research, did all the things Congressional committees usually do, and after four months, both the majority and minority reports concluded that there was nothing substantial to McCarthy’s charges—there was no evidence of widespread Communist influence in the state department.
But that didn’t stop McCarthy…in fact, it made him MORE popular, because it made him look as if he was a big truthteller, the man who wanted the congress and the nation to know some unpleasant truths, but who got only interference and stonewalling. And even though a lot of newspapers condemned him as a blowhard and a proponent of the Big Lie, the sweeping accusation that you never quite got around to substantiating, quite a few others supported him consistently—like the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Times Herlad, and a number of columnists, like Walter Winchell. They told the world, all the time, that McCarthy was cleansing the Reds out of government.
So McCarthy soldiered on with Communists in government.
Later that year, even though there WAS no evidence, no concrete evidence, of Communism in the State Department, McCarthy attacked the Asia division and its staff, particularly John Service and John Carter Vincent. Those guys had served in China, spoke Chinese, in some cases been advisers to Chaing Kai-Shek, the nationalist leader who was competing for the leadershp of China with Mao. Service and Vincent told everyone who would listen that the US had better be prepared for a Communist victory, that it was going to happen no matter WHAT the US did. Get ready to deal with a Communist China and Mao Tse-tung as leader. This was honest advice based on what they heard, read, saw, personally witnessed. And the Communist takeover came, just as these guys said it would.
In l950, McCarthy charged that those statements PROVED that these diplomats were WORKING FOR THE COMMUNISTS. Why else would they have said something so awful? He raised such a fuss that those two guys, and some of the younger people who worked with them, were dismissed. With them went about l00 years of experience of China-watching and observing. When it came time to decide what to do about Indochina, in other words, Vietnam, there was no one experienced in the store, no one who could give a good assessment of what the chances were of preventing Ho Chi Minh from coming the power. AND McCarthy went on to slander General Marshall, the author of the containment policy and collaborator on the Marshall Plan. He claimed that MARSHALL was an agent of Communist China because of a failed mission to China to try to assess the situation there. He went to China because he’d spent quite a bit of there as an army officer, and had a good idea of what was going on there. He had gone to assess the situation, and came back pessimistic. For that, McCarthy accused him of being an agent of a conspiracy “so immense, and an infamy so black, as to dwarf any previous venture in the history of man. “
Again, even though there was no proof of these allegations, they at least for some people provided SOME explanation of why certain things had been happening. You didn’t ask for proof, for tangible evidence; you listened to the charges, you looked at McCarthy—who didn’t look like he aspired to higher office, who didn’t look like a suave senator, who looked like a bulldog, and some people said, “he’s onto something, and he’s roughing up those prissy intellectuals.”
He was so convinced of the rightness of his course that he threw himself into campaigning against Senator Tydings, the guy who had led the first investigation into McCarthy’s charges of Communism in government. Tydings was a Democrat, with a relatively safe seat, popular, well-thought-of…but McCarthy was out in Maryland a lot, explicitly campaigning against Tydings, and using a highly questionable tactic: a doctored photograph, in which Tydings was seemingly talking amicably with Earl Browder, the head of the American Communist Party. The photo was a fake, and in fact Browder had gone out of his way to denounce Tydings as a “reactionary,” but never mind: the allegation was there, Tydings is friendly with Communists.
And Tydings lost, in fact, to his Republican opponent—and McCarthy was judged to have been a factor in his defeat.
From then on, politicians of all stripes paid attention to Joe McCarthy. Some politicians, like Richard Nixon, who was going to be the vice-Presidential nominee with General Eisenhower in l952, used McCarthy-like invective: he called McCarthy’s opponent, whose name was Adlai Stevenson, “a graduate of the Cowardly Communist College of Containment,” for his support of President Truman’s firing of General McArthur. Others just tried to stay out of McCarthy’s way, as General Eisenhower did when he exed out a passage in a campaign speech praising General Marshall. McCarthy had attacked General Marshall, attacked him without foundation, but General Eisenhower was wary of McCarthy’s popular support…
So McCarthy was a kingmaker just a couple of years after his first charges regarding Communists in government. He was a kingmaker, and he had gotten mostly good publicity. But the allegations about internal subversion stretched far beyond McCarthy and Washington—an awful lot of ordinary people had suffered for things that just seemed wildly un-American—like having relatives who read Communist newspapers, or even had “controversial” beliefs, or, like my grad adviser, had a “Russian” or “Slavic” names…
In the SOVIET UNION, there was one big divergence from the postwar experience in the United States, and then more similarities than you might think.
The big difference was in the condition of the country. In the US, things could not have been much more favorable; war had not been fought on our territory; everything was intact. The depression had finally given way to the work-on-all-cylinders in the war.
The GI Bill was giving a whole generation of servicepeople and their families advantages they could never have hoped for before: low-cost loans, assistance with finding a job, and college expenses—tuition, books and board. The worst thing that had happened, aside from the people who had died or were wounded in the war, was the internment of Japanese-Americans. And they were rebuilding their lives right along with the rest of the country, even as political tensions increased and sharpened with developments in the Cold War.
In the Soviet Union, things could not have been more catastrophic.
Some of the worst fighting in Europe had occurred in the western Soviet Union—in Leningrad, Moscow, Kiev and Stalingrad, but also throughout the borderlands, especially Ukraine, where millions of Jews had lived—and died at the hands of Nazi SS execution squads. Most of European Russia was literally in rubble and ruins. Between 20 and 40 million people had been killed in the war—to this day, we have no exact figure. It could’ve been higher. The material losses were equally staggering. Besides Leningrad, Moscow, Kiev and Stalingrad, which were either partially or totally destroyed, 70,000—that’s 70,000 villages and 2,000 towns were completely destroyed, along with 32,000 factories and some 40,000 miles of rail track.
As you can imagine, an awful lot of housing was destroyed outside the major cities; consequently, many, many people lived in holes in the ground, in shacks, in improvised shacks, in the Russian winter. Because the damage was so extensive, and the reconstruction needs so great, quite a few of these people lived this way for years.
And there were two crop failures, in l946 and l947, that resulted in a massive famine in the southwestern part of the country, especially Ukraine. Thousands of people died of starvation, and even in the regions not affected, there was severe bread rationing—basically a quarter of a loaf per person per day, maybe less if you weren’t working full-time.
Interview: Martha Mautner, U.S. Embassy, Moscow
"I took a trip down through the Ukraine and it was the time of the '47 famine that was going on down there about which nothing was heard in the outside world. The Soviets were talking about great grain harvests and everything else. We got down there. On the train stops you would see children with distended bellies begging for bread, er, at the Odessa itself, people lying out on the streets outside the hospitals where they couldn't take them in, starving to death. There was malnutrition everywhere."
So there was no return to normal in the Soviet Union. In fact, there would be nothing “normal” in most people’s lives for a decade or more, if ever, unless you were one of the privileged few people high up in the Communist Party.
But there WAS a disturbing similarity in one sense: both governments took advantage of the growing Cold War, the death of wartime unity, for their own purposes.
In America, it was the legislative branch, the Congress, seizing upon the indignation over the Soviet Union and divided Europe, began looking for Soviet sympathizers, Soviet spies or agents, Communist Party members in the government and Hollywood. The House Un-American Activities Committee held hearings in which Communist Party members were summoned and questioned about their activities and belief.
The implication was that somehow, belonging to the Communist party in the past, or the present, or advocating policies that were in any way associated with Communism, were somehow responsible for divided Europe and a nuclear soviet Union.
For their beliefs, or things they had believed in or done in the past and could not change, people went to prison or had their lives seriously altered.
All of this was maybe understandable since the underlying factor was fear, but it was mostly unforgivable because this IS the United States of America, home of the first amendment, AND because it was largely driven by politicians trying to gain and stay in power. That happens in a two-party system, but it doesn’t mean you have to like it or admire it.
Well, the same kind of dynamic was at work in the Soviet Union, except that it was all the work of the be-all and end-all, the man who was the executive, legislative and judicial branch, all rolled into one: Stalin. Here, in the US, the charge was always: Commsymp, Communist, stooge. Anything related to the Soviet Union, its government or politics was immediately suspect, in some cases openly reviled. There, in the Soviet Union, the bogeyman was…the countries west of Berlin, in first place the US of A. These nations were definitely public enemy number one, with US leading the parade of scoundrels.
The Soviet equivalent of the House Un-American Activities Committee—basically the Communist Party apparatus and its many toadyist minions--got started just as soon as the war in Europe ended.
First, a great many people who found themselves—for whatever reason—in the west, especially Berlin, at the end of the war were arrested soon after returning from the war. These could be, and were, soldiers, people who had fought all the way from Moscow and Leningrad all the way to Berlin, people who had seen years of action. They could be people taken against their will to Germany, for forced labor. Lots of people in Ukraine were forced into cattle cars and taken to work in factories, as slaves. Lots of children ended up there, too, taken to be subjected to medical experiments, since Slavic people were not considered fully human.
These people were arrested after they came back and charged under article 58.1a, anti-Soviet agitation. Ten years at hard labor. Or they could be former prisoners of war, also taken against their will. Their problem was, they were given orders very early in the war, when Stalin’s back was against the wall, NOT to be taken alive. They were to die fighting, by Stalin’s order number 270. Those who violated this order, and were taken prisoner, were arrested after they got home and charged under article 58.1b, anti-Soviet agitation. They got 10 years at hard labor, too.
Interview: Martha Mautner, U.S. Embassy, Moscow
"We had a maid whose husband was a prisoner of war. When he finally was repatriated and came back, it was a great reunion, and life was wonderful again, the family was reunited. Six months later he was arrested because he had been a German prisoner of war."
The rationale here was “contamination by virtue of being in a capitalist country,” even a destroyed one. You were tainted by exposure to the enemy, so you would have to do some hard time before you were re-admitted to the greatest place ever known to man.
Unofficially, Soviet leaders were afraid that these people had figured out that even in its destroyed state, Europe had better living conditions and a higher standard of living than Soviet people did, even though those Soviet people were living in the so-called “workers’ paradise.” And people with these impressions have to be removed for awhile.
As relations with the west, and especially with the United States, got worse, the focus of Stalin’s scapegoating, the people he held responsible for the worsening of the postwar situation, got more specific.
One of the most prominent organizations in the Soviet Union during World War II was the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. Everyone knew that Nazi Germany was waging a war largely based on racism and concepts about the innate superiority of some peoples over others. The Jews were the lowest of the low, in Hitler’s opinion.
Stalin understood this, and so he organized some prominent Soviet Jews, like Solomon Mikhoels, to go to the west to represent the Soviet Union and raise funds for the gallant Soviet people, who were doing so much to fight Nazi racists in Europe. Representatives were in the United States and Britain through most of the war, doing interviews, giving benefit concerts and readings and making all kinds of public appearances. They were very popular and very successful in raising money.
Well, after the war, the United States and Great Britain became very unpopular in the Soviet Union, because they dropped the atom bomb, tried to deny the Soviet Union its due, were hostile. So members of this committee, and by extension many Jews in the country, would have to accept part of the blame for how things had gone bad.
The first victim was Mikhoels himself; he was lured to a meeting in Minsk to discuss the publication of a play he had written. Stalin had ordered the secret police to do away with Mikhoels, and they did—when he arrived, the secret police took him away in a car, strangled him and then arranged for a truck to run over the body. After which, the secret police, on Stalin’s orders, announced in the newspapers that Mikhoels had been exposed as an American spy and had been hit by a car as he tried to escape Soviet police!
After this announcement, the hunt was on for Mikhoels’ accomplices, the people who had helped him spy for America.
Everyone who had worked with Mikhoels on the Anti-Fascist Committee was arrested and shot; Jewish newspapers and literatures were confiscated and burned; Jews were thrown out of high schools and universities and arrested. This was all leading to some stunning conclusion, but we won’t see that until just before Stalin finally dies.
So—why is the world disrespecting the Soviet Union now? Why are America and Britain so unjustly opposing the Soviet Union in its peaceful projects everywhere? Why, it’s because of these JEWS—that was the thinking in the Kremlin.
Then there were the Soviet citizens who committed the sin of socializing with people from the Soviet Union’s allies during the war. As we all know, there were westerners in the Soviet Union during and just after the war. The US had pilots flying in supplies to Siberia, unloading lend-lease cargo way up north and various and sundry other people in other places, all on official assignments, of course. French and British people were there, too. Inevitably, because these were soviet allies, they came into contact with Soviet people. It was typically a western guy and a Russian woman, because there weren’t any Women’s Army Corps types in the Soviet Union. Anyway, after the war, and relations with the west worsened, Stalin added another category to the criminal code: Foreigners’ girl friends, who were subject to arrest and imprisonment under a new article of the Soviet criminal code: SDE, Socially Dangerous Element.
It should’ve been obvious to everyone that relationships between western men and Soviet women was directly responsible for the atom bomb, the Marshall plan and the determination of the west to contain Communism wherever it had spread. That’s the way it was in Stalin’s universe. SOMEONE was to blame, and it certainly wasn’t him.
After l948 and the Berlin airlift, in which the United States successfully defeated Stalin’s attempt to take Berlin all for himself, still more punitive measures were cooked up for Soviet citizens who had committed offenses against their country.
This time, it was anyone who was heard to say a good word for America, maybe soldiers sitting around reminiscing about meeting up with Americans somewhere, somehow, and someone saying the Americans were good guys, or maybe someone who said Lend-Lease Aid saved their children or their family. Those individuals were charged with PAD—Praise of American Democracy.
Then, let’s say you had worked somewhere unloading American supplies from lend-lease, maybe trucks or machine parts. You made some remark to a co-worker to the effect that, hey, I remember those American trucks and they were really great.
If you were overheard by someone who was listening deliberately, and chances are you would be, you might be arrested for PAT—Praise of American Technology.
Or, if they couldn’t get you on either of those counts, maybe just thought that you were too much the non-conformist, too independent, not enough of a cheerleader for Stalin, there was always the catch-all: TW, Toadyism towards the West.
Now, before the war, there had been arrests like these…in the early years of Hitler, they used to arrest people studying German, because they should’ve been able to see the future and know that this was the language of the enemy, or later Japanese. But in the prewar, the unfortunates convicted only got TEN years. After l948, Stalin got serious about this, and people convicted of PAD, PAT and TW got…TWENTY-FIVE years(!!)…
But, as someone said once with a straight face, "Yes, we had Stalinism. But YOU had McCarthyism(!)..."