Thursday, October 05, 2006

Berman misleads--and defames I.F.Stone, again

Paul Berman is at it again. Here is Berman's rejoinder to Eric Alterman's less than adequate response to Berman's original hit piece on I.F. "Izzy" Stone, Stone being one of the greatest journalists of the 20th Century.

After Berman continues to take the word of an elderly KGB agent who has no documentation to back up his interpretation of Stone's ocassional lunches with him from 1966 to 1968 (as if KGB agents living in DC didn't have a motivation to exaggerate for their bosses and then their own aggrandizement) Berman expands another line of attack against Stone. Berman says:

"In my Times piece I (Berman) quoted Stone sneering a little bit at someone named Boris Shub, an American Menshevik -- that is, an American with Russian Menshevik roots. Boris Shub wrote a book in 1950 called 'The Choice,' about how America ought to treat the Soviet Union. Shub was against mere 'containment,' which he thought wasn't working. And he was against launching a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, which he thought was insane, and which, in any case, was only going to unite the Russians against us. (This was the part of his argument that Stone approved). (Bold added)

"Shub favored, instead, lending aid and support to the sundry Russian socialists (Shub used that word, referring to the Mensheviks) and to democrats and trade unionists who could be found in the Soviet Union, in spite of Stalin. Shub wanted to help these people because he hoped that, with support from the United States, they might be able someday to overthrow the Communist government."

Berman says earlier in his rejoinder that Eric Alterman is a confused in his defense. Here, Berman is confusing in his phrasing: "Sneering a little bit"? I wonder what that looks like. Sneering is something done with emphasis, and is not done "a little bit."

But is Stone "sneering" at Boris Shub? A review of the article Berman is quoting from says otherwise. First, the article Stone wrote is entitled, "Shall we take the gamble Hitler lost?" (October 25, 1951). Second, the article expresses Stone's outrage at then noted writer Hanson Baldwin's article in Collier's magazine that supported the idea of what was then called, among US policy-makers, a "limited" invasion of the Soviet Union. Here is Stone, toward the end of the article, which also provides the context for Stone's single remark about Boris Shub:

"Collier's blueprint calls for round-the-clock bombing but assumes we can fight Russia's masters without fighting her people. There is no way to bomb with such pinpoint accuracy as to hit only card-carrying Communists. There is no way to wage a war of liberation with atom bombs. History shows that foreign attack tends to solidify Russians against the invader rather than against their rulers, whther czars or commissars."

Stop for a moment before we get to Stone's comment about Boris Shub. Note the words Stone used: "Russian masters" and "rulers, whether czars or comissars." That doesn't sound like Stone thinks the Soviets are his "comrades," as Berman says of Stone late in his rejoinder. Anyway, Stone continues in this 1951 article:

"Let us listen to a bitterly anti-Communist writer, who himself advocates American aid to counter-revolutionary movements within the Soviet Union. 'If,' Boris Shub writes in his book 'The Choice,' 'through the continued absence of a positve American peace program toward Russia, the Kremlin does convince the majority that we intend to wage genocidal war, they will have to rally behind Stalin as the lesser evil.'

"'For no matter how much they hate the police state,' Shub continues, 'they cannot welcome mass extermination by American hydrogen bombs.' War against the Soviet regime would inescapably be war against the Soviet peoples and their allies in China and Eastern Europe. That is a lot of people, about three quarters of a billion of them. It will take the lives of a good many American boys to subdue them, if inistead of collapsing (as in the Collier's blueprint) they resist."

That's the last two paragraphs of the article. This was no attack on Shub. Instead, Stone begins his citation about Shub with the phrase "Let us listen" to Shub. Stone then goes on to let Shub have the last major quote--and then goes on to agree with Shub's point! Don't you wish people would "sneer" at you like that?

But, does Stone advocate Shub's plan, as explained by Berman (who I am starting not to trust any longer), which was to give "aid and support"--military?--to people behind Soviet borders? No, Stone does not advocate Shub's plan. Stone is clearly concerned with nuclear war, as many sober commentators were at that time. And note again the word Stone uses attached to the word "Soviet" in the last paragraph of the article: "regime." That is a negative, not a positive, term to describe a government.

Now, Stone did use the phrase "bitterly anti-Communist writer" to describe Shub. Is that negative? Maybe. However, writers sympathetic to FDR have described FDR as being "bitterly opposed to Hitler." Does that constitute a sneer at FDR? Hardly. Also, the definition of the word "bitter" in the Merriam-Webster's dictionary has, as the first relevant definition of the term: "...2 : marked by intensity or severity...being relentlessly determined..." Again, that doesn't sound like a word that denotes "sneering."

As for Berman's endorsement of Shub's plan in 1950, Berman is being quite naive and ignorant. Berman needs to read, for starters, Christopher Simpson's "Blowback: America's Recruitment of Nazis and its effects on the Cold War" (1988), which details, in addition to the Truman administration's active recruitment of Nazis after WWII, the US government's failures, in the late 1940s, in trying to land spies behind Soviet lines, and foster a revolt against Stalin.

Also, I ask Berman, how many trade unionists and social democrats were active in Russia at that time, and how many were going to go into espionage for the US in the early 1951, when Stone wrote his article? Maybe that's why Stone saw what Shub was calling for was a "counter-revolution." It is not surprising, though, that Berman wants to give the particular phrase, "counter-revolution," that Stalinist type of twist, which is par for the course for Berman.

Again, Berman is slyly and deeply attacking Stone and again, Berman never bothers to make a real-world comparison of Stone to a Cold Warrior such as Bill Buckley--and Buckley's outright support of dictators, great and small, during the Cold War and beyond. Weirdly, Berman decides to defend Jean-Paul Sartre, of all people, which shows again how Berman is applying benefits of the doubt to others, but not Stone.

Berman, when it comes to Stone, would rather spend an inordinate time talking about the old KGB agent's usage of words in recent interviews with Stone's biographer and, while doing so, never really comes to grips with whether that KGB agent is someone credible. Berman therefore needs to twist Stone's actual writings to the public and try to lead people to believe Stone lacks integrity--precisely what the Bob Novak's and Bill Buckley's have said about Stone for so many decades.

Final points

In one rhetorical flourish, Berman, in his rejoinder to Eric Alterman, says Stone wrote "idiotic salutes to Castro and other Communists." Berman offers no support for this statement, which would, for proof, require more than an isolated incident. I have reviewed Stone's essay books for citations to Castro and noted the following: Stone, in an article from February 27, 1961, said that he was disappointed that Castro will not compromise with the US and that Castro was starting a one-party state that would undermine the hope of the Cuban Revolution against the former dictator, Batista. Stone had gone to Havana to see the "Revolution" for himself, at that time, and saw signs that showed Cuba was possibly heading toward the Soviet style of dictatorship.

Almost two years later, Stone returned to Cuba and reported on his own poor treatment by authorities there (see: Stone's article "Not easy to be a reporter--at large--in Havana," dated January 7, 1963). A week after that, in a January 14, 1963 article, Stone wrote that he saw that the Soviets had permeated into the culture of Cuba, but that, at the time of his trip to Havana, there was no evidence of a Soviet military presence from what he saw. He did see plenty of armed Cubans, a few of whom detained him, as he recounted in the previous article. Stone then says at the end of his article, after noting the reverence people had in Cuba toward Castro in those still-early years, that Castro was "liquidating" the Communist Party as "an independent force," which did not, Stone said, make Castro an "anti-Communist." Instead, said Stone, Castro had decided to pursue a "one-party Socialist" state with Castro himself, not the Communists, being the "party."*

Is that an "idiotic salute to Castro"? Berman's defamatory flourish is ridiculous. As Berman did not name any other Communists, I'll not respond further at this point. Suffice it to say though that Stone had few illusions about Ho Chi Minh, unlike some New Leftists (Berman in his younger days, perhaps?).

As for Eric Alterman, how did he react to Berman's rejoinder? Sad to say, Alterman acted like Joe Lieberman responding to an attack on Democrats. Alterman punted. Don't believe me? Here is what Alterman said on his blog at Media Matters today:

"Paul Berman replies to my critique of his review of Myra McPherson's biography of Izzy Stone, here. My piece was here. I'm going to let it go at that."

That's it, Eric? After all those years you told everyone that you were a personal friend of I.F. Stone? With Stone dead since 1989, and unable to defend himself, Alterman showed he is not a good friend. At all. For shame, Eric, for shame.

* In the January 14, 1963 article, which would be easy to caricature as it is a stream of consciousness reporting his impressions of Cuba, Stone also says, "Persons like myself, friendly to Cuba, and with a liffelong acquaintence with Communists, could not see Fidel Castro as a Marxist-Leninist..." for reasons having to do with Castro's sense of the dramatic and sometimes, in the earliest days of the Revolution, Castro's other mannerisms. But, says Stone, "I no longer think this true." Remember, this is January 14, 1963, still early in the day of Castro's rule over Cuba, and Stone is already off any possible bandwagon. I did note the phrase Stone uses inside that quote, that Stone said he had "a lifelong acquaintence with Communists." I'm sure Berman would salivate over that one, but he would have to admit that Ronald Reagan also had a "lifelong acquaintence with Communists." That's far from being, as Berman accuses Stone of being, "comrades." As Berman himself also already admitted, Stone was not a Commie and wasn't a spy or even an agent of Soviet Russia. But he still can't help trying to discredit Stone, who was open, honest, forthright--and often insightful in a way most other commentators would wish for themselves.



At 11:14 PM, Blogger SNAKE HUNTERS said...

The wife & I retired from the Viejas Casino & Turf Club in
1998, and found a Snug Harbor
in delightful Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

I created a Weblog, because I
felt the curious urge to share
some thoughts about the insane
world we all share today.

You may find it stimulating,
and wish to Comment. If so,
record a first name & town. reb

At 7:07 AM, Blogger Mitchell J. Freedman said...

At first read, I, the proprietor of MF Blog, thought the above comment was just non-political spam. Turns out it is spam for a blog of a WWII vet. I'm not deleting the ad for himself as, after viewing his blog, I believe his blog is worth a purusal. He is not commenting on the I.F. Stone posts, though, and that does make me want to delete this.

But I'm not. I mean, really, how can I delete a WWII vet who likes Mel Torme, Kay Starr, and enjoys the film, "Elmer Gantry"? I would like to ask the guy, though: "Where's Ish Kabibble on your list of faveorites? If you have Kay Starr, you need Ish, too..."

Mitchell J. Freedman


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