The Henry Wallace Rewrite
Stone and Kuznick are wrong, wrong, wrong.

Vice President Henry Wallace (left) with President Franklin D. Roosevelt


Conrad Black

The last thing I would have imagined a week ago, when I wrote my column about the mythologization of Henry Wallace by Oliver Stone, was that I would return to the same subject this week. But Stone and his fig-leaf of ostensibly respectable historical writing, Peter Kuznick (an anti-nuclear-weapons specialist), have popped up like a cobra’s head in the Wall Street Journal, purporting to defend the “heroic stature” (their words) of Henry Wallace from the sensible and thorough debunking historian Ronald Radosh gave them in the same publication on January 11. The Stone-Kuznick effort to raise the fallen soufflé would not merit further attention if it did not demonstrate the distressing tenacity of these formerly rather easily discredited myth-makers. As with virally transmitted sicknesses, immunities to these lies and heresies can be worn down and made more porous by constant combat.

On its face, it is fantastic that even Stone, who as a cinematic presenter of American history has not had both oars in the water for many decades, could po-facedly claim that it would have been a benign development if Wallace had been renominated for the vice presidency in 1944 and succeeded to the presidency on the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12, 1945, instead of Harry S. Truman. In support of their opinion that Wallace would have avoided the Cold War and even a ripple of Great Power discord, they claim that a great majority of Americans preferred Wallace to Truman for the vice presidency in 1944, and that Roosevelt himself thought Wallace an excellent vice president and possible successor. But why, in that case, did Roosevelt dump Wallace from the ticket? Why were the barons of the governing party unanimous in wishing a change? And why did the delegates vote for Truman? (Never mind that, in the authentic poll of the voters in 1948, Truman bested Wallace by 47 points.) The implication is that Roosevelt did not know his own mind or was unable to assert himself over his party, and that the bosses — Chicago mayor Edward Kelly, postmaster general Frank Walker, DNC chairman Robert Hannegan, former chairmen James Farley and Edward Flynn, chief fundraiser George Allen, and others — were desperately anxious to promote a Cold War with the Soviet Union and enjoy decades of acute international tension, and the pugnacious rube Truman was the perfect instrument for their Cold War–mongering.

The Stone-Kuznick endeavor is actually more outrageous than past efforts by left-wing revisionists. Howard Zinn was a relatively amiable fellow who grumbled about the absence of the vote for women until World War I, and about the hypocrisy of a bunch of slave-owners setting up what they represented as “a new order of the ages” in human liberty with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; and he decried the pecuniary motives underlying much of the over-celebratory collective pretensions to disinterested American idealism. There was some truth to much of what he wrote, and it wasn’t too challenging to shrink his allegations to a rigorous perspective that allowed for some alteration of the George-Washington’s-cherry-tree school of history. Noam Chomsky has been harder to endure equably, partly because he is an authentic authority on language, which assists his always predictable cynical-left take on everything. But again, there is often an element of truth in his comments.

Oliver Stone, though, simply makes it up out of whole cloth, and on this occasion found a semi-plausible historian and a television network to help him propagate the lies. His theories of the vast conspiracy of thousands to murder John F. Kennedy, and of the almost equally large conspiracy to suborn the entire American government that Richard Nixon fronted and hid by the cunning distraction of the Watergate affair, were solo film excursions that were so preposterous they did not require much serious refutation. The Wallace story is farther back in the public mind, the personalities less well-known, and this Stonewhopper has been dropped onto the slightly fertile ground seeded already by even such people as Tony Judt, to the effect that the Cold War was not exactly what it seemed and could have been moderated. Stone’s proruption onto this ground is on a new scale of untruth.