The Corner

More on the Left’s Cultural Amnesia

I see Jonah has kindly drawn some attention to my piece on I. F. Stone and the Left’s cultural amnesia. Let me toss out a few relevant odds and ends that didn’t make it into the piece: 

–In the piece, I discussed the ridiculous parsing that The Nation’s Eric Alterman and left-wing media watchdog Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting have engaged in to dismiss the evidence that I. F. Stone was a Soviet spy. Well, a reader draws my attention to Brad DeLong’s entry into the absurd defense-of-Stone sweepstakes. It’s lengthy and too ridiculous to bother taking apart, but I’ll just cite this choice bit:

First, even Pat Buchanan does not think that helping Stalin against Hitler in the late 1930s is a blameworthy act: helping Stalin against Hitler is a mitzvah. Second, there is something wrong with historians who write about how Stone worked “closely with the KGB”–the Committee for State Security–when the KGB was not organized until 1954. In the late 1930s the sinister and murderous people who worked in Dzherzhinsky Square were part of the NKVD. Third, when the most striking example you can find of “working closely with the NKVD” is passing along journalistic gossip that Hearst does not want his reporters to antagonize the Nazis and the reporters are pissed–well perhaps you should fine a less mendacious title for your article than “I.F. Stone, Soviet Agent–Case Closed.”

Really? One, I’m not sure Pat Buchanan and the word “mitzvah” should be used in the same sentence, and given that Buchanan believes World War II shouldn’t have been fought, I’m not sure he’s the go-to guy in deciding the lesser of evils between Stalin and Hitler. Two, give me a @#$?! break. Klehr and Haynes, the historians who uncovered the evidence of Stone’s spying, have authored four widely respected books on Soviet espionage and sure as heck know what they’re talking about. This is nitpicking that proves nothing. Third, “passing along journalistic gossip” is not an accurate summation of what Stone is accused of, nor do we know the full extent of what he did for the Soviets. And even if it were the sum total of charges against Stone — does that make being on the KGB’s, excuse me, NKVD’s payroll under Stalin okay?

–Just this week, The Nation ran an ad for the memorial service of Philip Agee, the CIA turncoat who outed dozens of CIA agents and very likely attempted to pass on information to the Soviets. Now I realize that an ad doesn’t necessarily amount to an editorial endorsement by the magazine, but here’s what the magazine wrote upon Agee’s death earlier this year:

THE WHISTLEBLOWER: We mourn the passing of Philip Agee, the courageous former CIA officer who, in his 1975 book Inside the Company: CIA Diary, exposed the agency’s subversion of democracy and its practices of torture and murder, naming hundreds of officers, agents and companies involved with the crimes. Agee was motivated, he said, by the CIA’s support for “the worst imaginable horrors” in Latin America.

But a quick note to the American Left: Philip Agee’s outing of CIA agents was the reason why the Intelligence Identities Protection Act was created — the same law that ensnared the journalists and Bush-administration figures in the Valerie Plame affair. Given the gallons of ink The Nation spilled defending Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame (and my Google-fu is failing, but if memory serves the two also appeared at events and fundraisers sponsored by the magazine), it seems rather impossible to excoriate the Bush administration for having “harmed [Plame’s] career and put at risk operations she had worked on and foreign agents and sources she had handled” and then turn on a dime and call Agee “courageous” for outing dozens of CIA agents in the field without being nakedly political. Pick one.

–In addition to Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, which is discussed in the piece, I recommend another new book if this stuff is in your wheelhouse: The Conservative Turn: Lionel Trilling, Whittaker Chambers, and the Lessons of Anti-Communism, published by Harvard University Press. I haven’t finished it yet, but so far it’s quite good.

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