The Nation Persists in Espionage Denial
By John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr
Few issues have generated as much scholarly dishonesty as the study of communism and, more recently, the revelations from once-closed Cold War archives about Americans who spied for the Soviet Union.
In 2003 we published In Denial, which discussed how an embarrassingly large number of academics denied, minimized, avoided noticing, or, the last resort, justified Soviet espionage against the United States as well as such Stalinist mass murders as the Great Terror and the Katyn massacre. It was bad enough that such deplorable history was written prior to the 1990s. But our outrage was prompted by the sad spectacle of supposedly trained historians continuing to distort evidence from Russian and East Bloc archives that contradicted their biases.
And it still goes on. One conclusion we have reached is that many of those who continue to write historical nonsense about Soviet espionage and communism are not consciously dishonest. It is not a matter of their knowing the truth and lying about it (although there is some of that). More frequently, we are dealing with intellectual “true believers,” ideological zealots who are mentally incapable of accepting or processing information that undermines their historical world view. To use a metaphor coined by the historian Aileen Kraditor, it is as if they wear special glasses that can only see what conforms to their world-view. Information that contradicts their fiercely held view is denied, explained-away, or, most often, simply ignored.
A recent example of espionage denial is James M. Boughton’s review of Benn Steil’s The Battle of Bretton Woods, published in The Nation magazine. A former Indiana University professor and historian of the International Monetary Fund, Boughton has long denied that Harry Dexter White ever cooperated with Soviet espionage; a section of In Denial was devoted to exposing his fallacious arguments. Similarly, The Nation has a long history of refusing to accept that such left-wing icons as White, Alger Hiss, or Julius Rosenberg could be guilty as alleged. Not until 1995 did it offer a concession about Rosenberg, although even then it resisted the claim that he was a major atomic spy. While The Nation has published letters-to-the-editor objecting to its distortion of history, such communications cannot lay out in detail just how mendacious its authors are and how much evidence they ignore.