Sunday, May 08, 2005

Bush at Riga: Hiss/Yalta Canard

The claim, in a blog, that Bush’s speech at Riga in Latvia included remarks that Alger Hiss’s attendance at the Yalta conference, as adviser to Secretary of State Stettinius, was the reason for handing over the Eastern European bloc of countries to the Russians after WWII is bizarre at the least, and false at most.

It is bizarre in that the blog states that Bush quoted verbatim from an old Joseph McCarthy speech from 1950, which condemned the Yalta agreement because McCarthy claimed it was co-written by Alger Hiss. Hiss had been interrogated by HUAC at the time of McCarthy’s speech in 1950, for being a communist spy in the 1930’s, as part of the red-baiting witch hunt following WWII.

It is false, because the text of Bush’s speech has no such reference to Hiss, or quote from McCarthy. So why would the blog invent this quote?

I knew Alger Hiss during the Watergate period of the early 1970’s. I was a graduate film student at Boston University, and I and a journalism student put together a documentary film concept showing the connection between Watergate shenanigans and the same goings-on in the Hiss case a quarter-century before. Both involved Richard Nixon. The ideas became a screenplay for my master’s thesis, but the film was never made.

I got to know Hiss personally at a lengthy lunch meeting, and during several extensive phone conversations over a period of months. I remember him as a brilliant, although arrogant, personality. Some said his arrogance actually caused his downfall in his two trials, the first ending in a hung jury, and the second in which he was convicted on a perjury technicality—never related to espionage or passing documents, just a time-line contradiction. Even the supposed documents in question were shipping reports available without classified clearance. Hiss considered himself, and I believe him to have been, an innocent pawn in a steamrolling republican effort to show as tainted with leftists and communists, the entire Truman administration and especially the state department. But I also agreed that Hiss’s condescending attitude could have put off potential supporters, including jurors in his trials.

The reason for Max Blumenthal’s blog to show Bush quoting McCarthy saying that Hiss was the reason the West turned over so much of Europe to Stalin is not clear, because it would seem to serve a liberal purpose, yet as a lie, it could cause backlash and misunderstanding, thus helping a right-wing effort to create confusion.

Even Hiss said the Yalta agreement, giving so much up to Stalin, happened because of several reasons, including that the Red Army occupied much of the area already, and the Stalin promise to hold democratic elections in the territories, on which he reneged. The statement by McCarthy, that Hiss was responsible for Yalta, has percolated into the political vernacular of the time so that those who want to believe it, whether they remember the origin of McCarthy’s statement or not, can find a basis for that belief in the ambient memory of the event. The rumor of Alger Hiss, an aide to the Secretary of State and at Yalta, somehow engineering events for the future of Cold War Europe, just won’t go away.

What Bush is doing in Europe revising history by calling the handover of East Europe to Stalin at Yalta a mistake by the US, is also a tad bizarre. But that’s another story, and another blog post.

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