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Lies, As Usual

December 30, 1999

Bernard Shaw’s play The Devil’s Disciple ends with an ironic exchange between two British officers who have just realized that Britain is about to lose her American colonies because of a flukish oversight by the British cabinet.

Flabbergasted, the obtuse Major Swindon asks: “But what will history say?” General Burgoyne replies suavely: “History, sir, will tell lies, as usual.”

Americans, ever earnest about what “history” says, can’t bear to believe that some of their “great” presidents have been evil men. So it was probably inevitable that the aging historian-courtier Arthur Schlesinger Jr. should observe the end of the twentieth century by naming Franklin D. Roosevelt “Person of the Century.”

Like all those whose lips are still attached to FDR’s backside, Professor Schlesinger neglects to mention that FDR’s own lips were attached to Joe Stalin’s backside. In a near-miracle of distortion, he even manages to give the totally false impression that Roosevelt had something against Stalin.

Demurring from Time magazine’s choice of Albert Einstein as P of the C, Schlesinger asks: “But would science conceivably have flourished had Roosevelt not secured free society against ... external enemies? Where would Einstein be if Hitler and Stalin had triumphed?” (In Moscow, no doubt — but that’s another story.)

[Breaker quote: Doting 
on Stalin] Sixty years ago, Schlesinger goes on, democracy was “besieged by Nazism, Communism, and Japanese militarism.” In that dark hour, “no person was more vital to the survival and success of the free state than FDR.... He strengthened democracy from without by leading the grand coalition that defeated the grim forces of atrocity and horror.... He labored to awaken the nation from its isolationist slumber and led us to understand the mortal threat posed by foreign dictators.” Schlesinger even gives FDR indirect credit for the eventual fall of Communism.

At this point, a familiar eight-letter synonym for bovine ordure irresistibly suggests itself. Roosevelt did denounce “dictators,” but not necessarily all of them. He made one important exception.

Franklin Roosevelt loved “Uncle Joe” Stalin, as he affectionately nicknamed him, as ardently as he hated Hitler. In his first year in office, just after Stalin had deliberately starved millions of Ukrainians, FDR gave the Soviet Union the diplomatic recognition it craved. He fatuously praised Stalin’s constitution for guaranteeing religious freedom. He ignored Stalin’s purges, excused his show trials, and forgave his aggression against five countries adjacent to Russia. He extended Lend-Lease aid to the Soviets before the United States actually went to war. Toward the end of the war, he was willing to give Stalin a free hand in Poland, where the war had begun with a joint German-Soviet invasion. Almost incredibly, he called the Communist butcher “a Christian gentleman.”

Stalin never had a better friend than FDR. And bear in mind that Roosevelt befriended him when he had already slaughtered far more people — and in peacetime! — than Hitler ever would in wartime. FDR’s jaunty callousness was a perfect match for Stalin’s jovial cruelty.

Contrary to liberal mythology, Roosevelt’s friendship with Stalin wasn’t just a necessity forced on him by war. It was something he freely chose when he had a choice, and it went far beyond any strategic need, beyond mere “appeasement.” He chose to help Stalin from a position of superior strength — long before his indulgence could be ascribed to age and illness. At least Neville Chamberlain never idealized Hitler as “Uncle Adolf.” Next to Roosevelt, Vidkun Quisling was a paragon of honor.

Joe McCarthy’s famous postwar rampage against Communists in government missed the point. Soviet agents like Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White were only doing on a smaller scale what FDR was doing on a gigantic one. No wonder commies thrived in the Roosevelt administration and the Manhattan Project. Can anyone really believe that Roosevelt would have begrudged a few secrets to Uncle Joe?

Roosevelt trusted Stalin, a fact of which Stalin took full advantage — rather like a spoiled child who steals from a doting grandparent. Never one to accept as a gift what he could steal with his own hands, Stalin’s shameless exploitation of his benefactor marks him as, among other things, Ingrate of the Century.

Yes, “history” — or at least one historian — is telling lies, as usual. But do they have to be such whoppers?

Joseph Sobran

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Copyright © 1999 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate