By Joseph Sobran – Institute for Historical Review
The columnist Sidney Zion of the New York Daily News, a forthright partisan of Israel’s Likud faction, has qualified his celebration of his hero Franklin Roosevelt by charging him with indifference to “the extermination of the Jews of Europe” during World War II. It’s a little surprising that Zion’s admiration for Roosevelt can survive such a qualification at all.
Zion cites Edmund Burke’s famous aphorism: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” He comments: “FDR did next to nothing to stop the massacre of the Six Million, a fact that has been established by historical documentation running back at least 20 years. If ever there was a ‘good man,’ it was Roosevelt, and if ever evil triumphed, it was the Holocaust.”
Well, evil has triumphed on a number of other occasions, and on one of them this “good man” was likewise indifferent. Soon after taking office as president of the United States in 1933, Roosevelt extended diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union, which was already establishing its record as the most murderous regime of all time. Specifically, it had pursued agricultural “collectivization” by confiscating harvests and starving Ukraine into submission. Low estimates put the number of dead at seven million; the highest estimate is 13 million. In some places it was reported that dead children were not even being buried; they were being eaten.
The Ukrainian famine is sometimes called “the Forgotten Holocaust.” It might better be called the Forgiven Holocaust. The anti-Communist Hearst papers covered it extensively at the time, thereby incurring the wrath of liberals. (Orson Welles portrayed William Randolph Hearst as a corrupt capitalist in Citizen Kane.) But Walter Duranty of the New York Times, eager for Stalin’s favor, denied that there was any starvation in Ukraine and won a Pulitzer for his reportage. His Pulitzer has never been revoked; the Times continues to honor him among its stellar journalists of the past.
Privately, by the way, Duranty admitted to the British ambassador in Moscow that as many as 15 million had died. That his estimate may have been high only underlines his mendacity. He gave the American establishment an excuse for ignoring Communist crimes which had been amply confirmed by others, and which made most of Europe terrified of Communism between the wars. In any case, Roosevelt had no excuse. No president depends entirely on the Times for his information.
Since Pius XII is (falsely) accused of “silence” about the Nazi persecution of the Jews, it is worth mentioning that his predecessor Pius XI was far more “silent” about the Ukrainian famine and, later, the equally great Soviet purges of the later 1930s. Popes rarely commented on specific events; they condemned Communism and Nazi racialism in principle and felt it unnecessary, or unavailing, to add detailed condemnations when evil principles were put into practice.
Of course those who condemn Pius XII for silence about the murder of Jews don’t condemn Pius XI for silence about the murder of Ukrainians and others. But neither do they condemn Roosevelt or anyone else for overlooking the Communist horrors. This gross double standard is a key to understanding not only Roosevelt’s time, but our own.
If the official world had condemned and quarantined the Soviet Union for its “democide” (an apt word coined by Professor R.J. Rummel), Hitler himself might have thought twice about imitating that precedent, whose numbers of victims he never even approached. Today liberal opinion condemns “Holocaust denial” that has no effect on events long past; but it maintains its own silence on the timely denials of Communist horrors while they were happening — denials that not only helped them to continue, but allowed the killers to escape punishment and censure.
Later, when the numbers of Soviet victims had surpassed the total number of the dead of World War I, Roosevelt’s generosity to Stalin and the Soviet Union actually increased. He gave Stalin aid against Germany, eagerly formed an alliance with him, and praised him as a great ally in the democratic war against “fascism.” He even pressured Warner Brothers to produce a major motion picture, Mission to Moscow, portraying Stalin as the benign grandfather of the Russian people. The film was based on the memoir of Joseph Davies, Roosevelt’s former ambassador to Moscow; Davies defended even Stalin’s purges, taking the view that anyone Stalin killed probably got what was coming to him.
While all this was going on, Hitler was not alone in blaming Communism on the Jews. Secularized Jews had been prominent in the first generation of Soviet leadership; and even after Stalin had purged those Jews, other Jewish intellectuals, propagandists, and activists were conspicuous in the world Communist movement. Many Europeans crudely equated Jews with Communism. This fact in no way justifies the slightest violation of the rights of Jews, but it does explain the readiness of many Germans to follow Hitler and the preference of many others for Hitlerite over Stalinist rule. With war looming, most people forget morality and think of their own hides. Besides, in the late 1930s Hitler was not even in the mass murder business yet; Stalin was.
This whole side of the period between the wars, officially ignored at the time, is officially forgotten now. It has become customary to speak as if Hitler arose in a vacuum, the German masses followed him out of sheer malevolence, and the French collaborated with him out of sheer cowardice. Today anyone who even advocated neutrality toward Hitler is condemned; the America First movement and other “isolationists” are spoken of as if they had actually been pro-Hitler.
That view is tenable only if you pretend that Communism didn’t exist. Hitler’s unforgivable acts were made possible by the people who forgave Stalin everything. But Roosevelt’s latter-day admirers see no moral connection between his friendship for the Soviet Union and his indifference to the extermination of Jews.
After Roosevelt’s death the extent of his administration’s secret favors to the Soviets became exposed and was seen in a very different light. The revelation that Alger Hiss and many others had been active Soviet agents led to the McCarthy era. The liberal intellectuals’ condemnation of “McCarthyism” was of a piece with their general ridicule of the very idea of a Communist “threat.” For them Communism had been the Great Progressive Hope, and they had far more pity for “victims of McCarthyism” who had lost sensitive government jobs than for the millions of victims of Communism who had lost their lives and freedoms. (Professor Rummel puts the number of dead under Soviet Communism at nearly 62 million.)
“Victims of Communism” is not a phrase that rolls easily off liberal lips. The huge, tax-supported Holocaust Museum near the Mall today commemorates the victims of Nazism, chiefly Jewish, but also gypsy, homosexual, whatever. (The victims of communism may have a plaque
somewhere. Who knows?)
Liberals, Zionists, and “responsible” conservatives now occupy a rhetorically Hitlercentric universe, in which Nazism is the measure of all evil and Roosevelt is redeemed by his determination to crush Germany. The stain of guilt for Nazism constantly spreads – to ordinary Germans, allies of Germany, neutrals, isolationists, Swiss bankers, and Pius XII himself. The stain even spreads backward in time, to pre-Hitler anti-Semites, Martin Luther, Christian culture in general, even (according to a filmstrip shown at the Holocaust Museum) to the authors of the Gospels. In a new theory of causation, even the slightest historical injustice to Jews “led to” the Holocaust. Scholarly books, popular movies, and everyday rhetoric are saturated with this theme. Everyone and everything is measured on a single scale, which might be called the Hitler Continuum.
But there is not corresponding Stalin Continuum. Those who aided and defended and celebrated Stalin at the height of his crimes incur no guilt or obloquy. To have dreamed the Communist dream is evidence of idealism, not guilt or even irresponsibility. Under “McCarthyism” Communists actually became victims themselves! Books, movies, and rhetoric dramatize the plight of innocent Communists in the America of the 1950s. Old Communists like Lillian Hellman can publish their memoirs of persecution — how they suffered firing, blacklisting, or sharp questioning by the House Un-American Activities Committee – and be hailed as heroes and champions of liberty, no less, even if it took them until 1956, the year of Khrushchev’s famous denunciation, to see the error of Stalin’s ways. Khrushchev, after all, didn’t repudiate Communism; he merely accused Stalin of having betrayed it. How? By murdering countless innocent people? No, by purging loyal Party members!
So the stain of Communist guilt, far from spreading metaphysically, shrinks to one man, the erstwhile “Uncle Joe.” He and he alone is blamed for all that carnage. We don’t even ask what “led to” such astounding violence and terror, let alone why he enjoyed such complicity by powerful, influential, intelligent, and seemingly respectable people. Even Stalin’s warmest admirers and benefactors aren’t tainted; that would be “guilt by association,” a McCarthyite tactic.
Certain shoes, for some reason, are never put on the other foot. Imagine what would be said today of a president who had given Hitler a little help when he needed it. Or an ambassador who had written eulogies to Nazi jurisprudence. Or a reporter who had written from Berlin that Jews weren’t being abused in the Third Reich. Or an “idealist” who had seen Nazi Germany as the hope of mankind.
You don’t have to imagine a world in which people are forgiven for doing the same things for the Soviet Union. You’re living in that world right now.
About the Author
Joseph Sobran (1946-2010) was an author, columnist and lecturer. For 21 years he wrote for National Review magazine, including 18 years as a senior editor. For 20 years he was a syndicated columnist.
This item is from the July 1997 issue of Sobran’s newsletter.