Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Truman Era 1945-1952

By I. F. Stone

Book Review

By Richard E. Noble

I. F. Stone is not a big fan of Harry Truman or his Cold War Policy. He did not disparage the character of President Truman; he just didn’t think that Mr. Truman was all that bright, I would say.

F.D.R. felt that he could “work with Stalin.” Truman felt the exact opposite. Truman was a Democrat but far to the right of his predecessor. Truman was a “conservative” Democrat. He had no patience for Stalin or Communism. If F.D.R. had the correct approach to Stalin and communist Russia and China we will never know. We got what Truman and his advisors planned – a Cold War with the perpetuation of a huge military buildup for the duel purpose of promoting economic stability here at home and establishing a strong front against Russia and the spread of “communism” in Western Europe.

In the previous works that I have read of I. F. Stone, I would say that Mr. Stone “hides” his personal feelings and political leaning behind a wall of exhaustive investigative journalism. This book is slightly less so. It may be the time period (McCarthy, Cold War, and rabid outspoken anti-Russian, anti-communism and anti-socialism) but Stone lets his hair down in this volume of “A Nonconformist History of Our Times.”

The style is similar but the point of view seems to me more personal and philosophical. Mr. Stone even goes so far as to give us an insight into his understanding of God and his relationship to mankind in the last entry.

He has Dr. Einstein questioning and beseeching God with regards to his creation of a species (humankind) with the capacity to destroy itself. In this parable Mr. Stone reveals himself as a deist – one who believes that God created the world and then went elsewhere or onto other challenges. God claims in this debate that he could either make Man free with the capacity to destroy himself or turn man into a mechanical robot – programmed to conform.

The first problem with this argument is establishing that man is free and is possessive of free will. A second problem would be the morality of a God who could create such a choice. Stone argues that men are “rational” and being rational then are reserved the right to act “irrational.”

But even if one could “free” God from any moral responsibility in his creation of a potentially irrational, murderous, self-destructive humankind with such an argument, the establishment of all “evil” still goes unaccountable. Man does not constitute the whole of “evil” and man is not responsible for all the evil that exists – death, disease, pain, natural disasters etc. If man’s free will and rational nature gives him the capacity to act irrationally and in a self-destructive and immoral manner, God as man’s creator cannot simply walk away from his creation free of moral responsibility. As with Pontius Pilate of Biblical fame, he cannot wash his hands of mankind and go hide behind a cloud in the infinite universe and bask in his glory and self-righteousness. He must take his share of the responsibility in creating such a powerful creature and offering to it such a potential – like a parent handing a flamethrower to a two year old. Man is granted by this stretch of logic the potential to destroy or perpetuate evil and total destruction of humankind and God has created the circumstance and provided the choices. This possibility is in itself morally illogical and impossible.

I. F. Stone in his parable does not solve the problems of free will or the existence of evil but he does provide us with an insight into what makes I. F. Stone go.
Man is free to do the right thing or the wrong thing and Mr. Stone has dedicated his writing career to present rational facts to man in the hope that he can persuade rational men to make rational choices. Man by the nature of his “Godly gift” of free will can make choices to bring about a better world or destroy himself and the world he lives in.

I agree with the argument that some men have the ability to make rational or irrational choices that can make a better world for all or destroy the one we have, but my advice would be to not complicate the issue by bringing God, a god or “the gods” into the equation. When discussing rational vs. irrational this is the equivalent of “taking a bite of the snake that bit you.” Another shot of whisky does not cure the hangover.

On the political level he brings up and directs the spotlight on many popular figures – Allen and John Foster Dulles, Henry Wallace, Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers, Ed Sullivan, William Z. Foster, Chiang Kai-shek, Mao, Justice Douglass, and many others.

He delves into his views on socialism, communism, fascism and totalitarianism. This volume by Stone is not only a wealth of historical political information and insight; it also presents the man and his personal search and philosophy. I would say that this volume gives the reader more insight into I. F. Stone's personal political views than any of his other works that I have read thus far. It is the most outspoken, in my opinion.

In 1953 I. F. Stone moved on to his “Weekly” which he sold directly to his subscribers. This volume on The Truman Era may provide the insight for that decision. It is clear that he is, at this stage of his career, a critic and “advocate.” He now has opinions and answers – and his opinions and answers are not those of the ruling class or the popular majority. He is now unabashedly a radical and a nonconformist. His leftist, radical views, his opposition to war and Truman, the Cold War, his sympathies towards socialism and Russia and the pursuit of peace are now too leftwing for the right-leaning press and conservative America. If he wants to be read, he will have to sell to his own audience – and he does.

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