Northwestern Makes The Cold War Disappear

In order to fulfill the requirements for a major in history at Northwestern University, my daughter took a course called “The Cold War At Home.” As one might imagine in the hothouse of the college system, left wing views predominate. The students read Ellen Shrecker, not Ronald Radosh. Joseph McCarthy has been transmogrified into Adolf Hitler. And victimology stands as the overarching theme of the course.

Communists in the United States are merely benign civil rights advocates and union supporters. The word espionage never once crossed the lips of the instructor.

An extraordinary amount of time and energy has been devoted to the “lavender persecution” – harm imposed on gay Americans. Presumably, this group was more adversely affected by McCarthy’s allegations than others.

Despite the recent scholarship on the period such as Alan Weinstein’s well researched book on Alger Hiss or Stanton Evanss biography of Senator McCarthy, views that do not fit the prevailing orthodoxy aren’t entertained. Pounded into students is the view that America engaged in “totalitarian practices” not unlike the Soviet enemy we decried.

Although the course is entitled the Cold War at Home, you might think the instructor would be inclined to ask who the enemy is, why was the Soviet Union an enemy and what tactics did this nation employ against us. But these issues are not addressed.


Class session after class session was devoted to the drum beat of criticism. I asked my daughter if she read anything about Gus Hall and the American Communist Party or if she ever heard of I.F. Stone or if any time was devoted to the Venona tapes. She looked at me perplexed.

There is only one theme: the U.S. government was wrong; there wasn’t any justification for harassing communists and Edward R. Murrow and Victor Navasky are the real heroes in this period.

Needless to say the historical story of that time is nuanced. McCarthy was over the top, but communists of the Alger Hiss variety did insinuate themselves into key positions in the State Department. Not every communist in the U.S. was a threat to national security, but many were and some gave military secrets to the Soviet Union.

Victor Navasky attacked Elia Kazan for naming names in Hollywood, but as Kazan saw it, he was protecting artistic freedom from communist handlers who wanted to approve every line in a film script.

Looking back, it is not so easy to describe heroes and villains, unless, of course, the instructor responds reflexively to the standard left wing agenda.

Here is the rub. I don’t mind having my daughter exposed to the jejune interpretation of Navasky apologists. What I do mind is the lack of balance – the unwillingness to consider another point of view.
When I suggested that she should write her final paper on the role of anti-communist liberals such as Sidney Hook, Irving Kristol, Stephen Spender, Midge Decter, among others, my daughter said “my instructor doesn’t admire these people and I don’t want to jeopardize a good grade by writing about them.” So much for open discussion.

Of course, the condition I described is not atypical. Courses in the soft disciplines have become propagandistic exercises as instructors have arrogated to themselves the role of moral arbiters. Invariably the United States is wrong; our historical role in the Cold War malevolent and civil liberties were put at risk by demagogic politicians.

I can only wonder what historical scholarship will look like in a generation as my daughter’s brainwashed cohorts enter the ranks of the professoriate.

Herb London

Herb London is president of the London Center for Policy Research.

One thought on “Northwestern Makes The Cold War Disappear”

  1. The Cold War is one of the best areas to determine a professor’s bias, second only to specific study of the Vietnam war. Of course, the reason these courses are so much more biased than others is the similarity in views between the communists of yesteryear and the some of the ivory tower academics of today. Communists make more ordinary socialists look more moderate by comparison, allowing them to present themselves as a “compromise” or alternative – something that the marginalization of fascism has made impossible for social conservatives.
    That is not to say that I support a resurgence of fascism or the suppression of Communists’ 1st amendment rights. Either would be quite unfortunate. A proper historical perspective would examine communist practices, or at very least their perception on the American home front. Internationally aware Americans of the “McCarthy Era” would have been well aware of the violent suppression of revolts in the Ukraine (spurred by starvation) and in Hungry (which desire a less Moscow-centric but still Marxist state, a la Yugoslavia). They would have been aware of the theft of American nuclear secrets, if not the precise perpetrators, some of whom were not known until the fall of the Soviet Union and the exposure of classified NKVD, GRU and KGB files. They might have even read some of Stalin’s speeches, promising the military expansion of communism worldwide, and the reports from the rather public communist Internationals, where Japanese communists were excoriated for their unwillingness to use violence.
    Perhaps they were not sitting in closets with their fingers in their ears during the Berlin blockade and subsequent airlift. Perhaps.
    McCarthyism was comparatively bipartisan (even Robert Kennedy figured large in the proceedings), and a condemnation of it should focus on its overreach, rather than its original goals. The targeting of homosexuals, pushed by J. Edgar Hoover especially, could fairly be singled out for condemnation, as homosexuality was condemned by the Communist governments more strongly than it ever was by the Americans. Proceedings targeted at them were indeed irrational.

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