- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 15, 2006

Well, ‘tis mea culpa time. Several months ago, I reviewed in these pages a book by David E. Murphy that I said “explores one of the most massive intelligence failures in history:” “What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa,” published by Yale University Press. Barbarossa was the German code name for the invasion of the USSR in June 1941, undertaken despite a Hitler-Stalin friendship pact of 1939.

I put great stress on Mr. Murphy’s assertions that Stalin’s confidence that Hitler would not strike at him — despite a flood of intelligence to the contrary — “stemmed from two extraordinary letters he had received from Hitler, published here in English for the first time.” Mr. Murphy offered quotations from both letters.

Now Mr. Murphy is a historian who must be treated with respect. A longtime CIA case officer, he was station chief in Berlin and later ran anti-Soviet operations from Washington.

Less than a year later, however, Mr. Murphy’s own publisher comes forth with a book that says flatly that the “two Hitler letters” story is so much bunk: John Lukacs’ June 1941: Hitler and Stalin, (Yale, $25, 192 pages.) With more than two dozen books to his credit, Mr. Lukacs is one of the more incisive historians of the 20th century, and especially of the tangled events leading to the World War II.

Mr. Lukacs’ debunking (credible to me) rests on several pillars. At first glance, he writes, his immediate impression was “that neither the contents nor the style of the letter is typical of Hitler.” Mr. Lukacs know this particular territory: He was among the experts who exposed as forgeries the purported “Hitler diaries” that appeared in 1992 (brought forth by the questionable David Irving).

Moreover, Mr. Lukacs knocks down a statement attributed to Marshal Georgi Zhukov that Hitler pulled one of the letters from his desk on June 15, 1941, and demanded that he read it. The author’s research showed that “Stalin never met Zhukov privately, according to the record of Stalin’s appointments, certainly not on June 15.” There is also a lack of mention of any such letters in either Soviet or German archives. Case closed.

One cannot fault Mr. Murphy for being snookered by what he deemed authentic material, and Mr. Lukacs seems sympathetic when he attacks the notion that “the historian, employing proper methods of his craft, can establish such a precise reconstruction of past events and their actors, nailing down such a record of a portion or section of history that it thereafter remains definite, unchanging and perennial.

It is the duty of historians, he writes, “to rethink and judge anew the records and the meaning of events and of their actors again and again … [and] to struggle against the prevalence of untruths, since the pursuit of truth is often a struggle through a jungle of sentiments and twisted statements of ‘facts.’” Such an admonition should be heeded by historians — and by those who write about their work.

The words “Cold War propaganda,” when applied to the United States, immediately bring to mind such enterprises as Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, which beamed a mixture of news and carefully-crafted disinformation into the Soviet Union and its satellite states. But behind these covert CIA operations were other psychological warfare programs — some secret, some very much out in the open — intended to carry out President Eisenhower’s determination to wage “total cold war.”

These enterprises are explored in a fascinating read, Kenneth Osgood’s Total Cold War: Eisenhower’s Secret Propaganda Battle at Home and Abroad (University Press of Kansas, $45, 512 pages, illus.) Mr. Osgood began research on the book a decade ago at the University of California at Santa Barbara; he now teaches history at Florida Atlantic University.

Although brought to full voice during the Eisenhower years, the post-war propaganda campaign had its origins in the historic policy paper NSC-68, produced by the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff under Paul Nitze in 1950. The paper urged an exponential increase in military spending to maintain U.S. superiority, even though Nitze considered “a total war started deliberately by the Soviets … a tertiary risk.” Military strength would provide a “shield behind which we must deploy all of our nonmilitary resources in the campaign to roll back the power of the USSR and to frustrate the Kremlin design.”

During his 1952 campaign, Ike took the program public, realizing that popular support and understanding was essential. He told a San Francisco audience that he was going to speak about psychological warfare, quickly adding, “Don’t be afraid of that term just because it’s a five-dollar, five-syllable word.” Rather, it is “the struggle for the minds and wills of men.”

Mr. Eisenhower would hark back to World War II, when in his opinion psychological warfare played a major role in the North African campaign and the invasion of Normandy. Some eight billion leaflets were dropped on target areas — “enough to have given every man, woman and child on earth four leaflets,” Ike quipped.

The death of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in May 1953 gave the new administration an opening to challenge Moscow to back away from the hard line it had pursued since 1945, and to encourage the satellite states to break away from the communist orbit. The underlying purpose, writes Mr. Osgood, was to “encourage a power struggle between the key Communist Party leaders and other major elements of power within the USSR, such as the military or internal security forces.”

Of course, the so-called “dirty tricks” specialists at CIA had their own role: “Subversive rumors, contrived events, and half-truths, would be planted by the CIA, picked up by the media, and reported as fact.” These programs were coordinated by a former Time-Life executive named C. D. Jackson, who hoped to force a “climax in which the communist system would break into open internal conflict.”

Nonetheless, many in Washington reacted with surprise when the new (if temporary) Soviet leader Georgii Malenkov junked Stalin’s “no compromises” stance, declaring that no problems divided East and West that could not be solved by negotiations.

Thus commenced a phase of the Cold War that featured competing “peace offensives,” both sides struggling to seize public opinion. The United States brought forth such programs as Atoms for Peace, People-to-People, and uncountable cultural exchanges. At Ike’s direction, the emphasis shifted from harsh denunciations of communism to a positive presentation of America as a peaceful nation.

Although the United States Information Agency did the brunt of the visible work, Eisenhower was shrewd enough to involve non-governmental bodies — business, private individuals, labor — because he felt they would be more effective, and because they would have the value of mobilizing the public behind what he was doing.

One area which Mr. Osgood avoids, in the main, is that of covert psy warfare, perhaps because that sort of material even now is difficult to access. Nonetheless, a good read.

Measuring success in foreign affairs is always an “iffy” task. Suffice to say that as the Eisenhower years began, East and West were frozen in angry confrontation. And despite the multitude of problems in following years, at least Moscow and Washington attempted to talk through their problems rather than resort to war.

Joseph C. Goulden is writing a book on Cold War intelligence. His e-mail is [email protected]

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