Saturday, February 21, 2015

Germans Fight for American Freedom

The winter of 1777/1778 was decisive in the American Revolution. Washington’s army achieved a mental victory by surviving at Valley Forge, and a military success in its training under the Prussian officer von Steuben.

While much is made of the benefit which German discipline bestowed on Washington’s army through von Steuben - his training enabled the army’s effectiveness when the winter ended - other Germans were at Valley Forge, and made significant contributions.

Johann DeKalb earned the rank of major general from Washington, and was placed in command of an entire division in November 1777. After marching his troops southward in 1780 to help confront Cornwallis, he was wounded and died in the fighting there in August 1780.

Cornwallis would surrender a little more than a year later, ending the war. Historian Thomas Sowell writes:

There were about 300,000 Germans in the American colonies - about 10 percent of the total population. Shortly after the war began, a volunteer company of Germans formed in Charleston, South Carolina, and four companies of infantry formed from the Germans around Reading, Pennsylvania. A German regiment was raised in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Four battalions of Germans were recruited in the Mohawk Valley. Germans served not only in the ranks but also in the highest levels of the American army. Peter Muhlenberg, son of the founder of the American Lutheran church, rose to become a general in the American army. General von Steuben came from his native land for the express purpose of fighting in the Revolutionary War. He served with Washington at Valley Forge, and has been credited with introducing military discipline into the new American army. Turning undisciplined civilians into professional soldiers was a formidable task, and von Steuben was known to curse both in German and French - and to ask his aide to curse for him in English! Yet as drillmaster of the American army, he succeeded in creating an army capable of defeating professional British troops. General von Steuben also helped plan the successful siege of Yorktown.

In late 1775, George Washington had personally asked Peter Muhlenberg to command a regiment within the Continental Army. Like DeKalb and von Steuben, Muhlenberg wintered at Valley Forge.

Peter Muhlenberg commanded a brigade at Yorktown, the last significant battle in the war. After the war he was elected to the House of Representatives, and died in 1807.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Communist Front Organizations in the United States

After the 1917 revolutions - there were two - in Russia, and after the ensuing civil war, the Soviet Union solidified its rule. Part of its Marxist-Leninist vision was bringing communist revolutions to other countries.

For this purpose, an organization known as the ‘Communist International’ or ‘Comintern’ was formed. Its purpose was to coordinate the various communist parties which existed in different countries around the globe.

At first, the Comintern articulated a clear strategy of “violent revolution.” This took the form, in the United States, of a wave of bombings in 1919 and 1920.

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), an organization which seemed prima facie to be a labor union, but which was actually an arm of Soviet communism, held the city of Seattle hostage in a general strike. The ordinary citizens of Seattle were denied basic necessities of life for several days while the IWW controlled the city.

In the long run, however, it became clear to the Comintern that a strategy of direct violent revolution would not likely succeed in some of the globe’s major industrialized democracies. The words “violent revolution,” which had previously appeared prominently in the literature of the Communist Party in the United States (CPUSA), slowly disappeared from the party’s printed materials.

Instead, the Comintern directed the CPUSA, the IWW, and other Soviet agencies to act in a more gradual, insidious, and subversive manner. The Comintern developed a strategy of using “front” organizations.

The development of communist fronts carried several advantages for the Soviets. The organizations could be formed and controlled, sometimes visibly or sometimes behind the scenes, by Soviet agents or by members of the CPUSA. But the members of the organizations didn’t have to be CPUSA members, which made it comfortable for more people to join these organizations, and made those members more useful to the Soviets, because those members could exert influence inside the United States without being obvious extensions of the Soviet Union.

Of the people who joined or supported communist front organizations, some did so knowingly: they were sympathizers, who might not be Soviet agents or members of the CPUSA, but who were in favor of the Comintern’s general goals. Others aided the Soviets unwittingly: they were “dupes” who thought that they were helping some noble humanitarian cause, and who had been fooled by the front.

Historian Kermit McKenzie describes how the Comintern developed the strategy of using front organizations:

In summary, it may be said that the Comintern outlined for the Communist parties in the capitalist countries during 1935-1939 an imaginative, flexible program of strategy and tactics, in which Communists were permitted to exploit the symbols of patriotism, to assume the role of defenders of national independence, to attack fascism without demanding an end to capitalism as the only remedy, and, most importantly, to enter upon alliances with other parties, on the basis of fronts or on the basis of a government in which Communists might participate. In all of this the fundamental aim of world Communism through violent revolution was retained, and the new pattern of strategy and tactics was pictured as excellent preparation toward that end.

Many of the communist fronts operating inside the United States assumed the pose of humanitarian or relief work. Others seemed to support cultural, artistic, or educational work. In reality, they worked to effect the violent overthrow of the United States government and to reduce the liberties enjoyed by citizens, and to do so in ways which could only result in human misery and loss of life.

Among these front organizations (approximately 200 of them were clearly identified; others may have escaped detection) were the American Council on Soviet Relations, the American Jewish Labor Council, the American League for Peace and Democracy, the American National Labor Party, the American National Socialist Party, the American Nationalist Party, the California Emergency Defense Committee, the Chopin Cultural Center, the Michigan School of Social Science, the Philadelphia School of Social Science and Art, the Voice of Freedom Committee, and the Wisconsin Conference on Social Legislation.

The organizations named are merely a sampling of the many and varied fronts used by the Comintern.

Individuals in these fronts could exert influence in society or among policy makers; they could retrieve information and send it back to the Soviet Union; and they could do so largely avoiding suspicion. The Comintern learned well that a gradual subversive presence could do more harm to the United States than an overt attempt at violent revolution.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Before the Cold War

Although the Cold War is usually defined as lasting from 1947 to 1990, the dates are not precise. In any case, the years after the October 1917 revolution, and after the end of the Russian Civil War in 1920, were, like the Cold War, an era of rivalry between the USSR and the USA. This rivalry manifested itself in propaganda and espionage.

Both during the Cold War and during the decades preceding it, it was exceedingly difficult to identify, with any certainty, Soviet agents at work in the United States. Only with great effort was it possible to establish that people like Alger Hiss, Julius Rosenberg, Ethel Rosenberg, and others were in the employ of the KGB, NKVD, or some other Soviet intelligence agency.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, around 1990, the situation for historians changed drastically. A wealth of data became available. The intelligence agencies in the United States declassified large portions of the evidence gathered by the Venona project; Venona was a program to decrypt intercepted Soviet messages. In Russia, portions of the KGB’s files became available. Information came from other countries as well; for example, in Germany, the files of Stasi became public. The “Stasi” was the agency for Staatssicherheit or national security.

Suddenly, there was evidence revealing a thorough spy network which had functioned in the United States, not only during the Cold War, but also in the decades leading up to the mid-1940s. Soviet espionage was not only something relevant to studying the history of the 1950s and later, but it was quite significant in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.

A number of historians have begun examining this new trove of data. It will take years, if they are allowed, to uncover the expanse of the Soviet spy network which functioned for several decades in the United States.

One historian, M. Stanton Evans, has published some preliminary results from this new evidence. Known as “Stan” Evans, he writes:

Since the collapse of the Soviet empire in the early 1990s, we’ve learned a lot about Communist tactics used against the West in the long death struggle called the Cold War - much of it contrary to accepted wisdom in media/academic circles.

This new flood of data confirmed, for example, the conclusion drawn in the 1950s that Philip Keeney and Mary Jane Keeney were indeed Soviet agents. Working together, Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein write:

Some of this information is brand-new, some of it confirming things already known, some completely unexpected - but all of it important. The revelations are the more so as the story of what actually happened in the clash of global superpowers that dominated the second half of the twentieth century has yet to be told in adequate fashion. For numerous reasons - some legitimate, others not - significant facts about this conflict were the deepest-dyed of secrets, denied outright or held back from the public, and even today aren’t common knowledge.

If historians are allowed to have continued access to this new source of evidence, and if they are allowed to publish their conclusions, the coming decades could see an expanding concept of the Soviet espionage network and of the international communist conspiracy as it was at work inside the United States from the earliest years after the 1917 revolution up until shortly before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990.