Friday, March 31, 2017

General John Pershing: Civil Rights Hero

General Pershing became most famous for leading the United States Army in World War One. But many years earlier, he took courageous steps to acknowledge the contributions of African-Americans in the nation’s military.

Having graduated from West Point in 1886, one of his earliest assignments was, according to historian Kevin Hymel,

with both the 6th and 10th Cavalry Regiments. The 10th was one of two black cavalry regiments commanded by white officers. Pershing was called “Black Jack” in reference to his service with the10th, and the nickname stuck long after he left it.

Pershing was proud of his service with the “Buffalo Soldiers,” the nickname given to the African-American cavalrymen. In 1898, when the Spanish-American war began, Pershing insisted on rejoining the Buffalo Soldiers as they went into action in Cuba.

In his own words, Pershing described what he saw as a wonderful unity among the soldiers:

Each officer or soldier next in rank took charge of the line or group immediately in his front or rear and halting to fire at each good opportunity, taking reasonable advantage of cover, the entire command moved forward as coolly as though the buzzing of bullets was the humming of bees. White regiments, black regiments, regulars and Rough Riders, representing the young manhood of the North and the South, fought shoulder to shoulder, unmindful of race or color, unmindful of whether commanded by ex-Confederate or not, and mindful of only their common duty as Americans.

Years later, when Pershing was commanding in Europe during WW1, his loyalty to Black soldiers would lead him to assignment them to meaningful combat roles. Pershing answered to President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson had reintroduced segregation into the civilian branches of the government.

As Commander-in-Chief, Wilson was not pleased to see African-American troops taking on significant military tasks. In assigning Black troops to the same types of duties as any other troops, Pershing showed that he was willing to risk Wilson’s displeasure.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Priorities of the Soviet Espionage Network in the United States

Communist spies in North America had more than one function. They gathered intelligence, but other tasks often had higher priority.

Beyond stealing classified documents from the government and from the military, and beyond sending such secrets to Moscow, Soviet operatives were tasked with influencing U.S. policy. To this end, they established themselves in both governmental and non-governmental institutions.

This can be seen, e.g., in the intelligence provided by Whittaker Chambers. Chambers joined the U.S. Communist Party (CPUSA) in the mid 1920s, from which he was recruited into Soviet espionage agencies around 1932. By 1938, he had grown disillusioned with the international communist conspiracy.

He disengaged from the USSR’s intelligence agencies and began offering information to the United States government. He was able to explain that Soviet operatives were often more interested in shaping U.S. policy than in stealing U.S. secrets.

As historians Stan Evans and Herbert Romerstein explain, “Cold War scholars generally are aware of the influence issue.” Yet, in the popular imagination, Soviet spies are generally conceived of as “stealing secrets.”

One Soviet agent, named Alger Hiss, is perhaps best known to the public as the man who stole classified State Department Documents and passed them on to other operatives, including Chambers. But while Hiss’s reputation depicts him as an intelligence-gatherer, he actually did much greater damage as a policymaker.

It is less well known that Hiss, while on the payroll of Soviet intelligence agencies, was a key advisor to President Roosevelt in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Hiss’s influence was responsible for the death of thousands as he enabled Soviet imperialistic expansionism to run amok in eastern Europe.

There is, then, a disconnect between what professional historians know, and what general public’s perception is. Scholars are aware

of the Cold War role played by Chambers, who knew a lot about spying and was involved in it on a professional basis. Yet Chambers repeatedly stressed that spying as such was not the major issue. Rather, he said, with the likes of Hiss in federal office, policy influence was by far the leading problem.

While the Soviet effort to steal classified U.S. documents was a grave danger during the Cold War, an equal and possibly greater threat was posed by communists inside the U.S. who nudged policy decisions in directions which favored Stalin.