John Helmer: Lunatic Russia-Hating in Washington Is 70 Years Old. It Started with Joseph Alsop, George Kennan and the Washington Post

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Yves here. An important bit of history that can’t be repeated too often: when the Clinton Administration decided to move NATO into former Warsaw Pact countries, violating a understanding made as part of the peaceful dissolution, George Kennan said it would prove to be the worst geopolitical mistake the US ever made.

By John Helmer, the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and an advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. He is the first and only member of a US presidential administration (Jimmy Carter) to establish himself in Russia. Originally published at Dances with Bears

Joseph Alsop and George Kennan  started the kind of Russia-hating in Washington which,  today, President Vladimir Putin, like the businessmen around him,  think of as a novelty that cannot last for long.

Alsop was a fake news fabricator, and such a narcissist as to give the bow-ties he wore a bad name. Kennan was a psychopath who alternated bouts of aggression to prove himself with bouts of depression over his cowardice. For them, Russia was a suitable target. The Washington Post was the newspaper which gave their lunacy public asylum. This, according to a fresh history by a university professor from California, started in 1947, long before the arrival in Washington of the anti-communist phobia known after the name of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Russia-hating was an American upper-class phenomenon, cultivated in the offices, cocktail parties, clubs, and mansions of the deep state, as it emerged out of World War II. It needed a new enemy to thrive; it fastened on Russia (aka the Soviet Union) as the enemy.

McCarthyism was an American lower-class phenomenon. It focused on the loyalty or disloyalty of the upper-class deep-staters. That wasn’t the same thing as Russia-hating; Wall Street bankers, Boston lawyers, homosexuals, Jews, communists, were all the enemy. As the Senator from Wisconsin characterized it himself in 1952, “McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled.” He implied – without a middle-class tie; certainly not an upper-class bow-tie.

Russia was not an enemy which united the two American lunacies, for they hated each other much more than they hated the Russians. The Soviet Politburo understood this better then than the Kremlin does now.

Gregg Herken’s The Georgetown Set,  is so named because it records the activities of Alsop, Kennan and several other State Department, Central Intelligence Agency and White House officials who lived as neighbours in the Georgetown district  of the capital city, together with Katharine (Kay) and Philip Graham, proprietor managers of the Washington Post. The district  – once a chartered city of Maryland and river port, which was absorbed into the federal District of Columbia in 1871 — was expensive, relatively speaking then; more so now. The richest of the set, including Alsop, had town houses in Georgetown, and rural retreats in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.

They were a set because because, as Herken said succinctly to an interviewer,  “they got together every Sunday for supper and, basically, they ran the country from those meetings.” As the book elaborates, they thought they were running the world. With a longer time lapse in which to view the evidence,  they were also losing it.

Newspapers exposed in the book for collaborating in all the deceits, failures and war crimes of the history have reacted by calling Herken’s effort a “provincial corner”.   The New Yorker opined  that the Russia-hating and Russia war-making which Herken retells are dead and gone. “The guests at the Sunday soirées no doubt felt that they were in the cockpit of history. But the United States is a democracy, not a Wasp Ascendancy… There was once an atmosphere of willingness that made a system of bribes and information exchanges seem, to the people involved, simply a way of working together for a common cause in a climate of public opinion that, unfortunately, required secrecy. No one got rich from the arrangement. People just lost track of what was inside their bubble and what was outside, as people tend to do. Vietnam was the reality check. ‘I’ve Seen the Best of It’ was the title Alsop gave to his memoirs. Things hadn’t been the same since, he felt. He was right about that, and we should be thankful.” In the New York media business these days it’s possible to publish a selfie of pulling your own leg.

The Washington Post has deflected the indictment against itself by describing Herken’s work as “a very strange book…(A) a rehash of the history of the Cold War as experienced in certain Washington circles and (B) an almost obsessive recapitulation of the life and journalism of Joseph Alsop.” Alsop is dismissed as unworthy of a history at all because he was “utterly repellent: arrogant, patronizing, imperious, uninterested in anyone except himself.”

That’s the truth about Alsop. The truth about the Washington Post is buried in this line by the Post’s books editor about the hand that fed him: “it must be very hard for people who did not live through the ’50s and ’60s to understand how obsessed the American people were with the threat from Moscow.” That line appeared in print on November 7, 2014. It was already history, that’s to say, a misjudgement. How monumentally mistaken is obvious now.

In covering the period from 1946 to 1975, Herken’s research does repeat much of the history of the  Cold War which has been told elsewhere. It starts on February 22, 1946, the date of the “Long Telegram”, No. 511 — Kennan’s despatch from the US Embassy in Moscow to the State Department, setting out his strategy  of so-called containment and much more besides. Read it in the declassified original.  Most of the war-fighting and other war crimes which the telegram set in motion under Kennan’s 1948 rubrics, “organized political warfare” and “preventive direct action”,  are reported in Herken’s book; so too are  Kennan’s frequent funks, failures of conviction, reversals of judgement, and pleas for help.

The book ends on December 30, 1974, the date of Alsop’s last column. Alsop concluded with the line: “I have never known the American people to be really badly wrong, if only they were correctly and fully informed.”

Herken shows how self-deluded and professionally delusional that was — not because of Alsop’s  character but because of his sources. Herken documents that they ran upwards from foot-soldiers (also lubricious sailors) to presidents and cabinet secretaries. Herken doesn’t think the same of Kennan, who gets to walk off stage, aged 101, sounding more sceptical of overthrowing Saddam Hussein than he ever was in his prime and in power to direct schemes of what we call state terrorism today.

Left to right: Kennan died in 2005, aged 101; Alsop died in 1989 aged 78; Frank Wisner died in 1965 aged 56. The deeper  Herken gets into the private papers, the more he refers to his subjects by their diminutives and nicknames – Joe, Oppie, Beetle, Dickie, the Crocodile, Wig, Jack, Wiz, Soozle, Vangie,  et al. 

What is fresh about the sources is that Herken has had access to the private notes, letters and diaries of the Alsop family; the Kennan diaries and letters; and the private papers of Frank Wisner, the first director of covert operations against Russia. Wisner went mad and killed himself, as did Graham. There’s no doubt about the suicide outcome of their madness.

In the case of the mad ex-Defence Secretary James Forrestal his fatal jump from the window of the Navy hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, in May 1949 might have been a homicidal push.  Herken concludes that Forrestal’s death was “the first senior-ranking American casualty of the Cold War.” Herken thinks of their madness as anomalies. The history shows they were normalities.

Missing from this history is any reference to official documents, now declassified; press reporting of the time; or interviews with veterans of the same events but on other sides – Russian and Soviet; British; German; French; Polish; Vietnamese; Chinese. This isn’t so much a fatal flaw in Herken’s (right) book as the reason why his history is repeating itself today. Call this a variation on Karl’s Marx’s apothegm that history starts as tragedy and repeats itself as farce. Herken’s blindness to this is as revealing as the Washington Post’s madness, not yet as suicidal as its former proprietor’s, today.

So mesmerized is Herken by the moneyed backgrounds of his subjects and sources, and by the amount of black cash from the US Government they spent on operations, he forgets to report what they did to fill their own pockets.  The claim by the New Yorker that “no one got rich from the arrangement” – Alsop’s fake news fabrications – is false, but Herken touches only in passing on how they made (or kept) their money.  Alsop’s column, for example, was sold to 200 newspapers, and at one time claimed a readership of 25 million. His family inheritance is recorded, but not its annual revenue value. Alsop’s payola included silk shirts from Alfred Kohlberg, a textile importer from China who backed Chiang Kai-shek against Mao Tse-tung, as did Alsop.  Alsop’s patrons included Convair (General Dynamics), the company building the US Air Force Atlas missile for procurement of which Alsop reported fictions about Soviet missile strength.

In the US power which Alsop, Kennan and Wisner believed without hesitation, Herken is not less a believer. “Anything could be achieved”, Herken quotes a New York Times reporter quoting Wisner. When the US force multiple changed, however, and US allies or agents were outgunned, outspent, outnumbered, or outwitted,   they were unable to acknowledge miscalculation, attributing  defeat instead to the superior force or guile of their adversaries, especially the Russians.

This is madness, and there is good reason for recognizing the symptoms again. In 1958, when Herken says Wisner’s paranoid manias were becoming obvious to his friends and colleagues, “Frank put forward a theory that the careless comment which had gotten George Kennan kicked out of the Soviet Union was evidence the Soviets had succeeded in an area where the CIA’s own scientists had failed: mind control. Some agency hands alleged that Wisner attributed his own increasingly bizarre behaviour to the Kremlin’s sly manipulation.”

A cell from the comic “Is This Tomorrow? America Under Communism”(1947). Test your mind, read more:

From Washington in 1958,  fast forward to Washington in 2017; for mind control and sly manipulation,  read Russian hacking and cyber warfare. From Wisner’s and Kennan’s balloon drops of leaflets and broadcasts by Radio Free Europe,  fast forward to Russia Today Television and Russian infiltrations of  Twitter, Google, the Democratic National Committee,  and the Trump organization.

It stands to reason (ahem!) that if you think what the US Government and its journalists were doing then was mad, you are might conclude that what they is doing now is just as mad – and not very  different. When the incumbent president and his Secretary of State publicly call for IQ tests on each other, all reason has failed. “The nation,” as Alsop had written, “had simply taken leave of all sense of proportion.” That was in March 1954.

If you fast forward to now, there’s one difference. Today the lunatic Russia warfighters don’t retire. They also don’t fade away. Today’s sleek successors to mad Wisner and mad Graham sleep easily in their beds a-nights. For what they’ve done and do, they wouldn’t dream of taking shotguns to their heads.

Herken retells the story of the campaign Alsop waged against McCarthyism at the State Department, against McCarthy himself, and the vulnerability Alsop himself presented until the Boston lawyer Joseph Welch put an end to McCarthy on June 9, 1954:  “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” Welch famously said. “Have you left no sense of decency?”  The recurring history reveals why, even if there are plenty of people to say the same thing today to the Washington Post, New York Times, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the madness will continue repeating itself.


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  1. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    A couple of tidbits:

    Wisner’s son married the stepmother of Nicolas Sarkozy. This facilitated the Sarkozy family’s links with Wall Street (Guillaume at Credit Suisse and Carlyle and Nicolas’ stepdaughter Judith Martin (daughter of France’s Bruce Forsyth and Cecilia Albeniz) at Morgan Stanley, the latter at Canary Wharf).

    A year ago, before his elimination in the Republicain primary, Sarko met executives from Goldman Sachs to discuss a move from London to Paris due to Brexit. Sarko promised bespoke personal and corporate tax arrangements in return for a relocation and fanfare. Sarko was keen on the fanfare and planned to exploit that, thinking it would be a PR coup soon between his election and the August shut down.

    Kay Graham was the daughter of a former partner at Lazard Freres. Her father bought the WaPo after his retirement. The family and its plaything rag formed part of Operation Mockingbird.

    1. djrichard

      Kay Graham was the daughter of a former partner at Lazard Freres.

      He was also the former chair of the Fed Reserve.

    2. djrichard

      Also worth mentioning that he purchased the WaPo in 1933. Per wikipedia, “In June 1933, he bought the Washington Post at a bankruptcy auction, for $825,000“.

      Pre-sages Bezos buying the WaPo on the cheap too. Can’t say I would have thought of Bezos as being a Russia scare-monger. I guess it’s the flip-side of regime change. If you’re in the regime preservation business, perhaps that means regime changing your enemies. In which case, never let a good crisis go to waste. And if a crisis isn’t available … well if a newspaper can’t figure out how to manufacture a crisis out of the available pool of evil-doers, then really why even have a newspaper?

      Bezos to Russia, “It’s nothing personal, it’s just business”. Bezos to Trump, “It’s personal.”

        1. Scott

          Seems like that is the under the radar amount of supposed funding for Fronts.

          Slowly it dawned on me, or I simply put two and two together realizing I was working for a CIA/MI6 Front. Explained why mediocrities, liars & thieves had secure jobs.

          American Airlines is most probably the inheritor of Air America’s freight operations, station agents, & to pilots a great system for overt & covert operations gets 685 million a year.

          IN-Q-TEL the CIA retirement benefits fund for agents gets 685 million as well.

          I don’t remember where I read the figures. See what you find out?
          When I worked the independent movie scene in NYC all the budgets were 100 thousand dollars.

          Now how you know, or the commentators know what they are saying here, I don’t know. We are aware that the US power structure found it convenient to blame, or imply the blame for all that was stupid and violent in politics in the US on the Russians who as a secretive organization by habit made the picture plausible.

          If oligarchs money fleeing Russia came to America and was a source of Industrial Service Banking it would be a victory. As it is the working classes in the US and Russia end up with the same leaders only different.

          As it is the game is the same with it being real estate and art.
          If there is one thing about Russians, they lust to possess beauty.
          Otherwise from my experience they are difficult to do business with and you get more respect when you up front don’t trust them so they can act like Russians.

          I pitched to the Atlantic “Statehood for Russia” when the Cold War supposedly ended.
          With the propaganda going into what Americans look at and voter system hacking it is evident they want to be a state.

    3. sgt_doom

      Outstanding article and excellent commentary points and to elaborate just on several facts stated: (“Wisner went mad and killed himself, as did Graham.”) — this might have been the case, but most curiously, both Wisner and Graham were first treated at Chestnut Lodge Sanitarium in Rockville, MD at the CIA’s MK ULTRA wing, then they both would return home and commit suicide?! This was also the facility where the CIA would send a research nutritionist (do not know whether they connived her, or it was against her will, etc., but she did not work for the Agency) who was researching an Amazonian plant with unique properties, and after her treatment, she never mentioned said plant or research ever again?!.

      Also, this is where Richard Helms, then CIA director, had his famous auto accident right before giving testimony before the Church Committee (when he perjured himself and later was officially censured by Congress). Helms claimed he was seeing a psychoanalyst (basis for a simpleton movie from Hollywood called “The President’s Analyst” — probably involved Harry Weinstein) — but it was because Helms was shredding all the MK ULTRA files kept there prior to appearing before the Church Committee.

      And Joe Alsop was cousin to several CIA dudes, Kermit Roosevelt and Archibald Roosevelt, whereupon he received his “tips” or misinformation.

      And the Colonel explains Sarkozy’s familial background quite nicely, but to further add it was Wisner and John Negroponte, working through the Franco-American Foundation, who were supposed to be behind the concocted false scandals against Sarkozy’s presidential opponent which allowed Sarkozy to win the election the first time. (The second time, Sarkozy was behind that NYC airport “incident” which blow up in his face, resulting in a Hollande victory.)

      1. Vatch

        “The President’s Analyst” is an outstanding satire from 1967. The Church committee hearings were in 1975.

        1. sgt_doom

          Sorry, I may be confusing the title with another similar film. (Shouldn’t have picked it out of my ancient memory.)

    4. Enquiring Mind

      There are further Wall Street links in the Sarkozy family. Olivier, half-brother of Nicolas, was at CS First Boston and worked briefly with our company on an engagement some years ago. His colleagues remarked on his pedigree and ability to open doors where others couldn’t.

  2. Patrick Donnelly

    So the USA had no hand in arming Japan and encouraging them to attack Russia, successfully in 1904? Who stirred up Japan, forcing them with battleships to trade, actually firing on Japan.

    USA has always had war plans for the invasion of every country on Earth, since the Civil War, if not before.

    It has always been fighting on foreign soil since it was formed by violence against a lawful sovereign. Except for 20 years!!!

    WWII was a result of rearmament of Germany, by USA and its banker allies. They wanted USSR in ashes. In the end they had to rescue Germany, failing in that and losing half of Europe. That must smart!

    1. Vatch

      It [USA] has always been fighting on foreign soil since it was formed by violence against a lawful sovereign.

      The monarchy of George III? Lawful sovereign? Who elected George III? Nobody. Who elected the members of Parliament? Nobody in America, and only adult males who could meet stringent properly requirements in Britain. Britain in 1775/1776 was definitely not a lawful sovereign over any territory in the North American continent.

    2. Carolinian

      Don’t forget Woody Wilson sending the troops to Vladivostok after WW1. Communism was always regarded as an existential threat by the then WASPy, now not so WASPy elites.

      And re Kennan, the recent Ken Burns Vietnam documentary shows him casting doubts on the Vietnam intervention at a Congressional hearing. Kennan said the policy was like the elephant being terrified of the mouse. So his Russia obsession does seem to have been more about power rivalry than ideological apostasy.

    3. David

      They wanted USSR in ashes.

      If this is true, why did the US send 17.5 M tons of material to the USSR, through Lend Lease, during WW2?

      Roughly 17.5 million tons of military equipment, vehicles, industrial supplies, and food were shipped from the Western Hemisphere to the USSR, 94% coming from the US. For comparison, a total of 22 million tons landed in Europe to supply American forces from January 1942 to May 1945.
      …One item typical of many was a tire plant that was lifted bodily from the Ford Company’s River Rouge Plant and transferred to the USSR. The 1947 money value of the supplies and services amounted to about eleven billion dollars.

      Wasn’t Henry Ford supposed to be a Na*i?

      While repayment of the interest-free loans was required after the end of the war under the act, in practice the U.S. did not expect to be repaid by the USSR after the war. The U.S. received $2M in reverse Lend-Lease from the USSR. This was mostly in the form of landing, servicing, and refueling of transport aircraft; some industrial machinery and rare minerals were sent to the U.S. The U.S. asked for $1.3B at the cessation of hostilities to settle the debt, but was only offered $170M by the USSR. The dispute remained unresolved until 1972, when the U.S. accepted an offer from the USSR to repay $722M linked to grain shipments from the U.S., with the remainder being written off.

      So $722M in 1972 dollars for $11B in 1947 dollars?

      1. hemeantwell

        They wanted USSR in ashes.

        If this is true, why did the US send 17.5 M tons of material to the USSR, through Lend Lease, during WW2?

        They suspended their death wish because without the USSR they could very well have lost to the Nazis. Short of a successful invasion of Britain, the availability to the Nazis of a small portion of the tank and aerial forces that were getting chewed up in the Soviet Union would have led to the easy conquest of North Africa and the loss of the Suez canal. That would have been hard for the Allies to recover from. Once the war was won it was time to shift back into playing the innocent party responding to Soviet aggression.

        1. Vatch

          The U.S. also sent $20 million in food aid to the Soviets during the famine of 1921-1922. The U.S. attitude towards Russia / Soviet Union is complex and contradictory. Members of the U.S. establishment mostly opposed the Soviets, but future President Herbert Hoover’s role in the famine relief project shows that there were exceptions.

          By the 1930s, the behavior of Stalin justified opposition to the Soviets, although I think that for a long time, many (perhaps most) of the Americans who opposed them did so for the wrong reasons.

          1. Bigfoot

            Did he send food aid to the Soviets?

            Hoover’s role in famine relief was about more than food distribution. By 1911-1912 or so he was director of the Russo-Asiatic Corporation and had extensive oil, mining, and timber interests in Russia, all of which made him very, very wealthy. These interests were relinquished prior to the Revolution, which Hoover vehemently opposed. According to Sayers and Kahn in The Great Conspiracy Against Russia, “He was to remain one of the world’s bitterest foes of the Soviet Government for the rest of his life. It is a fact, whatever his personal motive may have been, that American food sustained the White Russians and fed the storm troops of the most reactionary regimes in Europe which were engaged in suppressing the upsurge of democracy after the First World War. Thus American relief became a weapon against the peoples’ movements in Europe.”

            This is Disaster Capitalism 100 years ago.

            The quote is footnoted. The footnote reads: “Herbert Hoover’s activities as Food Relief Administrator were directed toward giving aid to the White Russians and withholding all supplies to the Soviets. Hundreds of thousands starved in Soviet territory. When, finally, Hoover bowed to public pressure and sent some food to the Soviets he continued according to a statement by a Near East Relief official in the New York World in April, 1922 — to ‘interfere with the collection of funds for famine-stricken Russia.’ In February, 1992, when Hoover was Secretary of Commerce, the New York Globe made this editorial comment: ‘Bureaucrats centered throughout the Department of Justice, the Department of State and the Department of Commerce for purposes of publicity are carrying on a private war with the Bolshevist Government…Washington propaganda has grown to menacing proportions…Messrs. Hughes and Hoover and Dougherty will do well to clean their houses before public irritation reaches too high a point. The American people will not long endure a presumptuous bureaucracy which for its own wretched purposes is willing to let millions of innocent people die.”

            Pages 36-37 of Sayers and Kahn:


            1. Vatch

              In 1919, when the American Relief Administration first offered to help Russia, it’s very plausible that they only wanted to help the regions under White control. But the Soviets refused foreign assistance at that time. In 1921, when the famine was worse, the Whites didn’t control much outside of portions of Siberia. I think the worst areas of famine were in eastern Ukraine and the nearby parts of Russia. I don’t think the Whites controlled any of that territory any longer, but I could be wrong. I think that Hoover’s aid helped a lot of people in Soviet areas. And yes, he was anti-communist.

        2. ex-PFC Chuck

          Also there was considerable sympathy towards Germany among the Latin American elites. Several countries, such as Paraguay and Argentina, would likely have jumped aboard the Axis bandwagon if it began to look like they’d come out on top.

      2. ex-PFC Chuck

        The percentage of battle deaths incurred by the Germans on the Eastern front was at a minimum 70%, and by some counts over 90%. If Operation Barbarosa had not been launched in 1941 and a truce had held on that front it is unlikely that the Anglo-American alliance could have sustained a a landing on continental Europe in the west. This would have especially been the case if the Germans, instead of putting their chips on Barbarosa, had been able to successfully shut off British use of the Suez Canal, and thus deprive them of ready access to the resources from India and especially the oil from Iran. Given British naval dominance of the Mediterranean, however, this would have been difficult unless they were able to negotiate passage to the Levant by land through Turkey and the Balkans.

    4. Lambert Strether

      > every country on Earth, since the Civil War, if not before

      Every country? Surely not. See This Vast Southern Empire, pre-Civil War. We had designs on “our own” hemisphere, but every country? No.

  3. Vatch

    “Kennan was a psychopath who alternated bouts of aggression to prove himself with bouts of depression over his cowardice.”

    A little evidence would be nice. This appears to be one of those violations of Naked Capitalism policy: making stuff up.

    1. hemeantwell

      Agreed. Instead of peddling diagnoses he would do well to stick with the attacking the crudity of Kennan’s view of world affairs. Kennan saw the Soviets as akin to “windup toys” that were somehow driven to expand. In this he completely failed to account for the fact that the Soviets were potentially autarchic, while the capitalist West was governed by accumulation imperatives that pushed for market expansion. He doesn’t bother himself with the problem but jumps right into rationalizing base construction and an arms race. That Kennan is seen as a kind of geostrategic genius speaks volumes regarding the self-deluded mindlessness of US foreign policy.

    2. Andrew Watts

      This article sounds more like an angry emotional outburst from Helmer. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s one of the people taking a lot of crap in all this Russian propaganda hysteria.

      1. Vatch

        Yes, I know about his depression. But the claim that he was a psychopath? That stretches believability. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Bundy were examples of psychopaths. I don’t think that George Kennan was like them.

  4. EmilianoZ

    Russia-phobia is actually 100 years old. Strangely, I haven’t seen any commemoration of the centenary of 1917 Revolution. Nobody can deny that it was a world-changing event.

  5. Disturbed Voter

    The Bolshevik Revolution, that overtook the Kerensky Revolution … shocked the world to the core, particularly the Church. It quickly alienated even syndicalists and anarchists, because it developed into a strong centralized state, not the bottom up movement that Lenin found when he entered Petrograd. The last 4 years of Nato intervention in the Baltics, Poland and the Ukraine … have shown that the world has never recovered from that shock. British opposition to Russia goes even deeper, back to the Great Game and the Crimean War. Without Churchill vehemently opposing Russia in general and Stalin in particular … would there even be a Nato? History is more about continuity than discontinuity.

    1. justanotherprogressive

      I’m glad you mentioned Churchill. Since the first Directors of the OSS and the CIA were complete Anglophiles and modeled their collection techniques on Britian’s SIS (MI-6) (until, of course, those famous British spies were uncovered), it is not surprising that our first after the war “enemies” were the same as Churchill’s enemies……

    2. Norb

      I have a sneaking suspicion that the troubles of the world have such a basic foundation that if they are ever solved, people will look back, marveling at the simplicity of the answers.

      Humans have alway faced the dilemma of how to organize society. The main sticking points being how to control personal ambition in ones own group and how to get the work done that needs doing- including protecting oneself form ones neighbors who are dealing with the same issues.

      Capitalism, and the west in general, seem to turn personal ambition loose. It takes a persons personal confrontation and experience with the universe and makes that the primary motivator for organization. It serves to reward the aggressive while insulating failure as a personal shortcoming, not a flaw in the system. The Catholic religion, which underpins such a system by giving it a spiritual legitimacy. The individual can have a personal relationship with the creator of the universe- with the moderating teaching of caring for the poor to curb excessive personal ambition or too close a connection. That hasn’t worked out so well as the poor are with us still and the argument is given that the poor will be with us forever. The Divine right of Kings and all that.

      Godless Communists challenged all that and the results still haven’t worked themselves out.

      Endless wars seem to be an excuse to justify recurring cycles of hate. Love your God, and spite your enemies.

      The promise of Socialism is that the tools of science and reason can be used to relieve human suffering and provide for a meaningful life. That vision remains unborn because those sentiments are always snuffed out as quickly as they take hold.

      1. Jeff W

        I have a sneaking suspicion that the troubles of the world have such a basic foundation that if they are ever solved, people will look back, marveling at the simplicity of the answers.

        I have the exact same suspicion. We might, in fact, understand the basic foundation and already have the solutions but, to use your words, they are always snuffed out as quickly as they take hold—which is itself its own intractable problem.

  6. JTMcPhee

    Interesting observation about McCarthyism as a feature of the lower classes. Particularly about what the hate and fear was directed against: bankers, lawyers, Jews, homosexuals, communists… One of the big actors in that great national drama was a fella named Roy Cohn, who kind of fell into almost all of those categories (except maybe “communist”, though with Cohn, who was also a mob lawyer and buddy of J. Edgar Hoover, who knows?).

    And for Trump haters, or those who are trying to “understand” the guy, there’s even a great big Cohn Connection, which is fun to read about here: “A mentor in shamelessness: the man who taught Trump the power of publicity
    Roy Cohn, the lawyer who embraced infamy during the McCarthy hearings and Rosenberg trial, influenced Donald Trump to turn the tabloids into a soapbox
    ” ,

    1. H.Alexander Ivey

      Interesting observation about McCarthyism as a feature of the lower classes.

      I noted that too. It gives credence to Matt Stoller’s observation that the elites / 1%ers are not monolithic but are fractions that can and do fight each other.

    2. Lambert Strether

      Tangentially, I saw the Angels in America in London, which includes a vivid portrait of Roy Cohn. On his deathbed, watched over by Ethel Rosenberg, Cohn dekes Rosenberg into singing him off to his last sleep out of pity… A touching moment until Cohn sits up and yells “Fooled ya!” (paraphrasing).

  7. Norb

    America was born of conquest. The North American continent is/was vast in scale and resources. The vision was never to live in such a place as more to conquer it and extract its resources. That mentality is still prominent as the resource base has not been depleted yet and energies are directed to further exploitation- fracking and the opening of the arctic regions. Even now, an argument can be made that American corporations are more concerned about exploiting their customers for profit, than the health of the citizenry. That is the motivational force behind our governing elite, not some attachment to the land and its people and the desire to make the world a better place.

    American Exceptionalism is based on conquest and the right for individuals to exploit those resources to their own end. By that standard it continues to be a success. Communism, in principle, was an ideology opposed to that vision. Under no circumstances can such an ideology be allowed to exist, so was set for extermination by force and disinformation. Once that process takes hold, you live in a world devoid of reality. It is fantasy.

    Naked greed cannot be justified for long without some form of damage taking place in the human psyche. Reflection is not prevalent in the American creed. The rise of American Corporations to the detriment of the nations citizens is a confirmation of that fact. For how can a nation be “Great” if its citizens are driven into poverty?

    You become a Nation of crazy people.

    Greed and misuse of Power lead to crazy. Instead of trying to talk sense to crazy people, sanity lies in the opposite direction. Less greed and an articulation of the proper use of power. Implementation is another matter.

    1. Chris

      Yes, well said, Norb.

      The fact that our corporations’ only social responsibility is to make money says heaps

  8. Arizona Slim

    Thanks for posting articles like this. They motivate me to keep working on learning that Russian alphabet. It has been quite the project, but I’m beginning to sound out words.

    I feel like I’m back in first grade, learning to read for the very first time.

        1. marym

          That’s really great! I learned the Russian alphabet partly by reciting it in a slightly simpler sing-song. Looks like the next you tube after that goes through it slowly.

          Decades later, I struggled unsuccessfully on my own to learn the Persian alphabet. Then I took a class. First session the instructor went over it slowly, one letter at a time, and then again quickly – and it stuck!

          I didn’t continue with Russian, but the alphabet (which I never forgot) came in handy later for Tajik Persian.

          Arizona Slim: I never learned a language outside a class. Much respect to you.

        1. Daria

          Haha and I wondered who on earth would come to my site from “Naked Capitalism”:)) How’s alphabet learning going?:)

      1. Jeff W

        Here’s a pretty simple step-by-step approach. It’s 30 steps but each one is pretty short.

        And here’s a comic book approach that will have you reading Russian, so it says, in about 15 minutes (which means you’ll have plenty of time to learn to read Hangeul, the Korean alphabet—which is the world’s most brilliant writing system—by the same comic book approach, in the 15 minutes that follow).

  9. sgt_doom

    Since this occurs within a similar timeframe to this most outstanding article and since yesterday was the 54th anniversary of October 11, 1963, this might also prove helpful:

    21 Days . . . . .

    On p. 255 of Geoffrey Shaw’s fascinating book, The Lost Mandate From Heaven, he writes:

    But did the president realize that the reporter’s influence on policy had been given to him, at least in part, by State Department officials?

    Of course, Shaw was speaking of President John F. Kennedy, soon to be assassinated, whose policy was being attacked by David Halberstam, in complete lockstep with the State Department official who was feeding him that information: Averell Harriman.

    In other words, did President Kennedy realize he was being played by Harriman?

    Or that Allen Dulles, the CI director whom Kennedy had fired, was still in control at the CIA?

    Or that Tracy Barnes, deputy director at the CIA, was Allen Dulles’ cousin?

    Or that Dulles still exerted control over the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence Research?

    Or that forty of President Kennedy’s administration appointees had present or past connections to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund?

    Or that Robert Lovett, who had been his advisor on those appointments, was a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation? (I’m sure JFK was aware that Lovett was an active partner with Brown Brothers Harriman — Averell Harriman’s partly owned firm with the Brown family — but did JFK know that Lovett had married into the Brown family?)

    On Oct. 11, 1963, President Kennedy signed NSAM 263, which set the stage for the withdrawal of American military advisors from South Vietnam.

    Twenty-one days later, a coup occurred in South Vietnam, with the gruesome murders of President Diem and his brother. (The exact details were rather horrifying.)

    Twenty-one days after that, another coup takes place, this time in America with the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas.

    At the time of the coup in South Vietnam, Allen Dulles would be meeting in Dallas with William Harvey, CIA station chief in Italy.

    After President Kennedy signed NSAM 263, he issued a memo to the State Department and some of their overseas offices, detailing the planned complete withdrawal of military advisors from South Vietnam, to begin in late November of 1963, and completed before the upcoming presidential election.

    This memo was declassified by President Clinton in the late 1990s, but reclassified by President George W. Bush sometime in 2000. (I would have downloaded a copy, but never once considered that something which had been declassified would be reclassified — something to my knowledge which had never occurred before. And having been a past holder of Top Secret Crypto and Satellite clearances, I have some familiarity with classification procedures.)

    So twenty-one days after NSAM 263 and the State Department memo, President Diem is overthrown, and twenty-one days later, President Kennedy is overthrown.

    21 Days . . . . .

    Recommended Reading:

    Battling Wall Street: the Kennedy presidency by Donald Gibson

    Two Days in June by Andrew Cohen

    Lost Mandate From Heaven by Geoffrey Shaw

    The Devil’s Chessboard by David Talbot

    JFK and the Unspeakable by James Douglass

    1. Juliania

      Many thanks,Yves and especially to you, sgt_doom.

      Truth has a clarity no conspiracy theory can emulate

    2. ex-PFC Chuck

      Thanks for the reading suggestions, and I especially second the the mention of Douglass’s JFK and the Unspeakable. TTBOMK although it’s nearly ten years old it’s the best analysis out there of the John Kennedy assassination.

  10. clarky90

    Saying “Russia (aka the Soviet Union)” (as Helmer does) is akin to saying “California (aka The United States”. It is a false statement.

    The Soviet Union (1917-1991) was a materialist anti-christian, anti religious totalitarian State. Godlessness was the ruling precept of Soviet society.

    In 1923, Lenin created the first Soviet Concentration Camp, at the “re-purposed”, Russian Orthodox Solovetsky Monastery. Solovetsky was used as the prototype for the Gulag network of camps.

    Ultimately the Gulag would grow to 30,000 concentration camps.

    IMO, today, the USA is the World Epicenter of materialism, internationalism, greed and godlessness.

    Conversely, Russia (2017) is a Nationalist, Orthodox Christian Democracy. No wonder our materialistic rulers are so “hysterically”, (The APA says, “conversion disorder”. Casual psychiatric diagnosis of opponents is a breeze now!), fearful of Russia, and the Biblical, little David, with his sling and stone (Putin).

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I agree Helmer should have been clearer. Helmer is saying that the US is treating Russia in the same way it treated the USSR, at least messaging-wise.

  11. MarkE

    There is a vast body of scholarly work on the origins of the Cold War from many different perspectives, into which context this analysis is trivial and downright loopy. The Georgetown Set got us into it? It was “mad” to oppose the Soviet Union and now Russia? Oh, please.

    Western opposition to Russian communism pre-dates Joe Alsop and his bowties by decades. The revolutionary regime that weakened the WWI alliance and prolonged that bloody war by making a separate peace with Germany wasn’t going to be well-liked by its former allies in the first place. The same regime preached the violent overthrow of democratically-elected western governments, who reacted as one might expect, including the (poorly-considered) intervention of 1918-1920.

    Stalin then gave the world many, many reasons not to trust Russia – brutal repression on a hitherto unheard of scale, mass murder, disastrous economic policies leading to mass famine, show trials and active promotion of Soviet-style take-overs elsewhere. Even before WWII and the start of the Cold War there was plenty not to like. During the war, Western governments bowed to geopolitical reality and allied with the USSR, despite Stalin’s cynical deal with Hitler to divide Poland just before, but Poland provides one of the best samplings of why opposing the USSR/Russia after geopolitical realities changed at the end of the war was not only understandable but a very good idea. Shortly after Russia took over in eastern Poland the NKVD rounded up and brutally murdered 22,000 military officers, police officers, public officials and assorted intellectuals, i.e. anyone who could think independently and oppose Russian rule, and threw the bodies into pits dug in the Katyn Forest. The Soviets denied this for decades, blaming it on the Nazi’s, but finally fessed up in 1990 during perestroika, now best understood as a brief twinkling of light in Russia’s dark history. Reports had leaked out of the massacre and other Soviet atrocities during the war, which played a large role in mobilizing another major force in U.S. politics that was deeply skeptical of the USSR after the war – ethnic Eastern Europeans.

    The West and Russia did do deals at Yalta and Tehran on spheres of influence, but there was ambiguity as to what that meant and words were thrown in about national self-determination and free elections. After the war the West (mostly) promoted democratic government, at least in Europe, while the Soviets laughed at the joke and imposed their brutal regimes anywhere they could. Stalin’s last living legacy is the horror show in North Korea, where he installed a Soviet agent as head of the regime, now a dynasty. Kennan’s Long Cable/Article X, which is still well worth reading, dealt with the causes of Soviet expansionism as part of Russia’s long, troubled history and urged containment as an alternative to more active opposition (“roll-back”), which largely worked in Europe. As the counterpoint to containment, when Sec State Dean Acheson omitted Korea from the U.S. “defensive perimeter” in his January 1950 speech, the North invaded the South with Soviet support five months later. It was after that experience that containment went global.

    With the exception of Kennan, the people mentioned may have had influence but were not the real policy makers. Truman, George Marshall and Dean Acheson were the primary architects of U.S postwar policy. Only Acheson lived in Georgetown, and he thought Alsop was a “pest.” Acheson took on Kennan as his staff chief because he had deep expertise on Russia and largely made sense. The off-hand comments in the article about Kennan being a psychopath and coward were made with no support and are at odds with his reputation as a pragmatist and traditionalist in foreign policy. He was recently most well known for his quaint view that the U.S. should declare wars as required by the Constitution before getting into them. Alsop was a commentator not a policy maker and was regarded as somewhat of a fringe character, not least because he was gay in the 1950s. As for the rest of the U.S. elite at the time, far more of them had been sympathetic to Russia in their youths than rabid anti-communists. The typical Cold Warrior was made that way not by bowtie-wearing but by sober, mature observation of what the Soviet regime was all about.

    So let’s do fast-forward to the present day. No one with an objective understanding of Russian history is at all surprised that a regime headed by one of their former secret policemen is tampering with elections, fomenting political divisions and trying to disrupt the western alliance. All the evidence supports those conclusions and more comes out every day. Facebook, Google, the scope is astounding. In Helmer’s piece we see the birth of a new phenomenon, on the same intellectual level as climate-change denial. It’s electing-tampering denial.

    1. Adams

      Well said. Thank you. My comment was much shorter, but said many of the same things. It was censored. Much shorter version: Asserting that George Kennan was a lunatic is lunacy.

    2. JCC

      For the life of me, I still cannot figure out why people are in an absolute panic over Russian “agents” buying $100,000.00, or whatever, worth of advertising promoting either or both sides of the election when U.S.citizens and Political Parties spent over $1.6 billion.

      Are American citizens really so stupid as to fall for the amazingly, brilliantly conceived and placed $100K worth of Russian advertising, so clever that it superseded $1.6 billion worth of U.S. citizen ads?

      Or (to misquote Shakespeare/Macbeth) is it a tale told by propagandists, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?

    3. olga

      I think if NC-ers wanted to read official propaganda, they could just subscribe to NYT. The only thing that your comment demonstrates is that you’ve no idea what “objective understanding of Russian history” could possibly be.

      1. MarkE

        Was that an argument? The problem Russian apologists have is that periodically, after years or decades of denial, the truth finally comes out from a Russian source, usually when it’s convenient to blame their predecessor. Khrushchev finally admitted Stalin’s “mistakes”, like anyone really needed confirmation that his regime had murdered millions. Gorbachev finally had the guts to admit the NKVD liquidated the Polish elite, which everyone else (except the “useful idiots”) had known for a long time, etc. That was the context of the Cold War and the original posting. U.S. containment policy responded to real actions and constant lying by the USSR as it imposed totalitarian regimes throughout Eastern Europe and elsewhere, not some goofy chatter at Georgetown cocktail parties. Every one of those countries, as soon as they had freedom to choose, bolted for the West and NATO.

        As for election-tampering denial, sure looks like it’s real. This was a new twist – deny something simply because it’s been reported in the NYT (Russian sources, and Donald Trump, being so much more credible). But some other historical truth-telling pertains here. If you want to understand what Vladimir Putin and his fellow secret policemen did in East Germany, despite decades of denial, you can now go to the Stasi archives. It’s a museum that documents 44 years of soul-crushing repression, cynical manipulation of neighbor against neighbor and systematic subversion of anyone or any group that might speak up against the state. It’s not hard at all to believe that someone who came of age with that background would take advantage of such an easy way to undermine their U.S. adversaries. In fact, it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t.

  12. Donald

    “After the war the West (mostly) promoted democratic government, at least in Europe, ”

    Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

    I am surprised no one else responded to this screed. I agree that the Soviet Union had a horrific human rights record, but that little snippet I quote above is like a relic from the silliest days of Cold War propaganda. As for Russian meddling, the evidence is that probably something happened, in my opinion, but if people were serious they would keep some sense of proportion. I read the NYT articles and melodramatic language is doing an awful lot of work with regards to the Facebook claims. If I accepted everything I have read at face value our democracy was so fragile literally anyone willing to hire some hackers and spend a minuscule amount of money could have destroyed it. Heck, if I and a few friends were willing to mortgage our homes and cash in our retirement funds we could fund its destruction ourselves.

  13. Bigfoot

    Richard Spence, professor of history at the University of Idaho, has just published “Wall Street and the Russian Revolution: 1905 – 1925.” This is a fascinating book that I would think at least some of the above commenters would be interested in. Spence has updated Anthony Sutton’s earlier work with new/more archival research and access to new/more recently declassified documents.

    I haven’t finished it as it came in the mail yesterday, but it does have a few interesting comments about George Kennan…not the above George Kennan but his distant cousin who in 1891 published a book entitled “Siberia and the Exile System.” So it seems that Russia-hating ran in the family. The cousin Kennan claimed to have assisted in the distribution of a ton and a half of literature to Russian POWs in Japan during the Russo-Japanese War. This, according to Kennan, was financed by Jacob Schiff and caused many of the POWs to become liberals and revolutionaries opposed to the Tsar.

    Fleshing out the role of capitalist/financial interests in the Revolution is certainly important. These were the deep state actors of 100 years ago. The names of the people and the interests they represent may have changed, but the chicanery hasn’t.

  14. Jamie

    “It’s important that Americans…understand that Putin wants to bring us down. He was an old KGB agent.”

    – Crooked Hillary

  15. Olaf Lukk

    “… the Clinton administration decided to move NATO into former Warsaw Pact nations, violating a understanding made as part of the peaceful dissolution”. The “peaceful dissolution” of the Soviet “union”, I presume?

    NATO was formed in 1948 in response to the Soviet refusal to withdraw from the Eastern European nations it continued to control with puppet governments and Soviet troops after WWll. The Soviets responded by forming the Warsaw Pact- consisting of those very same nations: (East) Germany, Poland, Czechoslavakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania. The only time Warsaw Pact troops were used militarily was against its own members- Hungary in 1956, and Czechoslavakia in 1968.

    The collapse of the USSR started in 1989, with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and culminated in 1991 with the failed coup by hardliners against Gorbachev in August of 1991, though the official end did not come until the formal dissolution on December 26, 1991.

    In the following years, all of the Warsaw Pact nations, plus the illegally annexed and occupied Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, having regained their sovereignty, all made a point of joining NATO- to make sure that the Russian bear did not return to do even more damage.

    What “understanding” was violated? It is a popular myth that the Russians were “promised” that NATO would not expand to the east. Who made this promise to who, and under what authority? Did the nations of Eastern Europe, after half a century of Russian control, voluntarily cede the power to determine their future alliances to the Clinton Administration? The premise is absurd on its face. In any case, how do you keep a “promise” to a political entity- the USSR- which no longer exists?

    Russian interference in Ukraine, and the forced annexation of Crimea (reminiscent of Stalin’s annexation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1940), has validated the pragmatism of its former vassal states in joining NATO. Russia is not being threatened by its neighbor’s membership in NATO; to them, Russia is the threat.

    1. olga

      You should ask Jim Baker, who had confirmed that an agreement regarding NATO was made. In addition to many other people present at the time… Why try at revisionist history now…?
      And FIY, Estonia, Latvia, and Litva were a part of the czarist Russia for more than 300 yrs. Soviet Union gave up the territories in the terrible peace it had to sign with Germany before the end of WWI. After the next war, which it won, it simply took back the areas – kinda like the French took back Alsace-Lorraine, after victory over German in WWI.
      Knowing history is really a good thing…

      1. BoycottAmazon


        Don’t confuses them with the facts.

        More Russians troops are buried in the soil of the Crimea than the US lost in Europe during WWI &WWII as well. The West or it’s proxies have been after it for nearly as long as The Great Game has been in play. But that’s what Russia gets for helping Lincoln by keeping France and Britain from actively coming in on the side of the Confederates. Never help an ingrate.

      2. MarkE

        That’s two misreadings of history. There was no agreement not to expand NATO, which is confirmed by both Jim Baker and Mikhail Gorbachev, the other guy there at the table. The only agreement made was that NATO would not put nuclear weapons or non-German troops in the former GDR. That agreement has been kept.

        The Baltic states had all declared their independence from Russia before the Russian peace with Germany, so they weren’t anyone’s to give. If they were ever “transferred” to Germany they didn’t stay German for long – in fact a couple of them defeated German armies in battle towards the end of WWI. They were all independent by 1920, part of the wave of national self-determination after WWI that saw the liberation of lots of smaller countries that had been dominated by one of the defunct empires. Lithuania, of course, hadn’t always been so small – at one point it was the largest country in Europe and included parts of what became Russia. Comparisons with Alsace are absurd on several levels.

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