Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

February 17, 2013

Some background to “The Americans” Part 1

Filed under: Movies,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:27 pm

Note: Cross-posted from my blog at The Marshall Independent.

My review of “The Americans” appeared in the print-only TV Guide of The Marshall Independent.

For those wishing to know more about that era, or just want to know if I’m a paranoid conspiracy nut or not, I can recommend a few books.

“A Secret Life: The Polish Officer, His Covert Mission, and the Price He Paid to Save His Country” by Benjamin Weiser.

You can read the short form here, but there’s a lot missing.

Col. Kuklinski contacted and started passing information to the CIA when as a member of the General Staff he discovered the Soviets not only planned to invade Western Europe, but had written off Poland as the proverbial self-lighted glass parking lot if the war went nuclear.

A controversial figure in Poland even today, his grave in the Honor Row of the Powazki Military Cemetery in Warsaw has been vandalized on a few occasions.

The Wikipedia article mentions his two sons died in America. What they don’t elaborate on is that one was killed in a hit-and-run accident, the driver was never found. The other disappeared on a diving trip along with a few friends. His daughter is living in hiding in America.

Whatever they call it these days, the KGB still has a long arm.

“Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded the Soviet Silicon Valley” by Steven T. Usdin.

This is a fascinating read. The book was conceived after Usdin met a Soviet scientist who spoke perfect English. The scientist told him he’d learned it in school.

Usdin replied, “You didn’t learn that Brooklyn accent in school.”

The scientist turned out to be Joel Barr, one of the two members of the Rosenberg spy ring who escaped to the USSR and together with fellow escapee Alfred Sarant helped found Zelenograd, the “Soviet Silicon Valley.”

It turns out not only were the Rosenberg’s guilty, they were so guilty you have to wonder what the heck the FBI was doing, sitting on their hands?

The KGB officer who was sent over to be the ring’s handler was shocked at the amateurishness of these idiots. For example, before their handler taught them the elements of tradecraft, Julius Rosenberg’s self-chosen code name was “Julius.”

Interestingly, though the Rosenberg ring did indeed pass on the atomic bomb secrets to the Soviets, the more practical secret they gave them was the proximity fuse, the force multiplier for artillery. The A-bomb was after all never used by the end of the Cold War, but artillery certainly was.

And speaking of the A-bomb, if anybody doubts that nuclear weapons technology was stolen from the U.S. by the USSR rather than developed independently, “The Red Bomb” documentary disposes of that lie.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen it but I remember there was an interview with the head of the Soviet bomb project just before his death, in which he freely admitted that every month he got a box full of documents straight from Los Alamos, which only he was allowed to read.

The Venona Transcripts… you don’t want to read thousands of source documents unless you’re a professional and you have to. A good book about them, and how they came to be can be found here. Or just glance at the Wikipedia entry, with the proviso that the ‘pedia is sometimes incomplete, sometimes contains deliberately planted disinformation, and is sometimes just flat wrong.

“The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB” by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin.

Mitrokhin wasn’t a KGB field agent, he was an archivist with unlimited access to KGB files. Of course with that kind of stuff in his head they’d never have put him in the field. What he did was make copies and immensely detailed notes of documents in the archives from 1972-1984. He retired in 1985 and defected to the United Kingdom in 1992 – after the CIA didn’t believe he could have done this and turned him down.

And of course the classic “Witness” by Whittaker Chambers. First published in 1952, this is the almost-forgotten autobiography of a former American Communist and Soviet agent who became a Christian, a political conservative, and an editor at National Review.

Chambers was vilified for accusing respectable and powerful upper-class figures such as Alger Hiss and Harry White of being Soviet agents. Surprise! He was right and they were liars.

Word of caution, it’s looooong and I first read it out of a sense of duty to history. However it’s oddly compelling and there is a sweet sense of nobility about Chambers’ apologia pro vita sua. He knew he wasn’t going to win any popularity contests, and to the end of his life he never quite shook the Marxist notion of historical inevitability. He thought he’d jumped ship to the losing side.

For the testimony of another former communist who didn’t go quite so far right, I’d recommend “Being Red: A Memoir” by Howard Fast.

I love Howard Fast’s novels. In particular, “Citizen Tom Paine,” “April Morning,” and “My Glorious Brothers.”

Unlike Chambers, Fast never quite got over his time in the CPUSA and referred to his old comrades as “Some of the finest people I’ve ever known.”

Or was he just terrified, who knows?

This is one of those autobiographies that tends to confirm the adage that you should never meet an author whose work you admire. Fast tells how as a Communist Party official writer, he had an advance look at Krushchev’s “Secret Speech” to the 20th Party Congress on February 14, 1956, in which Stalin’s atrocities were confirmed. However Fast didn’t quit the CP until years later.

Fast talks about how traumatized by the shattering of his illusions he was, and how he had to work it out with his analyst.

Uh, what about the tens of millions of victims Howie?

There is a fascinating glimpse into the origins of Political Correctness herein. Fast records his disaffection with the CP hierarchy when they published lists of words and phrases not to be used. For example, never use the expression “whitewash” because it’s racist.

That’s a writer for you. Tell him tens of millions of innocents were slaughtered by his hero and he starts to get a bit uneasy. But tell him how to write and his indignation knows no bounds!

If you’re interested in the history of that period, this list is a good starting point.

What you can get from it is 1) the realization that the history that “everybody knows” can be a lie, 2) the truth does tend to come out in the end, and 3) no kidding, truth really is more interesting than fiction.

1 Comment »

  1. Great stuff! I’m taking a class in broadcast history, and the authors are clearly leftist in orientation… just finished the chapter on the 1950s, full of the usual anti-McCarthy drivel.

    Can’t wait till the 1980s section. I hope the discussion turns in a direction that will allow me to educate some of these kids!

    Keep up the great work!

    Comment by Bob C — February 25, 2013 @ 8:33 pm

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