Overstreet, Harry and Bonaro. The Strange Tactics of Extremism. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1964. (Chapter 3, pp. 54-65)


ONE of Sandburg's early poems, They Will Say, begins thus: "Of my city the worst that men will ever say is this." Every so often, in the course of our reading of Communist and Radical Rightist materials, we have borrowed the form of this line to pose a problem to ourselves. Of extremism the worst that men will ever say is thisis what? What is the deepest evil that resides in this approach to the human scene?

Our tentative answer is that the worst that can be said of extremism is that it pronounces a death sentence upon honest communication. This is the death sentence which has, in our time, been antecedent to the well-nigh countless death sentences pronounced upon individual lives.

Nothing is more distinctively a mark of the human than is the power to use language both to build bridges of understanding across gaps of separateness and to capture and hold the nuances of personal experience. But where extremism prevails, language is allowed to perform neither of these functions. It is turned into a slave of the absolute answer and the irreconcilable cleavage. Its menial tasks become those of affirming the correct line and of identifying and deceiving the enemy.

A study of Commumism has to be, in singular measure, a study of how words are used by propagandists and ideologues; for what is meant has continuously to be dug out from under what is said.

Upon a whole battery of familiar-sounding words the ideology itself imposes meanings that are not at all those to which we are accustomed: words like peace, liberation, progress, negotiation, internationalism, and self-determination. The Communist meanings of these words are ideologically fixed. No Party member can change them. Hence, they can be learned. But unless we learn them, there is nothing to prevent our being endlessly deceived by Communist propaganda.

We do not, however, by learning these words, exhaust the study of the Communist use of language. If the reader of Communist materials is to translate them into their meanings as he goes along, he must become familiar, for example, with the Party's ritualized methods of interpreting events. Thus, the Party can never acknowledge a setback vis-a-vis "the capitalist-imperialist enemy." If a setback occurs, it has to be converted into a triumph for the Marxist- Leninist cause. To fail thus to convert it would be to make the "fated" one directional course of history somewhat less than fated.

...It is significant that Stalin did not bother to use the language of indirection when he attacked Tito in 1948. He had no reason to do so, for he meant the break to be decisive. He thought he could eliminate Tito and put a man of his own choosing at the head of the Yugoslav Party.

Then there is the ritualized language of home-front propaganda. This contains the stereotypes in which the collapse of capitalism is predicted; and those in which the people are told that they own all the means of production; and those in which writers are told that they are most creatively free when they adhere to the tenets of socialist realism.

Again, there is the monstrous, polysyllabic language in which failures to fulfill plans are concealed and in which non-achieved successes are "achieved." It would take a book to encompass just one type of verbal maneuverings: those that have attended the repetitive postponements of the Soviet Union's surpassing of the West in per capita production.

For all its rigidity, Communist language can be stretched to cover what must be covered. Thus, it has been absorbing to follow the Soviet Union's verbal efforts to cope with the breaking up of the monolith and the return of nationalism to Eastern Europe. Here, we encounter the language in which the Soviet Union, probing unpalatable new dimensions of reality, seeks to discover what can be saved by persuasion where coercion cannot be used; and to discover how the unavoidable can best be portrayed as the always intended.

When we turn from the Communist Left to the Radical Right, we again face a problem of interpreting what we find on the printed page. Again, we must find our way around in a world of dogma and black- white thinking; of innuendo and invective. But there are striking differences between Communist and Rightist usage.

For one thing, the Communist use of language is related to a supposedly inevitable "great day" that lies somewhere in the future; but the Radical Rightist use of language is related to a sense of impending disaster. To borrow a term from James Thurber, the outlook to which it is geared is "times.doomshaped

Again, Rightist outpourings are marked by an anarchic quality that Communist discipline forbids. Within the frame of Marxist-Leninist ideology and the current Party line, Communist statements make sense: which is to say, can be comprehended. But within what conceivable frame does it make sense to say that a UNESCO plot was responsible for removing the McGuffey Readers from American classrooms?

When we came upon this chargein UNESCO Tract, 1962, issued by the Cinema Educational Guild, Hollywood, Californiawe asked Congressman Lionel Van Deerlin, of San Diego, to check up for us on when the McGuffey Reader was last used in California. He reported that while no records were readily available for titles used before 1900, a sampling of books used earlier would suggest that McCuffey had gone out around 1885.

Again, each person who achieves a leader-role on the far Right appears to be a unit of self-dramatization, while spokesmen for the Communist Party line are more like interchangeable units in a propaganda machine.

This right-wing manifestation of ego is not to be confused, however, with the exercise of individuality. Publications of the far Right are, in some respects, almost as stereotyped as are the products of "socialist realism." While there is no one leader to dictate to all other leaders, the rules of the enclave prevail. No Radical Rightist leader could either hold his following for long, or remain in the good graces of his fellows, if he deviated too far from the standard pattern of "againstness" or undertook to qualify established dogmas.

One fixed dogma, for example, goes to the effect that liberalism leads to socialism, and socialism to Communism. It would go hard with any leader who pointed out that no country to date has come umder Communist control by this prescribed course; or that the term socialism does not mean the same thing to Communists and non- Communists.

In Communist parlance the term is ideologically defined; and applies to the stage of development that follows the Communist Party's seizure of power and prepares the way for full Communization. This fact was oddly emphasized in the winter of 1963-1964, when Chou En- lai, on a good-will tour of Africa, refused to make the slightest concession to the Western meaning of the wordwhich has become also the African meaning. He would not apply the term socialist to the government of either Ghana or Guinea.

Some far-right publications are so blatantly extreme that no one with a modicum of moderation in his make-up would be likely to be misled by them. Thus, we have before us the November 1963 issue of The Thunderbolt: a newspaper of the States Rights Party. It announces itself to be a vehicle for "The White Man's Viewpoint." But we can only conclude that the type of white man who would feel that his viewpoint was represented by it would be, in Edwin Arlington Robinson's phrase, the "wrong man to meet on the wrong road at night."

Welch's The Blue Book and The Politician are of a different orderas are the various books and magazines that we will deal with in Part II. It takes more than a hasty reading of these to pinpoint the tactics by which the unwary could be confused.

In these books, facts and non-facts stand side by side, equally grave with portent. Documents cited to establish beyond doubt the pro-Communist connivings of persons in high places turn out to be magazine articles by other Radical Rightists. The reader is asked to credit exact statistics from no known source, and to be impressed by quotes from unnamed authorities.

And not least among the things that make for tough going is Welch's way of utilizing historical events the details of which have become vague in the reader's mindif, indeed, he ever knew them. Since, however, we are recommending that people read these books, we wish in the rest of this chapter to illustrate certain key reasons why they should be read with care.

One good example of how Welch uses history is his handling of the U-2 affair and the subsequent break-up of the Summit conference in Paris, in 1960. Everyone "remembers these events. Butspeaking for ourselveswe had to go back and do our homework before we could cope with even this one small fraction of Welch's "proof' that President Eisenhower was a dedicated servant of the Communists.

In the Epilogue to The Politician, Welch says of the U-2 affair that "everything about it appears to have been handled in the manner that would best suit Soviet interests, no matter what the intentions of some of those involved may have been."

Of the events in Paris, he says that "it was arranged that Eisenhower would meekly sit still for a tongue-lashing from Khrushchev over the U-2 affair"all this being simply "part of the scenario" which was designed, with President Eisenhower's collaboration, to raise the prestige of the Soviet Union and lower that of the United States. ( 1 )

He simply discounts, in brief, the well-nigh unanimous verdict of the non-Communists present in Paris, and of the non-Communist press around the world, to the effect that Khrushchev's tantrums and boorishness contrasted very badly with President Eisenhower's dignified patience.

Elaborating the above theme in the July-August and September 1960 issue of Arnerican Opinion, Welch writes that "all available evidence indicates that the pilot of our famous U-2 must have purposely landed his plane in Russia; and that objectives of those who planned the incident must have been (1) to give the Soviet a model to duplicate; (2) to provide the American Communists with an excuse for getting reconnaissance over Russia suspended; and (3) to postpone the 'Summit conference' with a maximum disgrace to the United other, but offers no evidence, doubts are in orderas they are when he says that "the best-informed authorities agree," but names no authorities. Not even the absurd can be ignored, however, when its author is the official truth-maker for an organization bent on shaping public opinion to fit its own purposes. Hence, it seems worth while to pin down certain facts.

The number one fact is that the Francis Gary Powers fight of May 1, 1960 was the first one to fail in a flight-program which, at that time, extended back over a four-year period. President EisenhowerWelch's "traitor"ratified this program after the Soviet Union rejected his "open skies" proposal.

While Khrushchev must have found these flights galling, it was not until the capture of the Powers plane, with its photographic plates still intact, that he learned the scope and type of information which our government had been successfully accumulating. His resultant perturbation was obvious.

Once he knew these facts, there was no longer a security reason for withholding them from the American public. On June 1, 1960, therefore, Secretary of Defense, Thomas S. Gates, Jr., issued a statement to the press, saying, "From these flights, we got information on airfields, aircraft, missiles, missile testing and training, special weapons storage, submarine production and aircraft production . . ." (3)

Welch's thesis would require us to believe that it raised the prestige of the Soviet Union to have the whole world know that its security system had been thus breachednot on a single occasion, but continuously for four years.

Certainly, there was public confusion in the wake of Powers' capture; and President Eisenhower might fairly be called the author of this confusion. First, in line with established protocol in matters of espionage, he misrepresented the nature of the flight, saying that a plane gathering weatherdata had strayed from its course. Then, abruptly he admitted the plane's character. But we must recall that his misrepresentation took place before he knew that the photographic plates were in Khrushchev's hands. He reversed his stand after this fact was known. What profitor mitigation of loss could he logically have hoped that this reversal might yield?

Even to make a good guess at an answer, we must keep two facts in mind. First, the U-2 incident took place at a time when our government had been unsuccessfully trying to persuade the Soviet Union to agree to a program of on-site inspections, as a basis for a test-ban treaty. And second, even before Powers' capture, "American officials had discussed but rejected the idea of privately showing Khrushchev some U-2 pictures in hopes of persuading him to agree to ground inspection because so much already had been photographed." (4)

In what position, then, did the President find himself? It was too late to prevent Khrushchev's knowing what the flights had netted us. But might it not be, for that very reason, the time to lay our cards on the table and say, in effect, "All right, Premier Khrushchev. We already know more about your strategic installations than the on-site inspections we have proposed could possibly teach us. You have repeatedly said that you want a test-ban treaty. Your excuse for holding back has been removed. Do you, or do you not, want one?"

Khrushchev's conduct after the break-up of the Paris conference was scarcely that of a man enjoying a propaganda victory. His intricate footwork during the weeks that followed made him look more like a man on the spot: he kept advancing to threaten, but side-stepping to avoid collision.

From Paris, still flaunting his rage, he went directly to East Berlin; but instead of precipitating a real crisis by making good on his oft-repeated threat to sign a separate peace treaty with Ulbricht, he urged upon that disappointed leader a policy of patience. In the course of the summer, he threatened a missile defense of Cuba if the United States practiced "aggression"; but left himself free to define aggression. He threatened, likewise, to bomb our bases in Europe, and to breach the neutrality of Austria. Any step toward the carrying out of either threat would have precipitated war. But he took no such step. On many counts, in brief, he acted far less like a man who had triumphed than like one who was working to repair, with minimum risks, a damaged image of strength.

We have chosen to explore this particular instance of how Welch handles history because, at this writing, our U-2 flights are continuing over Cuba. Out of the multitude of flights, one could fail. Hence, it is just as well for Americans to realize that for the extremist mind, geared as it is to a conspiratorial interpretation of history, any failure can appear to be treason.

Another feature of Welch's writing for which the reader must be prepared we will call a monumental carelessness. If it is not this, it can only be called a monumental callousness in matters where other people's reputations are at stake.

One simple example will show what we mean. On p. 93 of The Blue Book, writing about Americans for Democratic Action, Welch says that "the ADA, whether a lot of members know it or not, is the same as an arm of the Communist Party." Thus, he virtually instructs Birch Society members to view with alarm, and warn others against, those who belong to the ADA.

Yet on p. 109 of The Politician, he writes, "Now it is perfectly all right for a man to be a Democrat, even an A.D.A. Democrat, if that school of political philosophy expresses his honest beliefs." It would be understandable if even the Birchers were at times, confused by his directives.

Again, many of Welch's quotes turn out to be singularly elusive affairs. On p. 26 of The Blue Book, for example, we find him discussing a "plot" to make America, by gradual stages so like the Soviet Union that its final conversion to a "police state" can be effortlessly achieved. He states that the aim here is simply to quote the directive under which some of the very largest American foundations have been secretly but visibly working for years. This directive is 'so to change the economic and political structure of the United States that it can be comfortably merged with Soviet Russia.'" ;

Here, he states, in brief, without equivocation, that he is quoting a directive. But in The Politician, p. 268, he develops a similar theme, but speaks more vaguely of directives; and after giving a version almost identical with that in The Blue Book, he adds "or to that effect."

Thus, what a reader of the two books has to interpret is a charge, offered without evidence, to the effect that certain unnamed foundations are working under either a precise directive or vague directives from an unidentified source. It would seem to be the better part of wisdom to ignore the whole chargeat least, until Welch is ready to do a more responsible job of backing it up with explicit evidence.

Another sleight-of-mind tactic which Welch seems to favor is based on the phrase "nobody will ever States.know It consists in using this phrase with the implication that what nobody will ever know would be appalling if it were known. But not a single fact or figure is offered to show that the unknown is not simply the nonexistent.

Thus, in The Politician, p. 227, we find a passage designed to prove that Allen Dulles, as head of the CIA, was serving the Communist cause. In a sentence heavy with ominous possibilities, Welch writes, "How many millions of dollars of American tax-payers' money Allen Dulles has turned over to Walter Reuthers stooge, Irving Brown, to promote Communism in fact while pretending to fight it (through building up the leftwng labor unions of Europe), nobody will ever know."

This same formula is then repeated several times over, with different "pro-Communist" recipients in each case. Thus, there is built up a passage which, read in a resounding voice, might make good theater; or good demagoguery. But it is not good documentation.

It is not even morally responsible documentation; for there is not one word in it to indicate that Allen Dulles actually handed over CIA funds to the persons named in any amount whatever; or to show that the persons named were, in any instance, serving the Communist cause. Yet on the basis of evidence as fimsy as this, Welch calls Allen Dulles a "protected and umtouchable supporter of Communism." How Welch can think that no "sacrifice of morality" is involved in his resort to this type of documentation "nobody will ever know."

The CIA seems to be almost equally a target for the Radical Rightists and the Communists. It is also a target for various persons and groups that might better be called muddled than extremist. Hence, we would strongly urge that as many Americans as possible read a speech which Senator Thomas Dodd, of Connecticut, made in the Senate on February 17, l964--entitled CIA." Reprints of it can be secured from the Senators office in the New Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C.

One policy would seem recommended by Welch's record of proving what he wants to proveby means of appeals to unnamed authorities, quotes for which no source is given, insinuations, and charges unsupported by evidence. We hope that many persons will undertake a careful reading of the Welch books. But we recommend that those who do should erect in their own minds a warning sign: DANGER: SLIPPERY WRITING AHEAD.


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