This week on SOTT Talk Radio we spoke with Peter Kuznick, Professor of History and Director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University in Washington, DC. Kuznick received his Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 1984 and was active in the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. He is author and co-author of several books on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the use of nuclear power, and the Cold War.

Kuznick and Oliver Stone co-authored the 10-part documentary film series and book - The Untold History of the United States - which explores some of the under-reported and darkest parts of American 20th century history using little known documents and newly uncovered archival material.

We explored with Professor Kuznick the creation of the U.S. National Security State during WW2, the real reasons behind the Cold War and the decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan, and the side-lining of 'the man who would be president', Henry Wallace.

Running Time: 01:55:00

Download: MP3

Here's the transcript:

Niall: Hello and welcome to another SOTT Talk Radio show. I'm Niall Bradley. My co-hosts this evening: Joe Quinn and Jason Martin.

Joe: Hi there.

Niall: Okay. The Cold War is a historical episode that is behind us and yet here we are today listening to western leaders make statements that leave people in no doubt that they think the Cold War either never ended, or has restarted. So what was the original Cold War anyway? How did it start and what can it tell us about "Cold War II"? Joining us today is Peter Kuznick. Peter is a professor of history and director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University in Washington. He is author of Beyond the Laboratory: Scientists as Political Activists in the 1930s America; co-author of Rethinking the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Japanese and American Perspectives; co-author of Nuclear Power and Hiroshima: The Truth Behind the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Power, and co-editor of Rethinking Cold War Culture.

Peter actually founded American University's Nuclear Studies Institute in 1995, and every summer since then he has taken some of his students on a study abroad class to Kyoto, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He's only just returned from this year's trip, so he may still be a wee bit jet-lagged. Peter is probably best known to our listeners for co-authoring, with film director and documentary producer Oliver Stone, the ten-part Showtime documentary film series and book called The Untold History of the United States. He regularly provides commentary for US and international media and we're delighted to have him with us today on SOTT Talk Radio. So a very big welcome to you Peter.

Peter: Thank you. I'm delighted to be here.

Niall: Great to have you here.

Joe: Indeed.

Niall: Well straight off the bat, did you ever think, as someone studying the Cold War as a historical piece of history, that it would be coming back to haunt us?

Peter: Well you know it comes back in a transmogrified form. It doesn't come back the way the original one looked, but that doesn't make it look any less insidious or any less dangerous. In many ways the Cold War never ended, in the sense that we thought there was going to be a peace dividend and we never got that peace dividend. In fact when the original Cold War ended, Colin Powell, who's one of the more sane members of the foreign policy establishment, said that the United States has got to hang a shingle outside its door that says, "Superpower Lives Here". It was a vision on the part of American policymakers that, now that the Soviet Union was over, we could act without regard for anybody else, that the United States could simply assert its views on the rest of the world.

And so at the same time that George H.W. Bush was praising Gorbachev for his restraint in eastern Europe, the United States immediately invades Panama, kills thousands in Panama. Supposedly it now becomes so urgent to overthrow Manuel Noriega, who had been the CIA's errand boy in Central America for decades before that. And then the US wasted little time in invading Kuwait, attacking the Iraqi forces in the Gulf War there.

And so we see the same pattern developing in both of those situations. The American leaders are basically lying the country into war in both cases. In the case of Iraq, the United States convinced the Saudis that there were hundreds of thousands of Iraqi troops lined up on the Saudi border ready to invade Saudi Arabia. They convinced the Saudis to let American troops into the holy land in order to save them from an invasion by Iraq. There was a series of articles, in the US and around the rest of the world, showing the satellite photos of the border there, showing that there were NO Iraqi troops lined up on those borders. So the conclusion that we had to draw was those were doctored photos.

Then the United States, because the public was reticent then about invading and fighting the first gulf war, the special congressional hearings in congress, not of an official committee but unofficial committee, called as a witness, a 14-year-old Kuwaiti girl, who said that she was working in a hospital in Kuwait when the Iraqi troops came in and they pulled the babies off incubators and left them on the floor to die. George H.W. Bush started making speeches about this; as a sign of the inhumanity and the bestiality of the Iraqis and why it was so essential that the United States invade and overthrow the forces that were in Kuwait. L ater it turned out that she was not some innocent girl who was in the hospital there. She was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. She was being coached by Hill & Knowlton, the leading public relations firm, and the whole thing was a hoax. Did that make any difference? Certainly not to George H.W. Bush who went touting this all over the country and talking about Saddam as a new Hitler.

So this is the context about the Cold War not even ending when the Soviet Union collapsed. The United States quickly begins to build up its forces and thinks that it has the capability for asserting a kind of unvarnished hegemony, that it had wanted throughout the Cold War.

Peter: And George H.W. Bush cited that, repeatedly, to show the brutality and barbarity of the Iraqis as a justification for the US invasion. And that helped shift public opinion because the public was very divided about this. So the point that I was trying to make, in terms of both the invasion of Panama and the invasion of Kuwait, was that for the United States the Cold War never ended. The United States saw this as an opportunity to assert itself in ways that it hadn't been able to do since the Cold War began.

Niall: Yeah, the continuity, the same pattern. But I would try to argue that the difference in this case, was that where the Cold War narrative is about keeping communism, the USSR, at bay, in this case you're talking about two countries that have nothing to do with Russia, right?

Peter: Exactly. In some ways the Cold War was misunderstood because certainly the question of communism was relevant to America's capitalist policymakers but not quite as relevant as we sometimes think. I like to cite George Kennan who was, in many ways, the architect of a Cold War for the United States. He designed America's containment policy. And Kennan said in a secret memo in 1948, that United States controls 50 percent of the world's wealth but it only contains 6.3 percent of the world's population. He said that the challenge facing American policymakers in the next period is how to maintain that position of disparity. He said, "We can't do it with idealism. We can't do it by trying to spread freedom and democracy." What we have to do is deal with hard, cold, power concepts and the United States has got to assert itself to maintain that position of disparity."

On one level that's much more what the Cold War was about. Behind the cloak of ideology surrounding anti-communism, at heart it was a battle between the first world and the third world. In that battle we see the results of it now. According to the United Nations and Oxfam's recent reports the richest 85 people in the world have more wealth than the poorest 3.5 billion. That's the result of the Pax Americana. That's the result of maintaining the kinds of relations that allowed the United States to assert itself militarily, culturally, intellectually, politically, financially, economically.

So we've got a world in which a handful of fabulously wealthy people actually are able to usurp so much of the world's resources, at the same time that much of the world's population goes hungry, goes without clean water, and without sanitation. The percentage, for example in India, of people who still do not have indoor plumbing, is over two-thirds of the population. So that's the result of this kind of discrepancy.

Niall: That's an astonishing ratio. Eighty-five individuals compared with half of the world's population.

Peter: It's obscene. It's simply obscene.

Niall: It's the definition of oligarchy.

Peter: Yes. And they maintain this in the same way they did throughout the Cold War; a combination of hegemony in the Gramscian sense (Antonio Gramsci), with military force where necessary and economic domination where possible. In the United States we could trace this back to the 1890s, which Oliver Stone and I do in our Untold History., although it takes on a much more extreme form with the end of WWII.

Niall: Well that's probably the place to start, although we could be going back to the 19th century. That whole situation at the end of - yeah, go on. You've got a question?

Jason: I was going to say that I do have a question. I am very, very interested in the genesis in the 1890s; if he can say just a little bit on the topic before we move on to WWII, because you do get a lot of coverage of what happened after the defeat of the Nazis and the problems that Europe had after the second great war. There's a lot of information out there about that, but what about the 1890s? What was the stuff leading up to that which put America in the position to be where it's at today? I'm very interested in that. If you can answer.

Peter: I'd love to. You have to remember that in the United States in the 1870s and 1880s, there was a very strong and fairly radical labor movement. We had the national railroad strikes in 1877. We have the rise of the Knights of Labor, which was an anti-capitalist labor federation in the 1880s that exploded between July 1, 1885 and July 1, 1986. It jumped from 110,000 members to over 700,000 members, maybe 800,000 members, almost overnight. American workers during this time did not think that capitalism was the wave of the future. They didn't think it was morally justifiable. There was this very strong anti-capitalist sentiment among American workers, as there was among workers throughout most of the world in the late 19th century. The United States went into a major depression in 1893, by far the worst depression up to that point.

There were really two basic ways of solving that depression. One called for redistribution of wealth so that workers could afford to buy America's surplus products that were being produced by America's factories during that time, because American industry was booming in the late 19th century but it exceeded the amount that American workers could purchase and consume.

So the alternative that was decided upon by policymakers, rather than redistributing wealth so that workers could buy the products here at home, was looking for markets overseas. The search for markets beginning in the late 1890s is going to really shape American foreign policy. And we see a major turning point in 1898, in the Spanish American War, in which the United States easily defeated Spain. But one front of that war was in the Philippines.

The United States had been a republic up to that point. The United States had a lot of democratic tendencies. There was slavery of course; there was genocide of Native Americans; there were a lot of bad things going on, but American people embraced a vision of democracy and republicanism. In 1899 the United States intervened militarily to crush the Filipino insurrection. There was a popular government in the Philippines, under Emilio Aguinaldo, that expected the democratic United States to support it in its right to rule and its quest for independence at home in the Philippines.

The United States took the opposite tack. The United States sent troops into the Philippines, fought a bloody war against the popular forces there. The kinds of things the United States did: torture, water-boarding - it was probably the United States' first experience with water-boarding long before Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The United States crushed the Filipino insurrection in the 1890s and early 1900s. That put the United States on a path toward a very, very different direction. The United States was going to eventually become the world's leading counter-revolutionary force. In the 19th century the United States was still pro-revolution and still supported uprisings around the world.

So the United States takes a different course beginning in the late 1890s, and we haven't seen the United States depart from that course throughout the Cold War, throughout the 20th century. The United States begins intervening repeatedly; intervened in the Boxer Rebellion in China, sent troops there. The United States intervenes repeatedly throughout Central America and Latin America. Country after country the United States occupies; sends troops; tries to tame rebellions that feed revolutionary forces; supports American business interests. This was a pattern and is still the pattern, although Latin America has finally rebelled against the US gunboat diplomacy and that kind of domination. So the United States was going against this tradition. It's interesting, if you look at the 1900 election in the United States, you've got William McKinley the Republican, and you have William Jennings Bryan the democrat. And Bryan made it very, very clear that the country would have to choose between being a republic and being an empire. He said, as many Americans believed at the time, the United States can't be both. If it becomes an empire it's got to maintain strong standing armies. It's got to start developing a global bureaucracy. It's got to impose its will on peoples around the world. And Americans were strongly opposed to that, although McKinley did get elected in 1900. So you can say that his vision did get the support of the majority at that time. But there has always been this tension in the United States, which gets back to what we call American exceptionalism: the belief on the part of American policymakers and much of the American public, that the United States is unique, it's exceptional, it's God's gift to humanity, it's different than all other countries. All other countries are motivated by selfishness and greed and territorial aggrandizement and geopolitical domination, but the Americans actually believe, it might be laughable to you, but the American public believes that the United States goes out in the world motivated by benevolence, altruism, generosity and just wants to expand freedom and liberty. The American people have not been able to see themselves and their history more realistically, which is why Oliver Stone and I did our Untold History project.

Joe: Yeah, as you say, people in America only believe that because that's what they've been told.

Peter: It's part of the air that they breathe, the water they drink. It's something that you are taught from the time you are very young in America's schools and American media and American newspapers. Everybody buys into this assumption. And you live with less now.

Joe: But it was deliberate to the extent that it's still done today. It's done deliberately, I would presume, by the establishment, if I can call them that. Surely this is something that's thought about in terms of sending the right message. Or do you just think it's kind of a natural human kind of thing?

Peter: It's something that every American President, beginning with Truman, has articulated and espoused, right up through - Obama. This is something that you see over and over again in American political rhetoric. A good example, it goes back before then. It was Woodrow Wilson after Versailles. He said "Now the world will see America as the savior of the world." This idea is very deeply ingrained, that the United States is the world's savior; that the United States is the only moral nation in the world. We see it more recently with Madeleine Albright when she was secretary of state in the late 1990s. She says: "If we use force, it's because we're the United States of America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and see further than other countries into the future." It's that same thing. Hilary Clinton uses that term, "indispensable nation". Robert Gates calls us the indispensable nation. Barak Obama, over and over again, the same kind of rhetoric, the same assumptions about the United States' exceptionalism.

It's a dangerous mentality and it also blinds us as a country to what the realities are and what our history has been.

Joe: Yeah, it's quite insidious because obviously it's quite an appealing idea..

Peter: Yes, exactly. It's very comforting to school children.It's not comforting to all the people the United States has bombed and repressed and invaded to maintain its position of domination

Jason: What I find particularly interesting - is that if you really think about it, America and even Europe in a certain sense, are fundamentally the most dispensable group of countries in the world. If suddenly all of them were to disappear, the rest of the world which does all the work and manufactures everything, would get along just fine. They wouldn't have so many rich white people to sell to, but for the most part, America is the most dispensable nation in the entire world right now. They contribute almost nothing to the world economy except - I don't know, they don't even really have that much money anymore. They're just debt, debt, debt.

Peter: The United States actually contributes energy and it still actually has surprisingly large amounts of manufacturing, because you don't see it like you used to. I remember growing up and we used to say that if something was labelled "Made in Japan", that signified that it was cheap junk that nobody wanted. Now, "Made in Japan" means the highest quality electronics and manufacturing and quality control. That attitude has changed. We see China developing very, very high quality products also.

Europe began to fade quite early, in the sense that WWI was in large part a war not to make the world safe for democracy, not the war to end all wars, but a war to re-divide the spoils of empire around the globe. That's why the Sykes-Picot Treaty - and when Lenin and Trotsky opened up the Soviet Russian foreign ministry and let go all of the secret treaties that had been developed between the Russians and England and France before the war started, people were shocked , but that was what that war was about in large part, redistributing the spoils of empire. The results were devastating for Europe. It was a horrendous war; a war marked by trench warfare and poison gas and literally half of the young men of France of fighting age were killed in that war. That was part of why France capitulated so easily and pathetically to the Nazis in WWII.

Joe: And when you say "redistribute the spoils of empire", you mean the spoils of - partly the British, the Russian and the Ottoman empires for example, and largely towards the US. Is that true?

Peter: Not directly. Wilson is an interesting character. We talk about Wilsonian idealism and at some blind level Wilson was idealistic as much as Lloyd George, and Clemenceau ridiculed him. They would say "Wilson has got 14 points while God Almighty only had 10". They thought Wilson was an incredible and insufferable windbag, which he certainly could be. But he did want a world in which there was going to be more openness. The British and the French at Versailles resisted that. They wanted to maintain their positions and their own advantages and they also wanted very heavy reparations from the Germans. In fact, the Germans end up paying twice as much reparations as they anticipated going in.

But the Germans agreed to surrender based upon the idea that Wilson's '14 points' were going to guide the post-war deliberations. We soon see that's not going to be the case and that we are going to maintain new empires and the United States even agrees to take control of the trusteeship over Armenia.

So, WWI was resolved in a way that was almost inevitably going to lead to WWII. But the Europeans divided up those colonies and they maintained domination and some of the results of those policies in the Middle East we're still dealing with today.

Joe: The US though, as a result of the first world war, did profit quite well I think. There's a book out I was reading called Super Imperialism by Michael Hudson, and he was saying that after the first world war the US had supplied a lot of loans to European nations and also a lot of weapons to fight the war. Then in a break with tradition - up until then the US basically called in the debts for all of those loans and supply of arms to France, the UK and Germany, and by all accounts the US made out quite well as a result of that while the UK, France and in particular Germany, were pretty much rendered almost penniless.

Peter: What happened is that the centre of world finance shifts from London to New York with the end of WWI. The United States comes out of both wars far better than anybody else. The British and the French had suffered terribly in WWI, in terms of the devastating casualties that they took. But they were also financially dependent upon the United States. The Morgan banks especially, become the bankers to Britain and the loans to the allies, to Britain and France, are enormous, and the US loans to Germany and its allies were miniscule.

So it was clear to people who were paying attention which side the United States was going to come into the war on; when it came into the war. And after the war, the European economies were largely devastated and the American economy was thriving, it was booming. And the question was: were the US banks going to be able to recoup their loans to Europe. The post-war system is established on a very fragile and irrational basis. The United States begins extending loans to Germany, so that Germany could pay back its debts to Great Britain and France; so that Britain and France can pay back their debts to the United States. When that begins, Germany was being forced to pay such heavy reparations; the war guilt clause in Germany gets tagged with the responsibility for the war, and they had to pay back these enormous reparations to Britain and France. Germany actually was not able to pay back its reparations, so they would roll over the loans and they would ease the terms so that Germany was able to avoid paying some of the most egregious damages.

But the whole system was based on this house of cards which finally does collapse in 1929, when the international monetary system and trade collapses. So we saw throughout the world this vast global depression. But it was foreseeable given the structure of the post-war world. And Germany was expected to pay that back after having lost some of its prize industrial and other resources.

Joe: Maybe we'll jump forward a little bit to the second world war, because one of the most interesting parts of your documentary, for me anyway, is the situation with Wallace as the Vice President and his potential candidacy for President. In the documentary you talk about this guy, Pepper. The way you describe it, he basically subverts the democratic process at the convention and effectively thwarts Wallace's nomination to be President.

So before we get into that, maybe you could talk a little bit about just who Wallace was and why he features quite prominently in your documentary.

Peter: Henry Wallace was one of those rare American leaders who could see the world through the eyes of US adversaries. Americans tend to have a certain blindness, a certain myopia in which they only see the world as it looks to the United States and US interests. Wallace was a different breed. He came from a prominent farm family in Iowa. His father had been Secretary of Agriculture throughout the 1920s. His grandfather was a dominant figure in farming in Iowa and nationally.

Wallace was chosen by Roosevelt in 1932 to become his first Secretary of Agriculture in the New Deal administration. Wallace built up an extraordinary record as Secretary of Agriculture, and when Roosevelt was running for his third term in 1940 - you have to remember that that was unprecedented, no American President has ever served more than two four-year terms. Roosevelt knew that war was imminent and decided to run for a third term to break with precedent. But he wanted somebody on the ticket as Vice President who was a real progressive and an anti-Fascist, and Wallace was probably the leading anti-Fascist in the New Deal administration. He had close ties to the scientists. He was outraged by racism and really had a progressive view of the world. So Roosevelt insisted on Wallace as Vice President.
However the democratic party bosses - you have to remember that in this period the party bosses largely ran the party. And the party bosses decided that they didn't want Wallace on the ticket as he was too radical in his views for them. So they refused to put him on the ticket as Vice President. Roosevelt, who already had the nomination for President, wrote a letter to the convention turning down the nomination, saying that: "We already have one Wall Street-dominated conservative party in the United States, the republican party, and if the democratic party has any reason to exist it has to be a liberal party committed to social justice and progress." He said basically, "If you don't give me Wallace then I'm not going to run as standard bearer for the democratic party".

Eleanor Roosevelt saw how serious he was. She went to the convention floor, the first time a First Lady had ever done so, and informed the delegates that if they didn't put Wallace on the ticket as Vice President, then Franklin was not going to run. They caved in. They put Wallace on as Vice President and as Vice President he was again extraordinary because he was a visionary. In 1941 Henry Luce, who was the head of the Time Life publishing conglomerate, was America's leading publisher at the time. He said "The 20th century must be the American century. The United States is going to dominate the world in every way possible."

Henry Wallace, as Vice President, countered that. He made a famous speech in which he said "The 20th century must be the century of the common man." He called for a worldwide people's revolution in the tradition of the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Latin American Revolutions and the Russian Revolution. He said "We have to end imperialism; end colonialism; end economic exploitation; spread the fruits of science and industry and technology around the entire world; feed the world; change the whole relationship."
So Wallace had that kind of vision as Vice President. He also made a speech in which he denounced America's fascists. He said, "America's fascists are those business interests who think that Wall Street comes first and the American people come second." Now we refer to them as democrats and republicans in the United States, but to Wallace those were America's fascists.

So he had his enemies. Among his enemies were the leaders of Britain and France, because Wallace was the most outspoken foe of empire anywhere in the United States at the time, and wrote books decrying empire. The Wall Street interests hated Wallace. The southern segregationists hated Wallace because he was the leading spokesperson for black civil rights. The sexists hated Wallace; he was the leading spokesperson for women's rights.

He had the progressives in his corner but also enemies who wanted to get him off the ticket in 1944, when Roosevelt ran again. The problem was that Wallace was the second most popular man in America, behind Roosevelt at the time. And the democratic party convention begins July 20, 1944. It's a steamy night at the stadium in Chicago. Gallup releases a poll of potential voters asking who they wanted on the ticket as Vice President. Sixty-five percent said they wanted Wallace as Vice President. Two percent said they wanted Harry Truman. So the question is: how, for a supposed democracy, is Truman going to get the nomination, who's unknown and disrespected, instead of Wallace, who was wildly popular and a visionary?

But the party bosses controlled the convention and made all these corrupt deals. Roosevelt at that point was old and near death, very weak, and was not able to resist them like he had before. When the convention began, it was clear that the majority of the delegates, despite the bosses, were overwhelmingly in support of Wallace. On the first ballot Wallace almost won.

But what happened is that first night Wallace makes a second speech for Roosevelt. The place goes wild in a spontaneous demonstration lasting 45 minutes. In the midst of that, a senator from Florida, Claude Pepper, realizes if he can fight his way to the microphone, to give Wallace's name and nomination Wallace will sweep the convention, defy the bosses, and be back on the ticket as Vice President.
Pepper fights his way through the crowd and gets within five feet of the microphone. The party bosses led by Mayor Kelly of Chicago, are screaming for the Chair to end the session. He says "We have to adjourn immediately. It's a fire hazard. We've got to adjourn." Sam Jackson who was chairing didn't know what to do. He later admitted he had orders from the party bosses not to let Wallace's name be put in nomination. He says "I have a motion to adjourn. All in favor say aye." Maybe five percent say aye. "All opposed say no." Everybody booms out "No!" and Jackson says "Motion carried. Meeting adjourned." And it ended with Pepper five feet from the microphone.

What Oliver and I argue, is that if Pepper had gotten to that microphone and entered Wallace's name and nomination, Wallace would have been back on the ticket as Vice President. He would have become President on April 12, 1945 when Roosevelt died, instead of Truman, and there would have been no atomic bombings in 1945, and very likely no Cold War. That's how close we came.Wallace is unknown in the United States. I ask my students, and I ask other audiences, "Who was Vice President of the United States between '41 and '45?" If they say anything they say Truman. They've mostly never heard of Wallace. He's largely been written out of the history books, although he was an absolutely extraordinary individual, who stays on in the cabinet as Secretary of Commerce and spends the next year, more than a year, fighting Truman from inside the cabinet, trying to change the direction of American policy to avoid the Cold War during that first period. It was in September of 1946 that he finally got ousted from the cabinet.

Joe: So Peter, how does a guy like that get written out of American history?

Peter: We've seen that with a lot of very, very influential figures. The United States always makes fun about Soviet history during the Cold War. The definition of a Soviet historian is somebody who could predict the past. But I find that in country after country.

I'm just back from Japan. Oliver and I wrote a piece last year called: United States and Japan-Partners in Historical Falsification. I see this when I do interviews in China. Our book is out recently in China. I've done dozens of interviews with China's one billion viewer television network and The People's Daily, the biggest newspaper and other sites. They're very happy to hear my criticisms of the United States and especially my criticisms of Japan, but when I start criticizing China they make it very clear to me that they have to cut that out. I've had the same response in country after country.

So what we see over the world is that the ruling classes understand the importance of controlling information, controlling media, and they understand the importance of controlling history. The notion that 'he who controls the past will control the present and control the future'; they get it. The ruling forces in country after country fight for a certain interpretation of history in the history textbooks. And Oliver and I are fighting against that. We want every country to challenge the official truths, the myths, the lies, that allow people to completely misunderstand their country's history and other countries' history.

So the same thing that we've done in the United States, we try to do everywhere we go. We think it's essential that all countries honestly confront their history because people's understanding of the past really does guide their behavior in the present and the future.

Joe: There's another aspect you just touched on that if Wallace had become President there would have been no nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.But that's another aspect of American history that very few, Americans at least, are aware of. And I think the central point is that, that bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima was kind of gratuitous in a sense. It wasn't necessary.

Peter: It was worse than that - it's a long story - my students sit through a 12 hour lecture on the decision to drop the bomb. American leaders understood that the Japanese were militarily defeated. In fact, by the Battle of Saipan, in July of 1944, the Japanese began to realize that victory was hopeless, that defeat was inevitable. The Japanese knew that. They maintained a strategy of waiting for one more big victory and then suing for peace, in hopes that they could get better surrender terms. They never won another victory in WWII.
Then they adopted what was called the Ketsu-Go strategy, and that was based on the idea of waiting for a US invasion and inflicting very heavy casualties on the United States, again to get better surrender terms. Surrender terms were very important to them because their fear was the United States was calling for unconditional surrender, which meant that the emperor would be tried as a war criminal and executed. MacArthur's southwest command issued a report, in the summer of '45, that said, "Hanging the emperor to them would be like the crucifixion of Christ to us. All would fight to die like ants."

And we knew that. We knew that it would be almost impossible to get them to surrender unconditionally. The American experts kept telling Truman: "Let them keep the emperor. Let them know that they'll be allowed to keep the emperor if they choose to do so. Without that there will be almost no chance of getting a surrender."

Despite that, the United States was military crushing Japan by the spring of 1945. We'd firebombed Japanese cities. Our blockades had cut off oil supplies. Their energy was dwindling. The transportation system was collapsing. Food was in short supply. There was hunger and starvation. The Americans knew that the Japanese were near defeat. We knew it in part because we'd broken their codes at the start of the war. We were intercepting their cables, and the cables going back and forth from Tokyo to Moscow - let me explain. That's because the Japanese in the spring of 1945 decided on a strategy based on getting the Soviets to intervene on Japan's behalf to get them better surrender terms, in return for giving concessions to the Soviet Union. They didn't know that the Soviets had already cut a deal with Roosevelt at Yalta, that the Soviet Union was going to come into the Pacific war three months after the end of the war in Europe.
But the Americans were intercepting the cables. Truman himself refers to the intercepted July 18th telegram as: "The telegram from the Jap emperor asking for peace." All the top US policymakers were saying that the Japanese realized that defeat was inevitable, and they were suing for peace. They also knew what would crush the Japanese once and for all, was the Soviet invasion. The vast Red Army was scheduled to come into the war, three months after the end of war in Europe, which meant around August 8th or August 9th, and Stalin had told Truman at Potsdam that the Soviets were going to do so. Truman's reaction to that was very revealing. Truman writes in his diary: "Stalin will be in the Jap war by August 15th." He writes, "Fini Japs when that occurs." He writes home to his wife the next day after getting the assurance from Stalin and he says "The war will end a year sooner now. Think of all the boys who won't be killed."

So the Americans knew, and American intelligence said this over and over again: "Entry of the Soviets will convince the Japs that resisting any longer is futile. The war will be over." So why does the United States drop the atomic bombs on August 6th and August 9th knowing that the Soviet invasion was about to begin? That's in some ways the mystery but in some ways it's the obscenity also. The United States was trying to send a message to the Soviet Union. The Cold War in many ways had already begun. Leslie Groves, who was in charge of the Manhattan Project, said to me, "Right from two weeks into this project I knew that Russia was our enemy, and I designed the bomb project along those lines." We've got other top leaders saying the same thing. Jimmy Byrnes, who'd become secretary of state, said that the real concern is the Soviet Union and Soviet gains in eastern Europe.

The American leaders hoped to end the war before the Soviets entered and got the concessions the Americans promised them. At the same time they wanted to send a message to Stalin. The Soviet leaders reacted exactly as we could have predicted. They believed that the bomb was not dropped on Japan, who they knew was desperate to surrender, they believed that the bomb was dropped on them. That's one of the crucial early developments in the Cold War.

A couple of other factors along those lines: six of America's seven five-star admirals and generals, who got their fifth star during the war, were on record as saying the bomb was either militarily unnecessary or morally reprehensible. Many American leaders, including Truman's personal chief of staff, admiral William Leahy, was appalled by the atomic bombing, as was General Eisenhower. They thought from a moral standpoint it was unconscionable that the United States would do this against a people who were already defeated and trying to surrender; use a weapon that would kill almost exclusively women and children. And that's what happened.

The other thing was that Truman recognized and said on at least three occasions, that he realized he was beginning a process that could end all life on the planet. That to me is in some ways the real enigma. Truman is not a Hitler. He's not an evil person. He's not blood-thirsty. The question is: how do decent human beings, although limited, but decent human beings, commit horrendous actions? We see this time and again in history and I think this is one of those examples. Truman was a little man; Wallace was a big man. Truman had very little vision; Wallace had enormous vision. Truman had little or no empathy; Wallace had enormous empathy. Truman goes ahead and does this and putsthe United States and the world on a glide path to destruction, and we're still on that. We haven't gotten past that. The human species, as concerned as we are about global warming, the thing that still threatens the human species is nuclear war, nuclear winter.

Joe: A lot of people I've talked to think that the dropping of the bombs on Japan had something to do with simply wanting to test out this new "toy", in a real life situation.

Peter: We tested it out in Alamogordo, in the desert there on July 16, the Trinity test. You have to remember we had two different types of bombs. One was the uranium bomb which used the shotgun method, shooting one mass into another. They had no doubt that that was going to work. The one that they tested at Alamogordo was the plutonium bomb which was triggered by an implosive charge and was a different kind of thing that they wanted to test. They weren't 100 percent certain on that one.

Now they knew from the results of that, it was about 18.6 kilotons of destructive capability; it was absolutely staggering. The people who saw it wrote back that they had experienced doomsday. Many of the scientists feared that they had triggered an explosion of all the nitrogen in the atmosphere and that they had set the world's space on fire. They thought that they had burned up the entire world. It was so bright and so powerful and so hot that they were just stunned by the effects of it.

That was enough of an experiment to convince everybody that this would work and it was as nightmarish as they anticipated, but they wanted to test it. In fact they had issued orders that the United States air force was not allowed to bomb certain cities in Japan because they wanted those cities to remain pristine so they could show the effects of the bomb. They chose targets that would maximize the effects of the bomb; Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The original target that Leslie Groves wanted was Kyoto but Secretary of War Stimson vetoed that, on the grounds that this was Japan's ancient capital, the intellectual and cultural capital of Japan; the Japanese would never reconcile with the United States if we destroyed Kyoto. So we destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki instead.

Joe: It's almost indescribable the callousness and the cruelty of whoever made that decision.

Niall: Yeah. They had left those two cities for this purpose.

Peter: Yeah, they really left four cities. They also had Niigata on the list, and Kokoro. They were ready to wipe them out. People are sometimes confused, they think that the bombs ended the war. If you look at the deliberations of the Japanese cabinet, there's no truth to that at all. The United States had already fire-bombed over 100 Japanese cities. The destruction reached 99.5 percent of the city of Toyama. Ninety-nine-point-five percent.

From the standpoint of the Japanese leaders, they accepted the fact that the Americans could wipe out Japanese cities. To them it didn't make a big difference if it was 2,000 planes and tens of thousands of bombs or if it was one plane and one bomb. It was the same effect from their standpoint. What changed the equation was the Soviet invasion, because that proved bankrupt both their diplomatic strategy of trying to get the Soviets to intervene and their military strategy of waiting for an American invasion. The red army blitzed through the Kwantung army in Manchuria almost overnight, and Suzuki, the Prime Minister, was asked why the Japanese had to surrender so quickly. He said: "The Soviets have taken Manchuria. They're going to take the Kuril Islands, south Sakhalin. Tomorrow they're going to be in Hokkaido. The structure of Japan is going to be destroyed. We must surrender now. We can surrender to the Americans."

If you look at the deliberations among Japanese leaders, one of their big concerns was what happened in eastern Europe when the red army marched through there, they were greeted as liberators. They thought that there was a danger of a communist revolution in Japan also, if the Soviets invaded Japanese home islands.

Joe: So it wasn't as several generals said at the time, as you said, that the dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima was not militarily necessary but clearly it was geo-strategically or geopolitically necessary?

Peter: I don't say necessary. I think it was awful.

Joe: From their point of view.

Peter: I think the Cold War was awful. From the standpoint of people who wanted American hegemony, they saw that as crucial.That's the way Stalin interpreted it. Stalin said, "This bomb was dropped on us, not the Japanese." and he ordered his scientists to speed up even further the Soviet's own bomb project.

Joe: It was effectively as a warning for Russia that had invaded Manchuria, China...

Peter: I think it was more eastern Europe. They were concerned about Soviet domination of Europe.

Joe: So they were simply showing that they were willing to use nuclear bombs.

Peter: There's no limit to America's ruthlessness, what it was willing to do at that point. And that was how the Soviets interpreted it. And the scientists warned about that. The scientists at Met (Metallurgical) Lab in Chicago, which had finished its mission a little earlier than those of Los Alamos, issued a series of reports, and the Franck Committee Report in June said that: the United States should not use these bombs even if we have them because not only will it compromise America's moral position in the world, but it will trigger an uncontrollable arms race that's going to spell doom for everybody. The scientists wrote petitions; they spoke out about this; they tried to influence it to change but they weren't able to.

Jason: Well it's all very kind of Clausewitzian in a certain sense, this "total war", "if we're not willing to do whatever it takes, they're going to do it", that kind of very psychopathic mentality of extremism, of going to the ultimate lengths to prove that you're the biggest and the baddest.

Peter: Yes. And that's what Wallace was so staunchly opposed to. Wallace believed the US and the Soviets could get along just fine after the war. We had been wartime allies. And that's the other part of it. I don't like to argue, but I have to argue that America's views of WWII were based on three fundamental myths: one is that the atomic bomb ended the war in Asia. The second fundamental myth is that the United States won the war in Europe.

Jason: Which it did not.

Peter: The reality was that the Americans and the Brits throughout most of the war faced 10 Nazi divisions combined. The Soviets were facing 200 throughout that time. The Americans had promised to open up the second front in Europe at a meeting in Washington with Molotov. In late May 1942, the Americans promised to open up the second front before the end of 1942. As we know the second front doesn't open until June 6th, 1944. It was Churchill who convinced Roosevelt to cancel the early launching of the second front. Churchill had his own strategy; a strategy largely based on maintaining the British empire. The last thing he wanted to do was confront Germany on the land.

As a result the Soviets were forced to fight this almost single-handedly. That's part of why Russia lost 27 million people in WWII. The United States lost 305,000 in combat and 400,000 overall. And that was because, as Churchill later admits, he said the Soviets tore the guts out of the German war machine, not the British, not the Americans. They did some peripheral fighting, later some more direct fighting and the United States contributed in other ways militarily to the Soviet effort, but it was the Soviets who did most of the fighting, most of the dying, most of the suffering and devastation.

But at the end of the war Stalin hoped fervently that the U.S. and the Soviet alliance would be maintained, partly because he had been promised or had been offered - the United States raised the figure of $20 billion in reparations in order to rebuild. Half of that would go to the Soviet Union to rebuild its economy. As President Kennedy said in his famous American University commencement address in 1963, he said, "What the Soviets suffered was the equivalent of the entire United States east of Chicago being destroyed". It was mind-boggling what they suffered. They weren't looking for war. They weren't looking to dominate the world at the end of WWII. Their goal was to rebuild. They wanted peace. They wanted cooperation. That doesn't mean we would have liked everything they had done in eastern Europe, the Soviets, but you have to remember that in the first two years after the war, what Stalin was after was friendly governments. He was not looking for lockstep dictatorial regimes. He doesn't really begin imposing those until 1947/1948, when he realized that friendship with the west was no long a possibility.

Niall: He gave it a good shot. This is Stalin we're talking about who's supposed to be up there with Hitler in terms of the league of evil gentlemen. And yet, he was out Stalinised, he was too naรฏve in the face of western strategists.

Jason: I wonder, if a lot of the problems that Stalin was facing were not entirely caused by him, and also how much of the way the Soviets acted post-1947, as we've been talking about, was due to the American manipulation.To the American global political position which kind of forced his hand. And here he is in a situation where he's got a completely destroyed economy, massive depopulation from the war. What was he going to do? He didn't have the food to feed all those people that starved. Was it really his fault in the end?

Peter: You know it's partly his fault and partly not. I place the major responsibility for the start of the Cold War on the United States. Had Roosevelt lived longer, had Wallace been in there instead of Truman, I think it would have been avoided. Roosevelt, if you look at his statements, even his last cable he sent to Churchill, he said: "These small problems between us and the Soviets arise everyday but they always get resolved. The thing we shouldn't do is make a big deal about this." Roosevelt was still confident that the US and the Soviets were going to maintain post-war friendship. Roosevelt had a vision of three or four policemen who were going to rule the world and together, were going to dominate and maintain peace and security, and the Soviet Union was part of that in Roosevelt's mind. Wallace even more so, in terms of reaching out to the Soviets and looking for post-war accommodation between the two societies.

But Truman from the very beginning had a different idea. Truman's first day in office wasApril 13th; within 10 days he had flipped American policy from looking at the Soviets as friends and allies, to looking at the Soviets as combatants and antagonistic competitors and evildoers. It was April 23rd that Molotov visits Washington. Truman dresses him down. Truman says to him basically that the Soviets have broken all of their agreements, especially in Poland. They defied Yalta. They can't be trusted. Molotov says "I've never been talked to that way in my life!" and Truman says, "Carry out your agreements, you won't have to be talked to that way!"

Truman had little understanding at all. When he takes office you have to realize that this was a guy who had been vice-president for 82 days, during which time Roosevelt spoke to him twice and didn't speak to him of anything of substance. Truman had no idea what America's policies were; had no idea what had happened at Yalta; and when he takes over the first day, Jimmy Byrnes comes in to see him. They fly Byrnes up from South Carolina in Forrestal's private plane. Byrnes had been Truman's mentor in the senate and had also accompanied Roosevelt to Yalta, so Truman believed that Byrnes knew what was going on. He only later finds out that Byrnes was not in on the important meetings, he had left early and had been feeding Truman misinformation.

But Truman relies on Byrnes and said to him, "Tell me everything that happened at all of these conferences and what's going on." Byrnes begins to paint this hard line picture of Soviet perfidy and Soviet aggression. The people who Truman trusted for foreign policy advice were ones who had no influence with Roosevelt. They painted this picture of the Soviet Union breaking the agreements and being untrustworthy. That was within 10 days, so almost overnight.

The other thing about Truman is that he doesn't believe he's qualified for the job. He says to everybody the first couple of weeks he's in office: "This is a terrible mistake. I'm not big enough. I'm not smart enough. Somebody else should take over who knows what's going on in the world." They finally told him he's got to at least act presidential and make believe he's confident or everybody in Washington, and around the country,would lose confidence and therewould be chaos. So Truman tries to step up but he knows he's in way over his head and he makes all the wrong calls.

Again, when (Anthony) Eden comes to see him, and Eden's immediate assessment is that Truman is a mediocrity who has surrounded himself with Missouri courthouse calibre advisors. These are small town yokels who know nothing about the world and have no sophistication and that Truman is in that position as well. And Truman is faced with all these horrible big, consequential decisions. He was so lightly regarded that as Vice President for almost three months, nobody even told him that the United States was building an atomic bomb. He doesn't find that out until that night when he's sworn in as President. This is a person who nobody took seriously, as a thinker, as a politician.

Joe: So Peter, you say that Truman made all of these missteps and wrong decisions, but was it really Truman making those decisions? Was he not being passed policy by someone else?

Peter: He was being advised. He trusted all the wrong people. If you look at that first day in office, he first meets with Stettinius, who Roosevelt and everybody else considered to be a complete lightweight.

Niall: The steel magnate.

Peter: Yeah. Byrnes briefs him on the atomic bomb and he says to Byrnes in that first meeting, "I really want you to be my main advisor and my secretary of state, and as soon as Stettinius concludes the negotiations around the United Nations, I'm going to replace him and make you secretary of state." Byrnes becomes his main advisor from behind the scenes. So you can say that Truman is a little man in way over his head who turns to others for advice and because of his own conservative instincts turns to all the wrong people. I think that that's a fair calculation.

But we're looking at a crucial turning point where if you have different advisors, different leaders in the same situation, we could have had fundamentally different policies. The Cold War in that period is just so avoidable for the next year. And Wallace leads the fight inside the cabinet and his struggle during that time is, I think, heroic because it goes against Wallace's own nature. Wallace is not that kind of political leader who's going to wage that kind of struggle but he knew it was incumbent upon him.

Even Eleanor Roosevelt, after her husband died, comes to Wallace and says: "You're our only hope. You're the only hope of the progressive voices in the country and in the world." Wallace tried to assume, to play that role. In some ways he's not a gifted politician because he's not a Washington insider. He's not somebody who schmoozes and drinks and goes to meetings and clubs and plays that game. He was somebody who was an intellectual. He was a very, very deep thinker; a philosopher who would rather spend his evenings tossing the boomerang along the Potomac, than going out drinking with the buddies. So he's not a natural charismatic leader, but he tries to play that role.

Joe: Well in terms of this switch around, immediately, apparently at the time of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the policy was decided at that point to be belligerent towards the Soviets; to not work it out together and control the world together or rule the world together, but to essentially take a belligerent stance towards the Soviets. So who was benefiting from that? The US?

Peter: Well the old military-industrial complex is certainly benefiting. We've got the war industries. There were certain people who said the United States has got to remain on a total war footing. It was a big concern in the United States that when the war ended the United States was going to fall back into depression. Soviet economists argue that, and a lot of American economists and leaders were also fearful, that if we didn't maintain those same levels of government spending then the American economy would go into collapse again.

So on the one hand we've got those interests, those military-industrial interests, that want to maintain war spending and defense spending and build up that entire post-war scientific, industrial and military establishment. So that was one force. There were also certain militarist forces in the United States, and the conservatives. The conservatives did hate communism. The conservatives were afraid that there was going to be a push for a real leftwing redistribution of wealth in the United States, in the post-war period. And that's what Wallace envisioned, a much more equitable society and always spoke out in favor of that. That was a strong element. The labor movement was strong in the post-war period. The progressive forces were strong. And had Wallace been in there instead of Truman, we would have seen a different kind of United States.

Joe: So the interests that won the day, that failed after WWII and set America on the course that it is still on today, were the same forces that were kind of cracking down on unions and labor movements in the late 1980's.

Peter: And again in the post-war period. If you look at who the top American advisors were during this time, they were mostly Wall Street bankers who were fabulously wealthy, had made fortunes during the inter-war period. Look for example at John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles. John Foster Dulles becomes secretary of state in the '50s. Allen Dulles becomes head of the CIA. They are enormously powerful and influential. But where did they come out of? They were the ones who ran Sullivan and Cromwell. Sullivan and Cromwell was the dominant Wall Street banking firm.

What you had on Wall Street, in the 1930s, was a lot of people on Wall Street and in American industry who were very sympathetic to the Nazis. They saw the Nazis as a way to stop communism and socialism. The American business maintained ties with German business up through the start of WWI, and during WWII. During the war a lot of those profits were put in trusteeship and were held for the American companies that then kept those profits after WWII. In fact, American firms, like GM and Ford, demanded and got reparations after the war for tens of millions of dollars in damages that were inflicted on their factories by US bombing of those German Nazi plants. And they got the profits from that as well. These people were shameless.

Hitler had a portrait of Henry Ford in his office. He said that Henry Ford was his inspiration. Henry Ford was a leading anti-Semite. Not all of them were anti-Semites but they were sympathetic to the German cause. The heads of IBM and Singer and these industrialists were profiting enormously during the war. One of the main examples is Prescott Bush, the father to George H.W. Bush, and the grandfather to George W. Bush. He was a Nazi collaborator. In fact he was controlling the accounts for the German industrialist, Thyssen. Later the government intervened and took away those accounts from Bush under the Trading With The Enemy Act. This kind of collaboration was common and many of these people are the ones who are going to shape US policy after the war, in conjunction with certain intelligence interests. They were German intelligence operations that were run by former Nazis that were feeding information to the CIA; the Gehlen Organization is the most prominent. But this kind of stuff was going on all over Europe during this period.

Joe: Well what begins to boggle your mind a little bit though is, as you just said, Wall Street was sympathetic to the Nazis and involved in financially helping them out to a certain extent in the hope, supposedly, that they would deal with communism, because communism was considered a threat to the financial elite. But at the same time, jump back 15 or 20 years and you have some Wall Street interests actually financing the Bolshevik Revolution.

Peter: I don't think that's true. I think that's part of the myth.

Joe: Oh yeah?

Peter: Yes. That was what a lot of people tried to argue. What you had was Lenin adopting Fordist techniques. Lenin was very, very impressed with the American industrial technology and approaches and also, he actually did have some Ford advisors and industrial advisors in there from the United States. One of the interesting things that I discovered during my first book, when I was writing about scientists and technology in the 1930s, was when rumors started to spread in the early 1930s, that the Soviet Union was going to be importing industrial workers from the United States to help deal with Soviet Labour shortages; thousands and thousands of Americans signed up to come to the Soviet Union. They wanted to go to the Soviet Union to work. The image of the United States was that the Soviet economy was thriving at a time when the western economies had collapsed. Some of that was inflated but if you look, whether it was Christian Science Monitor or Barron's or other American business publications, you see a lot of that in the early 1930s, at a time when the US economy was reaching its nadir.

Joe: The reason I mentioned that about Wall Street and Bolsheviks is because I've read - I don't know if you know him, Anthony Sutton?

Peter: Yes, Sutton is a very dubious character. Some of my grad students who are writing on related subjects have looked very closely into that for me, because I know a lot of people quote Sutton and I wanted to find out if there's anything credible about his work. One of my PhD students right now is writing a dissertation about US ties to German industry. And we did a lot of study on Sutton and it's not a very credible source.

Joe: Okay.

Peter: But I was guessing that that might be where you'd gotten that from.

Joe: Yeah.

Niall: When you put together the Wall Street connections with the financing of Hitler in WWII, with the - I can't help but think of it as a delaying strategy, whereby the US and Britain avoid getting into the war until the Soviets have already essentially defeated the Hitler war machine in Stalingrad. You're kind of left wondering if this was some kind of strategy on somebody's part, to come in at the end.

Peter: Yeah, and you have to be careful about that because certainly there were a lot of people in Britain, I think, who were consciously supporting that view but the United States less so. Because you have a fairly progressive "new deal" administration under Roosevelt, and the American military leaders were furious when the United States postponed the second front. They were furious with Roosevelt. Eisenhower, who was tapped to lead the invasion of Northern Africa, said that the day the United States decided to go into Africa instead of confronting the Germans, he said this would go down as the blackest day in American history. It was Marshall who was even more incensed, Marshall called it "periphery pecking", and he was so angry that he at one point proposed shifting the American strategy. The American strategy was to defeat the Germans first and then go after the Japanese. Marshall said, that if Churchill is such a coward and refuses to actually confront the Nazis, then we should maybe go after Japan first and let the Brits suffer.

The American military leaders were furious with this strategy and Roosevelt only went along with it out of desperation because he wanted to get the US troops involved, somewhere, in 1943. I don't think it was a conscious policy on the part of the American policymakers, but I think the industrialists who were closely tied to the Nazis were not the ones who were calling the shots in the United States. They were the rightwing element that emerged in the 1930s that these people were tied to. It included the Morgan banks. It included the DuPont interests, Remington; a lot of other industrialists and Wall Street people. They had some influence but they weren't necessarily the driving forces behind US policy.

Whereas if you deal with Britain, you have to realize that Churchill supported the fascists in the Spanish Civil War; there was a stronger element in Britain that I think was more conscious of a strategy to let the Germans move eastward and destroy the Soviet Union. I think that was a more conscious strategy among some of the British Tories.

Jason: Well there was a rather anti-Semitic article written by Churchill at one point, long before the second world war.

Peter: It was anti-Semitic, it was racist - ugly, ugly stuff when it came to race.

Jason: Well a lot of those elite British politicians and lords and stuff, were actually particularly racist I think, and they were part of that, "let's go dominate the blackies".But on the topic of America choosing to open a front in Africa, it was kind of a soft target, in a certain sense.

Peter: Yes.

Jason: It was the softest target that they could go for at the time. So it was a very conservative way to attack the Germans. And they really bowl over the German forces in North Africa anyway. So that's probably why they picked it. It was the easiest way to get in.

Peter: Yes. The easiest way to get in. But it was also important for maintaining the British empire. If you look at the British strategy, and there were many times when the Brits had more troops posted - even during the Battle of Britain they maintained their troops throughout the empire, in order to make sure that they could retain the empire. Part of the German strategy was going for India at some point and the Brits were very, very concerned about that.

So Churchill kept saying: "I'm not chosen as Prime Minister in order to preside over the destruction of the British empire." If you look at Roosevelt's comments and criticisms, there's a wonderful book written by Roosevelt's son, who accompanied Roosevelt to a lot of the meetings with Churchill, and Roosevelt's commenting quite regularly about how loathsome he finds the British empire and the French empire and how this could not be allowed to persist after the war.

Jason: They were very loathsome.

Joe: Peter, just on a related note, I've heard the suggestion that Roosevelt was assassinated in some way and that it was apparently, or allegedly, told to Roosevelt's son, by Stalin, that Churchill was behind it. Do you have any information on that?

Peter: You know, my inclination is to always doubt those kinds of conspiracies.

Joe: Not that Churchill wouldn't have been up for such a task, but whether or not it was practicable.

Peter: Roosevelt had been sick for quite a while. He had his bout with polio much, much earlier and had never been very strong after that. There was a very precipitous decline in his health during the war, but his doctors were monitoring him carefully. His heart was not good.

Joe: Yeah. So you think it was natural causes.

Peter: I'm skeptical that that kind of thing could have happened or would have happened. One of the interesting responses to Roosevelt's death was by Stalin. Because Averell Harriman, who was US ambassador to Moscow at that point, went to see Stalin to give him the news shortly after Roosevelt had died. And Harriman, who was pretty anti-Soviet, said that he was stunned by how overcome with grief Stalin was, that Stalin was in tears and he kept holding Harriman's hand, and Harriman said it was so sincere or so profound; Stalin's sense of loss over Roosevelt's death. To the Soviet people, Roosevelt really was a hero. But even American leaders, like Eisenhower, visited the Soviet Union right after the war and Eisenhower was the first non-Russian to be allowed to stand on Lenin's tomb to watch a parade in Red Square. Eisenhower also thought that there was great potential friendship after the war. But he said the first thing that made him doubt it was the atomic bomb. He was in Moscow when the bomb was dropped. He said that's the first time he began to have doubts because he knew what that meant in terms of US/Soviet relations.

Joe: You mentioned that in other places as well, all of these moments in history where there's potential for things to go in a different, more positive direction, but invariably they don't. That has to raise the question of why? Surely the will of most of the people would be for things to go in a positive direction? You have these leaders now and again who have the potential to take the world in that direction, but there seems to be this kind of force very often behind the scenes, that push it in a direction that is beneficial to almost no one....

Peter: Yeah.

Joe: ...

Peter: And that gets into this whole debate about structural forces versus personalities and individuals, which Oliver and I engage all the time; whether or not things could have been different; whether it was the deep structures of capitalism that made the Cold War inevitable and that made the post-war period the way it is; or whether individuals actually could have changed things. We have a lot of turning points where I think things could have been quite different.

One was on March 5th, 1953 when Stalin died. At that point the Soviet leaders held out an olive branch. They were ready to end the Cold War and at that point they reached out to the United States, and Eisenhower finally says something after weeks and he makes a wonderful speech about the waste, in terms of human wealth and resources of all this military spending. But then the next day, Dulles makes a speech that says just the opposite and blames the Soviets for everything that's going on around the world. And the United States was conflicted and Dulles ended up speaking for the United States more than Eisenhower at that point. So that was one lost opportunity when the Soviets were reaching out.

But we have many of them. One of the most troubling ones is in 1963 after the Cuban missile crisis, clearly Kennedy and Khrushchev had both woken up at that point. They were both making tremendous strides toward ending the Cold War, ending the arms race. They had just signed the Arms Control Treaty to stop nuclear testing in space. They had both called for joint collaboration in exploration of space rather than a space race. Kennedy was telling people, especially privately, that they wanted to pull the United States out of Vietnam as soon as he was re-elected, and begins issuing documents to that effect.

There was a lot of opportunity on numerous fronts at that point. Khrushchev reached out. Khrushchev wanted to stop defense spending so he could increase the standard of living of the Russian people, and that kind of thing would have been tremendous for everybody and in everybody's interests but it got sabotaged of course. Kennedy gets assassinated and Khrushchev gets ousted from power. Both countries have their hardliners and both countries had forces that wanted to eliminate those leaders and were more comfortable with a policy of confrontation and war, than they were with a policy of peaceful collaboration, coexistence.

Niall: Peter, do you see eye-to-eye with Oliver regarding JFK's assassination?

Peter: We didn't go there with Untold History. Oliver had already staked out a position there. Oliver was already very identified with the possible theories of other people who were involved in the Kennedy assassination. So we decided not to go with that question. I'm not quite as certain as Oliver about all of this, but I don't find the Warren Commission and the official report at all persuasive. I don't find the magic bullet theory persuasive, the lone assassin persuasive. The more I've studied this, and Oliver and I have been speaking about this around the country, the more convinced I am that the idea that there was a conspiracy is more plausible than the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. But I don't rule out the possibility as certainly as Oliver does.

Oliver has studied this in much greater depth than I have and Oliver is absolutely convinced that other forces were at play. There's a lot of information, a lot of things that should make everybody very skeptical of any official report on this. The CIA's still withholding files on very, very important people. Not that I think this is going to be written down somewhere, but the fact that they are withholding information still is certainly damning.

And there were other people who think that Lyndon Johnson was involved, but there's a lot of very questionable things about somebody like Johnson who very likely - the scandals were about to break surrounding Johnson the week that Kennedy was assassinated, including the Bobby Baker scandal. There's strong evidence, a strong basis for concluding that Johnson would have been off the ticket, was about to be ousted, would very likely have been indicted and the scandals that surrounded him. And all of that disappeared as soon as Kennedy was assassinated.

There's so much murky stuff surrounding it that one needs to at least question it, as Oliver has done. And Kennedy himself knew that an ouster or coup was possible. He thought that a coup was possible during the Cuban missile crisis. Robert Kennedy had warned Khrushchev that the generals could overthrow his brother during the Cuban missile crisis; when John Kennedy read the novel Seven Days in May, about a liberal president being overthrown in a military coup, Kennedy said to a friend ,"You know it's possible." If there's a first Bay of Pigs, they think maybe he was in over his head. If there was a second Bay of Pigs, the military would start to wonder if this guy can be trusted. If there was a third Bay of Pigs, they would likely act.

Oliver and I argued that there were at least seven or eight Bays of Pigs, or equivalent crises, in which Kennedy defied the military and the intelligence establishment, and there were many people in the top ranks of the military and the intelligence establishment who hated Kennedy. It's interesting that one of the seven members of the Warren Commission, who investigated the Kennedy assassination, was Allen Dulles, who Kennedy ousted as head of the CIA. And even four of the seven members of the Warren Commission, said that they had serious doubts about the magic bullet theory, that Oswald acted alone and that it was possible. So there's great reason to be very, very questioning of these findings.

Joe: Peter, I know this question isn't strictly related to - you're a historian and the book you've written and the documentary you've made with Oliver is about our history over the past 100 or so years - but history seems to be in the making; obviously history is being made every day and right now there's the situation, as Niall was mentioning at the beginning of the show, about the apparent new Cold War, but what is your take, if you have one, on what Russia is doing today in Ukraine and how that relates to the west the EU and the US?

Peter: Oliver and I wrote a piece entitled Through Russian Eyes in which we addressed some of that. It's again a complex situation since the end of the Cold War. What we argue in that piece, is that if you look at the world through the eyes of Russian leaders, it looks very different than it does through the eyes of western leaders. And the key elements in that, when the Cold War ends, Yeltsin, Gorbachev - Oliver and I have enormous respect for Gorbachev. We were thrilled that the first blurb we got for Untold History was from Gorbachev himself.

But Yeltsin is an animal of a very, very different character, and Yeltsin turned immediately to western economists. They subjected the Russian economy to what they call 'shock therapy'. The shock therapy had earlier been tried on a lesser scale in Poland. It devastated the Russian economy. The Russian economy was literally decimated. The standard of living collapsed during that time. The economy shrunk to the size of Holland's. People were in desperation; enormous unemployment; gangster capitalism; new forces made billions overnight and the people were impoverished. During that time the Russian military declined sharply, military capabilities, economic capabilities. So you've got that going on, on the one hand.

The second thing is the expansion of NATO. When Gorbachev allowed Germany to unify, he was promised that NATO would not move one foot to the east. That was his agreement with George H.W. Bush. However, under Clinton and George W. Bush and then Obama, NATO expands almost to Russia's doorstep. And in fact under George W. Bush they were talking about incorporating Ukraine and Georgia as well. This is anathema to the Russian leaders, military and political. You also have to realize that in 2006 there was an article in Foreign Affairs Magazine, as close as we have to an official foreign policy magazine in the US, by Lieber and Press, who says that the Americans have finally achieved a first strike nuclear capability against Russia and China. They said if the United States launched a nuclear attack, neither Russia or China would even be able to respond. So that sent shivers through the Kremlin. The Washington Post said heads were spinning inside the Kremlin when that article came out.

The United States is establishing military, economic and technological hegemony, superiority and domination during this time. The move into Ukraine has got to be seen as part of that. And sometimes the west was honest about that. One very important article in the financial times, says that the effort in Ukraine was the culmination of a year's long effort to wrest Ukraine away from the Russian block, to the western block.
From the standpoint of Putin and the Russian leaders, it becomes quite clear that this is an aggressive effort by the west to topple a recently elected administration in Ukraine, in a coup, and from the Russian standpoint that coup included many extreme rightwing, pro-fascist elements. The split in the Ukraine goes way back; there was a very strong pro-fascist element in Ukraine, and then there was a strong partisan element that was pro-Russian and anti-fascist in Ukraine. I see the situation as a complicated one in which the pro-western forces in Kiev, many of them wanted more freedom and hated the corruption in the Ukrainian government, and that's understandable. There was also a strong pro-fascist element in operation there. And there were also those who were working in collaboration with the United States and Europe to try to wrest Ukraine away from the Russians. Putin's response was: "There's no reason why Ukraine needs to choose between the two blocks. We can have a situation in which Ukraine is linked still to both." But the western interests demanded that, from a military and an economic standpoint, Ukraine embrace the west alone. And so from that point on, Putin's responses, I think, are rather predicable.

Joe: I think they're justified as well.

Peter: Well, you don't want to see military interventions there.

Joe: He's given an alternative you know.

Peter: It's understandable why the Russians would respond that way. And I think that the west knew they were going to respond that way. In the same sense when I look at what happened in Afghanistan, when Brzezinski deliberately stirs up the pro-Islamist sentiment in Afghanistan, he knows that the Soviets are going to have to intervene to support the friendly government in Afghanistan, in the late '70s and the early '80s; the United States deliberately stirred that up. Brzezinski later bragged, he said, "My goal was to give the Soviet Union its own Vietnam in Afghanistan". And the Soviets of course, after resisting, finally did send in the troops to Afghanistan, which is what the West was trying to do. I think that this is probably a similar situation, that they knew that if they toppled the government in Kiev and replaced it with the other forces there and started to threaten the pro-Russian population in eastern Ukraine, that the Russians were going to have to respond the way they did and they saw this as a way to further discredit Putin and Russia.

I don't have any evidence to support that but when I see the pattern of US and western behavior, I think that this is actually quite consistent with what's happened elsewhere.

Joe: I wonder if they expected Putin to simply go for Crimea. Maybe in the same sense they were trying to give Russia another Afghanistan, they expected the Russians to invade Ukraine itself, but Putin decided just to go for Crimea which was a strategically important part of Ukraine.

Peter: Although the other parts there are also very closely tied economically, politically and ethnically to Russia. I wouldn't have been surprised had they intervened to support the rebel forces in other parts as well. Obama's foreign policy seems to be based on two things. One is drones and the other is sanctions; this guy loves to sanction countries. You could say, okay, sanctions are better than boots on the ground and invasions and bombing, although he's done a bit of bombing as well, but the sanctions - what has Russia done that deserves such horrible sanctions, compared to what the United States has done in recent years? Did we see the rest of the world sanctioning the United States for invading Iraq?!?

Joe: No.

Peter: How many Iraqis were killed compared to how many people have been killed in Ukraine? In Ukraine, a few thousand people have died as a result of this and that's tragic. But in Iraq, the US invasion has led to the death of somewhere between 150,000 and 1.5 million, or maybe even more. We don't have records. We don't keep track. We don't know how many people have died. There's a big debate about that. But did we see the world sanctioning the United States for invading Iraq, for invading Afghanistan, for invading Libya? These to me are appalling developments. What's happened in Ukraine is at most a very unfortunate development, but not even close to the scale of US-caused atrocities around the world. But we don't see the world rising up in moral indignation to sanction the United States and cut off trade with the United States. So I think there's a tremendous disproportion in terms of these kinds of responses.

Joe: Absolutely.

Niall: Do you wonder Peter, if it's reached a point here where the US hegemony might have overreached itself and in desperately trying to secure Ukraine to the western bloc, whether it's just for Ukrainian resources and/or to stick one to Putin's Russia, that this might be the graveyard of the US empire?

Joe: They've reached too far, yeah.

Peter: I don't see this as being the graveyard, but I see it as part of the process of overreaching, over-extension. You have to realize that the United States leaders had begun to realize that after the insanity of the Bush decade that the United States cannot maintain, from a financial standpoint and a monetary and a budgetary standpoint, this kind of vastly overblown empire. What we have really is an empire of bases as Chalmers Johnson called it, between 700 and 1,000 bases around the world. But the United States is going to have to cut back on that as well. The United States could afford, if it chose to, but as some of the mayors said, they couldn't believe that we're building bridges in Kandahar and not in Kansas City or Baltimore. The American infrastructure is crumbling. The American economy is weak and has not recovered. The American educational system is in tatters. Such deep social problems here in the United States. The United States cannot go around the world with these kind of interventions everywhere, and massive military spending.

By about 2010, it was estimated that the United States spent $1.2 trillion, out of its $3 trillion budget, on homeland security, intelligence and military. So 40 percent of its budget. That's insane. The United States was spending at that point almost the equivalent of the rest of the world on its military, and when the other factors like intelligence and homeland security were factored in, the United States was spending as much as the rest of the world.

And what were we getting for it? We couldn't win wars anyway. Beginning with Korea, the United States has really not had any military victories. Vietnam was a debacle. The United States was defeated soundly in Vietnam. Korea was a stalemate at best, really a defeat. The United States has not been able to win in Iraq and Afghanistan. Look at Libya now. Military invasion, large scale military interventionism doesn't work. At best it doesn't work, and at worst it makes situations worse. Our invasion of Iraq has largely triggered the nightmare that we've seen, as has our invasion of Afghanistan.

Jason: What is very interesting to me, is probably around 2,000 or more years ago, that Sun Tzu wrote a book The Art of War, in which he said that invading and occupying other countries will bankrupt the state.

Peter: Yeah.

Jason: It's kind of like this universally known thing that you don't go occupy other countries because eventually you'll go bankrupt.

Peter: And it happened to the Soviets also, right?

Jason: Yeah, exactly.

Peter: The Soviet empire in eastern Europe, what good did that do them? Which Gorbachev understood. He was ready to let it go.

Jason: Because he knew he couldn't maintain it anymore because you can't maintain it.

Joe: But I don't see the same willingness among the American elite to let it go.

Peter: No, the elite has not yet been willing to let it go. I was just in Okinawa a few days ago, where there's a big struggle against the relocation of the American marine base from Futenma to Henoko. And the people of Okinawa are up in arms against this. They're resisting. They're united, overwhelmingly. And I was there last summer. Oliver and I went together this summer. I went without him to support the anti-base forces there.

American bases are very unpopular throughout the world, and more so in Okinawa, where the people in Okinawa have suffered this incredible burden of the American bases there. Over 20 percent of Okinawa Island's land mass is taken over by the US military, despite the outspoken opposition of the people of Okinawa and the United States ally, Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan, is trying to force this base relocation down the throats of the Okinawan people. Again, it's reprehensible of a country that supposedly believes in democracy, is willing to use any means necessary to thwart the popular will of the people in order to achieve its goals.

That's part of the Asia pivot, it's part of the American security strategy for combating China, confronting China and the build-up in the Pacific. Again, today an announcement of increased operations in conjunction with Vietnam, of all places, as part of this effort in the South China Sea to limit and control and quarantine China. Again, a very militaristic response.

Joe: Yeah, if only they'd just give it up and let it go.

Niall: Find something else to do

Joe: Stop with the pathological drive to control and own everything, as if there isn't another world available right there. Just let it go.

Jason: Well they can't own everything in the end.

Peter: But they don't know that.

Jason: What they're searching for is a pipe dream. They're trying to take something that they can't hold and it's kind of pointless in the end. I'm kind of interested to see how Putin handles the situation, where he's all about trade agreements and energy sales and economic union as opposed to going - it seems to me like what he's trying to do very often is re-build the Russian empire, but purely at an economic perspective instead of actually going in and dominating.

Joe: Fairly.

Jason: He's just kind of saying, "We really don't give too much of a crap what you do, just as long as you buy our gas."

Peter: He's got a lot of Europe dependent on Soviet oil and gas. No, I don't think he's got a vision. He's not a Trotsky or a Lenin. He doesn't have a vision for transforming the world. The early Bolsheviks did. They thought that they could have a system that would be much more in the interests of humanity. Unfortunately Russia's political culture and the situation they confronted didn't make that possible. But there have to be alternatives to capitalism. There has to be a different world than a world that's dominated by a handful of wealthy people. Karl Marx's vision was for a form of democratic socialism. That I think will be the wave of the future. We're just not there yet as a species.

We're very, very primitive in the sense that people are motivated by greed, although I guess it's wrong to say that people are motivated by greed because most of the people I know are not motivated by greed. Most of the people I know do not want to accumulate enormous wealth when other people are hungry and starving and living in desperate means. I guess there are a handful of people who have no conscience, who are motivated by that, but those are the scum of the earth and they unfortunately get to be in positions of power given the way our world is structured right now. But I think most people don't share those values and don't share those beliefs.

I guess our goal in this time in history is that we have the technological capabilities to end life on the planet, but we have the moral advancement of barely standing up straight; we're barely out of the cave. And so there's this tremendous discrepancy. Our goal right now, our mission I think, as a civilization, is to get to the future; to not destroy the planet, to not destroy the world, to not end life on the planet right now in our primitive state, in hopes that the future, a thousand or ten thousand or ten million years from now, human beings will have evolved to the point where they can actually live decent lives, not like we see now.

Joe: Yeah. Maybe it's to be hoped for.

Niall: Amen. Thank you Peter.

Joe: Peter, on that note we'll leave it there for this evening. We just want to thank you for all the work you've done. It's sterling work and much needed.

Niall: Yeah. We need more educators like you.

Joe: Yeah, absolutely.

Peter: Thank you. It's been fun talking.

Joe: And everybody should check out Peter's documentary series.

Niall: The documentary series: Untold History of the United States. Also Peter has done research on the book.

Peter: And the book is out now, or about to be out in 11 languages. The documentaries are airing around the world. So we really would love everybody to watch them and to join us in this struggle.

Niall: You also mentioned there's going to be a kind of kid's version of the book coming out?

Peter: In English, yes. We've got coming out in the next few months: The Concise Untold History of the United States, which is based on the documentary scripts, the new book. And a young readers edition for 10-16 year olds. We want to get it into the middle schools, and Oliver and I are going to be visiting middle schools to speak and to spread the message. And pretty soon there's going to be our graphic novel out. It's probably going to take about another year before the graphic novel comes out.

Niall: That's awesome.

Joe: A very honorable mission you're on there. Okay Peter, we'll let you go.

Peter: Thank you.

Joe: Thanks again. It's been great.

Peter: Bye-bye.

Niall: Thank you so much. Stay safe.

Peter: Bye-bye.

Jason: He's a nice dude.

Joe: He's a nice dude and he's obviously an academic, but compared to most academics he's personable and he's got the ability to at least see what's going on, for what it is, and at the very end there, he basically says they're the scum of the earth. (laughter) And what do you do with the scum of the earth? He said maybe in 10,000 years it'll all be sorted out, that humanity will evolve. Well, humanity needs to evolve to realize that being covered in scum from at the top, you need to wipe that shit off. That's the evolution that needs to happen, not to wait until the scum somehow evolve into decent human beings, but for humanity to wake up and realize that it is the scum of the earth that are ruling over them and to do something about it. I don't know what could be done about it, but at least the awareness that that situation is part of evolution, the major part of evolution.

Jason: I think people should have a little bit more enlightened self-interest, at the very least. They don't even realize how they're being led down the path of destruction by these single-minded greedy, pathocratic psychopaths. And they're basically being led right over a cliff into their own destruction. If America were to collapse, it would just be horrible for all of the ordinary people in the US.. And what are you going to do about it? Well I think it'll take another two-to-four thousand years.

Joe: Yeah?

Jason: Oh yeah. If the human race survives that long, in about 4,000 I think, maybe we'll have had a few more empires, like America, Rome, the British empire. We've had this series of all these different empires.

Joe: And finally people'll get the message?

Jason: And they've collapsed in the same way, which is they get really belligerent and militarized and suppress all freedom of speech and get rid of their constitutions, or whatever laws that they have, and they're taken over by a giant psychopathic oligarchy and then they fall and there's a little bit of a dark age and then everybody gets together and says, "Hey, let's start a new state". They're like, "Yeah, that's a great idea". Then boom! Same thing happens again and again and again. And I think if it happens about seven to eight more times, we might...

Joe: ...We'll realize what's going on and nip it in the bud before it happens again.

Jason: Yeah.

Joe: That's the only way to do it right? You spot the troublemakers and say, "Okay, you're not allowed to be in office."

Jason: You're not allowed to be President.

Joe: You're not allowed to be President or anything close to it. Here's a shovel. Go dig me a hole.

Jason: Yeah, I think the biggest, most important thing is to recognize the Trumans and Obamas of the world, the kind of mediocre, weak-willed people. Because they are ultimately the big problem because they get exploited so easily by these rich elite banking, Wall Street interests, or whatever.

Joe: Human nature.

Jason: Human nature.

Joe: Alright folks. We're going to call it a night there. Thanks to our listeners and our chatters and thanks again to Peter Kuznick. You should check him out. Him and Oliver Stone have done some great work on the web so check it out. So until next week.

Niall: Yeah, take care of yourselves and each other.

Joe: And we'll see you then.

Jason: Bye.