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Fools for communism.

I hope the rest of reason is more accurate than Glenn Garvin's review "Fools for Communism" (April), which references me. Garvin says "Foner ... denounces 'the obsessive need to fill in the blank pages of the Soviet era.'"

He is referring to an article I wrote after teaching in Russia in 1990. I did not "denounce" the focus on the Soviet past among the people I met in Moscow at all--I reported it, as part of a discussion of a museum exhibition on one of Stalin's prison camps and, more generally, of how Gorbachev's policy of "openness" had unleashed a wide-ranging discussion of history. As a historian I applaud all efforts to uncover forgotten or suppressed aspects of the past. How this qualifies me as one of the historians supposedly "in denial" about Soviet history is difficult to understand.

It is unclear if this misrepresentation stems from the book under review or is the invention of the reviewer. Either way, it does not reflect well on your generally interesting magazine.

Eric Foner

DeWitt Clinton Professor of History

Columbia University

New York, NY

Glenn Garvin writes, "During World War II, when the Soviet Union and the United States were allied against Hitler, [Christopher] Trumbo's Communist father, Dalton, also named names, secretly pointing the FBI to Hollywood figures he believed were suspiciously anti-war. But there was no suggestion during the [2003] press conference [about Hollywood and the blacklist] that his screenwriting Oscar be revoked."

The assertion that Trumbo pointed "the FBI to Hollywood figures he believed were suspiciously anti-war" is a product of Garvin's fecund imagination. There is no evidence to support it. The only reference to Trumbo's speaking to the FBI that I know of can be found in his published letters, Additional Dialogue: Letters of Dalton Trumbo, 1942-61 (M. Evans & Co.). Anybody sufficiently interested in Garvin's garbled thesis can find enlightenment on page 26 of that volume.

Finally, at the press conference Garvin attended, there was no suggestion that anybody's Oscar "be revoked." Revoking Oscars originates with Garvin. And by the way, Dalton Trumbo was given two of them--for motion pictures he wrote using a pseudonym during the time he was blacklisted and unable to find work using his own name.

Christopher Trumbo

Beverly Hills, CA

Glenn Garvin replies: If anything, both the book In Denial and my review soft-pedal the tone of Foner's essay, which appeared in the December 1990 issue of Harper's. The air of bitter disappointment was palpable as Foner described young Russians who admire Abraham Lincoln but "paint the history of the Soviet era in the blackest hues, reclassifying every top leader between Lenin and Gorbachev as either criminal or incompetent." Worse yet, he wrote, the Russians were turning away from distinctions between bourgeois and socialist ideologies in favor of something he referred to, contempt practically dripping from the quotation marks, as "universal human values." Foner sounded like nothing so much as a jilted paramour as he complained of "this love affair with America."

As for Christopher Trumbo, I am astonished to find myself in agreement with him: Everybody, including his father's leftist admirers, should read Dalton Trumbo's 1944 letter to the FBI reprinted in Additional Dialogue. In it, he boasts of having provided the FBI with letters from writers who are "1) anti-war, 2) anti-Semitic, 3) in the process of organizing politically, 4) distributing pamphlets to further their cause and corresponding with persons detained by the Federal government, and 5) of the opinion that the Commander in Chief of American forces is 'the greatest criminal incendiary in history.'" He adds, "I share with the men of your organization a sincere desire to see an end to all such seditious propaganda as criminal slander of the Commander in Chief, defeatism, pacifism, anti-Semitism and all similar deceits and stratagems designed to assist the German cause." He closes by noting that he's including more letters and begging the FBI not to tip off the writers about what he has done, presumably so he can keep ratting on them.

I will concede Christopher Trumbo one technical point. Although he continues to object to the decision to give Ella Kazan a lifetime achievement Oscar, he did not use the word revoke. The importance of the distinction dudes me, but I am inclined to be charitable to a man whose father was not only one of Stalin's loudest apologists but also one of J. Edgar Hoover's pet rats. Talk about a childhood of mixed signals.
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Title Annotation:Letters
Author:Trumbo, Christopher
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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