During 1849-1850 Harvard history professor Francis Bowen challenged the accepted wisdom that the Hungarian revolution led by Lajos Kossuth was primarily a struggle for freedom and a democratic republic. Instead, Bowen pointed out, Hungary fought mainly against its own non-Hungarian nationalities – the Slavs, Germans and Romanians (Wallachs). And that fight was brought about by the Hapsburg Empire’s eleventh-hour decree of equal rights for all in the empire that threatened the absolutist privileges of the Hungarian aristocracy, which up to that point enjoyed full legal immunities, paid no taxes, and, regarding the Romanians specifically, denied them any representation in the Transylvanian Diet whatsoever. Bowen further described from first-hand sources General Bem’s campaign of atrocity against the Romanians that “almost exceeded belief” and the self-hating chauvinism of General Damianich, who declared to his co-ethnics that “I come to exterminate you, root and branch; and then I will send a ball through my own head, that the last Serb may vanish from the face of the earth.” (F. Bowen, “The War of the Races in Hungary,” North American Review, 1850: 132; F. Bowen, “The Rebellion of the Slavonic, Wallachian and German Hungarians against the Magyars,” North American Review, 1851: 226)
Bowen was not combating European opinion as much as the popular opinion of his own countrymen. Swayed by the vision of another new democratic republic in international politics, by the apparent vindication of the still unusual American model, and, not least, by a Hungarian propaganda whose best weapon was Kossuth’s extraordinary eloquence, even the US Presidential Administration – and the Massachusetts State Senate also sitting on the board of Harvard University – briefly made public support of Kossuth and his revolution an aspect of American policy.
Bowen was subsequently attacked as a “falsifier” and “perverter” of historical truth. He was criticized for relying only on sources that supported his argument. There was a concerted effort to discredit him as a plagiarizer of both words and ideas. It was insinuated that he was a front for, or even an agent of, Austria. And he was openly accused of being a proponent of Absolutism – and thus an enemy of American democracy – and an “admirer of Haynau and Metternich,” at the time the bêtes noire of international public opinion. “I do not believe,” stated one detractor, “that there can be found elsewhere in the English language in the same compass, so many blunders, so many falsehoods, so much literary dishonesty.” Bowen was taken to task for opposing “the general opinion, not of this country only, but of the civilized world.” (R. Carter, The Hungarian Controversy: An Exposure of the Falsifications and Perversions of the Slanderers of Hungary (1852); M. Putnam, The North American Review On Hungary (1851))
Bowen’s critics focused much of their attack on his sources, describing one of the most important, “which has furnished him with not less than a dozen of his citations,” as “a production of no value whatever, and not worth noticing.” (Putnam (1851): 343) The work in question – Hungary: Its Constitution and Its Catastrophe (1850) – was derided as “too contemptible for serious notice” and its author alleged to have been “an Austrian agent,” or “an Englishman in the Austrian service (there are hundreds in the [Austrian] army,” or a “paid advocate of Metternich or Haynau.” (Carter (1852): 25) In fact, the source was British constitutional expert Sir Travers Twiss, Fellow of the Royal Society, Counselor to the Queen, professor of civil law and political economy at Oxford University and professor of international law at King’s College London. Twiss was often called upon to aid British Embassies on the thorniest legal issues of international diplomacy.
Not one to shrink from a challenge, Bowen marshaled more than a dozen German, French, British and Hungarian sources on the topic only to find himself accused of all sorts of crimes and misdemeanors (including a “bitter aversion” for the Hungarian language and an “intense hatred of the Hungarians.”) In the course of these attacks his livelihood, and even his life, were threatened. In the last such overt incursion against the freedom of academic expression at Harvard, in February 1951 the Massachusetts State Senate used its position on the Harvard board to remove Bowen from the University’s McLean Chair of history.
Harvard University, led by a president who had occupied the same chair of history immediately before Bowen, held the allegations as unwarranted and entirely spurious. The Massachusetts State Senate was removed from the Harvard Board altogether – never to return – and in 1853 Bowen was rehired and unanimously appointed to the Chair of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy and Civil Polity, a position he held actively for the next 36 years. Harvard University continues to award an annual Francis Bowen Prize in Moral Philosophy to this day.
I feel some affinity with Professor Bowen. While making no claim to his erudition (Bowen, after all, graduated first in the Harvard class of 1833), I recently published two volumes – With Friends Like These: The Soviet Bloc’s Clandestine War Against Romania and Extorting Peace: The Romanian-Warsaw Pact Clash and the End of the Cold War – concerning Romania’s behavior as a state actor within the Soviet alliance, within the wider socialist community, and internationally. In them, I challenge previously accepted wisdom with new evidence proving that Romania was not the Soviet Union’s “Trojan horse” in the West (or anywhere else), that Romanian policies and actions significantly constrained Soviet international behavior during the Cold War, and that the Kremlin “permitted” Romanian independence only the same sense that the Moscow “permitted” the independent behavior of the USA – because it was compelled to do so for lack of any viable alternative and not because it did not desperately desire and actively seek to do otherwise.
In taking on conventional wisdom I was fully aware of the need to provide a broad array of specific cases with thousands (about 5,000) of sourced footnotes in order to prove that a paradigm shift in interpretation was warranted. On this point I stand with Bowen that “questions of fact, when by any means the prejudices of the community have been excited in relation to them, can be settled only by abundance of testimony; and we have therefore summoned into court a crowd of witnesses … whose united and harmonious testimony can leave no doubt upon a mind of ordinary capacity, however unwelcome the truth may be, or how obstinate soever the bias by which its reception at an earlier day was prevented.” (Bowen (1851): 236-237) Indeed, the manner in which cognitive biases operate, and how they operated regarding US-Romanian and Soviet-Romanian relations in particular, is a central theme of my work.
In various attacks which Professor Bowen would have found familiar, I have since been accused of “falsifying” and distorting history. My work, some claim, is “unilateral.” (A. Pavelescu, 3/4/11, wordpress.com) My name, others suggest, has been placed on the opinions and work of others. (C. Vasile, 17/12/11, contributors.ro). And some even claim that I am a front – or agent – of Romanian intelligence, a proponent of “National Stalinism,” and an admirer of and apologist for Nicolae Ceauşescu – the bête noir of international public opinion for much of the last quarter-century. (V. Tismaneanu, 11/05/13, 20/12/11, 30/5/11, contributors.ro)
More imaginatively, I am accused of posing as an American spy (after years of publicly refuting media allegations that I was “the CIA’s antenna”) and as having requested and been granted Romanian asylum from repressive American democracy during the Ceausescu regime – although probably not for economic reasons. (A. Bădin, 18 & 19/10/12, badin.ro)
Of course, any challenge to conventional or accepted wisdom is bound to stir up emotion, controversy and criticism. Such contrary revelations have not only to be proved but to be proved over and over again, in enough specific cases that the new contours emerge clearly, before paradigms and interpretations are changed. There is no mystery or conspiracy here. Paradigm change is admitted only with great reluctance by those who have grown accustomed to the old paradigm, and especially by those who have based their own interpretations and even their careers upon the now obsolete paradigm. What will remain of their work if their orienting foundations are shown to be little more than clay feet?
That said, many of the allegations listed above are obviously intended to distract attention from the books. Their aim is not to engage the arguments contained within them but to refocus attention away from them; and upon anything that can in some way be construed as culpable in the attitudes or behaviors of the author, either discovered or invented. Some detractors have indirectly appealed to US institutions and authorities to join in their campaign by alleging a threat to US interests in Romania, and even to Romania democracy itself, caused by my subversive labors. I have, for example, been accused of seeking to undermine US policy and discredit the CIA.
In 1850-1852 Professor Bowen was subject to a similar offensive involving the misrepresentation of his sources, spurious attacks on his methodology, and allegations of insidious motivation and clandestine agency. One detractor openly acknowledged in a 66 page diatribe that the first 50 pages were devoted to attacking Bowen’s sources and how he used them (and, although not openly admitted, his “dubious” motivations for writing on the topic). (Carter (1852)) The final portions of that diatribe comprised simple denials and reiterations of the initial contention – from the same or similar sources – that prompted Bowen’s articles in the first place.
Thus, declared the critics, there had never been “since the earliest times, any political distinctions in Hungary, founded on difference of nationality,” and Hungary, “never attempted to proscribe the languages of the non-Magyar inhabitants of Hungary, or to impose the Magyar upon them by violence.” (Putnam (1851), p. 293; Carter (1852), p. 54) The proofs offered were the assertions of Hungarian officials and Hungarian aristocrats in Europe and America, which consistently reflected only what was most liberal and generous in Hungarian political thinking at the time. The Romanians/Wallachs, the critics insisted, enjoyed full equal rights and “any misapprehension on this subject that could exist among the Wallachs is only to be accounted for by their extreme ignorance.” (Putnam (1851), p. 332)
The evident failure to comprehend the broad difference between declaratory and implemented policy, between expressed intent and actual behavior, was astoundingly naïve. Bowen’s U.S. critics appear not to have known, for example, that Budapest nullified the application of equal rights in Transylvania as soon as it was decreed by Vienna in 1848 (thereby mobilizing the great assembly at Blaj). Limited to official Hungarian declarations, those critics were compelled to rely on falsifications, simple denials, and (self-) deceptions in campaigning against Professor Bowen, his writings, and the variety of his sources and witnesses.
27 May 2013
Falsifiers, Deniers and Deceivers II
I confess to experiencing a sympathetic déjà vu vis-à-vis Professor Francis Bowen when Mr. Tismaneanu, instead of addressing my arguments and evidence regarding the reality of Romanian defiance and the concrete impact of its “separate course” as reflected in the internal documents of the USSR, East Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Poland, claims ever more stridently that the Romanian communist leadership “never ever tried to go beyond the limits permitted by the Kremlin.” (Tismaneanu 12/5/13, contributors.ro) Although Soviet Central Committee documents regularly described Romania’s “special course” as inflicting “serious damage” upon Kremlin policy within the alliance, within the socialist community, and globally, Mr. Tismaneanu continues to insist adamantly that Moscow only considered Romania “a sometimes annoying mosquito” and that the Kremlin never perceived any “major geopolitical risk or an alternate model of socialism” in Romania’s independent policy. Let me address these claims in reverse order.
Moscow did in fact express repeated concern that Romania, together with China, would set up a alternate socialist model that would compete with the USSR, at least from 1965 and throughout the 1970s, and the translated Soviet documents that discuss this obsession can be found in Cold War International History Project Working Paper #65 on the website of the Woodrow Wilson Center. (CWIHP Working Paper #65, www.wilsoncenter.org, 12/2012) In May 1968 Soviet Defense Minister Marshal Grechko stated unequivocally that the Soviet alliance could not survive Romania’s departure. (Matthew J. Ouimet, The Rise and Fall of the Brezhnev Doctrine in Soviet Foreign Policy (2003)) My source for this, by the way, is today senior analyst for Russia and Eurasia in the US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
The USSR suffered a major geopolitical loss because of Romanian mediation of US-Chinese relations – which in turn shifted the balance of global forces. As President Nixon stated to his National Security Council in August 1969, “We have always assumed that the Chinese are hard liners and the Soviets are more reasonable. [But] Ceauşescu says that the Soviets are tougher and more aggressive than the Chinese. We must look at China on a long term basis.” (US State Department 14/8/69, history.state.gov)
Romanian mediation between Egypt and Israel was also instrumental in the Soviet “loss” of Egypt, which both the CIA and KGB concluded was the strategically most important state in the Middle East at the time. (KGB report cited in CIA, 12/1/86, foia.cia.gov) Moscow was not able to recover from either loss for the rest of the Cold War. So much for the Romanian “mosquito” and its inconsequence for European and global politics.
In light of the above, there would seem to be little evidentiary basis for Mr. Tismaneanu’s claim that Communist Romania “never ever tried to go beyond the limits permitted by the Kremlin.” However, let’s suspend credulity and entertain the possibility a moment longer. The most plausible argument for such a claim is the fact that Romania never left the Warsaw Pact alliance before the collapse of communism. But was this because of lack of Soviet permission? Romania was never offered an alternative military alliance. And the one it did have, as objectionable as it was to Romanian leaders and policy, did in fact also constrain its partners, and did grant it access to some of their inner councils.
Would complete security isolation, surrounded by an alliance that was clearly antagonistic to it, have served Romanian interests better? I do not think so. Neither did any of the responsible Romanian leaders. But then, reasonable people may differ. In any case, as I try to show in Cei din urmă vor fi cei dintâi: România şi sfârşitul Războiului Rece, and especially in its last five chapters, by remaining within the Warsaw Pact and exercising its influence upon alliance and Soviet military policy, Romania was able to accomplish much for which Europe and the US should be grateful.
After 1963 the notion that the Kremlin could control Romanian behavior was discredited within both intelligence and academic circles in the United States and Europe. The notion reemerged sporadically but with no effect on US policy during the 1970s, and became a serious proposition only with Romania’s international isolation during the latter 1980s. In other words, the claim of Kremlin control over Romania behavior was made credible only because no one bothered to examine it seriously any longer; just as a closer look today readily reveals the flimsiness of new raiment on that old emperor.
I find the arrogance of those who insist that the US was gullible and naïvely manipulated by communist leaders in Bucharest into perceiving a Romanian independence that did not exist stupefying. Do not misunderstand me. I have my own catalog of what I consider to be egregious policy choices that the United States is making or has made in the recent and more distant past. But that is not our subject here. And, frankly, I am much more comfortable critiquing the policy choices of states other than my own (so sue me.)
I can readily accept the hypothesis that this or that US administration was “fooled” by this or that foreign state or leader on this or that policy. I can even accept the remote possibility that two administrations of the same political coloring may have fallen into the same trap on a particular policy. Although Americans justly pride themselves on the degree and breadth of excellence with which chief executives have surrounded themselves traditionally, we are, after all, only human.
But to maintain that presidential administrations from Kennedy to Reagan (President Reagan during his first term) – which include three democratic administrations and three republican administrations – were all “fooled” by communist Romania would fail the minimal plausibility requirements of the novels currently read by my nine-year-old daughter. Perhaps Abraham Lincoln phrased the bar to credulity on this claim best when he said: “you can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” You just cannot. And you especially cannot when the party to be fooled possesses the combined intelligence-gathering and analytical capabilities of the United States.
Consider the following, more serious assessments. In March 1968 the CIA concluded that “It is now clear that – beyond the requirements of a simple prudence – the Romanians have never set any particular limits, on what they plan to do; it is the Soviets who must set the limits, or at least try.” The regime in Bucharest, “in fact, considers the USSR in many ways to be the chief obstacle to the achievement of Romania’s national goals and behaves accordingly,” acting “at times in ways which undercut Soviet policies in areas only very indirectly related to the question of sovereignty. (This seems to be the case, for example, in the Middle East.)” (CIA, 21/3/68, foia.cia.gov)
This was not the opinion of some lowly junior analyst that I managed to pull out of a mountain of documents asserting the contrary. It was an assessment bearing the signature of Abbot Smith, the chairman of the CIA’s Board of National Estimates and, arguably, the most senior and influential analyst in the US intelligence community. His predecessor, Sherman Kent, who is rightly considered the godfather of modern analysis by intelligence professionals in the US, considered Romania a de facto partner after it tore a hole in the electronic curtain that had previously blocked Western broadcasts from reaching into the USSR. This was yet another strategic blow delivered by Bucharest that earned it ranking as one of the “main subversive centers” alongside the United States, the Federal Republic of Germany, and Israel, a ranking it preserved in KGB documents as late as November 1989. (CWIHP Working Paper #65, www.wilsoncenter.org, 12/2012)
Looking back over a lifetime of assessing the Soviet Bloc, another senior CIA analyst noted in the 1980s that Romania’s “particularly risky” independence had “successfully redefined the role of a member of the Bloc, maintaining ties that are mostly formal and confining Soviet influence almost entirely to the negative,” while “all of its moves and positions have been swallowed by the post-Stalin Soviet leaderships, which sometimes seem less tolerant than simply outplayed.” According to the retiring career officer, “all the East European states have benefited from Romania’s insistence on (and the USSR’s recognition of) the right of members to assert independent views in Bloc councils.” (CIA, 12/1/82, foia.cia.gov)
Regardless of what political odor the Central Intelligence Agency and its analysts may currently enjoy (or suffer), I would trust their time-tested assessments over those of Mr. Tismaneanu even had I not read the internal Warsaw Pact documents that fully confirm them. Assertions that Romania defiance and opposition during the Cold War was insignificant and had no impact on the geopolitical confrontation between East and West are simply wrong. Such assertions were debunked at the time by reliable intelligence assessment, and their wrongheadedness has been confirmed beyond doubt in the documents of the other Warsaw Pact members that have come to light since the collapse of communism. No amount of denial or negation, and no attempt at deception or prestidigitation will change that fundamental reality.
During the mid-19th century, Professor Bowen was hindered in the degree to which he could directly respond to his attackers by considerations of professional and social prestige (none of his attackers were academic experts, specialists in the field or, for that matter, university professors.) Joyfully, I am not encumbered by such limitations. Should Mr. Tismaneanu choose to emerge from behind his careful insinuations and engage me directly on the arguments I present, he will find a willing partner in public discussion.
But fear not, dear reader. I will not hold my breath.
25 June 2013
For the Romanian version see De Ziua Americii Larry Watts a spulberat propaganda dusa de brigazile rosii ale lui Vladimir Tismaneanu: “Europa si SUA ar trebui sa-i fie recunoscatoare Romaniei” and also Adevarul