Dr. Atkinson Demurs
To the Editor:
I have followed the course of Commentary ever since its first issue and have been very much impressed with the wide field covered, and the courage with which you have set forth your views.
I strongly believe in a free press. I also believe that the only criterion that can be safely used in judging any writing is the motive of the author and his treatment of salient facts. This statement, I think, cannot be successfully contradicted. Based on this conviction, I want to file a protest against the publication of an article in the April issue by Granville Hicks, “The Liberals Who Haven’t Learned.”
I think everyone will grant the right of free choice by the editor and his board to determine what is to be printed. On the other hand, it is only fair that an article which so flagrantly distorts the truth and draws such unwarranted conclusions should be challenged, for the article—both in its content and conclusions seems to be a calculated smear of the Nation, its editor, and publisher. This smear is based on quotations deliberately drawn out of context and in total disregard of the actual weekly-week views of the Nation on the Korean situation.
The article is written by a man who, for a number of years, was a member of the Communist party, a leading spokesman, and editor of the New Masses when it was controlled by the Communist party of the United States. These facts the editors of COMMENTARY apparently chose to ignore in their biographical sketch of the author. Mr. Hicks is one of a large number of “reformed Communists”; and of course it is nothing against him that he has seen the errors of his way and repented. But, at the same time, it is only fair to ask, why should so many Communists who, like him, have recanted, now attempt to censor the utterances of those who have never shared their beliefs in Communism and cannot now share their fanatical hatreds? As a matter of fact, there are multitudes of loyal citizens, firmly believing in democracy, who still think that every effort should be made to achieve peace by negotiation without appeasement and without sacrificing democratic principles. To call those who hold this opinion “dangerous citizens” is as grotesque as it is unfair. I have known intimately for many years the people who are responsible for editing the Nation. Miss Kirchwey and Mr. del Vayo and their associates are honorable, intelligent, trustworthy, and above suspicion in thought and action. All of them feel, as millions of others do, that a world war at this time would be the final calamity of our generation and should be avoided if at all possible.
No institution has more consistently fought bigotry and fought to enlarge the area of human freedom in accord with the highest concepts of dynamic democracy than the Nation. I cannot believe that the editor of COMMENTARY is unaware of that record. That is why it is hard to understand what motivated acceptance of this article by Mr. Hicks, in which he implies through direct misstatement and calculated omissions that the Nation, if not subversive, is dangerous.
A careful reading of the article indicates that the writer is fully aware of the danger he faces in making unwarranted charges, and so he uses the well-known technique of skilled, trained Communist leaders of “playing both sides of the street” at the same time. For example, Mr. Hicks says: “However paradoxical it appears, the magazine that calls itself ‘America’s leading liberal weekly since 1865, ’ however noble its intention, in some sense serves today as an apologist for Soviet Russia. To some extent, no doubt, this is a matter of individual viewpoints. . . . .” (Note “in some sense” and “to some extent” both used in the same paragraph.)
Whether or not COMMENTARY or the American Jewish Committee agreed to have this article printed in the Congressional Record is a matter of small importance. However, the fact that the article was commended by Congressman Dondero, of Michigan, gives to it a quasi-authority and approval. What is of importance is the fact that COMMENTARY should be publishing any material that could be valuable ammunition in the hands of zealots in their war against democracy and those who hold to the democratic way of life.
Henry A. Atkinson
The Church Peace Union
New York City