The Quotable Truman
To the Editor:
In the October 1969 issue of COMMENTARY [“Controversy”] I wrote that several quotations from D. F. Fleming and James Warburg were “accurate and perceptive” renditions of remarks by Truman in 1947. Arthur Schlesinger, in a letter [December 1969], took issue with this statement, claiming that Truman’s speech was merely a plea to American businessmen, and not, as Warburg wrote at the time, an “unequivocal challenge” to nations turning toward government economic controls and an announcement that “we, the economic giant, are going to use our power to set a world pattern of free-enterprise capitalism,” which is the best system and must become the world system if it is to survive in America. In a response [February] I showed in some detail that the comments by Fleming and Warburg were indeed accurate and perceptive, and I also noted a series of false statements and misrepresentations in Schlesinger’s several discussions of this and related matters.
In his letter [March], Schlesinger says that he found this “long and boring.” Therefore, he simply reiterates his interpretation of Truman’s remarks, shown to be inaccurate in this analysis, with its tiresome concentration on fact and correct inference. Furthermore, he makes no reference to the fabrications and mistakes that were pointed out—not for him the acknowledgment and correction of error. Rather, he tries to evade the issue by claiming that in responding to my article of October he was not referring to that article (which I showed to be quite accurate) but rather to a statement about Truman’s speech in my American Power and the New Mandarins. His claim is false, but no matter—let us assume that it is true. It is easy to show that the dull analysis in my February letter, as it stands, also refutes Schlesinger’s new claim.
The statement in my book is that American policy has been “dominated by the principles that were crudely outlined by President Truman,” namely, in the remarks paraphrased by Fleming and Warburg in the quotations that I then cited; in particular, this policy has been dominated by the principle that the whole world should adopt the American system which can survive here only if it becomes a world system. Schlesinger objects that this is a misrepresentation of Truman’s speech. That is, he denies my statement that Truman’s speech crudely outlined the principles expressed in these paraphrases (he puts it differently, pretending that I had offered Truman’s speech as proof that we were then planning to use force to impose our ideology and approved forms of social organization on the world; of course, no speech could “prove” such a thesis, and I said nothing of the sort). But, as is shown in detail in my letter of February, the comments by Fleming and Warburg were accurate and perceptive renditions of Truman’s remarks. It follows immediately that the analysis in my February letter, to which Schlesinger offers no reply, also refutes his present claim. The matter is elementary. I suspect that Schlesinger can make it out if he really puts his mind to it.
One might object to the cited statement in my book on different grounds: that American policy has not been dominated by these principles. Such an objection would also be incorrect, in my opinion, but since Schlesinger does not raise this objection, I will not pursue the matter. By simple logic, these are the only objections that can be raised to my statement that American policy has been dominated by the principles outlined by Truman, and expressed, clearly and concisely, in the accurate paraphrases that I quoted.
Next, Schlesinger claims that he could not find, in the place to which I referred, a statement as to my views concerning multilateralism, bilateralism, autarky. But what I wrote was that he would find there (and in many proposals of UNCTAD) an indication of what I would have preferred to Truman’s proposals (specifically, Truman’s opposition to what he calls “regimentation”). And that he will. But I repeat that although I have no objection to discussing these questions, I will not do so in the context set by Schlesinger’s mendacity. In responding, I restrict myself to his claims regarding what I have written.
Next, Schlesinger asserts that statement (E) in my February letter misquotes Truman. Since he does not explain further, let me enlighten the reader. Truman wrote: “Freedom of worship-freedom of speech—freedom of enterprise. It must be true that the first two of these freedoms are related to the third.” In (E) I mistakenly added the word “and” before “freedom of enterprise.” This example indicates nicely the level of Schlesinger’s criticisms, now that his efforts to deal with substantive issues have collapsed.
Schlesinger’s next point is, if anything, even more silly. In my February letter I discussed his claim that a certain footnote of mine “makes evident” my beliefs about Roosevelt’s foreign policy. But, he objects, this misstates his point, which was that the footnote in question “makes evident” that my premises “require” me to have these beliefs. Comment would be superfluous. Of course, the real point (which he fails to mention) is that the footnote exposes a series of fabricated quotations, errors of fact, and misrepresentations by Arthur Schlesinger, and contains nothing that remotely supports his claims as to what I believe (or am required to believe).
Finally, Schlesinger objects to my comment on his elaborate pretense that he was unable to find certain quotations in the source to which I gave a precise page reference. He repeats his claim that one quotation is not there and may have been invented. The quotation in question appears on the page to which I originally referred, but I slightly mistranscribed the wording, as I explained in October. Thus Schlesinger still persists in the pretense to which I alluded.
I want to reiterate that Schlesinger has made one correct observation. Several quotations that I attributed to Truman were paraphrases of his remarks by Warburg and Fleming, and the wording I gave was slightly garbled, as can be seen by checking the page reference to Fleming’s Cold War and Its Origins that I gave in my book (p. 293) when first quoting these remarks (it was this reference that enabled Schlesinger to “trace the quotes to Fleming and Warburg”—a fact that he neglects to mention in his March letter). Repeatedly, Schlesinger has strayed from this correct and proper criticism and has attempted to deal with substantive questions of fact and interpretation. The results have been pathetic, and on each occasion he has beaten a hasty retreat to my original error, which I have now explained in half a dozen places and which has long been corrected in later printings, along with a few other errors that I have discovered.
This exhausts the points that Schlesinger raises in his latest effort. I agree with him fully about one matter. These exposures of his fabrications, evasions, misrepresentations, and pettiness are, to be sure, long and boring. I would suggest a simple and obvious remedy.