Sep 25

A bombshell went off last night during a meeting of a small group of historians at NYU. Because the bomb was of the metaphorical kind, no one was hurt, with the possible exception of the reputation of the person who dropped it, Dr. John Earl Haynes.

The occasion was a short symposium sponsored by the Center for the Cold War and the United States, and besides Dr. Haynes (the author of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America), the featured speakers were  Drs. Allen Hornblum, Amy Knight and Ellen Schrecker, all of whom have written extensively about issues related to the Cold War. There were about sixty people in the audience. Quite a few seemed to be historians, while others with a special interest in the period were also in attendance.

My notes on this aren’t the best, but I believe the remark in question followed a statement by Ellen Schrecker who was commenting on a list of names Dr. Haynes had offered of people he claimed had cooperated secretly with the Soviet Union and were traitors for doing so. Schrecker responded by saying that the issue was much more complex than that. For example, she suggested, many of the people who joined the Communist Party did so out of the feeling that it was the best way to fight the economic forces that led to such widespread suffering during the Depression. Many were also motivated to fight fascism, which was fast becoming the biggest threat to the civilized world at the time — a threat that the United States was very slow to recognize. She added that those who cooperated with the Soviet Union in transmitting information did so on behalf of humanity and out of the need to help an ally. Their actions, she said, needed to be placed in this context in order to understand them.

That’s when the you know what hit the fan. Dr. Haynes, an historian with the Library of Congress, stated in response that his sole interest was in finding out who did what and outing them. Understanding their actions or placing them in context was not on his list of priorities. His job, as he saw it, was to name names. A collective gasp seemed to suck the air out of the room. People, even those who appeared to be sympathetic to Haynes, were clearly appalled. One history professor stood up and said would his students would receive an “F” on any papers that didn’t try to take into account the motives of people they were writing about.  Others voiced similar opinions. Sensing the shock, Haynes backtracked a bit, explaining that he did think the actions of those he named, needed to be understood, but that it was his feeling that process of examing their actions should only follow when the names of alleged spies were uncovered and published.

That seemed to me a weak response. Dr. Haynes and Harvey Klehr have collaborated on six books, many of which have used the files of the former Soviet Union to name those they say are traitors. They have had plenty of time to add context to their lists and plenty of space in their books to do so. But they haven’t. And the guess here is that they won’t.

After hearing his comments, it was no wonder why “Spies” is characterized by what appears to be not only a casual interest in fact checking and contextual analysis but, more important, a lack of any real humanity.

And now, as of last night, their own secret is out. I hope other historians will take notice.

Oh: During the meeting, Dr. Haynes posted a screenshot of the so-called Gorsky List, a list taken from the Soviet files of those who secretly cooperated with the Soviet Union. Alger Hiss is on the list, although he appears as “Leonard.” Questions have been raised about the list’s provenance and accuracy, and during the session a date on the list jumped out at me from the screen. I realized that Dr. Haynes was undermining his own argument and offering  proof that the critics of the list were right. I will incorporate my observations in my review of “Spies.” Look for it in the next few days.

One Response to “A Shocking — If Not Surprising — Admission From Dr. Haynes”

  1. David Eddy says:

    Haynes’s response doesn’t surprise me a bit.

    I’ve spoken with him directly twice & seen him in action twice. He exudes the mental honesty of an FBI agent who has been conditioned to jump to his master’s tune.

    I remember at the 2005 Cryptologic history symposium during a panel session when someone in the audience offered the question on how/where Senator McCarthy had gotten his “205” number… since Hoover & McCarthy were fans of “the ponies” (just a few mile away at Laurel Raceway), perhaps Hoover had passed the information to McCarthy at the track?

    Haynes responded even before FBI historian John Fox could… it would have been impossible for Hoover to do such a thing. PERIOD!

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