|Martin Oppenheimer teaches sociology at Rutgers University.|
THE 49TH CORPS OF THE GERMAN ARMY REACHED THE CAUCASUS and took the city of Mikoyan Shakhar in August, 1942. Professor Nicholas Poppe, a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, was living in Mikoyan Shakhar and working at the Pedagogical Institute. Poppe, a linguist, had taught Mongolian at Petrograd University in the 1920s, and was an expert on Soviet nationality groups. Profoundly anti-Stalinist, Poppe had decided that the way to flee the Soviet Union was by joining the Germans. He thought they would ultimately lose the war, but if he evacuated with them as they retreated, he would somehow find his way to Britain or the U.S. after the war. So he willingly became an interpreter for the Germans, and when the Soviets retook the area, Poppe left with the Germans. He understood, of course, that his "few stints as an interpreter in the interest of the local people," as he put it in his Reminiscences, published in 1983, could be called collaboration, sufficient grounds for a death sentence from the Communists should they ever apprehend him.
While still in the Caucasus, Poppe claimed, he was sufficiently influential to save some Jewish children in a sanatorium (by deliberately mistranslating a statement by the director), and the entire tribe of so-called "Mountain Jews," a Caucasian ethnic group of Persian background that practiced the Jewish religion. Poppe claimed that he "wrote a memorandum in which I pointed out that Tsarist laws had not treated them as Jews but as Caucasian mountaineers. Furthermore, their real name was Tat, and scholarly literature had indicated that the Tat were people of Iranian origin who spoke an Iranian language...[even SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Major] Pesterer himself said, 'we're not interested in their funny religion. If they want to be Jewish in religion, we don't care. It's the racial Jews we're against.'" This has got to be one of the more bizarre anecdotes in the entire insane epic of Nazi anti-Semitism.
By the Spring of 1943 Poppe was in Berlin, assigned to work at the Wannsee Institute, a component of SS chief Ernst Kaltenbrunner's intelligence operation. His job, he claimed, was research on Siberian history, ethnography, and the like. The Institute should not be confused with the Wannsee Conference, at which, the previous January 20, 1942, the Nazis determined on the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question." In any case, Poppe was not in Berlin then.
Christopher Simpson tells us in his book Blowback: America's Recruitment of Nazis and Its Effects on the Cold War (1988) that the Wannsee Institute's ethnic reports, "which were the most accurate information available to the SS concerning locations of concentrations of Jewish population inside the USSR, provided a convenient road map for the senior SS leaders assigned the task of exterminating the Jews." Although there is no hard evidence that Poppe was directly involved in this aspect of Wannsee's "research," it would have been unlikely that as an expert on Soviet ethnics he would have had no part in this work, although he consistently denied it. He claimed that the Wannsee Institute was merely one of several institutes that collected materials on various regions of the world, all supervised by a foundation headed by an SS officer, who in turn reported to the Intelligence Section, which in turn reported to Kaltenbrunner, so that he, Poppe, was many steps removed from the SS.
By May 1945, the Russians were closing in on Berlin. A spinoff of Wannsee, the East Asia Institute, with Poppe in it, had been evacuated to Marienbad, Czechoslovakia in 1944. There Poppe encountered General Andrei Vlasov, who had been captured by the Germans and had organized an army for them. The Vlasov army, a brainchild of SS Chief Heinrich Himmler, consisted of a mix of Soviet prisoners of war faced with a choice of joining or starving to death, and volunteers motivated by hatred of the Soviet regime and/or opportunism. The Vlasov army fought only briefly as a unit for the Nazis, but a number of Vlasov's men had not only fought with SS units prior to the formation of Vlasov's army, but had been part of SS extermination units. Poppe claimed he stayed aloof from Vlasov, though he clearly sympathized with him.
After the military collapse of Germany Poppe, fleeing the advancing Soviet armies, made his way to an estate belonging to a maternal great-aunt near Herford (he had some German ancestry on his mother's side), and hid there. The U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps was soon hunting him for extradition to the Soviet Union, but a British Counter-Intelligence Corps agent located him first, and Poppe went to live at his house for several months. By the Fall of 1945 Poppe was in touch with several U.S. scholars at Columbia and Harvard who had known him prior to the war. At one point he posed as an Estonian Displaced Person; at another, British intelligence took him out of a DP camp and kept him under wraps for several months to evade a Soviet extradition application. Early in 1947 he was informed that he would not be permitted to enter Britain. The British continued to hide him from the MVD (the Soviet secret service later known as the KGB), provided him with a cover identity, and used him to teach Russian to British officers. However, he seemed to be an embarrassment to the British, so they handed him to the Americans. By May, 1948, Harvard's Russian Research Center (HRRC) as well as the State Department's Policy Planning Staff, then headed by George F. Kennan, indicated strong interest in obtaining his expertise.
At the end of the war an estimated 5.5 million Soviet citizens, most of them forced laborers or prisoners, lived in Germany. Of this large number, tens of thousands had collaborated with the Nazis in various capacities, among them Vlasov and his people. Not a few were wanted as war criminals. None of these tens of thousands could safely return home. However, as Charles Thomas O'Connell put it in a doctoral dissertation on the Harvard Russian Research Center (Social Structure and Science: Soviet Studies at Harvard, 1990), in the new climate of the Cold War "the realization grew that the Soviet nonreturners might be a valuable political resource." The use of Soviet DP's "to fill in the gaps in our current intelligence" (in the words of a State Department paper) became a desirable strategy. Nicholas Poppe, a sophisticated intellectual well-versed in Soviet affairs was a star in this respect.
There were a number of others. Another former professor of languages, Leo Dudin, from the University of Kiev, had also been in Berlin in 1943. During the German occupation of Kiev, Dudin helped put out two propaganda newspapers for the Nazis, one in Ukrainian, one in Russian. In Berlin he worked for the Propaganda Ministry (Goebbels) writing radio scripts for broadcast to the Soviet Union. At some point Dudin joined the Vlasov army. As a Vlasovist, Dudin was also wanted by the Russians and was also semi-underground in West Germany. By 1948 Dudin was working for U.S. Army Intelligence doing "political orientation work."
By the end of the war, General Vlasov himself had become little more than a burned out alcoholic. He and a number of his top officers were turned over to the Russians, and were executed as traitors. But a large number of Vlasovists escaped the firing squad and made their way to West Germany. Besides Dudin, there was also a Colonel Vladimir Pozdniakov, who had been General Vlasov's aide-de-camp and chief of security for the Committee for the Liberation of Russia, Vlasov's political arm. The Soviets had him on a list of 73 alleged war criminals and collaborators because of his pro-Nazi activities, which were said to include having been chief of police in a P.O.W. camp in Poland. A more interesting Vlasovist was Boris A. Yakovlev, actually Nikolai Troitsky, who had once been arrested as a saboteur and "wrecker" during the Stalinist purges. He was, however, released, joined the army, and subsequently was taken prisoner by the Germans in late 1941. After a year as a P.O.W. he decided to collaborate and also worked for the Nazi Propaganda Ministry, editing a newspaper in occupied Russia. In May, 1944, he joined the Vlasov army, and then attended the Nazi intelligence school organized by Richard Gehlen. After that, he edited the Vlasovist newspaper from May 1944 to April 1945, at which point he changed his name and fled to Munich.
SINCE THE WAR THERE HAVE BEEN A NUMBER OF ATTEMPTS to rehabilitate or sanitize the Vlasov movement, although there is wide agreement that its personnel were a mixed bag. Various sources claim that the Vlasov army existed as such for only a few months in 1945 and fought only briefly for the Germans, that it actually engaged the SS in combat in the closing days of the war in Prague, that many were actually anti-Stalinist bolsheviks or democrats who naively believed that a Hitler victory would enable them to restore genuine socialism, that they were connected with anti-Nazi groups in the German Army, including those who attempted the coup against Hitler in July 1944, and that in any case they were not in a position to commit war crimes. Christopher Simpson calls these attempts to whitewash the Vlasovists "bogus." His verdict: "In reality, Vlasov's organization consisted in large part of reassigned veterans from some of the most depraved SS and 'security' units of the Nazi's entire killing machine, regardless of what Vlasov himself may have wanted. By 1945 about half of Vlasov's troops had been drawn from the SS Kommando Kaminsky, which had earlier been led by the Belorussian collaborator Bronislav Kaminsky." And he adds, in a footnote: "These troops were among the actual triggermen of the Holocaust..."
What Poppe, Dudin, Podzniakov, Yakovlev, and a cluster of their Vlasovist friends had in common, and what was more interesting to U.S. authorities and their closely-linked academic collaborators, was their presumed (and certainly auto-certified) knowledge of Soviet affairs, and their desperation to stay out of Soviet hands. Since intelligence about the Soviet Union was, after the outbreak of the Cold War, worth its weight in gold, or at least immigration visas, it made sense for these people to promote their expertise, real or not, and for U.S. institutions, especially certain university think tanks, to go after them.
JUST ABOUT THE TIME PROFESSOR POPPE WENT TO WORK at the Wannsee Institute, the U.S. War Department's Civil Affairs Division was beginning to set up training programs for the people who were to run the Allied occupation of Germany once the war was over. One of these programs was set up at Harvard, in the form of the School for Overseas Administration. A well-known Harvard sociologist, Talcott Parsons, became part of the staff, wrote a memo on possible sociological contributions to the training, and later chaired the Planning Committee of Harvard's "Foreign Area and Language Program, Central European Program." In 1944 he represented sociology in a multi-disciplinary academic conference on the prospects for the democratization of Germany. The conference was heavily biased toward psychological and national character studies of German mentalities, about which Parsons had done some writing.
Parsons' work at the School for Overseas Administration at Harvard, one of his admirers, Professor Jens Nielsen has written, "brought (him) in contact with governmental and intelligence institutions in Washington, especially the OSS, which was the forerunner of the CIA. Many of his Harvard colleagues also worked for the OSS . . . at the end of the war, William L. Langer, Director of the Research and Analysis Section of the OSS, offered Parsons a job in that organization . . ." Langer joined Harvard's History Department in 1947, and Parsons, too, had other plans. In 1947 he became Chairman of Harvard's increasingly distinguished Department of Social Relations. Parsons was by now arguably America's leading mainstream sociologist. (Two years later he would be elected President of the American Sociological Society.) But first Professor Parsons' and Professor Poppe's paths would cross.
It had become increasingly clear to the internationally-oriented Eastern corporate and government establishment even before the war, and more so in the context of the new Cold War, that traditional scholarship had little to contribute to understanding the Soviet bloc. Hence a growing interest in multi-disciplinary area studies. The Carnegie Corporation, an East Coast establishment foundation, soon assumed a leading role in promoting area studies, and its Vice President, John Gardner, took on the task of involving the behavioral sciences in this project. The Carnegie Corporation was not entirely a dispassionate funder of educational and scientific projects. Its charter permitted it to take an active role in "defining research needs and creating programs to fill those needs," as James O'Connell wrote in his 1990 study, and it did so now. In July 1947, Talcott Parsons, who had gotten wind of Carnegie's interest, wrote Gardner suggesting that Harvard be involved.
But the Carnegie Corporation and its backers were not alone in promoting research on the Soviet Union. At a September 1947 dinner of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), of which Allen Dulles, soon to head the CIA, was President, Carnegie's ideas for a Russian Center, possibly at Harvard, were discussed with former OSS officer (by now Harvard professor) Langer. The Council was and is a powerful institution with strong links to corporate and political elites. The Carnegie Corporation had been instrumental in funding the Council, and several Carnegie Trustees served as its Directors and officers. It was already playing a major role in the formation of U.S. foreign policy and would be fully involved in plans for a Russian center through its interlocking personages, from here on in.
Washington was soon directly involved as well. In July 1947 Carnegie V.P. Gardner visited the capital to assess the quality of government research on the Soviet Union. There wasn't much. He came away with indications that the State Department, as well as the Central Intelligence Group, forerunner of the CIA (Allen Dulles, Wall Street lawyer and President of the CFR, consultant), would be cooperative in the creation of a Russian center. Gardner remained in close touch with the Russian Section, European Division, Office of Intelligence and Research at State, especially later, when it came to recruiting personnel for Harvard's center.
Shortly after, Gardner's choice for the location of a Russian Research Center settled on Harvard. Gardner proposed an executive committee to direct the program: the anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn as Director, and a "core" group that included Parsons and Alex Inkeles, an expert on the Soviet Union. Kluckhohn, the elected President of the American Anthropological Association in 1947, had "top secret" security clearance from the R&D Board of the (now renamed) Department of Defense and was actively involved in Air Force Intelligence projects. He was not selected for his expertise on the Soviet Union; neither he nor Parsons even spoke Russian.
The Harvard Russian Research Center formally came into existence in February 1948, after the Carnegie Corporation's Trustees, at Gardner's bidding, granted it $100,000 for the first year of operation, with another $640,000 in readiness for the following five years. Between 1947 and 1957 Carnegie would give it a total of $875,000.
There were several reasons for locating the Center at Harvard, not the least of which was the close linkage between the State Department, the Carnegie people, and Harvard's leadership (including its Board of Overseers). Between October 1947 and the formal beginning of the Center in February 1948 a number of scholars were recruited. Carnegie's Gardner shuttled between Washington, New York, and Chicago (where he interviewed such leading academics as Louis Wirth and Robert Redfield about potential candidates). Gardner was also in contact with the CIA. Boston CIA field agents would soon become the conduits for "conveying the research needs of Washington officials to the Director of the Russian Research Center, who in turn relayed the questions and problems to the scholars of Harvard's Center," as O'Connell describes it. In January 1948 John Paton Davies, a member of George F. Kennan's Policy Planning Staff at State, visited Harvard and met with Director-to-be Kluckhohn, further cementing the relationship between Washington and the Center.
In March 1948 Davies wrote a paper (classified "Secret") outlining a covert plan to use Soviet emigrés living in Germany as intelligence sources. The plan was approved by Undersecretary of State Robert A. Lovett on March 15. From Lovett's desk the plan went via various bureaucratic routes to the National Security Agency for transmission to the CIA. There were two components to Davies' plan: to increase defections from the USSR, and to utilize Soviet refugees to obtain intelligence about the USSR. The latter objective involved a massive research project that would interview Soviet refugees, and would then bring a limited number of emigré Soviet social scientists to the U.S.
The Davies project fit in well with what the Carnegie people had in mind for the Harvard Russian Research Center. A reconnaissance of various potential sources of data (the refugees) needed to be undertaken. Shortly after the formalization of the HRRC, Director Kluckhohn dispatched Executive Committee member Talcott Parsons to carry out this mission. Parsons travelled in Germany, Austria, England and Sweden from June to August 1948, during which time he was in touch with diplomatic and military officials, intelligence personnel, scholars, and a few Soviet displaced persons in order to identify those who might be useful in various ways to the HRRC. He also wrote approximately ten letters to Kluckhohn describing his travels and his contacts. (Two scholars have seen these letters and quote from them in their work: O'Connell, and Sigmund Diamond, the Columbia sociologist and historian, whose Compromised Campus, 1992, devotes several chapters to the HRRC.) Some interesting names appear in these letters. Nicholas Poppe is one of them.
PARSONS WAS IDEALLY SUITED FOR THIS "RECONNAISSANCE" TRIP. He had studied at Heidelberg in the late 20s, had translated the German sociologist Max Weber into English, and by the late 30s was not only politically involved in campaigns against isolationism and (after 1939) in favor of U.S. intervention in the war, but was also writing fairly extensively about the threat of Naziism. Parsons and a number of other Harvard social scientists organized discussion groups focusing, among other topics, on Nazi propaganda. One participant in these groups was Parsons' close friend and sociological colleague Edward Hartshorne, an expert on the German educational system. Parsons and Hartshorne were about to collaborate on a book dealing with the psychology of Naziism when Hartshorne took a job in Washington in the intelligence field. Immediately after the war Hartshorne, by then an officer attached to the Psychological Warfare Division of Allied Supreme Headquarters in Europe, helped to reorganize the German educational system and was a key figure in the rebirth of the German Sociological Society. He was murdered on August 28, 1946 in Germany under mysterious circumstances, an event that greatly distressed Parsons.
It is widely believed, especially in radical sociology circles, that Parsons was a political conservative committed to a sociology that advocated value neutrality, not unlike Max Weber. This is a misperception. Parsons held that indifference to values was impossible for the "liberal scholar." The values he advocated publicly had to do with "the search for truth" but he also believed that "antiliberal," that is, totalitarian, views in the academy should not be tolerated. This explains his waffling on McCarthyism later. His writings, insofar as one can penetrate his obscure prose, make it clear that he was opposed to Nazi totalitarianism, and, by implication, Soviet totalitarianism as well.
In short, Parsons was a paradigmatic Cold War liberal. From his perspective it was not inconsistent for him to engage in scholarly pursuits helpful to the intelligence community. Parsons was, by 1948, a highly political animal, and had been for some years. He was neither naive nor likely to be manipulated. As one of his admirers, Robert Bannister, has written, "Parsons was fully aware that Harvard's RRC was closely integrated with governmental intelligence..." This is echoed by another scholar sympathetic to Parsons, Jens Kaalhauge Nielsen: "There is no doubt...that he was fully aware of the integrated network involving the RRC and the intelligence community and that he knew a lot about Kluckhohn's strong involvement in intelligence activities."
On his arrival in Germany on June 20, 1948, Parsons made his way to a U.S. Army Intelligence officer, Colonel Henry Newton, presumably because Newton was one of the "gatekeepers" to Soviet emigré intelligence sources. Newton was not available, but one of his employees, Leo Dudin, the Vlasovist, was, and Parsons spent the night at Dudin's house. The following day Parsons and Dudin were taken to Garmisch to meet with another intelligence officer, Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Hoffman. A few days later Parsons saw Colonel Robert Schow, Deputy Director of Intelligence in the European Command. (A year later Schow became Assistant Director of CIA, working in clandestine operations.) Parsons described these meetings, and some of the emigrés he met in the letters he wrote to Kluckhohn. Besides Dudin, Parsons described and apparently met at least two others: Vlaslov's former aide-de-camp Pozdniakov, and one Ivar Nyman, a former Soviet Foreign Office official. All three were working for U.S. Army Intelligence by that time. Parsons broached to Kluckhohn the possibility that these three be brought to work at Harvard. (They were not, ultimately, but were employed by the RRC as contacts for obtaining research reports from Soviet Displaced Persons in Germany until 1950, when it became clear that their intelligence was low quality.)
On Jun 30, 1948 Parsons wrote Kluckhohn from Berlin. There, a Harvard professor, C.J. Friedrich, an adviser to General Lucius Clay, had put him in touch with an intelligence officer named Lawrence De Neufville, Deputy Director of the Office of the Military Government (for the U.S. Zone of occupied Germany). De Neufville told Parsons that the British had put a number of Nazi experts on Russia to work, and then De Neufville "came up with the name of our friend Poppe. He told me that P. was under the protection of the British Intelligence people but they want to get him to the United States. He is very hot for them because he is explicitly wanted by the Russians..."
Parsons and the RRC knew about Poppe beforehand. Kluckhohn had been made aware of the fact that John Paton Davies of the State Department wanted to secure an academic position in the U.S. for him. A tentative appointment as Research Associate at Harvard had been authorized, but a hitch developed, probably because more data on his past had come to light. In Germany, Parsons became privy to confidential information shared between British and U.S. intelligence agencies. In a letter of June 30, 1948, Parsons tells Kluckhohn of meeting with a British intelligence man named Rhodes, who had Poppe's dossier, marked "Top Secret" on his desk. Parsons tells Kluckhohn that if a way can be found to get Poppe into the U.S., the British will take care of letting him out of Germany.
There is no evidence that Parsons actually met or talked with Poppe. Nor can we tell how much Parsons knew of Poppe's past (particularly since Poppe was not necessarily giving every detail, logically enough). However, Parsons knew enough to voice some doubts about this crew: "Perhaps I was a little hasty in my recommendations on the Dudin group. I don't know. Certainly they aren't the only ones and their political inclinations may be extreme -- and yet -- I want to go back to them with the wider perspective." We do not know what he meant by "extreme," or what "the wider perspective" may have meant. Parsons does not seem to have had anything further to do with getting Poppe to the U.S. Parsons' wife Helen, who was administrative director of the RRC, was aware, however, that Harvard's tentative offer to Poppe was in jeopardy. She wrote to Poppe in Germany telling him not to count on an appointment due to "complications."
On Parsons' return he met with Carnegie's President Charles Dollard and V.P. Gardner, who were much encouraged about the prospects of further, and closer cooperation between the RRC and official U.S. circles in Germany. Parsons' own relationship with the intelligence community continued over the years. As late as 1974 he was a consultant to the CIA on student protest movements, and on personality aspects of potential CIA recruits.
Poppe does not mention Parsons in his Reminiscences, but he does say that Kluckhohn informed him he could not get the Harvard appointment because, Poppe thought, he had stayed in Germany "as a refugee from the Soviet Union and worked for the German government." Anyway, Poppe was flown to Washington in 1949 under the name of Joseph Alexandros, and debriefed by Carmel Offie, of the CIA-funded Office of Policy Coordination in the State Department. He had in the meantime landed a job at the University of Washington (Seattle), in its Far Eastern Institute, where he wrote several books on Asian linguistics. He died in 1991 at the age of 88. Poppe continued, for the rest of his life, to deny any involvement in war crimes. He feuded with Owen Lattimore, who had accused him of being an SS officer, and later went to the trouble of obtaining a sort of clearance from the Archive of the Federal Republic of Germany, which wrote to him in February 1963 that based on the available documentation "it would appear that you were not a member of the SS."
After Parsons' "reconnaissance," the coast was clear for the Harvard Russian Research Center to proceed full speed with the collection of scholarship and/or intelligence. The Harvard Refugee Interview Project of 1950-51, directed by Alex Inkeles, an original member of the RRC, and Raymond A. Bauer, senior research staff member of RRC, was funded by the Air Force. (It eventually conducted over 700 interviews, administered over 2,000 questionnaires, and resulted in four books, 35 articles and 53 unpublished reports.)
However, before the Project could get underway it was necessary to locate and organize an influential group of Soviet emigrés in order to legitimate this and subsequent research among the understandably suspicious Soviet refugee population. This group came to be known as the Institute for Research on the History and Institutions of the USSR, or, more popularly, the Munich Institute. The Institute was funded at first by Harvard, and later by the CIA [February, 1951 until 1971, when Senator Clifford Case (R, N.J.), blew the whistle]. Harvard maintained a liaison, Professor George Fischer, and there was a CIA adviser, Leon Barat. It pretended to be an autonomous group of scholars that ran a library, conducted conferences, operated a summer school for Sovietologists, and otherwise behaved like many other scholarly institutes. However, its real function was to act as a contact organization through which Harvard's RRC could obtain access to Soviet D.P.s and other Soviet emigrés for research (and intelligence) purposes. The RRC, working with Boris Yakovlev, founder of the library, selected an "academic council" from among emigrés employed at the U.S. Army Intelligence schools in Germany. All had security clearance.
Although full information is not available on all eight members of the council, or executive committee of the Institute, we know that four of them were clearly Vlasovists and/or Nazi collaborators. Yakovlev, the Director, had had some 33 aliases, and had worked for the Vlasovist newspaper under the direction of the Nazi Propaganda Ministry. Michael Aldan, actually André Nerianin, former chief of staff of the Soviet 20th Army, had been Assistant Chief of Staff, Operations, for Vlasov. He was wanted as a war criminal by the Soviets. Abdurachman Kunta, originally Avtorkhanov, had organized a "white" partisan group for the Germans, and had worked as a propagandist in Berlin. Konstantin Shteppa also worked in propaganda for the Nazis. Pozdniakov, the Vlasovist whom Parsons met in 1948, was ousted from the Institute due to personality difficulties. The evidence on the other four is more circumstantial. The degree to which any could have been considered serious scholars is open to debate, since the written reports they sent to Harvard were not highly regarded there. In March 1951, Harvard cut off funding and the CIA picked up the tab via its conduit, the American Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia, also called Radio Liberty. It became a propaganda mill under the guise of a research institute that had been legitimated to varying degrees over the years by the Harvard imprimatur.
The process that led to the creation of the HRRC in the first place, and then to Parsons' mission, and later to the Munich Institute, is not how most people view the way universities and scholars work. Here a private foundation with major links to corporate, university and governmental circles (themselves linked to each other) not only determined research priorities and funded a research institution to carry those priorities out, but even named the personnel who would operate the institution, and vetted its scholars. Then those scholars pursued a research agenda largely funded and determined by government agencies, particularly in the intelligence community, utilizing sources the access to which was also provided by intelligence agencies. In turn those sources had a political agenda, rooted in their own history. One cannot help but suspect that the results may have been at least a bit skewed due to that bias.
But a more important bias was the source of those research priorities: the U.S. Air Force. That priority, regardless of what else may have come out of the research (much of it fairly conventional, noncontroversial social scientific descriptions of the Soviet system), was to study the Soviet Union as a potential target of U.S. air power (bombing), specifically the selection of targets based on analyses of the psychological vulnerability of the population. These analyses were based on the kind of social scientific methodology being promoted by major U.S. universities, with Harvard very much playing a star role.
The research, in short, was rooted in the political (especially foreign policy) assumptions of the U.S. government, and more broadly the establishment network that had created the instrument for carrying that research out. No alternative assumptions were entertained: the historian H. Stuart Hughes, HRRC's initial assistant director, was ousted at the order of a Carnegie trustee because Hughes supported the Henry Wallace campaign. From beginning to end, from the Carnegie Corporation and its corporate sponsors to the State Department to Harvard to the CIA and the Air Force, the Cold War and full-scale armament was the order of the day, and given that perspective, the fact that some sources of intelligence may have been war criminals in a previous war became at worst a minor inconvenience.
THERE IS AN ODD EPILOGUE TO THIS STRANGE cloak-and-dagger-meets-Harvard respectable-social-scientists chapter in the history of the Cold War, one that speaks volumes about what is and is not "politically correct."
In 1993 a German sociologist, Uta Gerhardt, edited a book called Talcott Parsons on National Socialism. The book consists of a 78-page introduction, which is a biography of Parsons and a discussion of his views on Naziism, and 14 essays by Parsons, some never before published, dealing with a range of topics from academic freedom, propaganda, and anti-Semitism to concrete discussions of Naziism and German social structure, the nature of fascist movements, and even a radio script (from September 1940) that is a thinly disguised argument for intervention in the war. They are not uninteresting but they are of secondary importance to the present story.
Gerhardt, clearly an admirer of Parsons and his anti-totalitarian views, tells us that her volume will cover the period to 1951, the publication date of Parsons' The Social System. Her biography stops in 1946, however. Parsons' political activities after 1946, and well before 1951, are completely absent from her book. The HRRC is not mentioned. If we did not know better, we would assume from her book that Parsons absented himself from political involvement in Germany following 1946 and never set foot in that country again.
But we do know better. University of California (Irvine) historian Jon Wiener stumbled upon Charles O'Connell's doctoral dissertation, then still in draft form, and wrote an article for The Nation (March 6, 1989) describing in some detail Parsons' involvement with trying to smuggle "Nazi collaborators" into the U.S. as Soviet studies experts. Gerhardt, it turns out, was aware of Wiener's article when she wrote her book.
Then a sociologist, Jack Nusan Porter, who is a Holocaust researcher and himself the child of survivors, wrote an extremely favorable review of Gerhardt's book for Sociological Forum (September 1994), the journal of the Eastern Sociological Society. The book, he felt, shows Parsons in a new light, that of the anti-totalitarian activist, thereby undermining new left critics who, like C. Wright Mills, had painted Parsons as a conservative. "...in our youthful certainty," Porter wrote, "we were too hard on him...Far from being the 'reactionary' that the 1960s antiwar activists thought of him...this book makes it clear that Parsons was a strong supporter of human rights in the fight for democracy against the onslaught of Nazism." Unfortunately, Porter was unaware of Wiener's Nation piece at the time and when he found out about it (from me), he was understandably upset. He (and I) tried to have a correction to his review published.
The sociological establishment then circled the wagons to protect Parsons. The journal refused to publish any amendment to Porter's review, much less any letters about it, for about two years. Finally, in December 1996 it published a long, somewhat rambling, essay by Porter expressing both dismay about and admiration for, Parsons. It also published, in the same issue of Sociological Forum, what amounted to two lengthy defenses of Parsons, one by Gerhardt, and one by N.Y.U. sociologist Dennis Wrong, whose piece is entitled "Truth, Misinterpretation, or Left-wing McCarthyism?"
In this essay, self-described social democrat Wrong attacks Wiener's Nation piece as a hatchet job, attacks The Nation for having espoused an anti-Cold War ideological line "and even printing the occasional outright Stalinist, including several suspected Soviet agents," and boasts of his own funding by Carnegie, and his connections to the late Dean Acheson of the State Department, and George Kennan. He accuses critics of the Cold War of viewing matters "through the distorting lens of the slogans and cliches of the late 1960s New Left," and of being antagonistic to liberalism and social democracy, and therefore of playing into the hands of right-wing ideologues. Almost needless to say, he defends Parsons' activities in Germany. He also defends the journal in its prior decision not to publish any amendment to Porter's effusive book review. Wrong seems to believe that a historical description of Parsons' involvement with the HRRC project and with the intelligence community constitutes being soft on Stalinism. And he links a defense of Parsons to a defense of Cold War strategy as promoted by Kennan and others.
The first of these assumptions is not tenable: no one who has been involved in describing the history of the HRRC, and Parsons' mission to Germany in 1948, is in any sense an apologist for Stalinism. Most are old enough to be innocent of New Leftism anyway, and some have solid credentials in the anti-Stalinist left. However, it does seem that many of Parsons' advocates defend him (insofar as they are willing to concede that the events described here, or by Diamond or O'Connell did in fact take place, which is not always the case) on the basis of the historical "necessity" of defending the West from Soviet imperialism. The notion that it is possible to be anti-Stalinist, to be entirely clear on the nature of the Stalinist state and the dangers that it constituted in 1948 (e.g. the Czechoslovak coup in February of that year) and at the same time opposed to U.S. foreign policy (which included sheltering Nazis and their collaborators, supporting all sorts of dictators around the world from Spain to Indonesia, and contemplating the incineration of civilian populations "in defense of freedom") because one is antitotalitarian seems hard for him to grasp.
Wrong's simplistic Cold Warriorism and old-fashioned red-baiting aside, why are so many sociologists apparently enlisted to defend Parsons' reputation at this late date? The matter of Talcott Parsons' "missing years" is known, though not widely. It would seem that there are people who prefer to keep it that way. Still, what harm would it do to satisfy historical objectivity nearly 50 years later? Is it that Parsons' many sociological disciples, people whose careers are based on "Parsonian sociology," are embarrassed by these disclosures and feel they must therefore either deny Parsons' role, or somehow justify it as a matter of saving face? Or are Parsons and the HRRC really not the issue? Does a description of power structure networks and their responsibility for formulating university research agendas, and the interlock between those networks and "top" universities and intelligence and other "defense" agencies, get too close to undermining the myth of scholarly objectivity and thereby the respectability of the university, a status that has been in careful repair since the end of the Vietnam War?
Contents of No. 23