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Fountain of Lies By: Art Eckstein
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, March 14, 2005

Ward Churchill, the professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado who compared the victims of 9/11 to "little Eichmanns" and says they deserved what they got (it was "social hygiene"), has been holding weekly rallies in his own support and to protest "the American Empire."  These rallies, the Denver Post says, are being held on campus at the Dalton Trumbo Free Speech Fountain. 


The Dalton Trumbo Fountain, we learn from the official description by the University of Colorado School of Journalism, "is named in honor of Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten...screenwriters and directors who were blacklisted and driven from their livelihoods for refusing to testify before the House of Un-American Activities Committee" (HUAC). 

This is the OFFICIAL University of Colorado description of Dalton Trumbo--and no doubt the only things that most undergraduates, or even graduate students, at Colorado know about Dalton Trumbo. As such, this description is a lie--especially in terms of Dalton Trumbo's real attitude towards freedom of speech during the most famous period of his life.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Dalton Trumbo was a secret member of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA), which was a secret revolutionary organization loyal to the Soviet Union (Communists, unlike witches, really did exist). Trumbo was a Stalinist, faithfully following every twist and turn in the Party line.  And he was a person who participated in the Party's traditional suppression of free expression.

For instance, Trumbo was part of the Party's inquisition against the screenwriter Albert Maltz in 1946, for Maltz's published statement that artists should be free to say what they feel, and that literature should be judged by its human and humane quality, not the politics of its author.  Trumbo and his fellow communists browbeat Maltz for publishing this heresy, until Maltz finally issued a humiliating public recantation.  Maltz, who also later was brought before HUAC (and went to jail for refusing to testify), told Gerda Lerner that his appearance before HUAC in 1947 was simply nothing compared to the real and psychologically-destructive trauma of his criticism/self-criticism sessions before the Communist Party in 1946.

Dalton Trumbo was also part of the savage Communist Party inquisition against the director Robert Rossen in 1949, because of Rossen's film, "All the King's Men."  Party Headquarters in New York thought that his film was too much an attack on one-man rule--i.e., Stalin.  The confrontation with his Hollywood inquisitors over the nature of his art drove Rossen right out of the CPUSA ("Take the Party and shove it!").  These inquisitors consisted mostly of the Hollywood Ten themselves--the very men who are now officially depicted at the University of Colorado as sainted martyrs and defenders of freedom of speech.

There is some evidence that Trumbo was in private not happy about these incidents.  But there is NO evidence that he ever openly protested them at a Party-meeting--though other Hollywood Party-members certainly did so. This means that, in the end, Trumbo accepted the Party's claim to impose discipline over the intellect: he obeyed, participated, went along.  Now, the Maltz and Rossen incidents were famous incidents.  They were well known to anyone who knew the basic history of the Hollywood section of the CPUSA long before the Dalton Trumbo Free Speech Fountain was dedicated with great fanfare at Colorado a couple of years ago. How could anyone, knowing these incidents, depict Dalton Trumbo as a champion of free speech--let alone such a grand champion of free speech that he deserved to have a "Free Speech Fountain" named after him?

But actually, the situation is far worse than that.  In 1944, Dalton Trumbo voluntarily invited FBI agents to his Hollywood home, and voluntarily "named names" to the FBI--not of Communists (of course), but of people of various political views whose crime was the following: they had written him asking to buy copies of his novel "Johnny Got His Gun."

Trumbo was a talented writer, and "Johnny Got His Gun" is one of the greatest anti-war novels ever written.  It describes the thoughts, feelings and ultimate fate of a hideously wounded soldier.  The novel was published in the summer of 1939, and it was a big hit with the CPUSA during the period of the Hitler-Stalin Pact (August 1939-June 1941), because of its denunciation of the horrors of war.  Since Stalin and Hitler were now friends, this was the "peace movement" era of the Party:  despite Hitler's attack on Poland, and his war with democratic Britain and France, the constant theme of the CPUSA was "Peace."  That is: absolutely no American support should be given to those nations which were fighting Stalin's friends the Nazis. So it was natural that during the period of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the Party did everything it could to promote and publicize "Johnny Got His Gun."  But Hitler's surprise attack on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 made the novel an acute embarrassment. The Party line changed instantly from "Peace" (with HITLER) to "fight the anti-fascist war!"  The largest "peace demonstration" in American history had to be cancelled.  No novels on the horrors of war were wanted now; the Party slogan was "Defend the Soviet Union!"  Trumbo did what he could to suppress the novel.

Conversely, though, "Johnny Got His Gun" became a big hit with right-wing isolationists, as well as sincere pacifists, after Dec. 7, 1941 and the entry of the USA into the world war.  A number of such people--some real fascists and anti-Semites, who saw the war as a plot perpetrated by Jews, but also some sincere isolationists and pacifists--wrote to Trumbo between 1941 and 1944, asking where they could buy copies of his book.
In 1944, Trumbo voluntarily invited FBI agents to his house, showed them the letters he had received, and turned those letters over to the FBI.  And not only did he "name names."  He followed up the invited FBI visit with a letter to the Bureau, urging that the people who had written him asking  for copies of his book be dealt with.  Trumbo was acting here in conformity with then-current CPUSA policy, which was--since the Soviet Union was under attack--to denounce to the U.S. government anyone who opposed the war.  Needless to say, Trumbo did not notify the people whose names he had named to the FBI of what he had done; nor did he tell them that the FBI was now in possession of their letters to him (The information on this unlovely incident can be found in Dalton Trumbo, ed., "Additional Dialogue:  Letters of Dalton Trumbo, 1942-1962" (New York, 1970), pp. 26-31).

Later, of course, as one of the Hollywood Ten, Trumbo claimed for himself the mantle of a martyr for freedom of speech--and savagely castigated as "rats" those poor souls whom HUAC or the FBI had pressured into becoming informers against the Party.

But this is not the end of the story.  In 1949, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., in "The Saturday Review of Books," remarked that he thought that Dalton Trumbo was in fact NOT the sort of person who would fight for freedom of speech for ALL, especially not, say, right-wingers, but only for the freedom of speech of Communist Party members.  Bluntly, he suspected Trumbo was a hypocrite. Trumbo replied with a scathing letter to "The Saturday Review."  In that letter, he denounced the liberal anti-Communist Schlesinger as a fascist--while he proclaimed himself a true champion of free speech for all.  He wrote: "I deny the right of any agent of government to call American citizens to account for their political affiliations or sympathies."  That is, Trumbo ferociously denied Schlesinger's speculation that he would ever denounce to the government someone with whose politics he disagreed; Trumbo further implied that Schlesinger had fascist political motives for suggesting that he would ever do such a dastardly act (See "Letters of Dalton Trumbo," pp. 135-36).

The problem here, of course, is that back in 1944 Trumbo had ALREADY fulfilled Schlesinger's prophesy. In short, Trumbo was an FBI informer in 1944, following the Communist Party line of the moment and a hypocrite in 1949, hiding under a First Amendment which he did NOT believe should extent to "incorrect" political opinions; and in his public assertions to Schlesinger about his own behavior, he was a grotesque liar.

It is nice to know that in 1970, Dalton Trumbo finally forgave the "friendly witnesses" who had named names to HUAC and the FBI; everyone, he said, had been a victim in one way or another back in the 1940s.  Good for him--most Hollywood secret Communists never forgave those who revealed them, and Trumbo here was morally above such revenge-takers.  And, as I said, he was a talented writer: not just "Johnny Got His Gun," but the screenplays for "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" (1944), "Spartacus" (1960), and "Exodus" (1960).  

But still, does such a man--a voluntary FBI informer, a liar in print, an enforcer of Communist Party intellectual discipline on rebellious Party-members--really deserve a "Free Speech Fountain" dedicated lovingly in his name at a major American university?  Just how did it come about that in 2002, Colorado was prevailed upon to enshrine a Freedom of Speech Fountain memorializing a long-term Communist Party militant who, in turn, is presented to ignorant students as a champion of freedom of speech?  How did such a travesty occur?  Thank you, President Elizabeth Hoffman, for yet another example of your careful stewardship of the University of Colorado!

The real lesson is clear: Ward Churchill is only the tip of the iceberg of outrageous actions at Colorado, only one indication of just how far the University of Colorado as a whole is removed from real-world Colorado and American society.  We now have a better understanding of the general political atmosphere prevailing at the University, i.e., the pattern of faculty and administration attitude and conduct that could produce a Ward Churchill in the first place.  It is the same smugness and arrogance that could publicly portray the Communist Dalton Trumbo as a martyr for "Free Speech" in the first place.  And I suppose we now have a better understanding of why Ward Churchill feels so at home gathering his rallies at the Dalton Trumbo "Free Speech" Fountain.

Art Eckstein is a Professor of History at the University of Maryland at College Park.

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