Spying Through a Glass Darkly: American Espionage against the Soviet Union, 1945-1946 is about a little-known intelligence unit whose continued activity after World War II invalidates the conventional wisdom that the wartime Office of Strategic Services had been disbanded upon the victory of the Allies. The authors construct a heroic portrait of this short-lived Strategic Services Unit (SSU), arguing that it managed to provide vital assistance in the face of great obstacles—one being the calling home of embedded agents after Germany surrendered, and the other a bureaucratic power struggle with the FBI, which refused to step into the intelligence-collection void unless it was made supreme over all U.S. intelligence.
When the Great Terror, Robert Conquest’s documented expose of Stalin’s Purge Trials, was published in 1968, the response from the Kremlin was predictable. Conquest, who died last week, was denounced as peddling fascist propaganda by Leonid Brezhnev, the hardline replacement for the thaw-attempting Nikita Khruschev when the latter was toppled in 1964. But in private, the truthfulness of Conquest’s account was validated by the KGB, who consulted it to see what their predecessors had been up to.
Even for those who have not been through an undergraduate academic program, the figure of the biased historian is well known. In the hands of biased historians, the past morphs into an ideological axe to grind. Methodology is the tool that forces the facts to conform to their theory, and that jettisons any stray facts that don’t fit.
But this was not always so. Once upon a time, there were historians whose intellectual probity led them to follow the evidence no matter where it led, even if it damaged their own “side.” Professor Allen Weinstein belonged to this almost extinct group. Weinstein, who taught at Smith College, Georgetown, and Boston University, and who was for three years the National Archivist in Washington, died last week at 77.
This impressive book is not well served by its title. It is not clear what the author means by "Stalin’s curse?" Is it his personality, or his politics? Is it his attempts to promote communism, or the unintended consequences of these efforts? Is this a study of the connections between Stalin’s personality and his policies, or a history of the Soviet Union with special reference to Stalin? It seems to be both with Stalin often receding from the narrative. For those specializing in the critical study of the Soviet system there are few major revelations here but much of what we…