In 1941, President Roosevelt appointed Professor Owen Lattimore, who advocated for a stronger Soviet role in China, to serve as U.S. advisor to Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek, a position he held for one and a half years. The 1943 Official Register of the United States listing persons occupying administrative and supervisory positions in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the Federal Government, and in the District of Columbia Government, as of May 1, 1943, showed Owen Lattimore as Pacific Bureau Director at the Office of War Information San Francisco Regional Office, and thus responsible for Voice of America broadcasts to Asia, including China. In 1944, Lattimore was named OWI deputy director in Washington in charge of all Pacific programs but resigned at the end of the year to return to Johns Hopkins University.
Owen Lattimore on “Greenhouse Vitamins for Miners” in the Soviet Gulag
Owen Lattimore’s article, which appeared in the December 1944 issue of the National Geographic Magazine, may offer a hint of what kind of pro-Soviet and pro-communist Voice of America broadcasts to China and other countries in Asia were produced when he held key executive positions at the U.S. Office of War Information. Lattimore published the article after accompanying U.S. Vice-President Henry A. Wallace on his trip to Siberia, China, and Mongolia in 1944 for OWI. The Soviet handlers took the American delegation to the Gulag gold mines, where, before and after their visit, Stalin’s prisoners were kept under the harshest conditions, and thousands were worked to death. For the sake of the visiting Americans, the Soviet authorities transformed the work camps shown to the delegation into Potemkin villages. Well-fed and well-dressed NKVD guards, which appear in a photograph taken by Lattimore and used by National Geographic to illustrate his article, were substituted for slave laborers. The Gulag camps’ shops were filled with food and goods never before seen at the sites. Lattimore was either deliberately lying or wholly convinced this was a typical Soviet enterprise. He wrote for American readers in his National Geographic article about the concern shown by the communist authorities for the health of the Soviet workers:
Greenhouse Vitamins for Miners
We visited gold mines operated by Dalstroi in the valley of the Kolyma river… . It was interesting to find instead of sin, gin, and brawling of an old-time gold rush, extensive greenhouses growing tomatoes, cucumbers, and even melons, to make sure that the hardy miners got enough vitamins!1
The Voice of America, under the direction of such OWI officials and journalists as Owen Lattimore, Joseph Barnes, Wallace Carroll, John Houseman, and Elmer Davis, was deceiving not only foreign audiences. Some also misled millions of Americans at home about Soviet Russia and the Communists in China. Even though members of Congress, who were alarmed about the executive branch using government funds to propagandize to Americans, eliminated in 1943, in a bipartisan vote, almost all of OWI’s domestic propaganda budget, some of these fellow traveler-journalists were still promoting in the United States their highly deceptive views of Stalin and communism thanks to having easy access to U.S. radio networks, newspapers, and magazines.
Owen Lattimore compared the Dalstroi (also written as Dalstroy – Far North Construction Trust) “to a combination of Hudson’s Bay Company and TVA.” 2 He wrote that the workers he saw had volunteered for war but were ordered to stay because of Russia’s need for gold.3 He described in glowing terms the head of Dalstroi, Mr. Nikishov, as a recent recipient of the Order of Hero of the Soviet Union. He added that Mr. Nikishov and his wife “have a trained and sensitive interest in art and a deep sense of civic responsibility.”4 Near the Gulag camps, where thousands of prisoners died, the American delegation was entertained by “a fine ballet group from Poltava, in the Ukraine (sic).” Lattimore quoted one member of President Wallace’s delegation as saying, “high-grade entertainment just naturally seems to go with gold, and so does high-powered executive ability.”5 Ivan Fedorovich Nikishov was a Soviet NKVD Lieutenant General.
For those Americans who were not well-informed about Soviet Russia, such articles by an Office of War Information and Voice of America U.S. government executive made it easier to accept or tolerate President Roosevelt’s decisions to make political and territorial concessions to Stalin at the expense of the people in Eastern Europe and help establish pro-Soviet governments in the region to rule over them for many decades.
Henry Wallace withdrew his support for the Soviet Union during the Korean War. In an article written in 1952, Wallace called the Soviet Union a country “utterly evil,” a term similar to the “evil empire” that President Reagan used against Soviet Russia many years later.6 Owen Lattimore and Joseph Barnes remained unapologetic.
On July 31, 1951, Alexander Barmine, the former Brigadier General of the Soviet Army’s military intelligence and the then chief of the Voice of America Russian Branch (from about 1948 until 1964), made a stunning revelation while testifying under oath before the United States Senate’s Special Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws, 1951–77, known more commonly as the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS) and sometimes the McCarran Committee after its chairman, Senator Patrick Anthony McCarran (Democrat – Nevada). Barmine, who after his defection in 1937 from the Soviet Embassy in Athens was sentenced to death in absentia in the Soviet Union, told the subcommittee that his boss in the Soviet military intelligence, General Yan Karlovich Berzin, identified to him two Americans as “our men,” which meant that they were Soviet agents. Berzin, a Latvian Soviet communist, was shot during Stalin’s Great Purge of 1938.
According to Barmine, Joseph Fels Barnes and Owen Lattimore were the two men. From 1932 to 1934, Barnes was a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune based in Moscow and Berlin. They both vehemently denied they were Soviet agents.
Prof. Owen Lattimore described Alexander Barmine’s testimony before the Senate’s subcommittee chaired by Senator McCarran as “one of the flimsiest yarns I have ever heard.”7 He added that Barmine “had bobbled the play” in his statements. Lattimore insisted:
Of course, I have never been connected with Soviet Military Intelligence in any way, shape or form, in any year A. D. or B. C.8
The information made public by Barmine could not be corroborated with documentary evidence, although several other witnesses testifying before congressional committees claimed Barnes and Lattimore had been either Soviet sympathizers or Communist Party members. Alexander Barmine also told the McCarran subcommittee that while working as an advisor for Reader’s Digest, he convinced the editors not to publish an article by Owen Lattimore, which he described as presenting the straight communist and Soviet line “camouflaged,” as he pointed out, “in very devious ways.” 9
When General Berzin described them to Barmine as “our men” who could be of help to him in his intelligence work in China, he might have meant that they could provide a journalistic cover to hide the real nature Barmine’s GRU mission, just as Latimore’s article in the 1944 issue of National Geographic obscured slave labor in the Gulag camps, Barnes’ reporting from the Soviet Union in the 1930s minimized the Red terror, and Howard Fast’s censorship at the Voice of America helped to protect Joseph Stalin from being seen as a brutal dictator. Howard Fast, best-selling author, a Communist Party USA activist, and a future recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize, resigned under pressure from his position as the Voice of America chief news writer and editor, in effect, the job of VOA’s first news director, and left federal government employment.
- Owen Lattimore, “New Road to Asia,” National Geographic, December 1944, p. 567.
- Ibid., p. 642.
- Ibid., p. 657.
- Henry A. Wallace “Where I Was Wrong”, The Week Magazine, September 7, 1952, https://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2013/02/henry-a-wallace-1952-on-the-ruthless-nature-of-communism-cold-war-era-god-that-failed-weblogging.html.
- The New York Times, “Lattimore Assails ‘Flimsiest Yarn’,” August 2, 1951, p. 4, https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1951/08/02/88440253.html?pageNumber=4.
- Institute of Pacific Relations.: Hearings before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, pp. 212-213, https://hdl.handle.net/2027/umn.31951d02120505q?urlappend=%3Bseq=223%3Bownerid=13510798903345995-227.