- Historic Sites
Good Old Uncle Joe Stalin
June 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 4
American infatuation with its wartime Soviet ally reached a peak in 19.13 with the motion picture, Mission to Moscow , loosely based on Ambassador Joseph E. Davies’ book, in which we see the author (played by Walter Huston) clasp hands with a genial, pipesmoking Soviet dictator. Davies-Huston, according to the Warner Brothers synopsis, has been sent to Russia to get “the truth” for President Roosevelt, and soon he “learns to respect and to admire the Russian leaders.” In the sequences which follow, the history of the years from 1936 to 1943 is rewritten in the bold black-and-white strokes of mass propaganda.
The movie ambassador, for example, attends the famous purge trials (those of 1937 and 1938 are combined for dramatic convenience) and comes to the conclusion, as an experienced lawyer, that the endless confessions of the accused are genuine, obtained “without undergoing threat or duress"! To lend credence to this tale of make-believe, the real Davies introduces the story and is later represented as discussing the film with President Roosevelt.
Speaking as members of the international commission of inquiry into the Moscow trials, John Dewey and Suzanne La Follette addressed a protest to the New York Times , on May 9, 1943, in which they excoriated the Mission to Moscow film as “totalitarian propaganda … which falsifies history through distortion, omission or pure invention of facts.” There was in it, they pointed out, no mention of Stalin’s demand for a negotiated peace after he and Hitler had divided Poland, nor “even the merest hint that in France, England, the United States … the Communist parties systematically sabotaged the Allied cause"—proving once again the old saying that, in war, truth is the first casualty.