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TRNN Replay – Scott Wallace: Henry A. Wallace was for the ‘common man’ and against the cold war

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington, and we’re at the America’s Future Now! conference. And joining us now is Scott Wallace. He is the vice chair of the Wallace Global Fund. He’s also the grandson of Vice President Henry A. Wallace. Thanks for joining us.


JAY: So talk a bit about the fund, but more talk about your grandfather and the origins of this fund. Henry Wallace appeared at a very important time in US history. And for those of our viewers that don’t know, maybe just sort of fill us in on some of the facts, and then we can get into the significance of his life.

S. WALLACE: The foundation, the Wallace Global Fund, was founded by Henry Wallace 60 years ago, and it’s guided by the vision that he had for America when he was vice president under Roosevelt in the third term and when he ran for president on a progressive third-party ticket in 1948, which was sort of what the Institute for America’s Future and the Campaign for America’s Future are about now, which is defining the progressive, populist left wing of American politics to influence the political debate between the Democrats and Republicans, hopefully create some safe space off to the left.

[SUBTEXT ON SCREEN]: ON May 8, 1942, Vice President, Henry A. Wallace, delivered a speech before the Free World Association in New York City…

HENRY A. WALLACE: . The march of freedom of the past 150 years has been a long-drawn-out people�s revolution. In this great revolution of the people, there were the American Revolution of 1775, the French Revolution of 1792, the Latin American revolutions of the Bolivian era, the German Revolution of 1848, and the Russian Revolution of 1918. Each spoke for the common man in terms of blood on the battlefield. Some went to excess. But the significant thing is that the people groped their way to the light.The people are on the march toward even fuller freedom than the most fortunate peoples of the earth have hitherto enjoyed.

S. WALLACE: What he was trying to do in the ’40s, the battle has never stopped. Paul Wellstone picked it up. People are trying to figure out what is our role, whether it’s Harry Truman or Barack Obama, what is the role of the progressive movement in trying to pull the debate toward the real populist progressive left.

JAY: Talk about some of the issues back in your grandfather’s day. What differentiated him from Truman?

S. WALLACE: Truman was selected by the party bosses in 1944 to replace Wallace because he was a machine politician. He came up through the machine in Missouri. They felt they could count on him to do what needed to be done for the elites in the Democratic Party. There was a lot of concern about the postwar economy after World War II and the need to rebuild American business, which of course had been converted entirely to a war footing. So there was a great desire to tend to the needs of American business after World War II. My grandfather had strong opinions about the direction of American foreign policy, too, and that’s what got him in trouble.


[VOICEOVER]: Secretary of Commerce, Henry A. Wallace comes to the White House to hear from President Truman the direction his US foreign policy will take. Wallace’s US New york speech which had a strong pro-Russian overtone made the secretary the center of a storm which swept between the White House and the State Department.

S. WALLACE: After Roosevelt was reelected with Truman as vice president, Wallace was offered any cabinet job he wanted other than secretary of state.

JAY: What were the differences on foreign policy?

S. WALLACE: He believed that the Cold War, if we proceeded to have a war of words and an arms race with Russia, that it would lead to the end of the world, it would lead to nuclear annihilation. There was no way to contain this atomic genie.

[VOICEOVER ON SCREEN]: Secretaries of States who attended the peace conferences bitterly resented Secy. Wallace’s viewpoint stated so soon after Byrnes’ Stuttgart speech outlining Mr. Byrnes’ European policy. With Truman’s backing Mr. Byrnes’ viewpoint will be maintained and with the help of his conference advisors Senator [inaudible] and Senator Vandenberg he hopes to clear the European peace puddle. A lively discussion among our top policy makers fosters the aim of democracy.

S. WALLACE: So he felt, even though he was looked at then much the way Ralph Nader has been looked at these days, as someone who had cost the better Democrat candidate the election and turned it over to Dewey, he was driven. He felt that the fate of civilization depended on stopping Truman.

JAY: Now, just to get the history clear for people who don’t know, he was Roosevelt’s vice president, but under pressure from the party leadership or bosses Roosevelt switches to Truman. So when Roosevelt dies, Truman is the candidate, and then Wallace goes and runs as a third-party candidate.

S. WALLACE: Roosevelt died three months after his fourth inauguration. So, as the convention and the selection process was going on in the previous summer, he was already very weakened and he was easily influenced by the party bosses. So Truman came into office almost immediately after the election of Roosevelt to his fourth term, in April of 1946. And Truman�they had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and there was all this saber rattling with Russia�the Cold War was cranking up. My grandfather was very concerned about the direction that this was taking us, this confrontation with Russia. So even though he had been told he couldn’t be secretary of state, he did became secretary of commerce.


[VOIVEOVER ON SCREEN]: The nomination of Henry Wallace as Commerce Secretary brings this statement from Mr. Joe.

” The man who holds the vast responsibilities contained in the RFC, should be one of true [inaudible] and sound business experience. He should be able to attract men of sound judgment with business knowledge gained from experience and business.”

HENRY A. WALLACE: Alright I tell you here and now that if the RFC is left in the commerce department I will use its powers in the interests of all the American people.
But he proceeded to make speeches about foreign policy because, he said, well, there’s this global economy and [inaudible] it’s all connected. So he made a speech at Madison Square Garden in 1946 that Truman actually saw and said, it’s fine, I love it; but then there was a big firestorm afterwards when everybody said, wait a minute, what Wallace just said is inconsistent with what Secretary of State Byrnes has been saying.

[VOICEOVER ON SCREEN]: Then Mr. Wallace has a chance to testify for himself.

HENRY A. WALLACE: We are here tonight because we want peace. The world cries out, not for an American crusade in the name of hatred and fear of communism, but for a world crusade in the name of brotherhood of man. The name of crisis facts is withheld, time is denied, hysteria is whipped up, congress is asked to rush through a momentous decision, as if great armies were already on the march. I hear no armies marching. I hear a world crying out for peace. The truth is that the president and his republican backers are less concerned with the need of the free people, for food than with the need of the American navy for oil. The plan to contain communism is really secondary to the push for oil. For every glamorous admiral, who boasts “it’s nobody’s damn business where we go”, there are 10 drab but practical procurement officers to add “and we’ll get there with the oil from the middle east.” If we took the matter to the United Nations, and the Russians exercised their veto, the moral burden would be on them. When we act independently, outside the framework of the United Nations, the moral burden is on us.

JAY: ‘Cause Byrnes is ramping up the Cold War rhetoric.

S. WALLACE: Right. And Byrnes went and said, either Henry goes or I go. And so, okay, well, I’ll get rid of him. So they got rid of him. And so he goes out, and now he’s on a crusade to save the world. He became editor of The New Republic and he was asked to write an article for The New York Times about foreign policy and what’s going on in America, and the article that he wrote was called “The American Fascist”. He wrote about the tendency in America for corporations and government to become fused, and the corrupting influence of corporate money and corporate power in politics, and how it could divert attention from the needs of what he called the “common man”.

[TEXT ON SCREEN] HENRY A. WALLACE, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT: A fascist is one whose lust for money and power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends. The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest.

JAY: Now, he was also a big New Dealer, so that was another�. Truman starts moving toward more corporatist type of economics. Talk a little bit about that.

S. WALLACE: That was the struggle for�his most famous speech as vice president was about the need to�. Henry Luce, the publisher of Time magazine, his most famous speech was this is going to be the American century, the century that comes after the Cold War; America and Britain shall rule the world, ’cause we’re the greatest country on earth. And Wallace said, hold on, hold on. This shall not be the American century. How arrogant. We have no more right to rule the world than do the Nazis. How’s that for a smackdown? He said this shall be and must be the century of the common man.

HENRY A. WALLACE: Some have spoken of the American Century. I say that the century on which we are entering, the century which will come out of this war, can be and must be the century of the common man. If we really believe we are fighting for a people’s peace, all the rest becomes easy.

S. WALLACE: This shall be and must be the century of the common man. So he was presaging this debate, after Truman took over, between the huge corporate interests that wanted to rebuild American industry, legitimately, and after World War II, when all industry had converted to war production. And saying we have to be so careful to separate business from government.

JAY: Well, in the next segment of our interview, ’cause we do these in sort of 8-, 9-, 10-minute segments, let’s talk about today’s Democratic Party. Because when President Obama was asked during the election campaign, “where do you position your foreign policy in terms of American history and tradition?”, he said, “I start with Truman; I’m in the tradition of American pragmatic foreign policy, and I start my vision of the world with Truman.” So my question in the next segment of our interview: Is there any of Wallace left in the Democratic Party? Please join us for the next segment of our interview on The Real News Network.

H. WALLACE: Strong in the strength of the war, we who fight in the peoples’ cause will never stop until that cause is won.

End of Transcript

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Scott Wallace is Co-Chair of the Wallace Global Fund, a private charitable foundation located in Washington DC, with program areas including civic engagement, media reform and criminal justice. An attorney since 1978, he has served as counsel to the US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Juvenile Justice, General Counsel to the US Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, Legislative Director with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and Director of Defender Legal Services for the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. He is a founding partner in the Democracy Alliance, and serves on numerous boards, including the Institute for America's Future.