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1948

Henry Wallace criticizes Truman’s Cold War policies

Henry Wallace, former vice-president and current Progressive Party presidential candidate, lashes out at the Cold War policies of President Harry S. Truman. Wallace and his supporters were among the few Americans who actively voiced criticisms of America’s Cold War mindset during the late-1940s and 1950s.

Widely admired for his intelligence and integrity, Henry Wallace had served as vice president to Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1941 to 1945. After Harry S. Truman succeeded to the presidency upon Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, Wallace was named secretary of commerce, but Wallace did not get along with Truman. A true liberal, Wallace was harshly critical of what he perceived as Truman’s backtracking from the social welfare legislation of the New Deal era. Wallace was also disturbed about U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union. During World War II, he came to admire the Soviet people for their tenacity and sacrifice. Like Roosevelt, he believed that the United States could work with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in the postwar world.

After Roosevelt’s death, the new Truman administration adopted a much tougher stance toward the Russians. In March 1948, Wallace appeared as a witness before the Senate Armed Services Committee to criticize Truman’s call for universal military training, a program designed to provide military training for all American males of draft age. Dismissing Truman’s alarming statements about meeting the communist threat as part of a “deliberately created crisis,” Wallace denounced the universal military training program as one that would lead to “death and taxes for the many and very handsome profits for the few.” He implored the Senate and U.S. government to strive for a “peaceful foreign policy.” “If we are to compete with communism,” he declared, “we had better get on the side of the people.”

Wallace’s arguments found only a limited audience in the Cold War America of the late-1940s. In the 1948 presidential election, running as the Progressive Party candidate, he garnered less than 3 percent of the vote. Two years later, Wallace left the Progressive Party after it condemned his statement in support of the United States and United Nations intervention in Korea. In 1952, he wrote an article, “Why I Was Wrong,” in which he declared that his earlier stance in defense of Soviet policies had been mistaken. Nevertheless, his criticism of American Cold War policies kept the spirit of debate and dissent alive in the oppressive atmosphere of Red Scare America. In fact, many of his arguments—particularly the point that America’s massive military spending was crippling its social welfare programs—were raised with renewed vigor during the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

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