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Hall's Self-Justifications

Posted by Gary Kern on December 04, 1997 at 06:21:41

In his interviews and concluding statement for BOMBSHELL, Theodore Hall presents at least five distinct justifications for his work as the Soviet agent named MLAD. All of them are specious and easy to refute.

FIRST, he explains that during 1944 he was "worried about the dangers of an American monopoly of atomic weapons if there should be a postwar depression." (page 288) Such an economic depression, in his view, "could lead to fascism, aggression and war-as actually happened in Italy and Germany." (90) For this reason he contacted Soviet representatives to inform them of the American atomic program and soon turned over all the secrets he learned working as a physicist at Los Alamos.

The problem with this justification is that Hall turned over state secrets not for what that state was doing in the present, but for what he thought it might do in the future. Soon after the war the Nuremberg Court determined that a citizen has a moral obligation to disobey his government if it orders him to commit crimes against humanity, but not to betray his government on the premise that it might someday do so. In almost the same breath in which he expresses his fear of American fascism, Hall states that he believed the Soviet Union was "a mixture of good and bad things, and hoped it would evolve favorably." (90) In other words, the USA was potentially a fascist state, while the USSR was potentially a democratic one. Here we can see in sharp outline the essense of the traitorous mind: to believe the worst of one's own country and the best of a country determined to conquer it.

SECOND, Hall argues that the Soviet Union was not an enemy of the United States, but a ally. Hence, he implies, it was no crime to share the secret of the bomb. He summons Albert Einstein and Neils Bohr in support of his case, citing their belief that an American nuclear monopoly was dangerous. (90)

True enough, the USSR was a US ally, but by the exigences of war. The young Hall was well aware that before the Nazis attacked the USSR, the USSR was allied with them. Further, being by his own admission well read in radical literature, he knew that the classics of Marxism-Leninism advocated a violent overthrow of all capitalist governments and the establishment of an international so-called proletarian state. That is the doctrine he believed in. So, short-term ally--yes; long-term ally--not likely. If he really believed at the time that America should share nuclear secrets with the Soviet Union as an ally, then he had the option of openly making that proposal, writing letters and signing petitions, the way Einstein and Bohr did. When Einstein and Bohr failed in their efforts, they did not go to work for Soviet intelligence and pass secrets to contacts in secret rendezvouses, and it is indecent to cite them in support of doing so.

THIRD, he proposes that he may have changed the course of history and prevented a nuclear disaster. "For example," he writes, "the bomb might have been dropped on China in 1949 or the early fifties. Well, if I helped to prevent that, I accept the charge." (288)

Presumably he means that the US might have tried to stop the victory drive of the Communists in China, which culminated in October 1949, had their Soviet allies not exploded a copy of the American plutonium bomb in August. But then he would have to wonder why the US did not use the bomb before August. If he refers instead to the Korean War of 1950 and General Douglas MacArthur's desire to drive north into China, he must not only take credit for holding back the Americans and saving Chinese, but also for unleashing the North Koreans and killing thousands of Americans. Archival records reveal that Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung plotted the Korean War, and Stalin gave his puppet Kim Il-Sung the go-ahead after the August test. Certainly this does not mean that Stalin entertained the idea that he could wage nuclear war with the West, only that he was emboldened by his single bomb to wage proxy war at high stakes. When that bomb exploded in 1949, Hall's wife was proud of Soviet agent MLAD. "It was as though he had done it all by himself." (xii)

FOURTH, Hall allows that he was young and did not fully understand the nature of the Soviet state, its brutality and dictatorial rule. But with a qualification: "Many reports about these things had been proved false, and they seemed incompatible with the obvious dedication of the Soviet Army and people during the war. If I had seen the whole picture in focus, I feel quite convinced that I would have acted differently." (282)

To see the whole picture in focus, Hall would have had to stop believing the DAILY WORKER and other Communist publications that he avidly read, because these were the only sources contesting the reports of Stalin's brutalities. Yet even these reported Stalin's purging of Lenin's Old Guard, his purging of the Trotskyists, his purging of the so-called wreckers. These Communist publications were filled with political hatred, invective and distortion, and every subscriber knew it and ate it up. There was no difficulty for open-minded people to get a clear picture of Soviet Russia before the war; after the war began, the picture became very rosy in the popular press, which is hardly a reason for espionage.

FIFTH, Hall asserts that, when all is said and done, he still thinks that "the brash youth had the right end of the stick." On this basis he proceeds to lecture readers that a return to McCarthyism is the real threat to democracy. (289)

Here Hall would have us imagine him as perpetually 19 years' old. But as BOMBSHELL makes amply clear, he did not stop serving Soviet intelligence at the end of the war. No, he continued to pass secrets (perhaps of the hydrogen bomb), to make contacts and even to recruit other spies up to 1953, the year of Stalin's death. So we are no longer speaking of a "brash youth" who "has the right end of the stick," a supposed innocent fellow striving to correct his country's policy vis a vis an ally, but rather a hardened and calculating traitor passing classified documents to an enemy.

Since all of his justifications are false, the judgement on Hall cannot be generous. We can excuse the idiocies of youth, even monstrous idiocies affecting the lives of millions, but not a bullheaded and dishonest defense of treason by a old man who is distinguished in science and learning. Hall writes and reasons exactly the way Communists and fellow travellers did during all the years of the Soviet regime. Stalin is gone, but he's still a Stalinist at heart.

My desire is not to see him prosecuted, nor even to have him writhe in self-denunciation and mea culpas. Rather, I would like him to stand up like a man of science and admit his wrongdoing, then divulge the details of it in the interest of history, rather than hold things back out of an old sense of Communist solidarity and esprit de corps. With good reason Lenin called foreign sympathizers "useful idiots." Hall has yet to admit that he was the most useful idiot of all.

A postscript. Some participants in the forum have criticized the authors of BOMBSHELL for writing their account so dispassionately, without a word of criticism for an arrogant and unrepentent traitor. I think one should remember that they gained Hall's confidence, persuaded him to open up and recorded things that he had never before planned to tell. Having done so, it would not be proper for them to attack him. No, I think their approach is just right in this instance. They put the story in the public domain and gave their readers enough information to reach a sound judgement. Without them, the world would have seen only closed shutters at the Hall residence. Great reporters that they are, they got the story.