October 13, 2003


Kevin McCullough on World Net Daily, 10/10/03.

"Mr. Asner, I do have a question – unrelated to the film," I said. "In your long and distinguished acting career, going back to your earliest days in Chicago all the way up to present days working with Will Farrell on 'Elf', you have had the chance to do almost anything you could ever wish to do. But if you had the chance to play the biographical story of a historical figure you respected most over your lifetime, who would it be?"

Remembering the sad story he had told about the poor kids in Chicago, I half expected him to come out with a political name of some sort.

"I think Joe Stalin was a guy that was hugely misunderstood," said Asner. "And to this day, I don't think I have ever seen an adequate job done of telling the story of Joe Stalin, so I guess my answer would have to be Joe Stalin."

This has been up at Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan, so I wouldn't ordinarily post it here, but . . . wow! The right tends to bury its mistakes. The left embalms them and keeps them around so the masses can file lovingly by.

UPDATE: 10/15/03

Kevin McCullough now says that the conversation went like this:

McCullough: "If you could portray an historical biography and you had an unlimited budget, unlimited support cast and everything you could ask for, who would it be?"

Asner: "Well, you know something, they've played Hitler, nobody has ever really touched Stalin, it just occurred to me. It's not because I am a liberal or anything like that. Stalin is one big damn mystery, I wonder why nobody has tried it? Many people, you know, speak of the fact that he killed more people than Hitler – why does nobody touch him? It's strange. So, and he was about my size, my height – with a wig I probably could do it."

Posted by David Cohen at October 13, 2003 10:30 AM

Misunderstood, the way his Comintern policy against the Social Democrats, paved the way
for the Nazi's. How his paranoia, led the
annihilation of any intelligence networks.
that held any contrary position. the way
his policy in the Ukraine, drove a large
part of the Ukrainians into the arms of the

Posted by: narciso at October 13, 2003 10:36 AM

He's exactly right. Stalin is hugely misunderstood-- there are a lot of people who still think of him as the agrarian reformer and the father of Russian industrialization who has been falsely accused of mass murder. It's nice to see Mr. Asner wants to set the record straight and is willing to play one of history's great monsters despite what it will do to his acting career (such as it is).

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 13, 2003 11:45 AM

Ed Asner as Uncle Joe? Now, that's must-see-TV!

Posted by: Mike Earl at October 13, 2003 12:01 PM

Is this a really great surprise? I always viewed Ed Asner as sort of an American Uncle Joe. Fortunately, he never had the power to kill millions, although I am convinced he has the will to kill millions.

Posted by: pchuck at October 13, 2003 12:28 PM

Funny thought when I first read this: how would Asner have fared under his misunderstood Joe? Would he have become a Stalinist henchman, helping to send millions of his fellow slaves to the Gulag and the firing squads? Or would he have rebelled against a barbarous regime and been dispatched to an obscure and painful death?

Some may disagree, but my guess is the latter. Asner fancies himself a fearless truth-speaker, a rebel against evil authority. In today's U.S., of course, such a pose condemns you to enormous bucks in teevee shows.

The consequences were a little bloodier in Stalin's Russia.

Posted by: Casey Abell at October 13, 2003 1:09 PM

Ed Asner, actor, enlightened activist, Democrat, member ACLU and People for the American Way and politcal nit-wit, I believe?

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at October 13, 2003 1:11 PM

At least Harry will review it positively.

Posted by: oj at October 13, 2003 1:14 PM

Harry at least would ask, why Stalin had so many fans, despite all the bad stuff?

Alexander Werth is one of the very few historians (and no leftist he) to even attempt to answer the question.

Nobody detests Stalin's crimes more than I do, but I'm still mighty glad he was there to defeat Hitler when the Stalin-haters were cozying up to the Nazis.

narciso's weird comment does suggest a profound misunderstanding. The Nazis were mounting putsches in 1923, a little too early, I think, to blame on the Comintern.

As for Asner, if he's a leader of leftism, leftism is doomed. Although I cannot quite distinguish between his admiration for Stalin and Swartzenegger's admiration for Hitler, for which everybody was ready to give Arnold a pass.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 13, 2003 5:34 PM


Whittaker Chambers explained that fifty or sixty years ago in his essay, Ghosts on the Roof. The murdered Romanovs sit atop a building in Yalta applauding Stalin as FDR hands him an Empire more extensive than even they had dreamed possible.

Posted by: oj at October 13, 2003 5:55 PM

Harry --

This is a little hard to take seriously. Chamberlain has nothing on Stalin when it comes to appeasing the Nazis. The nonagression pact, signed in August '39, divided eastern Europe between the Soviet Union and Germany, expanding the Soviet Union to roughly match the Russian Empire at its greatest 18th century extent and giving the Germans a free hand in "their" territories. By securing the eastern front, this allowed Germany to concentrate on the war in the west. Stalin valued peace with Germany so much that he was scrupulous in sending supplies to Germany as required and ignored -- until the day before the German declaration of war -- the clear signs of the coming German invasion.

Ultimately, of course, the Soviet Union was forced to go to war with Germany. Even then, it is ridiculous to say that "Stalin was there to defeat Hitler." Stalin did not fight. Instead, he sent out the Russian people to die in a series of senseless battles that were centrally directed by Stalin, despite his lack of any qualification. In the end, his willingness to spend lives like water, the Russian winter and the material received from the US pushed the Germans out of Russia and back to Berlin, but Stalin did nothing admirable.

Lindbergh, whatever his other faults, did go out of his way to defy Roosevelt and fly combat missions.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 13, 2003 7:02 PM

While the Soviets did not create the Nazis, they did give them aid, directly and indirectly, at various times in the early '30s. (They also helped Weimar Germany violate arms treaties in the '20s.) Official Comintern doctrine shifted around a lot, but at times said that fascism was to be encouraged because it was, like communism, an enemy of "bourgeois democracy" and a sign of end-stage capitalism. The idea was that the sooner fascism happened, the sooner it would collapse and communism could take over.

As for how Asner would end up under Stalin, I suggest a third option: he'd be a loyal henchman, but sooner or later would fall victim to the inevitable power struggles and purges. He'd be arrested and, like many old Bolsheviks, protest his loyalty up to the moment they shot him in the back of the head.

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 13, 2003 8:21 PM

Read Jan Valtin's, "The Night that Was left Behind" 1940; look up the Social Fascist
Campaign of Disparagement by the Comintern,
in regards to the '32 election. Chances are
what would be considered in Herman Kahn's
words, 'an ideological renewal regime, ala
Horthy or Salazar might have prevailed, but
not the Nazis

Posted by: narciso at October 13, 2003 9:41 PM

Blaming Stalin for Hitler is certainly blaming the victim.

As late as August 1939, Stalin was ready to make an anti-Hitler treaty with Britain and France. They were not interested, being, like Orrin, more offended by communist murders than Nazi murders.

Chacun a son gout.

The opportunist policies of the USSR win nobody any points for consistency or decency. The bottom line, though, is that when Hitler did attack Russia, Russia was big enough and strong enough to defeat him, and had done so before the first bullet or bean arrived from the West.

Among history's might-have-beens, one we can be pretty sure couldn't have been would have been a successful resistance to German militarism by any form of czarism or, probably, Russian social democracy.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 13, 2003 9:58 PM

My take on the the Soviet/Nazi thing is that they
are morally equivalent. Watching them warring
must have been like watching a scorpion and a
poison spider in a wrestling match. Might
be an interesting fight but in the end you'd
like to step on both of them.

Posted by: J.H. at October 14, 2003 9:20 AM

You know, Harry, the German's invaded and Stalin remained in denial for a period long enough to question his sanity. The Russian people, the Russian winter and the Russian military defeated Hitler, not Stalin. The "Great Patriotic War" was one of the few Soviet characterizations of anything that had a grain of truth to it. Once Stalin had reopened the churches during the crisis and changed the emphasis to defending "Mother Russia" rather than the monstrosity he had helped to impose on his people, you know he felt more secure. The great leader pissed his pants when he finally admitted to himself that Hitler and Ribbentrop had betrayed his trust.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at October 14, 2003 3:30 PM

That's true. But it was Stalin's determination to force heavy industry that allowed the Russians to resist.

Just about every other policy of the USSR probably did more harm than good, and if Germany hadn't attacked, the forced industrialization would have done more harm than good, too.

As it happened, though, when Russia needed tanks and oil, it had them.

The historian H.P. Willmott puts it more bluntly than most: every day for the four years of war, the USSR lost over 19,000 dead. More in any week, as Willmott puts it, than the US lost in its entire Pacific war.

In my opinion, Germany would have attacked Russia, no matter which regimes were in place. And this is more than mere opinion, without Russian economic reorganization, Germany would have won.

In the longer run, the inability of the Communist regime to fix agriculture made it a world loser. That would have been so even if it hadn't added in all its other crimes and follies.

The United States was very lucky that Russia paid the bills.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 14, 2003 4:07 PM

Harry -- Russia's losses weren't sacrifice, they were doctrine.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 14, 2003 4:57 PM


You've spent too much time reading crack-pot history. Widen your horizons.

Congrats, BTW

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at October 14, 2003 8:30 PM

Sheesh, I read Richard Pipes. Is he a crackpot?

Whom do you recommend?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 14, 2003 9:46 PM

Wherever you have gotten the take on the period that supports this affection/respect or personality cult view of Stalin as an indespensible man is crackpot history, it makes no sense. He was a tyrannical, brutal and evil despot and historians who have a take that in anyway excuses him are guided more by wishful thinking or ideology than the truth.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at October 15, 2003 8:50 AM

Hey folks--the source for this Ed Asner quote has since retracted it. Apparently, Asner never actually said it. Hard to believe the conservative media (World Net Daily is a Scaife-backed publication, and a downright seedy little "publication") would have fabricated something like this...

Damage is done, though. I doubt anyone will bother reading this little comment. Care to publicize the retraction, OJ?

P.S. Notwithstanding the origin of the fictional quote, knee-jerk anti-leftists should have at least considered the possibility that calling Stalin a "misunderstood" figure was hardly the same as denying he was a totalitarian, genocidal murderer.

Posted by: M. Bulger at October 15, 2003 3:20 PM

Mr. Bulger-

Why all of the left-wing support for Stalin before and after the non-agression pact with Germany? The American left was in bed to a large extant with the Stalinists. Many of those leftists who opposed the brutality of Stalin today describe themselves as neo-cons. Those leftists who made excuses or rationalizations for Stalin would make a rather long list.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at October 16, 2003 10:20 AM

I don't have any affection for Stalin, Tom. Nor for the czars. I'm an equal opportunity despiser.

I'm glad he set up Russia just strong enough (barely) to do most of the dying that otherwise Americans would have had to do. Tough for the Russians, but being Russian means you never have a nice day.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 16, 2003 4:13 PM


No, but you have much in common with the indespensible man and personality cultist view. I'm happy your political affections are directed elsewhere.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at October 17, 2003 10:39 AM