The Strange Case of Louis Budenz

“For three long and bitter years,” writes JOSEPH ALSOP, the Washington commentator, “in the White House, in Harry Hopkins‘s office, in Chungking on the staff of China‘s Foreign Minister, Dr. T. V. Soong, and in Kunming on the staff of General Chennault, I fought the Stilwell policy because I thought it would cost us China. I still think I was right. But I never felt the shadow of a reasonable doubt about the American loyally of the men on the other side. ” Mr. Alsop now proceeds to examine the charges Louis Budenz has made.


IN A short year and a half of appearances before Congressional committees, Louis F. Budenz has brought the charge of treason against no fewer than twoscore citizens of this republic. White-haired, pale-faced, looking like a conservative elderly lawyer in his dark,expensive suit, the eminent ex-Communist speaks with confident authority: “This man was a party member; that woman was under discipline; him we called one of ours.” In some sense, it has become his avocation; and there is every reason to expect that he will continue mass-producing treason charges so long as the Senatorial demand continues.

When Budenz speaks, moreover, he commands belief, for the reason he himself has given. ”I think the most truthful people in the world,” he has said, “are the ex-Communists, on the whole, and for this simple reason: They have learned how utterly incorrect is the morality of Lenin, the morality of deceiving for a cause. They have learned in pain and suffering. I want to assure you . . . they certainly have a resurrection within themselves, on the whole.”

On the basis of this now widely held theory, solid proofs are no longer demanded by press or Congress, as they were when Whittaker Chambers denounced Alger Hiss. Instead, the accuser speaks; the next morning’s headlines announce the accusation; and the accused is marked thereafter as a traitor to his country. By these means, while himself remaining a curiously shadowy figure, Louis Budenz has played the decisive part in convincing numbers of our people that treachery teems in all departments of our national life. yet an inner resurrection is at least a novel substitute for the due process of the law. And it is time, therefore, to determine whether Budenz genuinely is one of “the most truthful people in the world.”

As to the man himself, he is an Indianan, born of a simple Catholic family, an unstable personality, who drifted into the American left-wing ferment in his early youth and became a Communist in middle age, in 1935. Within the party, he rose by gradual stages to editorship of the Daily Worker, but in 1945 left the party and returned to the Church. On the rule of more joy over one saved sinner than ninety and nine just men, he soon gained a wide and profitable audience for his lectures, articles, and books on Communism. He was also appointed to teach at Fordham University.

Above all, in the first, four years after he had left the Communist Party, Louis Budenz worked with the FBI. He helped the FBI agents to discover or confirm the activities of such key Soviet agents as J. Peters and Gerhart Eisler. He appeared for them as an expert witness in the courts. In particular, in day after day and even week after week of question and answer, he added to the FBI lists of hidden Communists.

Budenz himself has proudly boasted that “no [other] American has given so many hours to the FBI, and at all hours of the day and night, and at any time . . . eighteen hours a week . . . every week holiday and the whole Christmas holidays and all the other times I could be reached. ” His own estimate of the time thus consumed is 3000 hours, or the staggering equivalent of 375 eighthour days in the short space of four years. This should be carefully noted. For it is important that Louis Budenz had these ample opportunities to search every nook and cranny of his memory for the names of lurking traitors before he came to his second great turning point, in 1950.

Copyright 1952, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston 16, Mass.All right reserved

By 1950, Budenz had been drawn into the special coterie of people who live in a feverish atmosphere of ferreting out Communist plots. The borderline is hazy, for these people, between the mere supposition of Communist connections and the actual knowledge of them. Finally, it is interesting that Budenz was particularly intimate with this coterie’s China specialist, Alfred Kohlberg. Kohlberg was one of the original inspirers of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin, and he thus provides a link of sorts between McCarthy and Budenz, who in 1950 emerged as the Senator’s rescuer-in-chief.

The nature of Budenz’s new departure is vividly illustrated by the simple chronology of the case of Owen Lattimore. Lattimore is the learned Johns Hopkins professor with an unfortunate habit of being silly about Far Eastern politics, whom McCarthy grandiosely called the “top Communist agent” in the United States.

During his 3000 previous hours with the FBI, Louis Budenz had never suggested that this top Communist” was even a part-time party member. In 1947, he had said to a State Department investigator that he “did not recall any instances” suggesting Lattimore was a Communist. In 1949, he had gone even further, flatly telling an editor of Collier’s magazine, Leonard Parris, that Lattimore, “though misguided,” had never “acted as a Communist in any way.”

Then in March, 1950, McCarthy made his celebrated charges that the State Department was infested with 57, or 81, or 205 “card-carrying Communists” and sympathizers, and he followed up with his attack on Lattimore. In the same month of March, Budenz went to the FBI to denounce Lattimore as a Communist for the first time. Shortly thereafter, McCarthy significantly announced that he would stake his case on Lattimore, and in April, Budenz duly went before the investigating committee headed by Senator Millard E. Tydings of Maryland, to declare in public testimony that Lattimore was indeed a Communist. The coincidences in timing are at least odd.

To the Tydings committee, Budenz explained that he had lied about Lattimore to Leonard Parris and the State Department investigator because he followed the rule of making his disclosures to the FBI alone. He did not explain why he waited so long to let the FBI into the secret; he just said he and the FBI agents had so many other things to talk about that he had never got around to Lattimore, even in 3000 hours. He did not offer any documentary proofs, or claim to know Lattimore was a Communist from his own knowledge; he just said several other Communists had told him so.

It was the word of Budenz in 1950 against the word of Budenz in 1949 — plus, of course, the word of Lattimore. Lattimore made a poor witness. A good many people took the word of Budenz in 1950, and the doubt thus created about the man on whom McCarthy had staked his case was the chief factor in saving the vociferous Senator from universal, immediate discredit.

Such was Louis Budenz’s first experiment in the highly novel technique of the belated recollection and the hearsay accusation of treason. On the whole it was successful, and it seems to have greatly stimulated Budenz’s memory. At the next Congressional session, Senator Pat McCarran of Nevada launched his internal security subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Budenz was called as chief witness, and displayed a truly remarkable improvement in his recapture of the past.

For example, he had told the Tydings committee that Harrison Forman, a writer who had been foolish about China in the Lattimore manner, “was not, so far as I know, a Communist.” But he now boldly testified that he “knew Forman was a Communist from official reports”; and he only substituted the milder charge, that Forman was a close fellow-traveler, after another day’s reflection and perhaps a quick glance at the Tydings transcript. Overall, besides mentioning many known party members and certain other men and women he had previously accused before the Tydings committee, Budenz now applied the technique of the belated recollection and the hearsay accusation of treason to more than twenty persons never before labeled as Communists.

The following is the precise exchange concerning one of these newly accused men, who is vital to our inquiry. The Met arran subcommittee counsel, Robert Morris, is the first speaker.

Mu. Mounts: Air. Budenz, was John carter Vincent a member of the Communist Party?

MR. BUDENZ: From official reports I have received, he was.

This man Vincent was, and is, a ranking State Department official the first such to be seriously charged with actual Communist Party membership since the conviction of Alger Hiss. The Hiss case, in turn, is Louis Budenz’s greatest support; any little peculiarities in his testimony tend to be overlooked when he repeats his favorite reminder that Whittaker Chambers was not at first believed.

Yet when Whittaker Chambers broke with the Communists, he at once accused Hiss, and offered a wealth of detail and, in the end, documents to support the accusation; but when Louis Budenz left the Communist Party, John Carter Vincent occupied the high and sensitive post of chief of the State Department division of Far Eastern affairs, and Budenz waited four years and eight months, until late in April, 1950, to murmur his first warning against Vincent to the FBI. Just previously, he had refused to accuse Vincent before the Tydings committee, on the grounds that he had to be “careful” and was not sure. Neither his remarkably long lapse of memory, nor his queer uncertainties at the Tydings hearing, nor his memory’s sudden recovery immediately thereafter, has ever been explained in any way.

When Louis Budenz finally accused John Carter Vincent, he spoke only of “official reports” — were they the same “reports” mentioned in the hastily revised testimony about Harrison Forman? Furthermore, Budenz added to his naked accusation of Vincent only one hard fact, concerning Henry A. Wallace’s journey to China in the spring of 1944. Vincent had gone along as Wallace’s State Department adviser, and Owen Lattimore also accompanied the Vice Presidential party, as a representative of the Office of War Information. At the McCarran hearing, Budenz was reminded of this past assignment of Vincent’s and Lattimore’s. He replied readily that the Politburo of the American Communist Party had indeed “followed the Wallace trip with a great deal of interest,” and had moreover relied on John Carter Vincent and Owen Lattimore to “guide” Henry Wallace “along the paths” of the Communist party line.

The reader should note and mark this seemingly trivial fragment of Budenz’s testimony, with its color of plausibility borrowed from Wallace’s later record as a Communist stooge; for this statement by Budenz was a significant novelty. In all his long previous performance as a witness, Budenz had quoted liberally from conversation with fellow Communists who could not be called to the stand in their turn. He had frequently cited documents which could never be produced, lie had charged great numbers of people with secret. Communism. But he had never once described any significant past event in terms directly subject to coarse, suspicious, independent check. Now, however, his brief words about the Wallace journey could be easily contrasted with what actually and demonstrably happened.


AT the time of Wallace’s Chinese mission, I was a lieutenant on the staff of Major General Claire L. Chennault’s Fourteenth Air Force, serving as the General‘s personal adviser and living in his little house among the rice paddies outside Kunming. As a pre-war newspaperman, I had known Wallace fairly well. Vincent I knew slightly — as a diplomatic bureaucrat, who showed the marks of twenty fairly easygoing years as a China specialist in the Foreign Service. Since I had this acquaintance with Wallace and Vincent, General Chennault, who loathed all VIPs, deputed me to act as their subhost during their visit to our headquarters.

Protocol governed the arrangements. Lattimore, the public relations man, was sent off to stay with Chinese professor friends in Kunming City; the Vice President and his State Department adviser were quartered in General Chennault’s two guest rooms. Wallace and Vincent and I then plunged into the standard, ghastly schedule for VIPs, which Wallace varied by dragooning reluctant sergeants into volleyball games.

As it happened, Kunming was Wallace’s last stop in China. He had already spent several days in Chungking in conversations with the Generalissimo, but he had not yet formed the opinion about China which his position required him to express. Since I was both near at hand and the only American in the country whom he laid ever really known before, he asked my views about the Chinese situation. My answer both startled and impressed him, and he promptly Called Vincent and me to an informal conference at General Chennault’s house.

Vincent attended with an air of being amused that Wallace should presume to form any judgment whatever of China’s complex problems. Then a cable to President Roosevelt began to be discussed. Vincent’s sharp features lighted up; he seemed to take fire at the opportunity of getting something done; and he powerfully seconded my pleas. Vincent’s intervention convinced the doubting Wallace. I typed out the message to the President, Wallace signed it, and I filed it through the Kunming Consulate the same day, which was June 26, 1944. In sum,Wallace urgently recommended the immediate dismissal of the American Theater Commander, General Joseph W. Stilwell, and he suggested General Albert C. Wedemeyer as Stilwell’s replacement.

Such is the true story of the first proposal of the Stilwell-Wedemeyer shift, which later came so close to saving China. The circumstances were a bit ludicrous, if you like. Wallace was boldly advising the transplantation of generals he had never seen. It was outrageously improper, it was perhaps a court-martial offense, for a mere lieutenant in uniform to be involved in such an affair. Even Vincent might better have held Wallace back, instead of urging him on — “guiding” him, in fact — to such drastic, impulsive action. Yet Wallace’s initiative was none the less historic, and it bears most directly on the case of Louis Budenz.

The great step — the step over which Wallace hesitated until Vincent persuaded him — was the dismissal of General Stilwell. And in that spring of 1944, Stilwell was more than a mere Theater Commander; he was a major national policy. For months, Stilwell had been bravely but blindly leadins his troops in the jungles of Burma. For months, meanwhile, he had refused to aid or arm the forces of Chiang Kai-shek, while the Japanese swept over the rich Eastern provinces and the Communist guerrillas flowed in behind. As a result, China had reached “the real turning point” when “the Generalissimo’s government was undermined, militarily and politically,” while the Chinese Communists were decisively “strengthened, by so much as the Generalissimo . . . was weakened.” The quotations come from General Chennaull s clairvoyant letter of resignation, written in 1945.

Furthermore, General Stilwell also had political views. Disagreements about Burma had long before caused him to concentrate all his strong hatred on the Generalissimo. Hating Chining Kaishek, he had come to wish for Chiang’s “elimination” and to cherish a sentimental admiration for Chiang’s enemies, the Chinese. Communists, whom he called the “only hope” of the Chinese masses and the only people “really lighting the Japs.” And in June, 1944, General Stilwell was aclually maturing a plan to provide the Chinese Communists with American arms on a great scale, so that they could “light the Japs” more effectively.

In short, political folly and personal vengefulness had transformed the brave and picturesque Stilwell into the Chinese Communists‘ great wartime hope, whose loss would be an irreparable blow to them. The fact was formally acknowledged in July, 1944, by Mao Tse-tung himself, when he secretly offered General Stilwell full and direct command of till Communist forces in China. If Stilwell had actually succeeded in transferring American support from Chiang to Mao, he would surely have brought the Communists to power in China before the end of the war, just its Churchill brought the Communists to power in Yugoslavia In transferring his backing from Mikhailovitch to Tito.

Instead, in the very nick of time, the Generalissimo at last found courage to insist on Stilwell s recall. Thus, m October, 1914, the Communist triumph in China was automatically deferred when President Roosevelt carried out to the letter the same Wallace-Vincent recommendations which he had ignored in June.


AGAINST these facts we may check Louis Budenz’s statement, under oath, that John Carter Vincent and Owen Lattimore “guided” Henry Wallace “along the paths” of the Communist party line in China.

Baltimore was in Kunming until the Wallace party left for home. He knew nothing whatever about the Kunming cable which was Wallace’s only significant contribution to American policy in China. Hence he cannot be said to have guided Wallace in any way that mattered. Vincent unquestionably and most fruitfully guided Wallace. The result was the Kunming cable, urging the dismissal of General Stilwell and the appointment of General Wedemeyer, which was the heaviest blow that could then be struck at the Communist cause in China. Thus documentary evidence and historic fact join to condemn Louis Budenz on the first occasion when he has exposed himself to any lest by either facts or documents.

When this was pointed out last September, not long after Budenz‘s original testimony, Senator Herbert H. Lehman of New York demanded an investigation. Henry Wallace then sent President Truman the documents and facts. The President referred these to ihe Senate. And the McCarran subcommittee, after long delays and with visible reluctance, recalled Budenz to ihe witness stand.

This subcommittee is, in itself, a clew in Budenz‘s strange case. It is dominated by the aged, bitterly prejudiced McCarran, while its real work is done by the counsel, Robert Morris. Morris left his New York law practice to work for the pro-McCarthy minority of the Tydings committee. He joined McCarthy in pre-planning the notorious subsequent campaign to smear Tydings as “soft” towards Communism. He was the original link between McCarthy and the mysterious J. E. Farrand, paymaster of the Negro ex-Communist forger whom McCarthy hired to spy on John Carter incent’s doings as American Minister to Switzerland.

Since Louis Budenz was and is Morris’s chief witness, it was hardly surprising that Budenz’s rehearing was entirely dominated by Budenz himself. The Senators and their counsel have justly earned a reputation for a rough way with witnesses; but they most graciously deferred to this man who was now charged with falsely accusing his fellow citizens of treason against the United States. Primly, a little nervously, yet with voluble assurance, Budenz repeated that John Carter Vincent was indeed a Communist, and closed the small gap in his former testimony by swearing that the Wallace mission to China had indeed carried out a “Communist objective.”

Yet even a remote challenge caused Budenz to sink deeper in the mire of conflict with historic fact, He replied as follows to gentle questioning about Wallace’s suggestion of the intensely anti-Communist General Wedemeyer as General Stilwell‘s successor in China: —

“Wedemeyer was a good compromise. [The Communists] were not opposed to Wedemeyer [at that time]. They thought he was not political. The Communists were very much opposed to General Chennault, and didn’t want him in the picture at all. . . .Wedemeyer in 1944 was not unacceptable . . . since it excluded General Chennault.”

Listening to Budenz‘s words in the study little hearing room, I recalled the conversation Wallace and Vincent and I had had more than seven years before. For Wallace’s first choice to succeed General Stilwell was none other than General Chennault, the man the Communists “very much opposed.”Furthermore, John Carter Vincent was very far indeed from “not wanting Chennault in the picture at all”; if I recall correctly, Vincent remarked that we should have had no trouble in China if Chennault had commanded there from the first. And it was I who pointed out that nominating Chennault would be worse than self-defeating, since the Pentagon hated him. It was I who “excluded" my own chief, and instead proposed the nomination of the “not unacceptable ” Wedemeyer.

The rest of Budenz‘s second testimony was about on a par with the staggering suggestion that Genoral Wedemeyer was promoted by Communist influence. For example, when President Roosevelt at last dismissed Stilwell, the Daily) Worker had been visibly caught with its party line down, being torn between the overriding wartime injunction against criticism of Roosevelt, and horror at the catastrophe of which Roosevelt was the author. The first compromise was a series of agonized articles avoiding the forbidden criticism of Roosevelt‘s act but calling Stilwell the Communists’ “favorite general,” expressing the gravest “concern,” and blaming the whole business on “Dewey reactionaries"—then the worst billingsgate in the party lexicon. It was not until six weeks later, after General Wedemeyer had politely praised his predecessor’s policies, that a Worker column by Frederick Vanderbilt Field at last told the faithful to stop worrying about the loss of General Stilwell.

Yet at his rehearing, Louis Budenz utterly ignored the Worker‘s first reactions, seized on Field‘s column, and declared it showed that the Communists were downright delighted by the event which nearly cost them China.

Budenz did not explain, and he was not asked, how the removal of Stilwell could possibly have been a “Communist objective” at the very moment when Mao Tse-tung was offering Stilwell command of the Communist armies in China. Indeed, he did not even mention the really crucial problem, taking refuge instead in a new and very special claim.

The Communist party line, he said, was too mysterious for any but the initiated to understand. The Senators nodded. Robert Morris all but applauded. And as the party line’s true and authorized interpreter, Louis Budenz then repealed his charge against John Carter Vincent, and left the witness stand in a little buzz of congratulation.

Only one further set of facts is needed to complete our inquiry. In August, 1950, Henry Wallace provided Alfred Kohlberg with the gist of his Kunming cable, at Kohl berg’s own request. Kohlberg, visibly bewildered, replied with a letter to Wallace stating that “the wisdom of your recommendation [from China] was soon proven by history.” According to his own subsequent statement, Kohlberg also told his friend Budenz how Wallace had urged the Stilwell-Wedemeyer shift. Hence, Budenz already knew the truth about Wallace’s China mission when he accused John Carter Vincent before the McCarran subcommittee in August, 1951. On these grounds, when I appeared before the subcommittee, I formally suggested that the case of Louis Budenz should be transferred to the Justice Department, for investigation of perjury.

The reader now has all the data. He may himself decide whether John Carter Vincent was indeed following the party line when he helped to strike the heaviest possible blow at the Communist cause in China; or whether Louis Budenz was falsely accusing Vincent when he made this charge.

In this China story that mainly preoccupies our Congressional treason-hunters, I was myself deeply and perhaps wrongly involved. For three long and bitter years, in the White House, in Harry Hopkins‘s office, in Chungking on the staff of China’s Foreign Minister, Dr. T. V. Soong, and in Kunming on the staff of General Chennault, I fought the Stilwell policy because I thought it would cost us China. I still think I was right. But in the most squalid moment of that long and squalid struggle, I never felt the shadow of a reasonable doubt, nor even the shadow of a shadow, about the American loyalty of Stilwell and the men working with him. And I have no such doubts today.

Yet this is not the real point. There are two real points. Bad judgment, grossly bad judgment, was the true cause of the loss of China. In that bad judgment, almost everyone was implicated — from General Stilwell, who almost brought the Communists to power; to General MacArthur, who refused to lend General Wedemeyer the seven American divisions that might have contained the Communists in Manchuria; to the American people, who insisted on the post-war demobilization. By treason-hunting, we avoid sane inquiry into these bad judgments of the past, and so prepare for the bad judgments of the future.

And by this treason-hunting, also, we lightly east aside those old liberties and ancient safeguards for which our forefathers fought and died. The story of Vincent and Budenz shows that even the nature and meaning of men’s acts may now be disregarded. A man is called a Communist, with no proof offered. He tv proves, in answer, that he has in fact behaved in an intensely anti-Communist manner. Yet the accusation is still allowed to stand. If these new rules are generally adopted, the informers may be coming, one fine day, for you, and you, and you, and me.