Diana West’s Epic Fail
She gets history spectacularly wrong.

Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Conference, 1945.


Conrad Black

Diana West has exercised her right of rebuttal to the heavy barrage of criticism her book American Betrayal attracted, and mentioned my column in this space on the subject several weeks ago as one to which she was replying. I was deemed to be in the “echo chamber” of a number of critics most of whose comments I have not read. Her book made some startling assertions and attracted severe rejoinders, including mine. I don’t know most of those whom she purports to contradict, and I will not join the minute, line-by-line connection she draws between passages of her book and specific charges by Ron Radosh. I am not one of those whom she can possibly include as making an ad hominem attack on her; I don’t know her, and have never commented on her as a person. She expends considerable space and robust vocabulary attacking “conventional, tightly blinkered historiography” and especially historians from several eminent American universities. Again, this has no possible application to me. I am a stand-alone Roosevelt biographer.

The basic rebuttal process she uses, of miring the exchange in dogmatic argument about the precise meaning of particular words, is a time-honored method of breaking even in the opinion of readers and onlookers by boring everyone in equal-opportunity, no-fault, total-immersion nitpicking. But it is not really successful. Ms. West rises up like a cobra in self-righteous anger at the imputation to her of the opinion that “the FDR administration was ‘run’ by Soviet agents.” But she affirms that “the strategic placement of hundreds of agents of Stalin’s influence inside the U.S. government and other institutions amounted to a de facto occupation. . . . The vast and deep extent of Communist penetration, heretofore denied, had in fact reached a tipping point to become a de facto Communist occupation of the American center of power.”

Precisely these words were among those to which I objected. There were Communist sympathizers and outright Soviet agents in all American administrations from Woodrow Wilson to George H. W. Bush, as there were in all foreign governments (and as there were Western agents in the Soviet government, because naturally and ideologically adversarial regimes do spy on one another), and there were probably more such agents in the Roosevelt administration than in other American governments, which is unsurprising given economic conditions in the Thirties and the common war effort from 1941 to 1945. But there is no evidence, in Ms. West’s book or elsewhere, that they materially influenced policy, any of them, on either side.

Ms. West wrote:

Newly declassified FBI and Senate records [show that] the United States wasn’t just riddled by Communist agents; we were for all intents and purposes occupied by a small army — a small army being just what this kind of war requires. Expert estimates now peg the number of Americans assisting Soviet intelligence agencies during the 1930s and 1940s as exceeding five hundred. Not one Aldrich Ames. Not two Rosenbergs. Not five “magnificent” Cambridgers. More than five hundred willing and variously able American traitors, many operating at the very highest levels of the federal government, with who knows how many more in support roles. This was a national security fiasco of a magnitude that has never, ever, entered national comprehension. . . .

The Roosevelt administration, penetrated, fooled, subverted, in effect hijacked, by Soviet agents, as a matter of national policy, mixed them up [U.S. war interests and Soviet war interests], much to the world’s deep, vast suffering. This “sell-out” to Stalin, as critics tagged it (and they didn’t know the half of it), would become a bone of sharpest and most vociferous contention that the conspirators of silence on the Left, in the Democratic Party, and among the Washington elites would bury for as long as possible, desperately throwing mud over it and anyone who wanted to let the sun shine in.


The publication of the Yalta papers would [in the word of Truman State Department official G. Bernard Noble] “embarrass” too many people. . . . I do argue that the U.S. relationship with the Soviet Union from recognition (1933) forward precipitated a moral decline that grew from our government’s continual need to lie to cover up Soviet crime, even against this country and its citizens, in order to continue such relations and, later, military alliance. This alliance, I argue, drew us into actual and increasing complicity with one genocidal monster to defeat another genocidal monster.

And elsewhere:

I believe that [Joseph R.] McCarthy was generally right. . . . There was indeed massive, Kremlin-directed Communist infiltration of the U.S. government that he and other elected officials from both parties set out to uncover in the 1940s and 1950s.

So this was all Ms. West was alleging. It is a distinction without a difference: She accuses the four-times-chosen leader of the nation of being a Stalinist dupe whose administration was hijacked by the Kremlin, and replies to the immense debunking she has endured with a tired squeak of unsubdued, recidivistic McCarthyism. We are not told who these “hundreds of agents of Stalin’s influence,” who achieved “a de facto Communist occupation of the American center of power,” were. Nor are we told who these 500 traitors were, who were able to replicate or exceed the espionage of the Rosenbergs and the Cambridge Five. Nor is there a hint of who — among the 500 — were the specific traitors who operated at the “very highest levels of the federal government,” or of what, in their perfervid treason, they accomplished for Stalin.

As for Yalta, all the accounts of all three participating countries, and all the memoirs of all the participants from all three countries, are available (and I have read them). And there is nothing embarrassing to anyone in any of it, apart from Sergei Beria’s acknowledgement that even Stalin found it embarrassing to tap the conversations of his guests at Tehran and Yalta — which they assumed was happening, and they spoke accordingly.

This is what Ron Radosh called it: McCarthyism on steroids. It is reminiscent, specifically, of McCarthy’s denunciation, in Wheeling, W.Va ., on February 9, 1950, of the unnamed 205 Communists in the State Department.

An exhaustive scrutiny of the facts and records does not reveal anything to justify such claims. The great Republican security check of 1953 of the entire federal civil service, the thoroughness of which even McCarthy did not question, revealed — as Richard Nixon told the nation on March 13, 1954 — only 422 who had ever had subversive connections, and none of them were prominent or were suspected of espionage. Ms. West effectively buys into the “conspiracy so immense,” by which General Marshall gave Eastern Europe to Stalin and China to Mao. Anyone who has been, to put it in McCarthyese, a “handmaiden” of such anti-American defamers, does not deserve to be indulged for a second, unrepentant assault on the same innocent victims of her malicious vitriol.