Defaming the Cold Warriors
West, Bukovsky, and Stroilov are wrong about FDR — and about the American century.


Conrad Black

It is a painful but implacable duty to return to the dismaying subject of Diana West’s book, American Betrayal, about which she has written, in the last few days, “The war of words is over.” Her authority for this triumphalist expression of relief is that Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky and his co-commentator Pavel Stroilov have described Mrs. West’s book as “huge and brilliant.” Part of their review of her book, and much of the debate, has been a fierce firefight including a considerable, though often somewhat entertaining, volume of recriminations that asperse the rigor, motivations, ideological orientation, integrity, and sanity of the two sides. I do not fit any of the stereotypes erected and riddled with high-explosive projectiles by both sides, and am merely a non-American biographer of Roosevelt and strategic historian (as well as other occupations), of impeccable conservative credentials, who has uttered no personal critique of the protagonists (I have enjoyed the previous work of Mrs. West that I have seen). And I am generally outside the circular firing squad that has been debating these issues, and so have not had to repair to the field hospital or even the dressing station, and am unafflicted in wind and limb by the tremendous exchange of ordnance this debate, if it can be so described, has provoked.

I will try to illuminate the battlefield without injuring anyone unnecessarily, since I am usually in some sympathy with all the combatants. Vladimir Bukovsky, after twelve years in Soviet labor camps and psychiatric hospitals, commands respect as a man, but his article with Mr. Stroilov is, to say the least, unrigorous, and certainly does not end the war of words. It merely escalates it, though I will not reply with greater violence. Let us consider what he wrote, in defense of Mrs. West’s assertions that the United States was betrayed by its governments, opposite Soviet Communism, from the 1930s through the 1980s, and then let us return, very succinctly, to the indisputable facts.

I agree with the spirit and object of Bukovsky and Stroilov’s question of how could “this great civilization of ours have [been -- it is a transitive verb] degraded into such a hypocritical nonsense as political correctness.” In this, all the warriors who have raised their faces above the parapets are on the same side. Bukovsky and Stroilov begin with another good thrashing of the useful idiots of the Western intelligentsia and media who whitewashed Stalin’s pre-war crimes. No argument here, and all of them, from Bernard Shaw and Nancy Astor to Walter Duranty, should never go more than a few months without being exhumed and dragged back to the woodshed. Where it all starts to go horribly wrong is in the sudden metamorphosis of Duranty into Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who, Bukovsky has learned, presumably from whatever unimaginable emanations possessed him in his decades of brave resistance to Communism and in his apparently incomplete convalescence since, sought a “convergence” of Stalinist socialism with American constitutional government. This was a process that “had already begun, as the Roosevelt administration was full of Soviet agents of influence, including Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, and crucially, Harry Hopkins — FDR’s alter ego, his ‘personal foreign secretary,’ and the most powerful man in the White House” (presumably not excluding the president himself). These, we read, are “proven facts” of “the glorious FDR administration.”

Bukovsky and Stroilov write that the Western democracies entered the war to “defend the freedom of Poland,” and “ended it by surrendering Poland and a dozen other nations to a totalitarian empire worse than Hitler’s. Was this really a victory?” Yes, it was, though if Soviet dissidents were expecting the Anglo-Americans to sweep away the Soviet Union while they were at the preparatory task of defeating Nazism in the West and the Japanese imperialists in the Pacific, they were bound to be disappointed. When Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933, the banking and stock- and commodities-exchange systems had collapsed and were closed sine die; unemployment was 33 percent and there was no direct federal relief for the victims of it. Roosevelt was a capitalist and he saved capitalism. He made mistakes, as he said he would, but he salvaged 95 percent of the system, maintained the moral integrity of the country, and focused the rage and frustration of the era on the country’s true enemies — foreign imperialists. The charge of aspiring to a blended system with Stalinist Communism, with its liquidations and gulags, is unfounded and disgusting. FDR considered it an equivalent evil to Nazism and publicly said so during the Russo-Finnish war, and privately many times, including in his correspondence with Pius XII.


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