The Right’s Schism on History

by Conrad Black
Getting the past wrong is a threat to the future.

This is not a return to Diana West’s book. However, Andy McCarthy, a man for whom I have very great respect and whom I like very much, has written a review of it in The New Criterion that, because of its revisionist presentation of a number of historical events, is among the most discouraging political documents I have read in many years. Mr. McCarthy, a former prosecutor and distinguished and perceptive writer of the sensible Right, has frequently inspired me by his writing, and when I met him, at a difficult time in my own former travails, by his conversation also. I confidently turned to his review of Ms. West’s American Betrayal, which readers of this column will find it hard to forget after the robust knockabout the book received here and in her reply to me. The rigor of the review and its application to the book are matters I will address in a letter to The New Criterion, which the editor of that publication graciously invited, as I am mentioned, quite unexceptionably, in the review.

What seriously depresses me are three positions taken in the review. First is Andy McCarthy’s view that the scandalous, cowardly refusal of the mainstream elite of American culture and politics to recognize that America’s Islamist enemies are enemies can be traced to Soviet infiltration of the U.S. government in World War II. It is a fact that alarms and disgusts all of us in this debate, including Ms. West and her more vocal (than I am) critics, but I do not agree about the source of the problem. Second is Andy’s qualified accommodation, as worthy of reasonable consideration, of the claims by Ms. West that Lend-Lease was at least in significant part a mistaken reinforcement of Stalinist totalitarianism to the ultimate detriment of the West; that the Normandy invasion served Stalin’s purposes and enhanced his penetration of Western Europe; that Franklin D. Roosevelt was more or less ambivalent about the comparative virtues of Stalinist Communism and Western democracy (though he acknowledges that FDR disapproved of the barbarism of Stalin’s rule); that the Yalta agreement “gave” Stalin half of Europe; and that the Roosevelt and Truman administrations were so significantly influenced in a pro-Soviet direction by Soviet agents and such arch-sympathizers that the distinction between an agent and a sympathizer was academic in the United States. And third, I am distressed by Andy McCarthy’s partial defense of Joseph R. McCarthy and his conclusion that the smear of McCarthy enabled Communism and anti-American reflexes to flourish in the United States through all the intervening years and are responsible for the inadequate general response to the Islamist threat that, I repeat, all the participants in this very heated and prolonged exchange revile in almost equally emphatic strictures.

The unanimity on this last point underlines the source of my concern. A relatively united Right, which included Diana West and other participants in this discussion, exercised a great influence in assisting President Reagan and his followers and collaborators in mobilizing opinion to support his arms buildup, his development of anti-missile defenses, his stiffening of the backbone of the Western alliance, and the consensus he helped create for a rollback of the Soviet intrusions in Central America, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the imposition of martial law in Poland. That unity of the influential Right was vitally important to the course corrections that lifted the United States and the West out of the inanities and shabby compromises of the Carter era, and led the world to the collapse of the Soviet Union and of international Communism, and to the triumph of democracy and market economics in most of the world. The New Criterion itself played an important and distinguished role in the intellectual phase of that struggle. Diana West, Andy McCarthy, and most of those who have supported and opposed Ms. West in this controversy all played their parts, and there is credit for all of them in the result: the greatest and most bloodless strategic victory in the history of the nation-state.

A schism as profound as this controversy has now become will splinter the Right and render it incapable of united action, and perpetuate the precise condition that Andy decries and mistakenly lays at the door of Soviet wartime infiltration, both directly and through sympathizers. The process of fragmenting the Right, in this now notorious instance, began with Ms. West’s frequently, though not entirely, outrageous book, but for a writer of the stature of Andy McCarthy to take the positions mentioned above, and for The New Criterion to lend the exposition of those opinions the mantle of its earned prestige, is, and to say the least, very worrisome.

To address substantively the sources of my concern cited above: The United States government under Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized that the United States had to become engaged in the world or the anti-democratic forces would subdue or exterminate democracy everywhere in the world except the Americas (and there wasn’t much among what FDR generously called “our sister republics” to the south), and if the U.S. were not engaged in Europe and the Far East, everything would be at risk, every generation. He spoke German well (he always spoke German with Dr. Einstein) and saw from the start, even before Churchill, that it would be impossible to coexist with Hitler. He doubted that France could hold Germany and, when France fell, saw that only war between Germany and the USSR would prevent the complete and durable German domination of all of Central and Western continental Europe. He warned Stalin that if he made his pact with Hitler, Hitler would turn on him after he had disposed of France; he warned Stalin of the imminent German attack, and told Stalin when the Japanese withdrew their forces to the south from the Soviet-Manchurian border, so Stalin could reinforce Moscow and Leningrad with forces from the Far East for their final defense at the end of 1941.

Roosevelt had no liking for Stalin or his regime, condemned it in the Russo-Finnish War, and repeatedly, publicly and privately, stated his distaste for it. But he knew that the Anglo-Americans were not going to provide the 400 divisions that would have been necessary to land amphibiously in the West to dislodge Hitler, and that there was no substitute for Stalin as a source of manpower (i.e., battle deaths and casualties) to do so. He and Churchill agreed as soon as Hitler attacked Stalin that the USSR had to be assisted, and it is nonsense to state that they gave him more than was necessary. There was always a danger of another separate peace between Germany and the USSR, and discussions were initiated between them in Stockholm between the Russian victory at Stalingrad and the Tehran Conference. But Roosevelt wanted Stalin on board for the purpose of assisting in the defeat of Germany and Japan (if atomic weapons didn’t work), not for anything else. He declined to advance a cent of promised post-war assistance ($6.5 billion) until Stalin honored his commitments to a free, liberated Eastern Europe; rejected any Soviet presence on the Italian occupation authority; and objected to a demarcation of occupation zones in Germany because he believed that the Germans would surrender in the West and fight to the last cartridge in the East after the West crossed the Rhine (which happened), and that the West should capture Berlin. (He was outvoted on the demarcation of zones in Germany by Churchill and Stalin at the European Advisory Commission. Stalin was afraid the West would occupy Berlin, and Churchill, because the British had only 14 divisions on the Western Front, feared that he would end up with a postage-stamp-sized zone.) Truman stopped all Lend-Lease aid to the USSR as soon as the European war ended. Eisenhower never attached one jot of credence to the nonsense about invading up the Adriatic (Operation Armpit, it was called), which would have given Stalin all Germany and probably France while the Americans, British, Canadians, and French bumbled about in the Alps.

Roosevelt thought that the U.S. would stay about where it was ideologically, or move slightly to the left through such measures as his G.I. Bill of Rights, but that Communism was such nonsense it would eventually gravitate toward social democracy; this does not justify any of these alarmist Ahas about his views of “convergence.” Yalta did not give Stalin anything, which is why he violated every clause of it. There is not one scintilla of acceptable historical evidence that the supposed 500 Soviet agents, “many of them operating at the very highest levels of the federal government,” existed in such numbers or influenced American foreign policy in these most important matters at all, or that any actual policymaker from Roosevelt down thought of anything except the national interest of the United States and the desirability of the reign of democracy within countries and of international law among them.

Joseph R. McCarthy may have made a point about a loyalty issue, which was followed up satisfactorily by Richard Nixon in the Eisenhower administration. But Andy cannot just gloss over as a mere mistake his denunciation on the floor of the Senate at great length of General Marshall, as the author of the treasonable surrender of much of Europe and all of China to the Communists. Marshall did as much as almost anyone to contain Communism by his conduct in war and as secretary of state, originator of the Marshall Plan, and co-founder of NATO. The founder of this publication, Bill Buckley, a dear friend, because of his many virtues and charms, got away with a lot in his shabby defense of McCarthy with Brent Bozell, which he later effectively recanted. I don’t accuse Diana West of McCarthyism, but Stanton Evans’s whitewash of him is not the pristine triumph of revisionist scholarship Andy presents.

I put it to all of them that the reason for the enfeeblement of America today is not World War II: The United States and its allies wiped the floor with the Nazis and Japanese and then the Communists. It is, rather, the destruction of the Nixon administration and the scuttling of the anti-Communist effort in Indochina in a false avalanche of misplaced sanctimony by the self-hating Left that has done this damage. The public has never forgiven the mainstream media for what they did, and those media have never ceased to congratulate themselves for it and to deluge themselves with professional commendations and awards. After the halcyon interlude of the unique Ronald Reagan, the bloodless assassins of Nixon have gradually worked, as a sequel, toward a policy of supine appeasement of America’s enemies, including militant Islam. If Diana West and Andy McCarthy and their facilitators split the intellectual Right with a revival of the Yalta Myth and its accompanying defamations, they will push the governance of America into the lap of the soft left-center, the sodden, hopeless lumpenbourgeoisie that will sink and take the country with them into the arms of an unkind Morpheus, nodding before CNN and eating Twinkies. As the last pre-revolutionary prime minister of Russia said: “It is time to pray.” (Although it didn’t do much good then and probably wouldn’t in this hypothesis either.)

— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, A Matter of Principle, and the recently published Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership. He can be reached at [email protected].