Politics & Policy

Diana West’s Epic Fail

She gets history spectacularly wrong.

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.

Let us cut through this fraudulent and completely unsubstantiated claim of documentary discovery of pandemic and profound treason and consider the facts. Franklin D. Roosevelt, on February 10, 1940, publicly condemned the Soviets’ justification for their invasion of Finland as “unadulterated twaddle,” and declared the Soviet dictatorship to be “as absolute as any other dictatorship in the world.” Roosevelt knew that Great Britain and France did not have the strength to stop Hitler, that Hitler had to be defeated for Western civilization to be secure, and that the winners of World War II would be the alliance that ended in possession of Western Europe and Japan. He reinforced the embargo of oil on Japan, which relied on the U.S. for 80 percent of its oil, to force the Japanese to attack the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) to obtain the oil they needed to continue their aggression against China and Indochina; and he told Stalin when the Japanese armies that had been on the Siberian border had withdrawn, enabling Stalin to commit 400,000 more men to the final defense of Moscow and Leningrad in the autumn of 1941. He resided in the Soviet embassy during the Tehran conference in 1943, to encourage Stalin to support a Western Allied invasion of northern France (rather than the attack up the Adriatic that Churchill was advocating), even if it was because Stalin believed, as the British suspected he did, that the Germans would repulse the attack in France. Thus did Roosevelt ensure Stalin’s championship of the strategy that would, in turn, ensure that the West and not the USSR would end the war in control of Germany and France. It was the greatest triumph of American diplomacy since Franklin brought absolutist France into the Revolutionary War on America’s side in favor of republicanism and democracy in 1778.

Ms. West hints that the U.S. should have been neutral and abstained in a contest between the equivalent evils of Hitler and Stalin, as Roosevelt himself described them many times (including in his letter to Pius XII of September 3, 1941). Ms. West implies that the U.S. allowed itself to be used by Stalin in taking sides between them. She spectacularly fails to grasp that if the U.S. had abstained from the European war, Hitler would have crushed Great Britain, and Hitler, Stalin, and the imperialist Japanese would have ruled the entire world apart from the Americas. Roosevelt was not used by Stalin; Stalin was used by Roosevelt and Churchill, to take 95 percent of the casualties as between the three of them in subduing Hitler. Also, the West ended up with France, Italy, Japan, and 80 percent of the German people under Anglo-American occupation; all four had been, in 1940, dictatorships hostile to the West, and they all became democratic allies of the Western powers.

She ignores the fact that Yalta gave the West all it wanted, including independent and democratic states in Eastern Europe, and that Stalin had to violate that agreement to impose Soviet occupation, starting the Cold War. She ignores the fact that Roosevelt stopped the promised $6.5 billion aid program for post-war Russia, that Truman refused to recognize the satellite states, and that the Cold War presidents repeatedly demanded that the Soviet Union honor its Yalta commitments.

I don’t know Diana West and I don’t know anything of the personal and institutional and even ideological antipathies that seem to be at play here. But her argument is a monstrous libel of statesmen who delivered the world from Nazism, largely at the Soviet Union’s expense in blood, and whose successors — most of them elevated by Roosevelt (notably Truman, Eisenhower, Marshall, Acheson, Kennan, and Bohlen) — defeated Soviet Communism without the great powers’ exchanging a shot between them. Instead of celebrating 50 years of astonishing strategic success and the triumph of democracy and the free market from 1940 to 1990, she denigrates the greatest architects of that success as mollycoddlers of treason.

Her book, her thesis, and her defense of it are bunk; they are a disgrace and an outrage to the rigorous study of history.

— 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 cbletters@gmail.com.



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