Politics & Policy

Diana West, Still Wrong

Stalin and FDR at the Tehran conference, 1943.
Her case rests on a very slim foundation.

Readers who are tired of Diana West have my utmost sympathy and solidarity; few could be more tired of her than I am, and those who cannot face another response to her, should not read further here. I will be overseas the next two weeks and will try to file from London in two weeks but, if that is not practical, will be back in three weeks. Ms. West, as all literate people in the Western Hemisphere must know by now, has recently published a book called American Betrayal, which claims that from the early years of the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt to the election of Ronald Reagan as president, the United States government was subject to inordinate influence by Soviet agents and sympathizers to the point that it was, in foreign- and strategic-policy terms, effectively an “occupied country” for much of that time of 45 years.

There has naturally been severe dispute on the subject, in which, as a Roosevelt biographer and strategic historian of the United States, I have joined. Much of it has been ad hominem slathering of considerable heat and at times effectiveness, and much has taken the form of group disparagements replete with arcane references to academic trends and past skirmishes. As a non-American whose educational affiliations are elsewhere, long ago, and not relevant, and as I have never met Ms. West, I neither wrote from that perspective nor was much afflicted by collateral damage from the spirited counterattacks of the author and her allies, until her letter to National Review last week, purporting to reply to my column here three weeks ago. In that column I denied that the endorsement of Soviet dissident and Gulag victim Vladimir Bukovsky and his co-reviewer Pavel Stroilov of Breitbart News had ended the discussion in Ms. West’s favor.

#ad#There does not seem to me to be any need to engage in the tractarian pedantry that is Ms. West’s specialty in the rearguard action she has conducted in favor of her book, of laborious citations from the voluminous criticism of her opponents, followed by a spurious rejoinder dressed up as a rigorous and unanswerable game-ender from a sympathetic source. In the interests of deescalation towards an end of these exchanges, I will briefly and neutrally summarize the germane points. There is no response to my references to occasions when Roosevelt publicly and in correspondence with other statesmen condemned Stalinist Communism. There is no response to the fact that, in 1940, Germany, Italy, France, and Japan were all dictatorships in hands hostile to the Anglo-American democracies and in 1945 all those countries (as to 80 percent in the case of Germany) were occupied by the American and British Commonwealth armed forces and all of them became flourishing democratic allies of the English-speaking democracies. There is no response to the fact that, in subduing Germany, the USSR took 95 percent of the casualties and 99 percent of the physical damage to its country, of the three principal allies. There is no response to the fact that Stalin pledged in the Declarations on Poland and on Liberated Europe, at the Yalta Conference, to free and democratic elections and national independence for the Eastern European countries the Red Army occupied, and that the violation of those undertakings led to the Cold War. There is no response to the fact that, in consideration of Stalin’s bad faith, Roosevelt and Truman declined to advance one cent of the $6.5 billion in assistance that had been dangled before Stalin as an incentive to keep his word.

Nor is there any response to references by Roosevelt to Stimson and others that he was relying on atomic weapons and the ability of the West to rearm Germany as further incentives to use to persuade Stalin to honor his commitments, once it was certain that atomic weapons would work as expected. Although it is incontestable that the West won the Cold War, it is claimed that it was halfheartedly pursued, because Roosevelt and his entire entourage, including Truman, Eisenhower, Marshall, Kennan, Bohlen, Acheson, and others, apparently including even Nixon and Kissinger, were duped by the Kremlin, in league with the Kremlin, or excessively sympathetic to the Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev regimes.


Since it is impossible for Ms. West to respond to these points, there are completely unfounded claims from Vladimir Bukovsky, that Roosevelt’s view of Stalin was indistinguishable from that of Walter Duranty (the infamous New York Times whitewasher of Stalin’s liquidation of the independent farmers in the Thirties). And the only argument put forward by Ms. West, at this late stage, to deal with the avalanche of unchallengeable facts recounted in the paragraphs above is to put all her freight on the wagon of Roosevelt’s faith in the supposed likelihood of “convergence” between the Western democratic societies and Soviet Communism, as recounted by Ambassador William Bullitt. In fetching up at this final threadbare defense of the indefensible claim that the U.S. government was effectively run from the Kremlin for more than 40 years, she is reduced to acknowledging that Roosevelt was realistic about Stalin’s nature and ambitions, as he told Archbishop Francis J. Spellman and agreed with Bullitt, but that, according to Bullitt, FDR thought it didn’t really matter because after the war the systems would converge and there would be no serious differences with Stalin.

Bullitt had been completely ostracized by Roosevelt after he had forced Sumner Welles out of the administration because of a single homosexual incident, and had become a completely erratic character who produced this gem only after Roosevelt had died. (It was similar in this regard to Thomas Corcoran’s alleged comment that Justice Holmes had said FDR had “a second-class intellect but a first-class temperament”: a revelation that came after the deaths of Holmes and Roosevelt, and after Roosevelt had removed Corcoran from the administration, and that, if Holmes said it at all, appears to have been uttered about Theodore Roosevelt. God protect great statesmen from the credulity and malice of those who believe the sour grapes of their former courtiers.) Every word that was ever exchanged, orally or in writing, between Stalin and Roosevelt is recorded and is available, and there is nothing that gives the slightest credence to Bullitt’s suggestion that Roosevelt expected more of convergence than has in fact occurred.

The deescalation of the Cold War began with Eisenhower’s suggestion of the Open Skies proposal for reciprocal aerial reconnaissance at the Geneva Summit Conference of 1955 — which Eisenhower opened by demanding that Khrushchev and the others honor Stalin’s commitments to the freedom of Eastern Europe at Yalta — and has generally continued since.

It is not the case, as Ms. West wrote, that I “mocked” Bukovsky; I disdained his imputation of Communist domination to the U.S. government, and disagree with the implicit view of many Eastern Europeans that the United States and its Western allies had a moral obligation to evict Stalin from Eastern Europe. Most of them except the Czechs were anti-Semitic despotisms before the war and, while Britain, France, and Canada went to war in support of the Poles, the United States didn’t. And it was American policy — pursued steadily, if with varying competence, by ten consecutive administrations, five of each party — that led to the collapse of the Soviet Empire and of the Soviet Union itself. Evicting the Red Army from Eastern Europe would have required as great an effort as Hitler unsuccessfully mounted, unless Truman had been prepared to threaten atomic attack in the period of the American nuclear- or hydrogen-bomb monopoly, which would have been very complicated.

I have great admiration for Vladimir Bukovsky and am praising him in my current book, a history of Canada, for his criticism of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s admiring comments about the Soviet Siberian city of Norilsk, largely constructed by Gulag victims.

Ms. West offered to bet the $4.1 million I recently paid to the Securities and Exchange Commission that I had not read her book. I not only accept the bet, I give her odds: If I haven’t, I’ll give her the $5 million I received in the largest libel settlement in Canadian history, from former SEC chairman Richard Breeden and others, for their false and defamatory claims that led to my prosecution. Since I can’t lose the bet, I would throw in the more than $100 million of the SEC’s original suit, before all counts against me were abandoned, rejected by jurors, or unanimously vacated by the Supreme Court of the United States. The existence of a conviction is due to a self-serving resurrection of a vacated count by Judge Richard Posner, whom the Supreme Court excoriated for, inter alia, “the infirmity of invented law.” I salute Vladimir Bukovsky as a fellow victim of dishonest prosecution, but his knowledge of modern American history is sketchy. The principal conclusions of Ms. West’s book are rubbish from A to Z, and I have difficulty imagining that I will inflict further comment on it on anyone. Good night, Ms. West.

— 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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