'What Difference Does It Make?' A Response to Diana West
Some conservatives are taking the position that the dispute between Diana West and Ron Radosh, and by extension Frontpage, is a “circular firing squad." Others regard it as a scholastic dispute over obscure historical sources. Still others feel that it is a distraction from important matters, and are puzzled by the heat that it has generated. Except for the first point, these objections simply misread the conflict and what it involves. I will deal with them shortly.
First, regarding circular firing squads: Among political activists these destructive formations are normally inspired by disagreements over policy and/or tactics--immigration reform or shutting down the government, for example. The disputes degenerate when one side attacks the alleged motives of the other and questions the political credentials of its adherents. In other words, they accuse those who disagree with them of treason to the cause.
The present dispute is not about policy or tactics. It is about an approach to historical events. That approach, exemplified by West’s book American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character, is conspiratorial rather than political, and makes large claims that are unsupported by the evidence. It also leads to political conclusions that have consequences--in our view quite destructive ones. Only one side in this dispute, it should be said, has impugned the motives and questioned the political bona fides of the other. Conservatives who find this regrettable should address their concerns to Diana West and her followers, who have accused us of anti-anti communism (i.e., pro-communism) and referred to us as “totalitarians.” Given our long public record of anti-communist activities and publications these are absurd accusations on their face, but very similar to the kind of accusations we find fault with in West’s book.
Let me be perfectly clear: There is no disagreement between West and us over whether the Roosevelt administration was infiltrated by Soviet agents, or whether pro-Soviet dupes and fellow-travelers were influential and affected administration policy. Radosh and other conservative historians whom West chooses to trash actually pioneered the work of tracking these Soviet agents and pro-Soviet influences, and analyzing their impact. There is also no disagreement about the infiltration of the Obama administration by Islamists or the Obama-Hillary support for the Muslim Brotherhood, America’s mortal enemy. The issue between us is not political in this sense, and it would be helpful if West and her followers would acknowledge that and stop treating our disagreement as political treason.
The real question for us is this: Does it matter if conservatives regard Lend-Lease and D-Day as Soviet plots, and describe allied wartime decisions--however mistaken--as being orchestrated not by Roosevelt and Churchill and their generals, but by Joseph Stalin?
Those who think this does not matter should ponder the fate of John Birch Society leader Robert Welch, who in the Fifties accused President Eisenhower of being a Communist (an exact parallel to the kind of accusations that are the focus of West’s book). Once Welch made this ludicrous accusation nobody worth listening to listened to him anymore--about anything. We do not want that happening to conservatives. If conservatives become convinced that everyone who disagrees with them is a traitor, and/or a paid agent of the enemy, if they convert all disagreements among themselves into acts of political betrayal, the conservative movement will become narrower and narrower, and will find itself more and more isolated and ineffective. That is why we raised these issues and did so in the way we did.
The problem that West’s book presents is also intellectual. Her book has some valid observations about Communist influence alongside many ludicrous ones. Her extreme claims not only serve to discredit her work but lead her into insoluble dilemmas. If, as she claims, the Kremlin determined the strategy of D-Day--the opening of a second front in 1944 in France--why was Stalin unable to get a second front opened in 1942 as he so desperately wanted--particularly, since according to West, his penetration of the Roosevelt administration was so great he was able to design the 1941 Lend-Lease Act to serve Soviet rather than American interests? If Churchill was correct that the second front should have gone through the Balkans instead of landing on the beachheads of France, but was thwarted by Soviet agents, why did he also insist on suppressing the details of the Katyn massacre--a cover-up West ascribes to Soviet influence? Was Stalin the puppetmaster of American war policy or not? Was Churchill a Communist dupe or a militant anti-Communist? West simply ignores these major contradictions in her theory (and there are many like this) and offers no resolution of the questions. Given her theory of the war, there are none. Churchill is putty in the hands of the Kremlin when it suits her conspiracy theories--and the champion of anti-Soviet strategies when it suits them as well. This is not how anyone should think about history-making events and the political forces that shape them. But it is the way West thinks about them in her book.
I’m sorry that West’s feelings seem to have been hurt by the Radosh review, and even more so that she has reacted by declaring war on fellow conservatives. She has done some good work on the Islamic jihad, and we applaud her for that. But she should not have written this book, which betrays a conspiratorial mindset that is damaging to the conservative cause, and will only serve to undermine her observations about Islam and whatever other good work she has done. More importantly, it has led other conservatives down a path that ill-serves our common cause.