History as Ideology: Further Thoughts on American Betrayal
Writing on this website, Bernie Reeves attempts an evaluation of both Diana West's book and my own critique of it. Their method, particularly that engaged in by Diana West, is one that my colleagues John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr write is that of intellectual "'true believers,' ideological zealots who are mentally incapable of accepting or processing information that undermines their historical worldview... it is as if they wear special glasses that can only see what conforms to their worldview. Information that contradicts their fiercely held view is denied, explained-away, or, most often, simply ignored."
Reeves argues that while he respects and knows my work and that of Haynes and Klehr, I was "nitpicking" her facts, by pointing to "contradictory facts." Reeves writes that we are all "excellent researchers and writers," yet somehow we "are all restricted by their profession not to dramatize their findings," connect the dots, and "come to conclusions." This is more than ridiculous. If you read any of the scores of articles I have written in the past few years about Howard Zinn, Oliver Stone, or the Rosenbergs, that becomes more than clear. I have never shied away from clearly stating the implication and meaning of the evidence I have uncovered. What Reeves actually means is that I do not endorse West's analysis, methodology, or findings -- which is something other than what he accuses me and Klehr and Haynes of.
Next, Reeves makes statements that are more than comical. He writes, for example, that although I had introduced evidence that Truman did not know about Venona, West says it is bogus and even if it was not, Truman "could have demanded that code breakers work faster and harder." Really? Does Reeves even know how difficult a job these skilled people had, and how hard they actually worked around the clock to break the Soviet codes?
Finally, what he likes is West's "intensity." Regardless of what she says is true or not, he argues essentially that we need screamers to expose the nature of a giant conspiracy, even though perhaps one did not ever exist. You don't have to be a scholar to see how silly his logic is. Perhaps Reeves is yet another individual who shares with the Left the new postmodern view that there is no truth; only narratives that all have to be laid out, each with their own set of truths.
Now let me turn to some of Diana West's key assertions regarding World War II, which she argues in the new piece she is writing for this site I do not really effectively challenge.
First, let me take up a key issue of whether or not the United States should have supported Winston Churchill's plan in 1943 to advance from Italy into the eastern plains of Europe ahead of the Russians. Churchill favored this because he was intent on reclaiming British hegemony in the Balkans, particularly Greece. General George C. Marshall, and the entire U.S. military leadership [yes, I know Senator Joseph McCarthy whom West thinks was right about everything, believed he was a traitor] opposed it for a very good reason. They knew it would be a quagmire. American troops would have, they feared, been bogged down in the Balkans and would not be one inch closer to Berlin. The so-called Italian campaign -- Churchill's "soft-underbelly" idea -- would have been a disaster. Troops would have been stuck in the mud, going up mountains with the enemy shooting at them from the high ground.
When American troops got to Rome, it took them almost a year to get there and at tremendous cost. The Germans fought tenaciously and the Allies were kept at bay nearly until the war's end.
West has accused me of not accurately quoting her and of attacking her for things she has never said. So now let me quote her argument on General Mark Clark and the idea that the United States fighting in the West was in Stalin's interest while fighting in the South was not, if he was "to succeed in his territorial designs." The crux of where the Allies fought was essential, West believes, and of answering whether or not "World War II was for simply defeating Hitler or for 'saving Marshall Stalin.'" She argues "there is a strong argument to be made that to have withdrawn from the European continent to reinvade the European continent was crazy." And it made no sense to both Churchill and General Mark W. Clark, the latter who she believes was the one military leader who saw things correctly.
Clark, unfortunately, is viewed by most military historians as a glory hound so obsessed with capturing Rome that he allowed the Germans to escape Allied encirclement and fight on. Clark, Antony Beevor, writing in his recent book, The Second World War, notes how mad and unreasonable Churchill had become with his obsession to take Rhodes, and how he and General Clark engaged in "wishful thinking that the Allies would soon be in Rome." The reality was that under Field Marshal Kesserling's leadership, "the Germans would fight ruthlessly in retreat and take their revenge on Italian troops...who were actively helping the Allies."
As for Clark, he notes that he was "obsessed" with his image, engaged a PR group of fifty men, and "insisted that photographers should capture his most flattering profile with its truly imperial nose." His own officers referred to him as "Marcus Aurelius Clarkus." The troops under his command soon found that "the advance that the mountainous terrain and weather [offered] did not present the 'sunny Italy' which they had imagined from pre-war tourist posters." Instead they found constant rain and "deep mud. The rivers became "raging torrents and tracks to quagmires, and the retreating Germans had blown every bridge and mined every route." The Allies, Beevor points out, "no longer had the numerical superiority required for a major offensive." This is the military history on the ground that Diana West never takes into consideration. Rather, in her eyes, Clark's account tells the truth, and leads one to the inevitable conclusion that the invasion through Italy was not undertaken solely because Hopkins, as he said to Molotov in May of 1942, worked to "overcome U.S. military arguments against a 'second front' in France in May 1942." It was all done, you see, to see to it that Stalin had his way -- the plan of the NKVD occupiers of our nation's capital to win the war for the Soviet Union.
The military historian Rick Atkinson points out in his magisterial trilogy about World War II that an invasion of Europe in 1943 with the aim of getting to central Europe before the Russians would have been a catastrophe. The landings in North Africa, Sicily, Salerno -- the latter almost a disaster salvaged only by luck and heroism -- and Anzio, was a sharp learning curve that steeled American troops for the invasions of France and the direct thrust into Germany. By the time that took place, we were a match for the Germans and had air and naval superiority, and a battle-tested military leadership. This was because American generals and leaders rightfully favored a path through France and the Low countries into entry to the German heartland, rather than Churchill's favored Balkan strategy. Had we followed the path favored by Churchill and Mark Clark, the German army at truly fatal costs for the Allies might have repulsed the troops of the democracies.
Of course, West ends with her fanciful belief that there were friendly German troops and leaders in the Wehrmacht with whom we could have allied and then before the war came to an end, united with and fought against the Red Army. As Jeffrey Herf has already pointed out, in an article to which West has failed to respond, "the vast majority of the German officer corps" did not have the support for resistance to Hitler's leadership, and in fact "the German general staff and officer corps distinguished itself not only by its criminality in fighting a racial war of extermination on the Eastern Front but also by its fanatical determination to fight the war to the very last day." West's belief that such a group existed which could have taken over the German army is nothing but a chimera. What she calls the "significant anti-Nazi German resistance movement" simply did not exist.
There was, of course, one German military leader who advocated such a course. In late April of 1945, Heinrich Himmler, one of the architects of the Holocaust and a brutal mass murderer, proposed to General Eisenhower that Germany surrender to the West, and that the German Army he hoped to command would then fight alongside the United States and British troops against the Soviet Union. As Herf puts it, "the generals and senior officers belonged in war crimes trials, not in a new alliance with the Western democracies." One wonders, would Diana West have favored and accepted Himmler's offer, had she been in the American leadership? Does she think Himmler too was now part of the "anti-Nazi German resistance movement?"
West, as I have argued earlier, believes that George Earle's feeler to FDR in 1943 involving Baron von Lersner's proposal to end the war early, arranging a surrender -- which he alone thought could be brought off in Germany -- in exchange for Allied cooperation in keeping Russian troops out of Germany, was a possibility. It did not take place, she argues, because again, Harry Hopkins saw to it that it would not be accepted. No major historian of World War II thinks or argues that the U.S. was wrong to not accept this crazed proposal.
West also believes that the policy adopted by FDR and the Allies of "unconditional surrender" was also a foolish stance meant to placate Stalin, and one that stood in the way of acceptance of the alternative policy she advocates and believes was a real possibility. To West, it was a policy most likely developed by Hopkins, and not FDR, and was the policy that "cemented our
ultimate defeat." Without it, she writes, "Stalin wouldn't win." It meant we didn't work with her imagined anti-Nazi and anti-Soviet Germans, and a policy that purposefully let Russia become the dominating force in Europe.
Clearly, West has not read Andrew Roberts' book, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War. Roberts writes:
It was there [at Casablanca in Jan. 1943] that Roosevelt announced that the Allies would accept nothing less than unconditional surrender from the Axis, a decision that was agreed before hand by the American Joint Chiefs of Staff and by the British War Cabinet. Although the President has been criticized for promulgating this position, as it was thought to strengthen the Nazis' commitment to fight on to the death, it had the effect of calming Soviet fears that the Western Allies might make a separate peace with Germany.
In effect, Roberts' well-spoken explanation makes it obvious that West would have favored such a separate peace, one that would have had the most disastrous consequences. West also thinks the result of the Casablanca Conference was one that served Stalin's interests. But as Antony Beevor adds, the military decision made at the Conference was not greeted favorably by Stalin. "The Anglo-American decision to delay confronting the Germans in France as a battle of attrition was what angered him. The Red Army still faced, and would continue to face, the overwhelming bulk of the German army." Rather than serving Stalin's needs, it saved American and Western lives, and made Stalin angry. How does Diana West explain this?
In quoting real historians of WW II, such as Anthony Beevor, Andrew Roberts, and Rick Atkinson, I am not doing so for the purpose of finding experts who agree with me. These writers in particular are widely considered the most serious and important historians of the war; they have spent their lives researching it. They are real historians, who know how to evaluate and use evidence. They are not, like Diana West, ideologues posing as historians. If any of them reached conclusions similar to West, then their reasons would have to be considered. That they do not, speaks for itself.
Diana West, and those like Bernie Reeves who give her their imprimatur, are doing a disservice to truth, history, and to the conservative movement.
Ronald Radosh is an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute and a columnist for PJ Media. He is author or co-author of over fifteen books, including The Rosenberg File, A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel, and Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War.