Diana and Ron: The Second Front
See also: Diana and Ron: What Was Going On?
Diana West makes the case in her book, American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character, that Communist agents in the U.S. helped block a strategy that could have ended the war early and stymied Soviet designs on Eastern Europe, and reduced, too, the scope of the Holocaust. This was an Allied advance into what Churchill called the “soft underbelly” of Europe, the Balkans.
This is a complicated question. To evaluate West’s claim requires a brief and simplified overview of Allied diplomatic and strategic decisions.
After the German invasion of the USSR in June 1941, Stalin wanted two things from his new allies: a second front in Europe and recognition of the western border of the Soviet Union agreed upon in the secret protocols of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact: approximately the Curzon Line. This 1919 border, roughly following ethnic divisions, was replaced by the Riga Line, 160 miles to the east, after the Poles defeated the Red Army. The territory between the two lines included mostly Ukrainians, Lithuanians, and Belorussians, but also important Polish cities, including Lvov and Vilnius. Thanks to killings and deportations by the Soviets, it had many fewer Poles than in ’39. Poland’s borders had fluctuated wildly over its long history, and for about a century and quarter it had had none. The country was divided between Russia, Prussia, and Austria late in the 18th century.
At first a second front had priority. Stalin didn’t even care where it was opened: the Balkans would have been fine. “May God bless the enterprise,” the atheist proclaimed, when Roosevelt told him about TORCH.
In their negotiations over a treaty with the USSR in 1941, the British, fearing another détente between Moscow and Berlin and unable to mount an invasion of the continent, were willing to offer Stalin the Baltic States and eastern Poland.
The U.S. objected. No backroom deals should be made over the fate of millions. Territorial questions must be resolved after the conclusion of the war, according to the lofty principles proclaimed in the Atlantic Charter. The moral high ground conveniently coincided with Roosevelt’s domestic political concerns. As FDR later pointed out to Stalin, there were 6-8 million Polish-American voters.
The pragmatic British were frustrated, not for the last time. The U.S. was not even a belligerent at this time. Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia would be lost anyway, and Stalin was now in a weak position and should be made to commit himself to an independent Poland.
Wanting to make amends for the U.S. veto of territorial acquisitions for the USSR until after the war, Roosevelt committed two blunders. First, in a meeting with Molotov in Washington, he glibly promised the Russians a second front in Europe in 1942. Roosevelt had a penchant for making promises he couldn’t deliver. An invasion of France was impossible in 1942.
As a result, Roosevelt, wishing to placate a disappointed Stalin, proposed at Casablanca in January 1943 that the Allies demand the unconditional surrender of Germany, even though Stalin hadn’t requested it, and had some doubts as to its advisability, or said he did. This was a mistake, as some American generals recognized at the time -- and West emphasizes. It would stiffen German resistance and reduce the possibility of a coup against Hitler that would shorten the war.
The British were willing to make territorial concessions because they feared another rapprochement between Russia and Germany.
For West, the obsession with a second Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which the U.S. shared, was a result of Communist disinformation. She relies on a book by Hanson Baldwin, who declared it one of the great myths of the war. Baldwin’s reasons are logical, but in fact, overtures were made by the Soviets between the encirclement of von Paulus’s 6th Army outside Stalingrad in November 1942 and the opening of the Battle of Kursk in July 1943. A German diplomat, Peter Kleist, was twice approached in Stockholm. If Hitler would restore the ’39 borders, Stalin would sign on the dotted line.
The Führer wasn’t interested. He now had the war he wanted -- a campaign to eliminate “Jewish Bolshevism.” It was not Stalin who the British and Americans misread, but Hitler. In fact, Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, was always skeptical, and after Kursk, Churchill was also convinced there’d be no rapprochement between the two dictators.
With more justification, both Anglo-Saxon allies feared that Stalin wouldn’t open a major offensive to coincide with D-Day. This was a more plausible pretext for appeasing the First Secretary, but again, an unnecessary worry had he been made to understand that Lend-Lease came with strings attached.
In a baffling misrepresentation of American Betrayal, Radosh claims West argues that the invasion of France should have come in 1943. In fact, West makes the case that the second front should have come in the Balkans. What about her argument?
What West misses is the extent to which the decision was the result of a debate between the British and US general staffs, and had nothing to do initially with concerns over the fate of Eastern Europeans.
The British remembered all too vividly the staggering losses on the Western Front from 1914-1918; Churchill in 1915 had passionately made the case for alternatives. (Gallipoli, in fact, might have succeeded if it had been launched promptly and was better executed.) The Brits remembered Narvik, Dunkirk, Crete, and the Dieppe raid -- humiliating evacuations after troops had been landed. Mortifying surrenders at Singapore and Tobruk also did nothing for British morale. Brooke and Churchill wanted small-scale, opportunistic attacks on the periphery of occupied Europe. The Med had been a traditional base of British power; keeping the Russians out was a cardinal principal of their diplomacy in the 19th century.
The U.S. wanted a direct frontal assault on Europe and geography dictated that this should come across the broad plains of northern France and Belgium. The Alps were the most formidable natural barrier in Europe, and the Balkan, Rhodope, and Rila ranges would also have been difficult to traverse, even though Chetniks and Partisans controlled some passes. An Allied army had moved up to the Danube from Thessalonica at the end of the First World War, but this was against an exhausted Austria and demoralized Bulgaria. “I need big ports,” Eisenhower repeated, and a Balkan invasion would have been a logistical nightmare. The Italian campaign offered a discouraging preview.
West has located an interesting quotation from Eisenhower indicating his interest at one point in an invasion across the Adriatic -- he had not yet been appointed to head OVERLORD -- and she acknowledges the difficulties supplying troops in the Balkans, quoting General Wedermeyer. Of those she cites in support of her case, Spatz simply wanted airfields in the Po Valley and Clark, heading the 5th Army in Italy, naturally resented the downgrading of the Med and the diversion of men and materiel to ANVIL. The most criticized U.S. senior commander, notorious for permitting the German 10th Army to escape northward while he took Rome, defying orders from Alexander, he’s probably not the most reliable source for strategic advice. Nor is Churchill, “a public menace” in his meddling with British war plans, according to Brooke, though “a super-human being.” The notion that Italy and the Balkans represent a “soft underbelly” speaks for itself.
A counterfactual West doesn’t discuss is a 1943 invasion of France. Radosh dismisses this, dissing an argument West hasn’t made. But an interesting case has been argued that this would have succeeded at least as well as D-day, and would have placed Anglo-American forces across the Vistula well in advance of the Red Army, before the two armies met. Books by John Grigg and Walter Dunn offer plausible arguments for ROUNDUP. Naturally, other historians disagree.
Even the 1944 invasion came close to crossing the Rhine prior to the end of the year, possibly precipitating the collapse of Germany. And after the advance was stalled by the failure of Market Garden -- a near miss -- American forces would still have been able to take Berlin and Prague before the Soviets, had the order been given -- yet another unfortunate decision, and one West notes.
Ike wanted strategy to be based solely on military grounds. The additional territory the U.S. would have occupied in Germany had been ceded to Russia. (Troops were already well into the future Soviet sector.) But this was not the case in Czechoslovakia, and in Germany, too, the occupation of Berlin and more of the Soviet Besatzungzone would have been a powerful weapon in negotiations with Stalin. But once again, Roosevelt had no interest in negotiations. His charm and Stalin’s democratic and anti-imperialist principles were sufficient guarantees that American interests would be honored.
It was on political grounds as well that Churchill urged a Balkan invasion after Allied forces entered Italy. Far from being a “dupe,” as Radosh claims West represents him, he is for her a tragic figure. He appreciated the importance of heading Stalin off at the pass -- the Ljubljana Pass -- if Eastern Europe was to be kept out of his clutches. Bullitt and other American diplomats pressed this case.
But U.S. planners had long been preparing an assault on Germany through northern France. It had been Rommel’s successes in North Africa and the threat to the Middle East that had ultimately determined the postponement of OVERLORD, as well as Roosevelt’s keen desire to honor his ill-advised promise of a second front in ‘42. If Eisenhower wavered briefly, Marshall never did. The role played by Communist agents of influence in aborting a Balkan invasion was minimal.
ANVIL, incidentally, was not quite the folly West and other critics claim. Half of Patton’s supplies came through Marseilles. But at the very least it ought to have preceded D-Day.
Communists did play a direct role in two key decisions made at Allied conferences. One was a war crime. The second would have been had it been carried out. It did significant damage anyway. These were the prisoner exchanges agreed upon at Yalta, and the plans for post-war Germany agreed upon at Quebec.
Radosh ignores both of these, though an entire chapter is given over to the first and much of another to the second.
The exchange was, of course, to be just that: American servicemen liberated from German camps by the Red Army were to be repatriated, as were the far greater number of Soviet nationals who were prisoners or who had fought with the Vlastos Army alongside the Germans. Many joined the latter not only out of hatred for Stalin but to escape the deadly P.O.W camps in the east, where over 3 million out of 5 million prisoners perished from exposure and malnutrition.
One of the most poignant chapters in American Betrayal concerns the fate of American servicemen shipped off to the Gulag, an embarrassing fact eventually acknowledged by Yeltsin, to the discomfort of George H. W. Bush. There may have been over 15,000. It was Soviet treatment of G.I.s who’d escaped German camps that elicited the first and only angry cables to Moscow from FDR. But he did not follow through with any threats, as Harriman urged.
Radosh does allude to this chapter in passing, but only to dismiss West’s -- and FDR’s -- concerns. “Actually, as Plokhy shows, the Soviets treated American prisoners fairly well.” Plokhy’s book is about Yalta. The chapter on prisoner exchanges makes no mention of the situation of American GIs. They come up very briefly in another chapter, where Plokhy appears to rely solely on the memoirs of General John Deane. Those who were interred may have been fed and housed no worse than Soviet troops, the general conceded, but he was upset about their having no access to U.S. or Red Cross personnel, and angered that American prisoners who’d escaped German camps were beaten and robbed by Russian officers before they were incarcerated. West also draws on Deane’s book, and about 50 other sources as well, in 80 notes. If he wants to dispute her conclusions about American P.O.W.s, Radosh has an obligation to engage these authors.
He makes no mention at all of Operation Keelhaul, the return, at gunpoint, of as many as 2 million captured Soviet citizens, discussed in Chapter 8. Their terror at being returned to their jailer, and the suicide of many, deeply distressed the British soldiers responsible for the transfers -- but had no impact on their superiors. Those who weren’t shot on arrival were worked to death in the Gulag.
The atrocity that was only contemplated, in the end, was the Morgenthau Plan. This called for a permanent division of Germany into five regions, the use of slave labor for reparations, and, more devastatingly, the de-industrialization of Germany, which would have resulted in a significant population loss, through starvation or emigration.
The Plan was drafted by Harry Dexter White, an agent in the Silvermaster ring. It was Stalin’s plan. The Secretary of State and Secretary of War objected strenuously, and were not invited to Quebec or Tehran. Churchill, initially appalled, signed on -- not his finest hour. He was lured by the promise of $6.5 billion in American aid.
Perhaps Radosh doesn’t comment on West’s chapters on Keelhaul and the Morgenthau Plan because Communists and fellow travellers were clearly responsible for the second, just as they played important roles in undermining support for Chang Kai-shek and Draza Mihailovich.
Radosh and others repeatedly mention the difficulty of re-orienting public opinion in the U.S. against the Soviets. But the apotheosis of Stalin and the hymns to Mother Russia were the work of Communists and their sympathizers within government, particularly in the OWI, the U.S. propaganda agency, where Party members were thick on the ground.
Americans were moved by the plight of Britain during the Blitz and admired Churchill, but there was nothing like the relentless glorification of the USSR -- which necessitated ignoring two genuine crimes of the century and vilifying those who mentioned them.
The U.S. had fought the First World War as a co-belligerent, not an ally, and there was good reason to do so again.
“Influence” is an elusive concept. But it’s not restricted to those with access to the Oval Office. Thousands of Soviet enthusiasts in the government and media limited Roosevelt’s options, even if had not been so well disposed toward the Man of Steel.
Radosh does spend time attacking another “pillar” of American Betrayal: the case West makes for the possibility of working with anti-Nazi Germans to bring about an earlier end of the war.
He caricatures West’s argument. Readers of “McCarthy on Steroids” would gather that she called for a joint U.S.-German drive against the Red Army, Joe and Hans marching eastward arm-in-arm singing “Lilli Marlene,” with alternate verses in German and English.
In fact, West suggests only that the U.S. ought to have been more receptive to overtures coming from highly placed anti-Nazis, including Admiral Canaris, head of Abwehr, and Franz von Pappen, then Ambassador to Turkey. FDR crony and former governor of Pennsylvania George Earle was the conduit for each.
Radosh’s refutation of “pillar 4” is particularly disturbing. He suggests that West borrowed without acknowledgment from Lawrence Rees’s World War II Behind Closed Doors information about a proposal from Earle to German dissidents. In fact the feelers came from the Germans, not Earle, and Rees devotes only a few sentences to the subject, whereas West has written a 15,000-word chapter based on over 30 sources. (She does draw on Rees in her discussion of the Katyn Forest massacre, and cites him appropriately.)
As before, in evaluating the chapter on German overtures, it’s necessary to consider the wider context.
West’s readers are told only that von Pappen was a “devout Catholic.” In fact, he was disreputable character, a Center (Catholic) Party renegade, repudiated by the Party, who, in order to dish a rival, prevailed on Hindenburg to let him form a government with Hitler as Chancellor because he was confident he could manipulate the Nazi leader. When this proved not to be the case, he went on serve the Nazis as an ambassador in the ‘30s and ‘40s, explaining and justifying Hitler’s crimes. Von Papen is someone whose judgment you might think twice about trusting.
On November 5, 1937, Hitler announced his war plans to the Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht, the War Minister, and the Foreign Secretary. They were appalled. The Führer eliminated them, and from then on, rumors of plots against him were reported frequently to British intelligence. But the blow didn’t come until the war was lost. Conspirators who survived the purge that followed claimed they would have acted had Britain and France resisted Hitler at Munich. This is certainly possible, and the behavior of Chamberlain and the Foreign Office was shameful in its betrayal of anti-Nazi Germans as much as of Britain’s honor. Those who opposed appeasement, like Vansittart and Rumbold, were ignored. But the window of opportunity to remove Hitler was November 1937 to May 1940, and the guilty men were not Communists.
Once the “phony war” was over, it was a different story. Outside of Germany, resistance movements enjoyed widespread support, cutting across classes, religion, and politics. In Germany, where patriotism (and socialism, too) had been coopted, it was tiny, a general staff without an army. Stauffenberg had to procure explosives himself, pack and detonate the bomb, then fly back to Berlin to personally direct the coup.
Even at this point, with the defeat of Germany imminent, the conspirators had no illusion that the coup would be welcomed by the German people or the Army. It would succeed only because befehl ist befehl: a plan was in place for the succession of the Führer by General Beck; the army would follow orders.
There is no reason to assume that a coup executed a year earlier would have succeeded; it might have, of course -- but West overemphasizes this counterfactual.
She claims the war might have ended in ’43, the death camps shut down, etc.
But if her speculations are dubious, she is correct in saying that the anti-Nazi opposition ought to have been given every encouragement and provided with resources. That it wasn’t owes something to the influence of Communists and fellow-travelers, but also to German behavior over the previous 75 years. The London cabbie, after all, said “the ‘un” not “the Nazis.”
Since 1862, all the wars in Europe were launched by Germans, the first three with plausible pretexts, thanks to Bismarck’s astuteness. Then, after Germany had declared itself a “satiated power” following the Franco-Prussian War, the Kaiser ousted the Iron Chancellor, and the Reich once more gazed hungrily at the territory of others. Germany threatened to plunge Europe into war in 1906 (France backed down, as it had in 1875), in 1909 (Russia backed down), and again threatened France in 1911. In 1898 the Kaiser decided to build a North Sea battle fleet to challenge the Royal Navy, rather than a fleet of cruisers to protect German commerce -- a threat that could hardly be ignored by Britain. In 1914 German and Austrian armies crossed their borders again, as the Prussians had in 1862, ‘68, ‘71, invading Belgium, France, and Serbia, after rejecting repeated pleas to negotiate the trivial differences between the Austrian ultimatum of July 23rd and the Serbian reply.
German diplomacy before the war was distinguished -- even by the standards of diplomats -- for bullying and deceitfulness. After the war, the peace treaty was openly defied, including collaboration between the Wehrmacht and the Soviet Army. There was a reason Germans were mistrusted.
Still, the resulting insensitivity to overtures from anti-Nazis was unfortunate. It’s astonishing to read the words of John Wheeler-Bennett, a well-known British historian then working for the Foreign Office.
“We are better off with things as they are today than if the plot of July 20th had succeeded and Hitler had been assassinated. ... By the failure of the plot we have been spared the embarrassments…which might have resulted from such a move, and, moreover, the present purge is presumably removing from the scene numerous individuals which might have caused us difficulty ... The Gestapo and the SS have done us an appreciable service in removing a selection of those who would undoubtedly have posed as ‘good’ Germans after the war.”
Churchill shared this callous attitude. But they were influenced not by Communists, but by the history of Germany.
This history helps explain, too, unconditional surrender. German troops returning to Berlin in 1918, marching in formation, were greeted by the new socialist President Friedrich Ebert. “You have returned unconquered from the field of battle,” he told them. And soon a great many Germans believed in the Dolchstoss -- the stab in the back. The Fatherland had been betrayed by Ebert’s colleagues at Compiègne.
When he heard that Germany had been permitted to sign an armistice, and not surrender, John Pershing, the American commander, was livid. His staff had never seen him so angry.
Also curiously missing in action in American Betrayal, with less justification, is Adolf Hitler.
To write about the ‘30s and ‘40s without at least a passing reference to his policies is a little like staging Hamlet without the Prince.
When he’s mentioned, he’s inevitably paired with Stalin. Both evil dictators. Both mass-murderers. Check. Check.
Yet there was a big difference between them, apart from who they viewed as enemies to be exterminated: Stalin was cautious and patient, never reckless.
Of course Communists and sympathizers with the Soviet experiment played a crucial role in the way the two dictators were perceived. News about the Ukraine famine was famously suppressed, and the Great Purge was justified. But neither a famine nor trials of “traitors” were the kind of headline-grabbing villainies Hitler was committing.
On November 9, 1938, a bloody pogrom took place in broad daylight in Berlin and other cities. Synagogues and Jewish businesses were smashed, looted, and burned, and Jews rounded up and killed. Western Europe and America were by no means philosemitic, but this shocked and outraged educated public opinion. Nothing like this had occurred in Western Europe since the Middle Ages. It was as if Hitler had burned witches in Potsdamerplatz.
On March 16, 1939, German armies overran what remained of Czechoslovakia. Until now Hitler had proclaimed that all he wanted was to permit German-speakers from the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire and post-Versailles Poland to join the Reich, as they wanted. Now it was clear he was intent on overrunning Eastern Europe and acquiring Lebensraum for the German Volk. He had flagrantly violated solemn promises and agreements.
On May 14, 1940, German bombers attacked Rotterdam. The Netherlands was a neutral country; its neutrality had been respected in World War I. Rotterdam was a busy commercial port, undefended. About 900 Dutch were killed, and more than 30,000 left homeless. The attack was the 9/11 of its day, though its day didn’t last long.
Less than a generation after the most devastating conflict in European history, Hitler was a threat to world peace; Stalin wasn’t. There were fascist parties throughout Europe, but Hitler’s cause could only appeal to those of German blood. No one called him “Uncle Adolf.”
Also MIA in American Betrayal is any reference to the brutal Japanese conquest of China. Reports of missionaries returning to the U.S. from Nanking were shocking and moving -- as they still are today. The massacre of some 300,000 civilians and P.O.W.s in that city stands as the greatest single atrocity perpetrated by any invader in the 20th century. And Nanking was only an exception in China insofar as the behavior of the Japanese troops was publicized.
If FDR is to be excoriated for appeasing Stalin, he deserves credit for recognizing the threat Hitler posed to Europe and to Western Civilization, and doing everything in his power to defeat him.
Before Soviet disinformation, there was German disinformation. Perhaps one ought not to use the past tense, as non-historians today still repeat myths manufactured in the ‘20s and revived with zeal in the ‘60s: the nations of Europe blundered into war -- no one was to blame; the atrocities committed by the Germans in Belgium never happened -- it was all British propaganda; the Allied armies were lions commanded by donkeys -- nothing was learned by the General Blimps during the four futile years of the war; the Versailles Treaty was a draconian peace that guaranteed a Second World War.
It would take an essay the length of this one to refute these canards one by one. But it’s worth noting that the myths are still repeated not, usually, by professional historians -- at least not by specialists in World War I -- but by journalists and bloggers.
In any case, Roosevelt was not taken in, and Lend-Lease saved Britain and Europe. So did the policy of “Europe first,” vociferously condemned in Chapter 1 of American Betrayal.
If Russia had collapsed, if the government had pulled back to Siberia and sued for peace, there would not likely have been a second front anywhere. “Realists” in Britain would no doubt have come to terms with Berlin. Perhaps the U.S. might have brokered the treaty.
Still another irritating mantra that gets repeated ad nauseum is that we “lost the war.”
By 1945, Britain no longer stood alone. France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Greece had been liberated, as would be Austria and nearly two-thirds of Germany. These are the countries responsible for Western values and Western culture, extolled by West in Chapter 2.
As for the fate of Eastern Europe, however grim, however avoidable by more intelligent diplomacy and better military strategy, does West imagine that, following Soviet capitulation, the death camps would be closed after all of Europe’s Jews were killed? This is not how bureaucracies work. Cattle-cars would have carried Slavs to Auschwitz, Treblinka, etc. It’s useless to speculate whether a quarter, a third, or half of Eastern Europeans would have been killed. The fate of the rest would not have been rosy -- they’d have been enslaved to serve German colonists in Ost-Europa.
The Morgenthau Plan, incidentally, did nothing to Germany that Germans had not done in northern France when they retreated in 1918, or Poland and Russia when they advanced in 1939 and 1941.
There is a reason for dwelling on Nazi Germany, and particularly the riveting crimes of the ‘30s to 1941.
Though it’s ostensibly discouraged, historians inevitably draw lessons from the subject of their research. And, if they do political, diplomatic, or military history, they arrive at judgments about the individuals they study. Most secretly agree with Lord Acton: “historical responsibility has to make up for want of legal responsibility.”
But before they condemn, they explain. To explain is not to approve. The burning of witches in the 16th century can be explained.
West has no interest in explaining why anyone would want to join the CPUSA or sympathize with Communism. Again, understanding their motives doesn’t mean sympathizing with them -- they’ve had more than enough sympathy. But because she doesn’t examine their beliefs, she makes some puzzling analogies between attitudes toward Communism in the ‘30s and ‘40s and attitudes toward Islam today.
You wouldn’t know it from Radosh, but two of twelve chapters, the first and last, are devoted to this subject, and a number of paragraphs in between.
West makes the familiar case that there are parallels between Islam and Communists -- both are expansionist, totalitarian, revolutionary religions.
But the parallel that interests her most is that between the denial of the principles and practices of Communists then and Muslims now. And she believes the earlier denial in some way contributed to the second. The mind-boggling political correctness in the U.S. Army and FBI today -- expunging all references to “jihad” -- has its roots in the cover-up of Stalin’s crimes perpetrated by besotted New Dealers.
The obvious difficulty with this is that Leftists in the ‘30s and later were convinced, with Communists, that a “planned economy” would be more efficient and equitable than a market-based economy. Bureaucrats would be better managers than businessmen; “co-operation” would replace competition. As West notes, FDR and HLH believed in “convergence.” The U.S.A. and Soviet Union were both evolving towards “social democracy.” If in 1917, Roosevelt said, the differences between Bolshevized Russia and America were represented as 0 and 100, they would eventually be something like 40 and 60. The socialist omelet in the U.S. would be served up without breaking so many eggs; it would be voted in.
The Left, however, shares none of the beliefs of Islam. No one but Muslims consult the Koran as progressives did the Communist Manifesto. And the practices sanctioned by Islam are abhorrent -- or should be, one would think -- to anyone on the Left: honor killings, female genital mutilation, “grooming,” denial of basic rights to women, censorship, persecution of homosexuals, death for apostates, etc., and the waging of jihad, the continuous war against Dar al Harb, carried on by violence and the threat of violence.
Incredibly, though, multiculturalism trumps feminism and gay/lesbian rights. Why?
In the end, West seems to be arguing that the moral relativism introduced by Communism is to blame. She quotes Sozhenitsyn: “Among progressive people, it is considered rather awkward to use seriously such words as ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ Communism has managed to persuade all of us that these concepts are old-fashioned and laughable.”
The causes, though, are no doubt older and deeper. The embrace and half-embrace of Soviet Communism is more a symptom. “Good” and “evil” come from Christianity and it was undoubtedly the undermining of the religion of the West by Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud, Wagner, and, of course, Marx, that’s responsible for the relativism West deplores -- along with the explosive growth of cities in 19th century Europe, with a burgeoning working class growing up without contact with priests or pastors. Older Greek concepts of virtue and honor, revived in Renaissance, went by the boards, too.
West’s Death of the Grown-up is a shrewd and entertaining critique of popular culture. But there are no references to Freud, Nietzsche, or Karl Marx (Groucho and Harpo rate a couple). Christianity does not appear in the index, nor, incidentally, do “abortion,” “birth-control,” “feminism,” “women’s movement” or “women’s liberation.”
The malaise West writes about so searingly in both books had deeper causes.
Jeff Lipkes is the author of Politics, Religion and Classical Political Economy in Britain and Rehearsals: The German Army in Belgium, August 1914. A second edition of Rehearsals, abridged and revised, will appear at the beginning of July, along with a selection of the letters of Sir Edward Grey, Dear Katharine Courageous. Lipkes’ translation of Henri Pirenne’s La Belgique et la guerre mondiale, Belgium and the First World War, was published earlier this year.