Diana and Ron: Backstory
See also: Diana and Ron: What Was Going On?
On the same day as he published “McCarthy on Steroids,” Ron Radosh explained his motives in a PJ Media essay, “Why I Wrote a Take-down of Diana West’s Awful Book.”
Radosh essentially argues that he’s playing William F. Buckley to West’s Robert Welch, head of the John Birch Society. Like Buckley, he is purging conservatism of a fanatic, in the interest of preserving the intellectual respectability of the movement.
The comparison is not apt. Welch’s most notorious accusation -- that Eisenhower was a Communist agent -- was a fantasy. Though she is certainly mistaken about some of the consequences, and her hyperbole regrettable, West’s discussion of Communist subversion is based on evidence from the Venona transcripts, Russian archives, the memoirs and testimony of former Communists and those who investigated them, and a great many other sources.
American Betrayal is a strikingly original book -- the jigsaw puzzle pieces have not been put together in quite this way before. But both Radosh and West have an interest in exaggerating its originality.
West’s attitude toward historians who have written on Soviet intelligence operations in the U.S. is sometimes ambivalent. She cites them, and sometimes quotes them, but in several places she criticizes their myopia. In the first instance, she complains that even “the greatest scholars of Soviet espionage” have minimized the impact of agents, in particular the connection between the theft of atomic secrets by the Rosenbergs and the Korean War. She cites a sentence in the The Haunted Wood, by Weinstein and Vassiliev, calling it “typical.” But she has just quoted two books that make the link, Romerstein and Breindel’s Venona Secrets and Haynes, Klehr, and Vassiliev’s Spies. Haynes and Klehr’s Venona also discusses the connection. That’s three out of four books. Later she generalizes a criticism of Andrew to seemingly include other writers as well.
Haynes and Klehr have written an entire book about the “nostalgic afterlife” of the CPUSA, and in particular about the way Soviet agents have been whitewashed by historians (which West references). Two books by Robert Maddox earlier exposed the duplicity of New Left historians writing about the Cold War.
For Roosevelt’s diplomacy, West draws on an excellent book by Dennis Dunn (a professor, by the way, at North Texas U., and thus one of those card-carrying academic historians she reviles). There are several other works by reputable scholars highly critical of Roosevelt’s performance, including Perlmutter, Nesbit, and Nadeau. Even conventional histories of the wartime conferences by Feis, Beitzell, Eubank, etc. do not disguise FDR’s fecklessness and naiveté.
After Thomas Woods’ A Politically Incorrect Guide to American History soared to the top of the best-seller list, Radosh condemned it at HNN. But this sloppy and mendacious book was deserving of a good takedown. I panned the book myself -- at greater length -- on the same website. It’s hardly fair, though, to lump American Betrayal with Woods’ book -- or, for that matter, with Pat Buchannan’s The Unnecessary War and other works it’s kinder to ignore.
It’s always hazardous guessing at the motives of others. We know our own only imperfectly. But the ferocity of the attack has raised this question, and there was no dearth of speculation in the blogosphere as to what incited Radosh.
Were there personal motives?
West and Radosh did not know each other before their exchange of emails about American Betrayal.
In discussing Hollywood’s treatment of Communism, West fails to mention the book by Radosh and his wife, Red Star over Hollywood. She also might have profited from Radosh and Klehr’s thorough and judicious account of the Amerasia case. But whatever resentment Radosh may have felt over the omissions cannot explain “McCarthy on Steroids,” any more than her jibes at academic historians.
What about political motives?
Is Radosh an inverse radish, as some have charged -- white on the outside but red within? Vladimir Bukovsky, among others, has likened the attack on American Betrayal to a “Soviet-style propaganda campaign.” The sarcasm and invective recalls the rhetoric of the Left, and the condemnation of the book by those who hadn’t read it, the Left’s tactics. But if a conservative is defined as an opponent of the Left, Radosh’s credentials are, of course, impeccable. His articles about the Left are always astute and informative.
But one’s enemy’s enemies are not necessarily one’s friends, and the Right has well-known fissures.
The hostility between libertarians and “social conservatives,” however, is not relevant to Radosh v. West, nor is the bitter RINO/Tea Party divide.
What about paleconservative vs neoconservative?
“I started out in what were only then becoming known as ‘neoconservative’ circles,” West says. Her first boss was Irving Kristol. “But I didn't stay there."
“After 9/11, the more I learned about Islam, the less I supported the Bush-Obama nation-building counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan -- high-water marks of neoconservative influence on the direction of U.S. policy and war strategy. We haven't recovered yet.
“At its root, the conceptual strategy behind these wars was driven by the universalist and globalist impulse that denies differences among peoples, religions, tribes, nations, societies of all kinds…”
For Radosh, following Daniel Pipes, there are moderate Muslims and radical Muslims, and we need to work with the former, at home and abroad: the solution to radical Islam is moderate Islam.
For West, the only meaningful distinction is between observant Muslims and non-observant Muslims. “Radical” Islam is Koran-based Islam, just as jihadists proclaim.
Three years ago, Radosh was urging President Obama to do more to overthrow Gaddafi and Assad. Their opponents were moderate Muslims. They told us so themselves. Any lessons from the overthrow of Saddam and Mubarak had not registered. Perhaps they have today.
All this is ironic: the Founding Mother of neoconservatism, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, explicitly warned against undermining traditional autocratic regimes in the name of democracy and human rights. The alternative to Mubarak is not an Egyptian Havel or Walesa, but the Muslim Brotherhood.
Interestingly, Radosh himself hung out with non-interventionists for a while. Like many refugees from the Left, he found a safe house in right-wing (i.e. adult) libertarianism. Don’t look for any mention of this in Commies, but he co-edited a book with Murray Rothbard (A New History of Leviathan, 1972) and wrote Prophets on the Right (1975), a sympathetic treatment of critics of American foreign policy, including Charles Beard, Robert Taft, and John T. Flynn. Yes, that John T. Flynn. This was a time when libertarians quoted Gabriel Kolko, and there was some fraternization between “conservative” New Leftists and Rothbardians.
All this changed after Radosh’s own apostasy in the ‘80s, with The Rosenberg File and his final break over the Sandinistas. He then found a more congenial home in the vicinity of Victor Davis Hansen, Bill Kristol, Max Boot, et al, under the aegis of the Olin Foundation and Hudson Institute. And for neocons, apparently, FDR is still up on his pedestal, and Joe McCarthy is still the arch-villain.
“Paleos” are the heirs of the “isolationists” of the ‘30s and ‘40s, and this may have been what roused Radosh’s ire.
It’s possible that he sees West as having gone some ways down a slippery slope that descends to the claim that FDR knew in advance about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and did nothing; that Hitler had reasonable foreign policy objectives and that the unpleasant features of the Nazi regime were the result of his borrowings from Lenin; that given FDR’s provocations, Germany, like Japan, had no choice but to declare war on the U.S.; that Barbarossa was a preemptive strike that saved Western Civilization in the nick of time; and that America backed the wrong horse in World War II. At the bottom of the slope is the denial of the Holocaust.
A related issue may have been troublesome. Unquestionably, a large percentage of American Communists were Jews: about half the rank and file, though only a quarter of the leadership, and not those running the Party. They represented, though, a tiny percentage of American Jews, perhaps 25,000 out of about 5 million.
A number of the spies were Jewish as well, including, despite his WASPy name, Harry Dexter White. But if the Rosenbergs were Jews, so was their prosecutor Irving Saypol and the judge who condemned them, Irving Kaufman, and the key witness against them, David Greenglass. Saypol’s assistant Roy Cohn went on to become chief counsel for Joe McCarthy.
Nonetheless, for some “isolationists” and their progeny, the narrative of U.S. entry into World War II and the support of the USSR tracks closely to traditional antisemitism: Jewish conspirators working behind the scenes controlling the destiny of nations to which they have no real allegiance.
So it may be fair to say that for Radosh, West, the neocon apostate, is treacherously giving aid and comfort to Buchannanites.
For the record, West rejects this interpretation. She will say only that she believes “there is something in the long-hidden record that American Betrayal has unearthed that drove my detractors to mount the ‘disinformation campaign.’” For two people close to her, however, it is Radosh’s loathing for McCarthy that’s behind the “take-down,” and his desire to disassociate conservatism from anyone well disposed toward the Senator, along with Radosh’s interest in protecting the legacy of FDR.
It’s a bit of a mystery as to why Roosevelt is entitled to a place even in the neocon pantheon. He was responsible for much that is regrettable in American politics: the introduction of a home-grown version of das Führer-prinzip or Stalin’s “cult of personality,” and, the legacy that keeps on giving, large-scale government intervention in the economy -- not so effective in ending the Great Depression, but quite effective in creating constituencies dependent on the federal government.
Though there may be disagreements on tactics, those on the Left faithfully recite the Party Line on race, gender, religion, immigration, anthropogenic global warming, etc. Like Communism, Multiculturalism is doomed because it will repel the intelligent and inquisitive among the next generation -- though how much damage it will do in the interim remains to be seen.
If they are to provide a sanctuary for such rebels, who will eventually stage their own Long March through the system, conservatives have to be resolutely honest, and to be prepared not only to question various smelly orthodoxies, but to question those who challenge them.
A real test of the intellectual integrity of the movement is that in the end a truly balanced view of West’s explosive work will become the consensus.
Statements added by request of authors mentioned:
When I criticize West in my first review and thereafter, I did not have any political agenda in mind. I was offended as a historian who is a conservative. I have devoted my public and professional life to writing history and presenting it as accurately and honestly as possible, and have tried in my own work to show how the Left's ideological views distorted all their would-be historical analysis. My own work is meant to challenge the Left's dominance in the culture, of which how we see the past is one part.
When I read Diana West's book, I was deeply offended that she could write a conspiratorial history of such calibre, and I believe that it besmirches conservatism and allows liberals and the Left to use it to paint conservatives as a bunch of nutcases. Indeed, that is exactly what they did.See Jonathan Chait's commentary in New York Magazine or Andrew Sullivan's use of it in The Dish, as an example.There are good liberals and even leftist historians; there are good conservative historians and bad ones. West is an example of the latter.
Her book hurts the conservative case in the same way as Joe McCarthy hurt anti-Communism, and allowed actual traitors and Soviet agents to depict themselves as innocent victims of McCarthyism.
In making your argument, you ignore the elephant in West's room; her determination to present American strategy in WW II as a Communist conspiracy orchestrated from Moscow to serve Stalin's ends. This is a preposterous theory. When you engage West's particular arguments with respect while you ignore her crackpot thesis which stands behind them, you are doing an immense disservice to the discussion, as well as feeding the McCarthyite fantasies of her followers.
The controversy is not at all how you represent it. In our various articles about West, we were both trying to wage a critique of an absurd conspiracy theory that has ugly overtones, that begins with various conspiratorial views she uses to explain the motives of American war planners. I (Ron) may have indeed made some errors; no one, including me, is infallible. I acknowledge that I may have been wrong on some points and might have misread or got some details wrong. For that I apologize. But I maintain that I am right in my overall critique of her work, and West and none of her critics have convinced me otherwise.
To clean up West's work by ignoring how she pieces everything together in order to sustain a cockamanie and warped theory is not only unfair, but it is wrong and undermines your sincere effort to explain what the controversy is really about.
David Horowitz and Ron Radosh
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.