An Outbreak of Paranoia at Gates of Vienna
According to the website Gates of Vienna, my 3-part article series last month on Diana West’s American Betrayal and the controversy surrounding it was “commissioned” by “the arbiters of ‘accepted history’” who wanted to see “a 12,000-word rehash of all the arguments.” And they paid me a tidy sum:
What prompted this new wave of Westphobia? Are her book sales still running too high? Are there too many five-star ratings of the book at Amazon? Are positive reviews still being posted on a lot of websites?
Whatever the reason, it’s clear that those who want to suppress American Betrayal have mobilized their forces again. A year after the initial fight, someone in allegedly conservative circles has decided to spend the money to add more concrete to the containment facility surrounding Diana West. This operation is not like a rant posted on an obscure blog — the editors of these venues are on salary, and the free-lancers who pen the screeds expect to be paid. In other words, somebody who has money wants Diana West to lie back down and stay dead.
We screed-writers may expect to be paid, but it seldom happens. No one gets reimbursed for reviews, whether they’re in scholarly journals, independent book reviews, the anemic book sections of newspapers, or websites. And very few websites pay for articles. Maybe Gates of Vienna is one of the exceptions. In any case, for the record, I was not asked to write anything on the subject, and received no compensation of any sort.
I wrote what's called a "mixed review." I admired some things about West's book and said so, and thought some of Radosh's criticisms were unfair and his tone regrettable. While Communists in the Roosevelt administration undoubtedly influenced some decisions during the Second World War, I disagreed with West's claims about their role in launching Lend-Lease (and her misrepresentation of the program), in planning a Second Front, in determining the response to overtures from anti-Nazis, etc., and I took issue with her speculations as to what would have happened had alternative policies been adopted.
Apparently, for some of West’s fans, American Betrayal has become an object of religious veneration. Any criticism of the book is “Westphobia,” and must be the result of some dark conspiracy by malevolent psychopaths, along with the greed of those willing to work for the conspirators.
One critic who has taken a different tack, and whose piece is posted above the article excoriating the infidels, is the estimable Andrew Bostom. But Dr. Bostom, after briefly recommending that readers compare my critique with West’s chapter on the Second Front, the subject of his post (fine with me), launches into a long exposition of Hanson Baldwin’s 144-page book, published in 1950, Great Mistakes of the War.
I dealt with one of these “mistakes,” that “Russia might make a separate peace with Germany.” The mistake is Baldwin’s: negotiations were conducted intermittently for about six months in and around Stockholm by Peter Kleist and Edgar Clauss, beginning in December of 1942. Kleist writes about them in his memoir European Tragedy, and a number of historians have discussed the negotiations.
As for the Second Front, it’s not clear why Dr. Bostom relies on a short section of a 64-year-old book by a N.Y. Times journalist when there are literally shelves of books by military historians on the Mediterranean theatre.
A good introduction remains The Mediterranean Strategy in the Second World War by Michael Howard, perhaps, with John Keegan, the most distinguished British military historian of the second half of the twentieth century.
Howard’s conclusion is that
the British did not present their Allies with a coherent “Mediterranean Strategy”… Throughout 1943 Mediterranean operations were justified as necessary preliminaries for the attack on North-West Europe which, all were agreed, was to follow the following summer. They were seen neither as an easy way into Europe (in spite of Mr. Churchill’s unfortunate “underbelly” metaphor), nor as a way of forestalling the Russians… Even in Mr. Churchill’s thinking the idea of a forestalling operation appears only briefly during a few exceptional weeks in the summer of 1944—and then in support of an operation the practicability of which was not self-evident and which was flatly rejected by his own Chiefs of Staff.
Douglas Porch, who, unlike most military historians, defends the Mediterranean campaigns, acknowledges that “even Churchill had never conceived of the Mediterranean strategy as a substitute for an invasion of Northwestern Europe.”
Why the aversion to reputable military and diplomatic historians? This is not the approach Dr. Bostom would take if he wanted to get up to speed on a controversial medical issue.
The contrast between blinkered, craven Leftist “academic historians” and bold iconoclasts outside the discipline is red meat to conspiracy buffs.
But the real debate about the chapters in which West attempts to “connect the dots” is between those who know something about the Second World War and those who don’t—or would be if the former were to take the trouble to read the book.
It’s said that good teachers always learn from their students. Whether or not this is true of all courses, it certainly is the case for history classes that cover the Second World War. At least at a big state university, you’ll always get students who know more about some aspect of the war than you. It’s not just students. There are 12-year-olds who get fascinated by Rommel and then read more widely about strategy and tactics. There are 92-year-old veterans of the Battle of the Bulge who start reading about other battles and other campaigns. These are the readers who, if they’ve gotten into Lend Lease, the Second Front, etc., are going to be brought up short by West’s claims.