Letters to the Editor January 2014
American Betrayal, an exchange: Ron Radosh
From a series of letters regarding Andrew C. McCarthy’s review of American Betrayal (The New Criterion, December 2013)
To the Editors:
In his review of Diana West’s American Betrayal (“Red Herrings,” December 2013), Andrew C. McCarthy also discusses the critique I wrote of her book that appeared on Frontpage magazine’s website on August 7, 2013. He accuses me of making the “inaccurate” claim that Ms. West is a conspiracy theorist, a charge that he writes “lacks merit.” Indeed, he says that there was, in fact, an actual conspiracy, which I ignore. Moreover, he argues that I exaggerate what West says. She does not claim, he writes, that “every decision-maker touched by the Soviet conspiracy” was a Communist. But I never made such an assertion. McCarthy then interprets West’s argument to be that “there was an ambitious Communist effort to steer American policy in directions that aligned with Soviet interests.”
If that were all that West argued, I would actually have little trouble with it. What West does argue is something else entirely. She asserts, time and time again, that decisions—particularly those made by fdr—which affected the Soviet–U.S. military alliance were made because the United States was an occupied power, its government controlled by Kremlin agents who had infiltrated the Roosevelt administration and subverted it.
On this point, McCarthy writes that my interpretation of her “ ‘occupation’ metaphor” is “overwrought,” and that I was intimating that West asserts American policy “was fully controlled, rather than significantly influenced, by the Kremlin.” McCarthy is wrong about this. Throughout her book, Diana West makes it quite clear that she believes the United States was in fact an occupied power. Ironically, in answering me, West herself wrote that she never used the phrase “occupied power,” and that what she wrote is that “the strategic placement of hundreds of agents of Stalin’s influence inside the U.S. government and other institutions amounted to a ‘de facto’ occupation,” and later in her book, that “the deep extent of Communist penetration, heretofore denied, had in fact reached a tipping point to become a de facto Communist occupation of the American center of power.”
West, evidently, does not understand the meaning of “de facto.” The Latin phrase means “in fact,” and one can read it also as “in essence.”
McCarthy himself does show how wrongheaded much of West’s own military analysis about options not taken during World War II is. I appreciate that he has learned from the criticism of her work written by myself and Conrad Black on this issue. But he is way off base when, evaluating Lend-Lease, he writes that “under [Harry] Hopkins’s direction,” the program provided “astonishingly lavish aid to the Soviet Union.” As others and I have pointed out elsewhere, it was in our interest to provide that aid. Lend-Lease to the Soviet Union saved thousands—probably hundreds of thousands—of American lives, enabling the Russians to carry the brunt of the battle in the worst period of the war. In short, the aid given to Russia was not a gift, but was necessary and served the interests of the West in general and the United States in particular. In no way did that aid give the Soviets “far beyond what is necessary.”
Next, McCarthy turns to a discussion of how history should view the role played in the postwar era by the late Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. He writes that others and I “predictably use him as an epithet,” that I am wrong to say West believes McCarthy was “right about everything,” and that I do not confront her “specific contentions about McCarthy.”
In her January 15 syndicated column, titled “Joe McCarthy Was Right All Along,” West makes it quite clear that, as she puts it, “McCarthy’s investigations—and those conducted by other officials before and after—netted not innocent and imaginary ‘witches,’ but secret cadres of hardened Communist agents determined to bring down the American republic. Surely, this makes Joe McCarthy a great patriot and deserving ‘the plaudits of a grateful nation.’ ”
Is West right about this? Here, I urge New Criterion readers to consider a balanced assessment of Joseph McCarthy by Harvey Klehr, whom Andrew C. McCarthy accurately calls in his review, along with his colleague John Earl Haynes, intellectual “giants.” In a speech titled “Was Joe McCarthy Right?,” Klehr reaches the following conclusion:
But if McCarthy was right about some of the large issues, he was wildly wrong on virtually all of the details. There is no indication that he had even a hint of the Venona decryptions, so he did not base his accusations on the information in them. Indeed, virtually none of the people that McCarthy claimed or alleged were Soviet agents turn up in Venona. He did identify a few small fry who we now know were spies, but only a few. And there is little evidence that those he fingered were among the unidentified spies of Venona. Many of his claims were wildly inaccurate, his charges filled with errors of fact, misjudgments of organizations, and innuendoes disguised as evidence. He failed to recognize or understand the differences among genuine liberals, fellow-traveling liberals, Communist dupes, Communists, and spies—distinctions that were important to make. The new information from Russian and American archives does not vindicate McCarthy. He remains a demagogue, whose wild charges actually made the fight against Communist subversion more difficult. Like Gresham’s Law, McCarthy’s allegations marginalized the accurate claims.
Because his facts were so often wrong, real spies were able to hide behind the cover of being one of his victims and even persuade well-meaning but naïve people that the whole anti-communist cause was based on inaccuracies and hysteria.
The details are the key, and Andrew C. McCarthy avoids them in the course of making unfounded generalizations in defense of the indefensible West. This is most clear in his discussion of whether or not Harry Hopkins, fdr’s top aide, was a formal Soviet spy—as West claims—known as “Agent 19,” or whether “he was ‘merely’ an ardent Soviet sympathizer constantly at the President’s ear.”
We know, thanks to the Vassiliev papers (which West has read but ignores when their data conflict with her argument), that Agent 19 was Laurence Duggan, who was a Soviet agent in the State Department, without the access or influence of Hopkins. West says it was Hopkins who was indeed Agent 19 and was attempting to make policy on behalf of his NKVD chiefs. According to Andrew McCarthy, this does not matter; it is “a distinction” without a difference. He ends the discussion by citing the recollection of the Soviet spymaster Iskhak Akhmerov who once called Hopkins “the most important of all Soviet wartime agents in the United States.”
As John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr have pointed out, the Akhmerov story is second-hand and is very weak evidence, something only suggestive that lacks actual contemporary documentation. It is based on what we would call “hearsay” evidence in a trial, normally not admissible in an American court of law. The charge came from a recollection of the Soviet intelligence defector Oleg Gordievsky.
Haynes and Klehr have written in an unpublished paper: “What we have here is Gordievsky’s twenty-plus-year-old memory of a lecture by Akhmerov remembering events from twenty-plus years earlier. Gordievsky never saw any documentation, contemporary or otherwise, about Hopkins. The story is second-hand: Gordievsky is reporting what he heard Akhmerov say.” It is second-hand and told forty years after the event happened, and hence “is at the edge of what a responsible historian would take seriously.” Christopher Andrews concluded, as did Gordievsky, that Harry Hopkins was most likely an unconscious source, and not an nkvd agent.
On his weighing of spy vs. sympathizer, Andrew C. McCarthy actually gives an example that proves the importance of details, and that, contrary to what he says about Hopkins, shows that distinctions as to whether one is an actual agent or simply an agent of influence is a big difference. When discussing Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Andrew C. McCarthy writes about some “serious mistakes McCarthy made,” and he singles out McCarthy’s accusation against General George Marshall and his “overstatement of the evidence against Owen Lattimore, which transformed a damaging Communist apologist into a martyr.” Sen. McCarthy had said that Lattimore was the “top Communist spy” in America and was “Alger Hiss’s boss.” As Irving Kristol wrote at the time, Lattimore was actually something far more important to the Kremlin than a spy; he was a defender of Soviet policy in Asia meant to influence the intellectual community. But if it was wrong of Sen. McCarthy to inflate Lattimore’s real role and to make him out to be a spy, cannot Mr. McCarthy see that Diana West does the very same thing when she makes Hopkins into something he was not—Agent 19?
There is good history and there is bad history. Unfortunately, some conservatives like Diana West have written very bad history. As one who has for years waged a battle against the Left’s distortions of history to serve its political agenda—primarily fighting against the false Leftist fables of Howard Zinn, Oliver Stone, and Peter Kuznick—I argue that when a self-proclaimed conservative writes an equally contentious, false, and misleading narrative and calls it history, he or she should receive the same kind of critical appraisal as that given to Leftist distorters of our past. Politicized history is just as bad when written from the Right as from the Left.
Silver Spring, Maryland
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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 32 Number 5, on page 87
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