Before laying out the latest details, I’d like to consider the larger principle at stake here. The issue is not what is written in Ms. West’s book, nor does it concern who is right or wrong among those who have weighed in on the book.
The most important — and puzzling — aspect of this episode is the eagerness of people to stake out a public position about American Betrayal without having read the book. It is nothing short of astonishing that respected writers and scholars should be willing to state a definitive opinion about a book they haven’t read. How is it that so many well-educated people could be so lacking in intellectual integrity?
So, when I post about the current imbroglio, I must emphasize that I have no opinion about the book, since I have not read it. I do, however, have an opinion about people who state their firm opinions about a book they have not read.
The latest prominent venue to publish an article about American Betrayal was the New English Review, which posted excerpts from Ronald Radosh’s original review yesterday, accompanied by supportive remarks from NER’s editor-in-chief, Rebecca Bynum.
Reader comments accompanying all of the reviews and articles attacking Diana West have been overwhelmingly negative about her detractors, and the comments on Ms. Bynum’s post were no exception. One commenter had some especially thoughtful points to make in response, based largely on the article “FDR’s Traitor?” by Dr. Andrew Bostom that was posted yesterday at American Thinker:
Rebecca, you owe it to yourself and your readers to read the book — don’t let Radosh et al tell you what to think. It’s now deeply discounted at amazon.com.
Note what Geert Wilders reportedly took for some light reading on summer vacation.
The NER has a stellar reputation for integrity. Why not read the book and then do your own review on it?
Here’s a review by an expert on the subject, Bernie Reeves at AT. Worth your time. Bernie Reeves, a magazine editor and publisher, is founder of the Raleigh Spy Conference, established in 2003 to interpret declassified information from the 1930s through the Cold War.
Don’t miss the author Diana West’s many ripostes to Radosh here.
Please also note the sad problem of Radosh’s factual errors (including his mistakes in correcting a first set of errors). He gets the book wrong (I mean he literally mixes the book up with another book apparently). At 75 there can be — not always, but we’ve all seen it in relatives or friends or colleagues — a decline in cognitive functioning, and Radosh’s rage and paranoia about Diana West and American Betrayal fits that profile as well. See here (“Today, what I consider one of the most important review articles I have written is available on Frontpagemag.com. It is about Diana West’s horrendous and yet popular book, American Betrayal, which to my mind is not only the single worst book I have ever read, but a “conservative” assault on history, the truth and intellectual integrity.”)
Seriously, Rebecca, how can you NOT read a book that is “the single worst book” that Radosh ever read, especially since he spent decades reading communist tracts before he become a recovering former communist? Aren’t you even a wee bit curious? That’s some bad book.
One last thing — the whole Source 19 controversy. Since you haven’t yet read the book — but you will, right? — this may be a bit obscure, but bear with me. It’s not the centerpiece of West’s argument, but it’s the centerpiece of Radosh’s argument against West. She says Edouard Mark identified in 1998 that source 19 was Harry Hopkins. Radosh grants her this point, but then notes that in 2009, Mark presented a paper (In Re Alger Hiss — A Final Verdict from the Archives of the KGB) in which (and this is my research, not what Radosh says which is much briefer), on page 33, Mark quoted Vassiliev’s notes referring to Boris Bazarov’s letter in 1936 mentioning a “19” which was annotated much later by John Haynes as referring to Laurence Duggan, not Harry Hopkins. (Why yes, it is like a passage from Nabokov passed through a processor designed by Borges, but hang in there). So Radosh’s annotation by John Haynes in the Mark paper from 2009 was more recent than West’s 1998 Edouard Mark reference — so the point goes to Radosh. But it turns out that Herbert Romerstein, a leading historian of the era (author of “The Venona Secrets”), in November 2012 published with Stan Evans “Stalin’s Secret Agents.” See pages 113-199 for a lengthy discussion of the “19” question — from 1943 — in which the authors citing numerous sources conclude that “19” was Harry Hopkins. Who knows, maybe they recycled numbers. Maybe it’s an open question still. Serious and cognitively capable people can take different positions and keep analyzing the evidence and agree to disagree. Sadly, not Radosh.
So at least — if these were fact-based discussions by Radosh et al, in the same way that American Betrayal is a well-sourced, fact-based work (900+ footnotes) — at least that 2012 discussion of “19” would be a point to Diana West in this match, no?
At least it could have been an interesting debate, and civil? And not this awful leftwing tradition of denunciation and disinformation to which Radosh reverts.
Give it a shot. Read the book. I would be very interested in reading one of your thoughtful essays, especially after all the facts have emerged through Diana’s posts.
Look for some good writing on this coming soon from Europe too.
Ms. Bynum responded to this comment, and others:
Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. It still appears to me that West has charged into US history in a way that is very reckless. I know enough about that period to state unequivocally that NER Press would never have published a book like that. If I were to review it, my review would be similar to Radosh’s, but without his clear expertise on the Cold War. I’m more familiar with the war years and FDR.
I wish Diana luck, but I cannot agree with her about Hopkins, FDR or what should have been in the aftermath of the war.
A reader who followed the exchange was amazed by what he read at the New English Review, and emailed us with his observations:
Without reading the book, and as a book publisher herself — how can she make any of these comments? She knows in advance that her review would be similar to Radosh’s without having read the book? Isn’t this the very picture of an imposed politically correct party line? That she is saying, publicly, she will have no thoughts other than Radosh’s, but that his are by definition superior to hers?
Confronted with sins small and large, it is always a temptation to despair. And yet Diana is winning with the commenters — readers both ordinary and expert in the field — and their comments have been courageous, truth-seeking, brimming with good fellowship. Even better, so many keep telling her to keep her chin up, etc.
What an extraordinary stage this has set for so many to engage with morality, ethics, personal integrity, their own place in history.
How affirming this is for the power of the written word.
The near-universal condemnation of Diana West’s conclusions by prominent conservative writers stands in stark contrast with the sentiment of commenters on these writers’ sites, which are overwhelmingly in favor of Ms. West’s position and against the lockstep — and often personal — attacks on her.
It’s too early to make a judgment about what lies behind this deep divide, or why so many well-educated people are so hasty in their condemnation of a book they acknowledge not having read.
I don’t understand it. It’s peculiar, perplexing, and dismaying. It represents a widespread abandonment of academic standards among scholarly critics who should know better.
It makes no sense.
A Gates of Vienna reader who has read excerpts from Ms. West’s book, and has extensive knowledge on the topic she addresses, left the following informative comment yesterday:
This is indeed a mystifying stoush and quite unnecessary. There must be some personal dimension to it, as it is not a neo-con vs paleo-con thing. The titles of Radosh’s reviews “McCarthyism on Steroids” and others, worse in their ad hominem nature, are distressing. His possible motivations perplex me. Trashing West to gain additional credibility as a snow-pure historian? It is a target-rich environment out there for conservatives, they shouldn’t be engaged in circular firing squads.
Yes, Radosh is right about the uranium shipped to the USSR under Lend Lease: too little of the right isotope to be useful for bomb-making, and in any event Radosh was right; the Soviets copied the plutonium not the uranium bomb. And had been busy doing so since no later than mid 1943. But this error, or rather over-emphasis, by West derogates little from a very compelling thesis.
I have only read West’s five excerpts and, regarding myself as highly informed in the areas covered, I was shocked to learn of Eisenhower’s assessment of Italy’s Po Valley being a key strategic goal for the prosecution of the war — an assessment that I first learned of from West. I have been acutely aware for decades that there was a long term battle between Churchill and Roosevelt over concentration of resources on the Mediterranean Front — exploiting the Ljubljana Gap, after a leap-frogging amphibious landing in the northern Adriatic, e.g. Istria, to get to Vienna first was Churchill’s dream — vis-à-vis opening up another front in Western Europe and Churchill was “overruled” in this by Roosevelt. I had always understood that it was the US Navy that didn’t want to devote the ships to that Adriatic exercise — preferring concentration in the Pacific theatre that — that was the tipping factor. Even when Churchill resuscitated it in early 1945. West plausibly makes a different case. Despite a deep familiarity with the sterling works of John Haynes and Harvey Klehr, I was unaware of Franz Neumann and his role.
One would have to be naive in the extreme to not accept it was in the Soviets’ interests that there be a Western Europe operation of the Normandy kind instead of a single concentrated Anglo-American effort from the South which could have readily seen the Anglo-Americans in Vienna and Budapest (and Marseilles and Lyon) before the Soviets had taken Warsaw.
Why West’s prima facie worthwhile book has attracted such venomous denunciation from a conservative historian is beyond me. I can understand, but would not necessarily endorse, why Radosh would take issue with Buchanan’s The Unnecessary War, but West’s work?
Painful as it is to recognise: Britain and the US got duped by the Soviet Union. Radosh is entirely correct that Lend Lease to the Soviet Union served Western interests by keeping the Soviets in the fight in 1942-1943 and ensuring that they kept the upper hand through the course of 1944. After the Soviets stalled, to put it politely, outside Warsaw so that the Germans could crush the indigenous Polish (and, overwhelmingly, anti-Soviet) uprising, however, the Anglo-Americans should have wised up to Soviet strategic intentions and Lend Lease should have been cut, suspended or ended. West makes apparently a good case for why this did not happen.
Many Britons (my grandfather served as an RAF Flight Lieutenant in North Africa and Italy) and Americans suffered for this folly, many with their lives. Not to mention the tens of millions of central Europeans including, dare I say it, Germans, who either lost their lives through the prolongation of the war to serve Soviet interests or suffered the decades of misery of Soviet domination.
West’s work goes part of the way to answering the conundrum as to how Roosevelt, a savvy arch-intriguer par excellence, could have been so stupendously naïve regarding Stalin. Having an inner circle of advisors such as Harry Hopkins (so he wasn’t Agent 19, but he was so important that maybe he wasn’t given a number or pseudonym by the Soviets), Duggan, Dexter White, etc, etc — explains a great deal.
When William C. Bullitt, a former US ambassador to the Soviet Union and because of it a die-hard anti-Soviet crusader by 1939, urged upon Roosevelt a more hard-headed attitude towards Stalin, he was rebuffed and, more disturbingly, his political career destroyed with a vengeance. Roosevelt opined to Bullitt that he would give “Uncle Joe” everything he asked for and when the time came “Uncle Joe” would reciprocate kindly and acquiesce to American requests. Bullitt asked Roosevelt why did he imagine that Stalin would behave in such a way: you give him something for nothing and just he’ll think you a gull. Roosevelt responded “Noblesse oblige!” Bullitt sputtered “Noblesse oblige?! We’re not talking about the Duke of Northumberland* here; we’re taking about a Caucasian bandit!!” Roosevelt never spoke to him again. My money would be on Roosevelt’s Hopkinesque advisers playing a big role in both Roosevelt’s misplaced faith and subsequent treatment of Bullitt.
* Actual duke cited only from memory. And unimportant to the point.