Last week Takuan Seiyo weighed in on the controversy over Diana West’s book American Betrayal. The comment thread that developed on his post is quite extensive, and ranges over a lot of topics related to Soviet Communist penetration of the United States government during World War Two.
One of the issues raised concerns the debate over where a second front in Europe would be opened. Ms. West’s book presents extensive evidence that Soviet agents or sympathizers in the American government helped influence the final decision to land in Normandy and advance through France. A major alternative that was considered and rejected was a landing at the head of the Adriatic with an advance through the Balkans to Vienna.
Ms. West was not advocating for either option, but simply presenting the evidence that agents of influence had in fact helped sway the strategic decision.
Many commenters seemed to assume that she believed the “Italian option” would have been better. This is an example of confusing descriptive text with normative text. I have often run into the same problem myself — if I simply describe the arguments for a controversial position, without polemical embellishment or condemnatory phrasing, readers assume that I am advocating that position. Which I am not — if I advocate for something, you’ll know it: I will expressly state my advocacy in no uncertain terms.
Ms. West left a comment on Takuan’s essay clarifying the issue, but the post has now drifted so far down the page that many people will not see it. She asked me to reproduce it as a separate post, and I am happy to do so here.
From Diana West:
There is this erroneous notion abroad that in I formulate military strategy in American Betrayal. Not so! I am not a military strategist, nor do I claim to be. In my examination of Soviet influence on the Allied policy-making chain I consider the arguments posed by leading military strategists of the day — many of whom, in this case, championed continuing Allied efforts in southern Europe.
To wit (from pp. 263-264):
The decision to abandon Italy as an expanding, leading front at the end of 1943 made very little sense—unless, cynically, the true objective was to ensure that Central and Eastern Europe remained open for Soviet invasion. Then again, maybe that’s putting things too crudely, too harshly. Let me rephrase: The advantages to enlarging upon Anglo-American gains in Italy were obvious. There was no good strategic objective to be served by virtually abandoning this theater. Not because I say so. The top U.S. commander of strategic bombing in Europe, Gen. Carl Spaatz, said so, too. Capt. Harry C. Butcher recounted Spaatz’s views as expressed to Harry Hopkins on November 23, 1943, in the run-up to the Cairo Conference.
‘Spaatz didn’t think OVERLORD was necessary or desirable. He said it would be a much better investment to build up forces in Italy to push the Germans across the Po, taking and using airfields as we come to them, thus shortening the bombing run into Germany. He foresaw the possibility of getting the ground forces into Austria and Vienna, where additional fields would afford shuttle service for bombing attack against the heart of German industry, which has moved into this heretofore practically safe area.’ …
More significantly, the top U.S. commander of ground forces in Europe, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, agreed with this same assessment—at least he agreed with it before he was made top U.S. commander of ground forces in Europe. On November 26, 1943, at the Cairo Conference, which immediately preceded the Tehran Conference, Ike told a beribboned, bemedaled gathering of the American and British brass how vital Italy and southern Europe were to the war. Quote:
“ ‘Italy was the correct place in which to deploy our main forces and the objective should be the Valley of the Po. In no other area could we so well threaten the whole German structure including France, the Balkans and the Reich itself. Here also our air would be closer to vital objectives in Germany … The next best method of harrying the enemy,’ Eisenhower continued, ‘was to undertake operations in the Aegean . . . From here the Balkans could be kept aflame, Ploesti would be threatened and the Dardanelles might be opened.’ “
Additionally, Gen. Ira Eaker, Gen. Mark C. Clark, Churchill, of course, all supported a similar strategy. They did not prevail. Men and materiel were withdrawn from the region for the “reinvasion” of Europe in northern France. I draw on Gen. Clark’s memoir for his discussion of this, for him, perplexing episode. And it wasn’t perplexing just for him.
The disappearance of Allied men and matériel from Italy seemed completely incomprehensible to another professional military man, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, top commander of German forces in Italy. Clark writes that Kesselring’s intelligence section ‘was completely mystified in coming weeks when our great forward drive failed to take full advantage of its chance to destroy the beaten and disorganized German Army in Italy.’
“Clark continued, ‘It was some time before the Germans understood what had happened to the American troops in Italy; for weeks the Counterintelligence Corps, under the able direction of Lieutenant Colonel Stephen J. Spingarn, was catching enemy agents who had orders to find out “where in hell” were various Allied divisions that were being sent to France”… Historian Dennis J. Dunn offers a crystallizing description of the seemingly incomprehensible Great Switcheroo in progress. ‘It is paradoxical that the Americans were insisting on a withdrawal from the Continent in order to reinvade the Continent from another angle.’
American Betrayal considers whether it was only “paradoxical” — or whether Soviet influence, overt and secret, played a role in these and other momentous events.
For links to previous articles about the controversy over American Betrayal, see the Diana West Archives.