Descriptive vs. Normative

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.’ …

p. 264:

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.

p. 268:

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.

16 thoughts on “Descriptive vs. Normative

  1. Note from the Baron:

    I’m allowing this comment and the previous one through, even though they are off the topic, which is NOT the relative merits of the possible locations for an Allied landing.

    The topic is the extent to which Soviet penetration the American government influenced the decision on the location of the second front.

    The thread on Takuan’s post wandered too far into this argument. I will not allow this one to do the same.


    I’ve heard much talk in the history of Nazi Europe having a soft underbelly. In spite of the hardships of the Italian invasion, the momentum was there, and so, in spite of the terrain, an attack could have been affected more rapidly using that momentum, so hard won.
    I always wondered why southern Europe was so cruelly abandoned in allied calculations. Were France and the Low Countries by themselves really so valuable?

  2. Note from the Baron:

    I’m allowing this comment and the next one through, even though they are off the topic, which is NOT the relative merits of the possible locations for an Allied landing.

    The topic is the extent to which Soviet penetration the American government influenced the decision of the location of the second front.

    The thread on Takuan’s post wandered too far into this argument. I will not allow this one to do the same.


    I have mentioned this in other places, but it bears repeating. One of the strongest recommendations of the Italian approach is that the mountainous terrain separating Italy from Germany tended to maximize the tactical advantage to be gained from superiority in aircraft, particularly heavy bombers which were relegated to a “strategic” role in the open terrain of France. It also maximizes the relative advantage of artillery against other ground forces.

    A commitment to Italy would have pitted the greatest strengths of the Allied forces against the relative weakness of Axis forces in a theater that Hitler simply could not have ignored. If nothing else, the mountains of Northern Italy should have been turned into a meat-grinder to destroy Hitler’s forces on favorable terms so as to make the opening of a different front less dangerous if it was regarded as absolutely necessary. I would not recommend this, instead preferring to use the threat of alternate invasion paths as a means of keeping the Germans stretched thin and thus unable to throw fresh troops into the meat grinder fast enough to prevent an Allied advance (the virtue of humanity in a commander requires that even enemy forces be deterred from going where they will only be killed).

    Yes, the mountains of Northern Italy would have been a tactical nightmare…for German forces being sent to hold back the Allied advance. Bereft of air cover in mountainous terrain with limited avenues of approach, they would have been subjected to attack during every movement without any really effective means of striking back. On reaching the defensive line positions, they would have been subjected to continuous precision artillery from units they could not see or hope to assault. When the pace of reinforcement and resupply dropped below that necessary to the maintenance of a line, they would be forced to surrender the line wholesale or face annihilation. Under such conditions, surrender of a defensive line would imply surrender of most of the troops remaining.

    Imposing such desperately unfair conditions on the enemy may rouse a sense of injustice. The mass amphibious assault on the coast of France does seem more valorous. But the wise commander does not discard an advantage just to make things “fair” for the enemy, at the very least a concession must be extracted in return.

    • Note from the Baron:

      I’m allowing this comment because it is a reply, even though they are both off the topic, which is NOT the relative merits of the possible locations for an Allied landing.

      The topic is the extent to which Soviet penetration the American government influenced the decision of the location of the second front.

      I want people to take this sort of discussion back to Takuan’s post, if you insist on having it.


      In what ways was the mountainous terrain of Monte Cassino an advantage for the allies – or for Allied bombers? During the 6-month struggle in 1944, they destroyed the whole abbey – yet the German defences were largely unaffected. Reducing buildings to rubble can make turn them into great defences, and perfect cover for snipers – as was found in Stalingrad… true, if the Po valley was taken faster, Allied bombers would have found themselves closer to Germany. Yet they were already close to northern Germany, and the Ruhr industrial region, via their existing airfields in Britain, with the Mustang by 1944 providing longer-range fighter cover. So why persevere with 6 month-long battles in well-defended mountains, taking high casualties, when much more rapid advances could be gained in the flat lands of northern Europe? (as was the case during Hitler’s Blitzkriegs in 1939 and 1940).

      • As the discussion is not ultimately about the military situation but about the political reasons for preferring the outright mass murder of many Allied troops over the advantages of an Italian campaign, I shall respect the Baron’s wishes to remit discussion of purely military considerations.

        I do note, however, that the advantages of a push through Northern Italy and Austria are indicative of the degree of political influence that was necessary to effect preference of Operation OVERLORD over the existing Italian front to the extent that forces already landed in Italy were pulled out to take part in an operation that, despite being militarily successful, involved significantly more fatal casualties to the attackers than the defenders. Whether the Italian campaign was the best available option is essentially unknowable. That Operation OVERLORD was not the best available option on purely military grounds is a firmly established historical fact.

        Why tens of thousands of Allied servicemen lost their lives so unnecessarily, with many more suffering incapacitating injuries, has always been one of the inexplicable mysteries of World War II. I had long settled on the somewhat unsatisfactory explanation that the commanding generals involved were simply entirely incompetent. It is certainly a common enough feature of war, and we rightly say “never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity”. Thus it is correct to assess the documentary evidence which Diane West has uncovered rather than jump to conclusions based on the assumption of military competence.

      • Ultimately, there are two competing strains of what we call “conservatism” in America. The more genuinely reactive strain of natural conservatives is committed to preservation of the social order that was current during their own youth. Indeed, we see some of this tendency to try and reclaim “better days” in many of the Boomers who still breathlessly dedicate themselves to continuous “flower power”, the triumph of emotionally satisfying “good intentions” over rational thought which characterized their upbringing. Some (like Horowitz himself) may have experiences which reveal to their mind the value of the good order of society on which the prosperity and freedom they enjoyed in their youth was dependent, and thus they turn from a striving for youthful excess to preservation of what they believe fostered the social conditions on which their halcyon days depended.

        The other type of American conservative is more correctly identified as an American Revolutionary, a person firmly dedicated to the principles of the American Revolution itself. There was about a century during which those dedicated to the principles of the American Revolution could be considered as natural conservatives, starting about a generation after the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America and lasting till somewhat after those principles ceased to have significant force in constraining the national government of the U.S. (around 1920). The roaring twenties were built largely on a monetary bubble caused by abandonment of Constitutional principles of government, that battle represented the last gasp of a conservative movement based on appreciation for how the founding principles of the American Revolution had made peace and prosperity possible for Americans in their own youth.

        Those currently calling for a return to Constitutional principles are asking for something that they have never personally experienced except in token quantities. They are thus not natural conservatives, having far more in common with the Revolutionary generation to whom the ideals of limited government existing to help people protect their own inalienable rights was more a theory than a fondly remembered foundation of a happy youth. For us, the theory is now backed by firm evidence, but that evidence is historical rather than part of our living memory, the oldest Americans can only recall the eventual abandonment of the principles of Constitutionally limited government, they do not remember life under those principles.

        What Diane West’s book reveals is the degree to which the incremental Fabian Socialism which succeeded Constitutional government utterly failed to meaningfully resist the danger presented by revolutionary Communism. Her research stemmed from investigation into why the incremental Fabian Socialist regime of modern American was so ineffectual in resisting the danger posed by totalitarian Koranic Islam, and while that book had to be placed on hold while she pursued the thread of historical evidence, it will no doubt be a far more potent work when she completes it. The thrust of American Betrayal is that we can no longer entrust incremental Fabian Socialism with the task of defending our nation (and other nations) from the dangers of other totalitarian ideologies, the idea of carefully managed progress towards a totalitarian future turns out to be ill-disposed to protect us against totalitarian dangers in our present.

        Horowitz is a conservative in the sense that he (like most establishment Republicans) only wants to continue an orderly management of the evolution towards totalitarianism. Diane West, by publishing the evidence that incremental Fabian Socialism is not inclined to strongly resist totalitarian revolution, is giving ammunition to the most hated enemies of Fabian Socialism, the new American Revolutionaries.

        • Ultimately, there are two competing strains of what we call “conservatism” in America.

          There are more than two…mainly because conservatism itself isn’t a doctrine. Russell Kirk delineated his “Principles of Conservatism” preceded by an introduction where he said, in part:

          Perhaps it would be well, most of the time, to use this word “conservative” as an adjective chiefly. For there exists no Model Conservative, and conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.

          The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata. It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects, there being no Test Act or Thirty-Nine Articles of the conservative creed.

          … A people’s historic continuity of experience, says the conservative, offers a guide to policy far better than the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers. But of course there is more to the conservative persuasion than this general attitude…

          Then he discusses the first principle:

          First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.

          This word order signifies harmony. There are two aspects or types of order: the inner order of the soul, and the outer order of the commonwealth. Twenty-five centuries ago, Plato taught this doctrine, but even the educated nowadays find it difficult to understand. The problem of order has been a principal concern of conservatives ever since conservative became a term of politics.

          Our twentieth-century world* has experienced the hideous consequences of the collapse of belief in a moral order. Like the atrocities and disasters of Greece in the fifth century before Christ, the ruin of great nations in our century shows us the pit into which fall societies that mistake clever self-interest, or ingenious social controls, for pleasing alternatives to an oldfangled moral order.

          *IIRC, he wrote in the mid=fifties.

          • It is certainly true that conservatism is inevitably as multifarious as the individual experiences of those who are inclined to preserve particular elements of the society that produced them, because it is the wisdom of experience rather than pure theory. I refer mainly to the sharpest division in what Americans currently think of as “conservatism”.

            That fault-line is generally where long-established American institutions are entirely at odds with the founding principles of America. The prevalence and power of such institutions are largely due to the intentional agenda of Fabian Socialists, under the various names they’ve adopted at different times.

            One of the pitfalls behind natural conservatism is the delusion that any situation which has persisted for a few decades of defining life experiences is essentially permanent in nature, that there is no possibility that the current system could be really unsustainable and in danger of collapse in the near term. Perhaps this security is more justified in the case of resisting claims that CO2 increases due to human activity are about to destroy the climate on which human life depends, since the system in question is eons rather than decades old (besides which the math suggesting a collapse is simply incorrect), but the “wisdom of experience” also tells every living American that the dollar can never actually collapse, and this is simply not true.

            I was never a conservative in this sense myself. It is true that, as a child, I rationally assumed that people with more life experience than myself were likely to know quite a bit more about the workings of the world than I did, and just slightly less-rationally assumed that they would be approximately as inclined as myself to analyze that information to develop considered opinions. It was not until I was an adult that I began to submit to the evidence that human nature did not correspond to my own psychology, and it took years of additional study to begin to have a general notion of what human nature was “really” like (the nature of the subjective experience of most specifically human nature will apparently always elude me, which makes claims of ever being able to fully understand it rather suspect).

            To some extent, all of my explanations of human behavior are entirely theoretical, if based on wide reading of descriptive literature by those who have studied it intimately. In my own observations, most specifically human behavior is simply incomprehensible, I should never have come to any workable theory of psychology through my own observations (my naive conception of human mental development was quite persuasive, but mainly because it was very flattering, not because it explained anything about actual humans). So it is perhaps wise to take my reading of the psychology of anyone with a grain of salt, I can make no valid claim to even understand the mental processes of people I’ve known personally for years or decades. What I present is a synthesis of opinions on the matte which I regard as being honestly motivated, but it would be wrong to say that I’m a very good judge of character (I may be much more accurately called a test of character in most cases).

            Still, the rift in “conservatism” as a movement is real and alarming to everyone trying to achieve political solutions to our crisis. The question of why it exists deserves careful examination.

  3. And this confusion of Diana West’s descriptive analysis with some purported normative position she was supposed to be purveying — this confusion was fomented by Radosh and then by subsequent commentators, both on the Horowitz/Radosh side, and ALSO by those trying valiantly but ineptly to defend West. The latter were just being sincerely inept; the former did is in the context of dozens of other blatant mischaracterizations of West’s points — many of those mischaracterizations so preposterously ungrounded in the facts of West’s writing that West would describe them as “surreal”.

    When someone as ostensibly intelligent as Horowitz and Radosh repeatedly indulge mischaracterizations of elementary data to the point where it becomes repeatedly surreal, then normal explanations (they are “angry”, they are “egotistical”, etc.) no longer suffice. We become forced by the weight of the data of their behavior to conclude that the most plausible explanation is that they are deliberately distorting and obfuscating in order to promote disinformation. What would be the motive for promoting disinformation that, among other things, tends to protect Harry Hopkins and tends to preserve the dominant PC MC anti-McCarthy meme? An ordinary explanation doesn’t suffice here; one is forced to consider the extraordinary explanation, that Horowitz and Radosh are stealth Communists pretending to be anti-Communist.

    • I believe in intelligent prejudice. It was obvious to me that the commenters were wrong who were attributing to Diana West the advocacy of an assault from Italy onto Austria over the Alps. And that despite my having, like them, not read the book. Simply put, having read much else that DW had written, I knew that she could not have written such presumptuous nonsense.

      This past unreal conditional tense is quite important, for it allows quick judgments of Reality that in our culture we have all but abandoned. Thus, what does it matter whether Hopkins was or was not a KGB agent when, by his actions, he might have as well been one and we are facing, right now, a similar infiltration with a similar determination not to see it.

      There is more pragmatic wisdom in ancient Chinese proverbs, for instance, still guiding Chinese policy nowadays, than there is mega-budget “scientific” studies conducted by, say the US State Department with 20 PhDs on the payroll.

  4. NOTICE: From now on I will delete all further comments arguing the merits of the different proposed locations for an Allied landing in WW2.

    At the risk of shouting myself hoarse, I repeat:


    The thread on that topic has established itself on the “Too Much Schnapps” post. You may post them there, if you like.

    • You weren’t actually shouting just then were you …??? I have an image of you with steam actually coming out of your ears, Yosemite Sam-style …

  5. the question is why horowitz and radosh attack Diana west.
    it seems hesperado has a logigal answer in communists acting as anti communists.

  6. Basing on the premise that at the time, when decisions were being made on invasion locations, the outcome of the war still was not a certainty; Soviets had a genuine interest in the success of their western allies against Germany. If the Soviets saw their allies were about to make a disastrous strategic decision, it would be rational for them to use their influence, including pulling of the strings by their agents in important positions in the West, in order to prevent a fiasco, which, in the Soviet’s judgement, would have been forthcoming, if the invasion were to focus on penetrating impenetrable areas.
    Accusing certain western leaders of being Soviet agents, just because some did not like the strategic decisions made by them, would qualify as unadulterated slander. Conversely, one might suspect those western strategists who had advocated the invasion via southern Europe of being agents themselves, albeit on the German payroll.

  7. And that is where the evidence of Soviet influence, with a lack of any corresponding Nazi influence (in fact, clear evidence that the Nazis found the decision to pull units out of Italy to be entirely inexplicable), must decide the debate.

  8. The simplies reason to invade France is political:
    France was an Ally and liberating it would be a political goal it and for itself, so it is not strange political leaders would opt to a political goal and disregard a better strategic option.

    It is on the same reason Mc Arthur wanted to invade and liberate the Philippines before the end of the war when the aim was to force surrender of the Japan mainland. When the mainland surrendered, the remnant imperial forces surrendered.

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