The following review of “American Betrayal” was originally published at Europe News.
Book essay: Down the Rabbit Hole, Again
by Henrik Ræder Clausen
American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character by Diana West, St. Martins Press, May 28 2013. 416 pages, $20.23 (hardcover), $12.99 (Kindle)
Every once in a while, something happens that turns a whole structure of preconceived ideas upside down, shattering tales and narratives long taken for granted, destroying prejudice, clearing space for new understanding to grow. Diana West’s latest book, American Betrayal, is such an event.
To those of us in Europe who grew up under the protection of the US nuclear umbrella, with US troops still stationed in Germany to deter a Soviet invasion of our countries, history seemed solid: The heroic Americans saved us from the national socialist menace, rolling back the occupations that had plagued our countries for half a decade.
Afterwards they protected us from yet another great threat, that of Soviet communism. A solid Good vs. Evil story, where we had the great fortune to be on the side of freedom, and eventually prevail when the Wall came down.
But what if the real tale is a somewhat different one? What if the US government had quietly been subverted into supporting the Soviet Union, in spite of its being documentably as evil as Nazi Germany, already in the 1930’s? What if Soviet infiltration into the US government had siphoned off vital information, extensive material support, path-breaking scientific knowledge including the crown jewels of nuclear research, and given it all to the Soviet Union, for free? Would that work for good, or for evil?
Worse yet, suppose a Soviet desire to utterly destroy Germany and afterwards occupy half of Europe had quietly become official US policy?
And a similar unspoken acceptance of the Soviet Union supporting Mao in taking control of China? This would make the US complicit in spreading communism from the Soviet Union to many other countries, and thus in the suffering and death of millions of innocents, from Berlin to Saigon, and beyond. What if World War II had merely a single real winner, the Soviet Union?
This is what American Betrayal is about. Major topics, stuff that matters. For our understanding of history influences our decisions today, future development and what eventually will also become history. Accepting false narratives is enslaving; proper understanding is liberating.
But initially, her book was not meant to be about this. The intention of the author was to trace the origins of political correctness, aiming at uprooting this debilitating disease of modern-day politics. It just happened that tracing political correctness led to
… tracing references and footnotes backward along a well-mapped historical route that has simply fallen into disuse — reads like the history of a mirror-image universe. Certainly not like the history of the United States of America as I knew it.
And this description of going through the looking-glass comes from a certified conservative American, writing about topics important to us Europeans, too.
Into the substance
The book starts out around that fateful year 1933 when Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the “New Deal” in response to the Great Depression, when the United States of America formally recognized the Soviet regime as the legitimate rule of Russia, and when Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany.
It follows the work and activities of quite a number of persons working for the US government and in many New Deal agencies such as the Agricultural Adjustment Administration and the National Recovery Administration. It traces well-known Soviet agents such as Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers and (most controversially), Harry Hopkins.
Naming Hopkins as a Soviet agent inside the US government has been surprising to many. Yet Diana West is not alone in that assessment. Apart from the pattern of Hopkins’ systematic promotion of Soviet interests over than American ones, the position of Hopkins was confirmed by none other than the KGB themselves, as summarized by Robert Stacy McCain:
Chapter by chapter, American Betrayal highlights a number of Communist infiltration approaches, detailing the persons, the connections and the organizations behind them. The American Communist Party and their newspaper Daily Worker get the special mention they deserve, including the assertion it made that it was not a puppet of Moscow policies — an assertion taken at face value by US authorities, who failed to properly investigate the elaborate trails leading from that party to Moscow.
Likewise, treaties and agreements with the Soviet Union are shown not to have been worth the paper they were written on. One such was entered into in 1933, as a precondition for the US recognition of the Soviet regime.
In that agreement, the Soviet Union pledged not to engage in any subversion of the United States, a pledge violated so openly and systematically that it should have triggered a major diplomatic crisis and a retraction of the recognition.
Yet it did not.
Instead, an estimated 500 agents of the Soviet Union were working in various positions in the US government, usually paid for and fully trusted by the American government and public. While the New Deal initiatives that many of these persons worked for were certainly harmful, the greater harm was yet to come.
The Soviet Union even had the audacity (in 1937 and in 1943) to request the firing of specific anti-Soviet persons from the US government, requests that were granted. Speaking out against the Soviet Union could obviously be hazardous to your career and employment.
A major problem with granting the Soviet Union such covert influence on the US government was the fact that already at this point, during the 1930s, the Soviets had proven themselves an evil fully on the level of the Hitler regime — a regime so patently evil that the Allied powers, ultimately led by America, dedicated huge resources to its defeat, including millions of human casualties. Yet, there was no real resistance to the Soviets’ taking control of Eastern Europe after WWII? This is severely chilling.
Don’t worry, it gets worse
Now, infiltration may sound relatively innocuous compared to the wonderfully dramatic world of spying and counter-spying, as has been the subject of countless popular novels and movies. Yet infiltration is considerable more effective than simple spying, for in co-opting foreign powers, it is possible to discreetly steer their policies in the direction desired, getting crucial support, agreements or concessions that would be unobtainable by normal diplomatic bargaining.
One such support programme was the well-known Lend-Lease agreement. This was initially publicized as a support measure for the democracies of England and France facing off against the totalitarian enemy on the European mainland.
Then, when totalitarian Germany attacked the equally totalitarian Soviet Union, Lend-Lease was quietly extended to also cover the Soviet Union, which would certainly not have been in a position to win World War II without this support.
This fact opens the gate to an uncanny thought: What would have happened if the Western powers had not supported the Soviet Union against the German assault, which would probably have led to a German defeat of the Soviet Union in 1941 or 1942? It’s impossible to tell.
Yet the war went on, and in 1943, it became clear that the Germans were unable to defeat the Soviets. In that situation, abolishing the Nazi regime and ending the war would have been an interesting option to prevent the ensuing Total War and immense destruction.
But again, Soviet agents in the US government advocated a total defeat and even destruction of Germany, including the infamous “Morgenthau Plan” for complete de-industrialization of postwar Germany.
In any case, pragmatic proposals to end the war early, while the Red Army was still inside Russia, were put aside, giving way to a demand for an unconditional German surrender. The following two years are probably the darkest in European history, ever.
Furthermore, Lend-Lease was also used to hand the Soviet Union much more than immediate material support for the wartime effort. Directed by Harry Hopkins personally, Lend-Lease also transported massive information about the Manhattan Project, the top-secret US nuclear research programme.
This transfer of information was topped off with sending a significant amount of actual uranium ore, obviously a strategic national asset at the time, guarded by Soviet soldiers stationed in America.
This transfer of top-secret wartime research enabled the Soviets to detonate their own nuclear bomb by 1949, setting the stage for the balance of terror at the heart of the Cold War, as well as for future confrontations, such as the Korean War. That the transfer of information took place is confirmed in the memoirs of Andrei Sakharov, who in 1948 was assigned to work on the Soviet hydrogen bomb.
As these examples demonstrate, some hundreds of individuals with sympathy for the Soviets can indeed make a long term impact when holding suitable government positions.
It is not easy, however, to write an entirely perfect book, and some reservations do apply. While the sheer number of American names and references can be confusing to the European reader unfamiliar with any of them, the trickiest passages of the book are those that concerned themselves with military events and alternative scenarios. The persuasive power of the infiltration narrative spills into those, which is not unconditionally a good thing.
Take as an example the fall of Singapore to Japanese forces in February 1942. Diana West asserts that diverting military assets, including 200 fighter aircraft, to the Soviet Union opened the gates to its conquest by the Japanese, implying that this major defeat could have been avoided if the support pledged to Britain had been delivered. This is unsupported by solid military analysis.
[Full disclosure: My granduncle was captured and killed by the Japanese in Singapore].
Another case in point is the discussion of Operation Overlord (the Allied invasion of France) versus the option of continuing the Italian campaign up through Austria into the heart of Germany. If that was feasible from a military point of view (and mountain warfare is inherently difficult), the German war machine could have been halted by 1943, and World War II brought to a halt before the Soviet onslaught into Eastern Europe, before the massive bombing campaign against the cities of Germany, and before the Holocaust really picked up pace. The implication of such a scenario is staggering, and deserves a qualified discussion that the book does not have space for.
On a different note, some readers, academics in particular, will take issue with the quite personal style of the book. Here there is little in the way of academic distance that university historians consider best practice. Diana West is emotionally engaged in the material she writes about, infuriated not only by the historical record as such, but also by the fact that it has been covered up and fallen into oblivion, and actively so by a variety of actors. Fortunately, this does not keep her from following the actual historical trails in great detail, keeping the reader free to judge them for himself.
In writing such a book, Diana West would rightly expect some trouble to follow, and sure enough, it did. Much to her surprise, however, the assaults on her character that followed came from other anti-communists — people one would never expect to become upset over a book revealing communist conspiracies in America. Leading the assault on Diana West was David Horowitz and Ronald Radosh, followed by Conrad Black at National Review Online. Also, Gatestone Institute fired Clare Lopez after a positive mention of American Betrayal.
One may wonder why certified conservative and anti-communist pundits would speak up against a book revealing communist infiltration in the United States. David Horowitz gave the following explanation for it:
I see it as a threat to everything that I’ve done, and that Radosh has done, and that Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes and all of the conservatives who have dredged up the information from the archives about Communist influence.
While major conservative commenters preferred not to enter the fray, the historian Andrew Bostom, the journalist Robert Stacy McCain, the security expert Frank Gaffney and others supported Diana West and her analysis of Soviet subversion of the US government. This is spread in a variety of articles on several different web sites, but Gates of Vienna does provide a comprehensive overview here.
But the initial responses merely managed to let the credibility of American Betrayal hang in a limbo of uncertainty. That uncertainty lasted until September 26th 2013. On that day Vladimir Bukovsky, one of the major Soviet dissidents, with co-author Pavel Stroilov, published his response “Why Academics Hate Diana West”. In that comprehensive piece, he entirely vindicated Diana West and American Betrayal, comparing her book to major anti-Soviet classics:
Groundbreaking books about the history of communism, such as Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago or Viktor Suvorov’s Ice-Breaker, are never written by “professional” historians. Indeed, historians typically meet those books with remarkable hostility.
That closed the case, letting Diana West enjoy the appreciation she deserves for getting the story out, and setting readers free to absorb her book and understand the implications, also concerning the current infiltration of the White House by persons affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Center for Security Policy now expresses its opinion of American Betrayal by giving Diana West the 2013 Mightier Pen Award. This is a fitting appreciation of a work that started out merely as an attempt to track down the origins of political correctness, but ended up rewriting major parts of the narratives of World War II and the ensuing Cold War.
As should be clear from the above, American Betrayal is quite an experience. It is highly recommended reading for historically interested Europeans and Americans alike. But be prepared to have a series of preconceived ideas shattered along the way, as well as to get a chilling understanding of just how dangerous infiltration of a major government can be.
For links to previous articles about the controversy over American Betrayal, see the Diana West Archives.