A long-expected review by Andrew McCarthy of Diana West’s book American Betrayal was published this month in The New Criterion under the title “Red Herrings”. Outside the cohort of specialists in the history of Soviet espionage in the United States, Mr. McCarthy’s piece is the first even tentatively positive review published by a major writer. The reviewer is to be commended for his willingness to resist the overwhelming pressure that has been exerted on other writers not to display any public approval of Diana West’s book.
As mentioned in previous posts, I have not read American Betrayal, and am therefore not qualified to critique its arguments. Since all the uproar began back in August, my focus has been the process of the controversy, rather than the content. The egregiously uncivil ad-hominem attacks aimed at the author were the issue, rather than her conclusions — which may stand or fall on their merits, as with any other book. As a result this essay will focus on how Andrew McCarthy portrays Diana West and her critics, and analyze some of his arguments.
Mr. McCarthy has a number of good things to say about the book, although his review tends to praise it with faint damns. For example, coming from a former Team B-II co-author with Diana West who considers her a friend, his opening paragraph is somewhat perplexing:
Stumbling into a barroom brawl was the last thing I’d intended. Lined up on one side: sculptors of a hagiography that is now conventional wisdom crow about a noble conquest over totalitarian dictators. The other side bellows: “Nonsense! In defeating one monster, your heroes merely helped create another, sullying us with their atrocities and burdening us for decades with a global security nightmare.” The first side spews that its critics are deranged, defamatory conspiracy-mongers. The critics fire back that these “court historians” are in denial; their heroes did not really “win” the war, they just helped a different set of anti-American savages win—in the process striking a deal with the devil that blurred the lines between good and evil, rendering the world more dangerous and our nation more vulnerable.
Whether he realizes it or not, Mr. McCarthy is engaging in a traditional form of journalistic moral equivalence in this passage, something more commonly found on the Left than on the Right. A writer may choose to utilize the technique when, for whatever reason — expedience, fear, a reluctance to anger a powerful antagonist — he wants to create the appearance of engaging an important topic without actually taking a moral stance.
Lined up on one side… The other side bellows… The first side spews… The critics fire back…
Notice that the “other side”, the one he mostly agrees with, “bellows” its responses. Hmm… not what you would expect in a portrayal of his journalistic colleagues and friends.
This is the same rhetorical technique used by MSM journalists when describing Israel vs. Hamas, or the Nigerian government vs. Boko Haram. For example: “Attempts to get both sides to the negotiating table have been fruitless.” This device transforms each “side” into a mirror image of the other, and Side A (the victim) becomes just as responsible for the bloodshed as Side B (the aggressor). It spares the writer from having to say, “Side B is morally wrong. I stand with Side A.”
Note that the controversy over American Betrayal is labeled a “barroom brawl”. By implication Diana West is a barroom brawler — someone who decided to smash an empty whiskey bottle on the bar rail and lay into her fellow drinkers.
I object to this characterization.
A more apt metaphor would be: Diana West was hit from behind with a sucker punch by someone playing the “knockout game”. When she came to, a movie set of a Wild West saloon had been lowered around her — bar, mustachioed bartender, stools, glass mirror, bottles, etc. — and numerous unshaven thugs were hitting her with fists and chairs in preparation for throwing her through a sugar glass window out into the muddy street.
That’s the only way that Ms. West could ever be described as taking part in a metaphorical “barroom brawl”.
A further characterization of Ms. West may be found on page 2 of the article (page 80 of the magazine):
The matter especially addles West because of today’s paralyzing ambivalence about Muslim supremacism.
So Diana West is not only a barroom brawler, she is an addled barroom brawler?
If Mr. McCarthy had ignored the “barroom brawl” entirely and simply reviewed the contents of American Betrayal, there would have been no issue. He has given the book a positive appraisal, after all, and few people would join such a food fight voluntarily.
But he did not ignore it. In addition to the first paragraph of his review, there is this mention (p. 5/83):
It is here that we arrive, at last, at the crux of the imprecations hurled at West, most comprehensively by the neoconservative Cold War historian Ronald Radosh in a harshly critical Frontpage Magazine review, tellingly entitled “McCarthy on Steroids.” Dr. Radosh, an apostate from Marxism, portrays West as a “conspiracy theorist” practicing the species of “yellow journalism” that gives anti-Communism a bad name. The charge lacks merit. [emphasis added]
Also on the same page:
With all due respect, Radosh and Conrad Black, another eminent conservative FDR devotee, engage in the same sort of exaggerations about West’s claims as I heard twenty years ago from the CIA regarding critics of its Afghan enterprise. [emphasis added]
And later on (p. 6/84):
Radosh unfairly derides West for an argument she does not make…
There is a silent shadow lurking in Mr. McCarthy’s description of the “brawl”. Every bar has its bouncer, and in this one it was David Horowitz, editor-in-chief of FrontPage Magazine (FPM). Not only was he responsible for the editorial decision to pull the original positive review, he also commissioned its replacement — that “take-down” by Ronald Radosh. And then he launched his own ad-hominem attack against Ms. West, while deriding those who supported her as “kooks”. Yet despite Mr. Horowitz’ leading role in the ongoing character assassination of Diana West, the editor of FPM escapes Mr. McCarthy’s notice entirely.
At this point it would be useful to examine some of these “imprecations” directed at the author of American Betrayal during the “brawl”.
The historian Ronald Radosh broke the first bottle on the bar at FPM on August 7. He deplored “West’s fictions”, her “unhinged theories” and “dangerous one dimensional thinking”. And he found evidence, he said, for her “truculent recklessness”. Immediately after this review was published at FPM, Mr. Radosh followed up at Pajamas Media with more brawling, this time an explanatory essay entitled “Why I Wrote a Take-Down of Diana West’s Awful Book”.
David Horowitz, who had commissioned Radosh for the opening round at PFM, began his own second wave of bottle-breaking attacks the next day. In his first essay, Mr. Horowitz characterized West’s book as a “paranoid fantasy”. He called her a “very angry, very self-centered and very reckless partisan” (August 8). The following week he said, “she should not have written this book, which betrays a conspiratorial mindset” (August 15). Then in September accused her of “conspiracy mongering” (September 9). By the time he had descended into the comments section the glasses were flying: she had written “a preposterous book” and “organized a kook army” to attack him and his associates. Mind you, this last assertion was made by a man who condemned the author of American Betrayal for her “paranoid fantasy”!
The most intense invective directed at Diana West came from Conrad Black, who let loose several missiles from another corner of the barroom. He called her “a right-wing loopy” who had not yet been “house-trained” and described her book as a “farrago of lies”. In reference to Ms. West and those who agree with her, Mr. Black decried the “unutterable myth-making and jejune dementedness, as they hurl the vitriol of the silly and the deranged” (August 16).
As soon as these had been hurled, Ronald Radosh sent Ms. West a triumphant email bearing the subject line “Conrad Black tears you apart”. He enclosed the text of Mr. Black’s essay, introducing it by saying, “Sorry to upset you once again, Diana, but I’m afraid you’ve lost, big time”.
More along the same lines has been said since then, but the above snippets from the “debate” demonstrate the tone employed by those who expressed their opposition to American Betrayal. Except for the three reviewers mentioned above, no major writer wrote a negative review, substantive or otherwise. Those lesser lights who panned the book merely cited and echoed Ronald Radosh, some going so far as to admit they hadn’t even read it — saying, in effect, “I don’t need to read it. If Ron Radosh says it’s awful, that’s good enough for me.”
The sordid details listed here are elided as “imprecations” and “exaggerations” by Mr. McCarthy, who gives “all due respect” to Ronald Radosh. Of the latter’s straw men, erroneous citations, mischaracterizations of conclusions, and fabrications (intentional or otherwise), the reviewer can only say “[t]he charge lacks merit” and “Radosh unfairly derides West for an argument she does not make”.
The intensely personal, ad-hominem nature of the attacks against Diana West slides by unmentioned, as does the gleeful triumphalism of Ronald Radosh after his “take-down” of her and Conrad Black’s fury at the “dementedness” of a “right-wing loopy”.
And what about the puzzling behavior of David Horowitz, who instigated this “barroom brawl” in the first place and threw a few chairs himself? He worked hard to make his opinions known, yet he makes no appearance in the reviewer’s account of the “harshly critical” treatment of Diana West.
Furthermore, there is no reference to The Rebuttal: Defending ‘American Betrayal’ from the Book-Burners, a lengthy work written by Diana West to refute in detail, with further citations, all the erroneous references to and characterizations of her work.
Several weeks ago I deduced the existence of “Planet X”, an unknown person or organization whose financial clout exerts an inexorable gravitational pull upon nearly all conservative American writers, drawing them away from any support for Diana West and into the debris-strewn orbit of Ronald Radosh, David Horowitz, and Conrad Black — or else inducing in them a telling silence.
Andrew McCarthy is no gravitational slouch himself, and has the necessary mass to resist the pull of Planet X. He has written a review for The New Criterion that examines American Betrayal on the merits of its arguments and finds it worthy. For that he deserves our heartfelt gratitude.
Yet in the final analysis Mr. McCarthy has not entirely escaped the mysterious influence of that baleful planetary body. His orbit wobbled enough to generate a questionable moral equivalence, one that places Diana West’s behavior in the “barroom brawl” on a par with that of its instigators and perpetuators. Yet the unseemly conduct of two of her major accusers escapes any significant scrutiny in this review.
Will his reticence permit Mr. McCarthy to escape the fate of other writers who managed to resist the tug of Planet X? Will he be cast into the Outer Darkness as well? Whoever was willing to spend that much money and call in that many favors to achieve the goal of destroying American Betrayal does not seem likely to be assuaged by anything less than a full repudiation of the ground on which Diana West stands.
But we shall see.
One final note: consider this strange argument made by Mr. McCarthy on page 7 (85) of the review:
Yes, it is surely an overstatement for West to intimate that the Soviets alone won the war — a war in which, as Conrad Black notes, they took an astonishing 95 percent of the casualties, sparing what would otherwise have been massive American and British losses — a war that left half of Europe free and vanquished imperial Japan.
Leaving aside any examination of the historical accuracy of the assertion by Mr. Black — who cites no sources — consider the underlying premise behind the reviewer’s words. He has adopted the same post-modern calculus of victory that is used today by both the media and the Pentagon: The success of a war is determined by the number of casualties our side takes.
Once upon a time we expended blood and treasure to achieve tangible military objectives. Nowadays we go to war to build nations and win hearts and minds. The new, improved calculus of victory includes how many roads, schools, and water treatment plants we build, and above all how many casualties we take. Too many casualties — the precise number to be determined by the op-eds and talking heads of major media outlets — and the post-modern war has been lost.
This was not the calculus Stalin used. Uncle Joe would have been perfectly content to take twenty, thirty, or fifty million casualties — provided that in doing so he achieved his war aims.
In this sense Stalin was sane, and we, the ostensible victors in the Cold War, are insane.
A war is won when the entity waging war achieves its objectives. If that entity decides that taking fifty million casualties is too high a price, and calls an end to the conflict, then yes, the war was not won. But the winning or losing had nothing to do with how many casualties were incurred, but only with the fact that the war aims were never accomplished.
There is a deep, deep insanity abroad in our land, and it afflicts many otherwise fine minds. The idea that the success of a war depends on the number of casualties taken is one such insane notion.
Perhaps the concept was planted by Soviet infiltrators in the Roosevelt administration in, say, 1938, and eventually seeped into the mental processes of all the politicians, administrators, and intellectuals who govern and guide our country. And then, three-quarters of a century later, it popped up in arguments made by a savvy and accomplished veteran federal prosecutor.
Who really should know better.
For links to previous articles about the controversy over American Betrayal, see the Diana West Archives.