“Conspiratorial theories of history are easy to create once you are prepared to ignore the realities on the ground, or regard those who do take them into account as part of the conspiracy too,” writes Ronald Radosh in a review of a new book called American Betrayal , by a conservative writer named Diana West. It is, Radosh concludes his long and careful review , a “misconceived and misleading book.”
Why did the U.S. and Britain not prevent the totalitarian USSR from taking over Eastern Europe after it had defeated the totalitarian Nazis?
It had nothing to do with the Rubiks Cube of diplomatic and military considerations, a calculus that had to take into account the willingness of the American and British publics to continue to sacrifice and their soldiers to die. No, it was a conspiracy so immense, as Wests hero Joe McCarthy might have said, that it allowed Western policy to be dictated by a shadow army of Soviet agents.
It is unfortunate that a number of conservatives who should know better have fallen for Wests fictions. It is even more depressing that her book perpetuates the dangerous one dimensional thinking of the Wisconsin Senator and his allies in the John Birch Society which have allowed anti anti-communism to have a field day in our intellectual culture.
Radosh, for readers who don’t know him, is a distinguished historian who has specialized in the Western engagement with Communism, something he knew from the inside, himself having been a red diaper baby and for some years a strong Leftist. Here is his page at the Hudson Institute (with links to some of his recent articles) and here is his Wikipedia entry .
If he is right about the book, and he certainly seems to be and West’s response to his review, with its revealing use of the everyone-else-is-compromised mythology and supporting abuse (her conservative critics are “commissars” and “ossified totalitarians,” for example), supports this conclusion one has to ask why it has so appealed to some conservatives. Radosh writes:
West has evidently seduced conservatives who are justifiably appalled by the lefts rewriting of history, its denials that Communists ever posed a threat, and its claim that Communist infiltration was a destructive myth created by witch-hunters intent on suppressing dissent. For these readers, Wests credibility derives from her aggressive counter vision.
For those who have not read the important works of Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, Christopher Andrew, Alexander Vassiliev, Allen Weinstein and others, what she has written may seem a revelation, as she herself claims. But for anyone familiar with the historical literature, the core of what she has written is well known and what is new is either overheated, or simply false and distortedthe sort of truculent recklessness that gives anti-communism a bad name.
The aggressiveness of the counter vision must be part of the appeal. As is, I suspect, the deep desire to believe that if things go wrong someone must be at fault, because the alternative is to accept that sometimes things go wrong because in a fallen world things just go wrong, and that we are swept along in a history we cannot redirect very much.
It is an oddly un-conservative way of thinking but one found a lot among the more ideologically-engaged (or at least most journalistic) conservatives. Fortunately we have people like Ronald Radosh around to correct the ideological products of that kind of mind.