Diana West's "American Betrayal" is McCarthy on Steroidstags: conspiracy theories, book reviews, Ron Radosh, McCarthyism, Diana West, anti-communism
Ronald Radosh is an Adjunct Fellow at The Hudson Institute and a columnist for PJ Media. He is author or co-author of over 15 books, and writes frequently for The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, and Commentary.
Originally published on FrontPageMag.
Many Americans at both ends of the political spectrum view history in conspiratorial terms. The late Senator Joseph McCarthy set the bar very high when he claimed to have uncovered “a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man. A conspiracy of infamy so black that, when it is finally exposed, its principals shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all honest men.” In that famous speech to the Senate on June 14, 1951, McCarthy condemned former Chief of Staff of the Army and Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense as a traitor who made “common cause with Stalin on the strategy of the war in Europe,” who “took the strategic direction of the war out of Roosevelt’s hands and – who fought the British desire, shared by [General] Mark Clark, to advance from Italy into the eastern plains of Europe ahead of the Russians.”
Diana West, who expands the scope of this conspiracy in American Betrayal, is McCarthy’s heiress. She argues that during the New Deal the United States was an occupied power, its government controlled by Kremlin agents who had infiltrated the Roosevelt administration and subverted it. Like McCarthy, whom West believes got everything correct, she believes a conspiracy was at work that effectively enabled the Soviets to be the sole victors in World War II and shape American policies in the postwar world.
Writing sixty years later, she claims that the evidence that has come to light in the interim not only vindicates McCarthy’s claims but goes well beyond anything he imagined. Throughout American Betrayal, West uses the terms “occupied” and “controlled” to describe the influence the Soviet Union exerted over U.S. policy through its agents and spies. She believes she has exposed “the Communist-agent-occupation of the U.S. government” during the Roosevelt and Truman eras, and that her discoveries add up to a Soviet-controlled American government that conspired to strengthen Russia throughout World War II at the expense of American interests, marginalize anti-Communist Germans, and deliver the crucial material for the Atomic Bomb to Stalin and his henchmen. It also conspired to cover up the betrayal. In West’s summation: “The Roosevelt administration [was] penetrated, fooled, subverted, in effect hijacked by Soviet agents… and engaged in a “‘sell-out’ to Stalin” that “conspirators of silence on the Left…would bury for as long as possible, desperately throwing mud over it and anyone who wanted the sun to shine in.” According to West, it was only because Washington was “Communist-occupied” that the United States aligned itself with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany.
But Ms. West writes without an understanding of historical context and lacks awareness of much of the scholarly literature on the subjects she writes about. Moreover, she disregards the findings of the sources she does rely on when they contradict her yellow journalism conspiracy theories. Consequently she arrives at judgment after judgment that is not only bizarre on its face, but also unwarranted by the evidence and refuted by the very authorities she draws on. As a historian I normally would not have agreed to review a book such as this one. But I changed my mind after seeing the reckless endorsements of its unhinged theories by a number of conservative individuals and organizations. These included the Heritage Foundation which has hosted her for book promotions at a lunchtime speech and a dinner; Breitbart.com which is serializing America Betrayed; PJ Media which has already run three favorable features on West; Amity Shlaes, who writes unnervingly that West’s book, “masterfully reminds us what history is for: to suggest action for the present”; and by conservative political scientist and media commentator Monica Crowley, who called West’s book “A monumental achievement.”
West has evidently seduced conservatives who are justifiably appalled by the left’s 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, West’s 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 distorted—the sort of truculent recklessness that gives anti-communism a bad name.
One of the most unsettling aspects of West’s use of previous authorities who provide the only reliable information in her book is the way she attacks the very writers who pioneered in exposing Soviet espionage and infiltration, while also disregarding their conclusions when they don’t agree with hers. In a typical instance, she writes: “[Christopher] Andrew and [former archivist for the USSR’s foreign intelligence branch Vasili] Mitrokhin seem fairly hip to the problem, but then soft-soap its cause.” Even more preposterously she writes of those of us who drew attention to the guilt of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg that we view it as a matter of personal conscience and not “an issue of national security.” This is absurd and anyone who has read The Rosenberg File or the many articles I have written since about the case would know it. She attacks Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, among the greatest scholars of Soviet espionage, for their failure to connect “treachery with its impact,” by which she means that they failed to come to her wild-eyed conclusion that Soviet espionage was not only a clear and present danger but succeeded in making America a puppet of its Kremlin masters. As a result, she writes, “The recent confirmations of guilt often show up as mere technicalities…The reckoning eludes us.”
Finally, throughout her book she attacks the rigorous scholarship of John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, whose groundbreaking books on the Venona decrypts are unrivalled in exposing the true scale of Soviet espionage in the United States, and Soviet control of the American Communist Party. Haynes and Klehr have also co-authored a classic study about the efforts of liberal and left historians to cover up the infiltration and its extent in a book titled In Denial: Historians, Communism and Espionage. Ignoring this record, West claims that Hayes and Klehr minimize the evidence they were the first to expose. What is really bothering her is that they do not buy her preposterous conclusion that “American statecraft was an instrument of Soviet strategy.”
Ignoring or denigrating these brave and accomplished scholars, West proceeds to construct a conspiracy thesis resting on five claims she believes establish a vast plot by Soviet agents and their American pawns to shape the outcome of the Second World War and in the process benefit the Communists at the expense of the West. In this review, I will focus on each of these claims in turn and show that they are groundless, and worse.
A key assertion for West is that FDR’s closest advisor, Harry Hopkins, was actually the Soviet agent known in the Venona decrypts as “Agent 19,” sometimes “Source 19″. The decrypts were Kremlin messages to their American agents that were deciphered after the war. The identification of Hopkins as Agent 19 is the linchpin of West’s conspiracy case. She places Hopkins at the center of major military and foreign policy decisions, and interprets his objective in each instance as advancing Stalin’s goals for Communist world domination.
That Hopkins was the most pro-Soviet of Roosevelt’s close advisers and believed that Stalin could be a working partner in wartime as well as during the peace that would follow has been discussed so often as to be conventional wisdom. But it is one thing to point this out and analyze its implications, and quite another to claim that Hopkins was an actual Soviet agent, a claim that is also not original with West, although it is, in fact, not true. (When I sent her a collegial email questioning this assertion, and requesting that we get together to talk about it, she became huffy. “Dialoguing is one thing,” she emailed back; “issuing directives is another.”)
In her book, West cites a 1998 article by the late Eduard Mark, an Air Force historian, who claimed that Hopkins was the agent in question. His conclusion was based on a Venona decrypt by “Source 19” that described a top secret conversation between Churchill and FDR in late May of 1943 about plans for the invasion of Normandy, then more than a year away. According to Mark this proved that the code name belonged to Hopkins. As West notes, “By process of painstaking elimination, Mark determines that it is ‘probable virtually to the point of certainty’ that ‘Source 19’ is Harry Hopkins.” She says this was also the view of the late Eric Breindel and the late Herbert Romerstein, as well as Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin.
She even chastises John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, co-authors with the KGB defector Alexander Vassiliev of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, for being “agnostic” about the claim, “which has the unfortunate effect of eliminating the story, even the suggestion of the story, from their influential works.” In fact, Haynes and Klehr are not only not “agnostic,” they flat out deny that Agent 19 was Hopkins because Agent 19 was actually a State Department official and well-known Soviet agent Laurence Duggan. Duggan worked on the State Department’s Latin America desk, and while he did pass on secret information to the Soviets, his role within the administration was minor compared to Hopkins’ who worked in the White House. Klehr and Haynes base their identification of Duggan on the numerous entries in the Vassiliev papers, which have been readily available online since May 2009. These papers show numerous entries in the KGB papers Vassiliev copied and brought with him to London, that identify Source 19 or Agent 19 as Duggan.
West acknowledges that Vassiliev found “little about Hopkins in the finite number of KGB files he was allowed to view and copy,” but concludes – without evidence — that it is in those Vassiliev did not have access to that Hopkins was identified. She then scolds Haynes and Klehr for not giving the controversy over Agent 19 the “merit [of] a footnote.” Perhaps they didn’t because there no longer is any controversy. At a conference on Soviet espionage held a week before his untimely death, West’s source, Eduard Mark, publicly stated that he now acknowledged that Harry Hopkins was not Agent 19, and that the conclusion he had reached in his 1998 article was false.
Lend-Lease Aid to the Soviet Union
West also insists that Lend-Lease aid was a crucial “rogue operation” orchestrated by Hopkins and the NKVD for the purpose of getting not only war supplies to the Russians, but “the materials that go into making an atomic bomb…up to and including uranium.” (Her emphasis.) A significant part of her book is devoted to “proving” that Lend-Lease helped make the USSR “the true victor of World War II.” She refers to Lend-lease as “the plunder of atomic secrets … spirited out of the country on a U.S.-government sponsored flight.” The reference is to a shipment of uranium to Russia in 1943, allegedly orchestrated by Harry Hopkins as Agent 19. To her, this proves that the Lend-Lease Act “was a slam-dunk victorious Soviet influence operation.” Or, as she refers to Lend-Lease at the end of her book: “All that American booty pirated by Harry Hopkins for Mother Russia.”
These claims, which lie at the heart of her conspiracy theory, are demonstrably wrong, and show that she even fails to understand the nature of the unrefined uranium the Soviets actually received under Lend-Lease, which was not strategic in terms of making an atomic weapon. General Leslie Groves, who was in charge of The Manhattan Project, signed off on the shipment, as has been well known for more than 60 years, because he feared that if he rejected the requests it would tip-off Moscow that uranium was a highly sensitive commodity, something he was certain they did not yet know.
Even if they had known, the Soviets would have faced an insurmountable problem in using the shipped ore for bomb making. The problem they would have faced was in separating bomb-grade U-235 (which makes up only 0.7 percent of natural uranium) from U-238 (99.3%), a difficult technical engineering challenge. Until the Soviets could figure out how to separate the isotopes, which they eventually did through the post war espionage at Los Alamos we are all familiar with, the uranium ore they received would be useless for making a weapon. While separating uranium ore was a daunting technological issue, mining uranium ore and refining it into metal was easy, and the Soviets, like other nations, did so for industrial purposes vital to the prosecution of the war, such as producing steel alloys for arms. Even after the Soviets learned how to separate the isotopes, the amounts of unseparated uranium needed were huge, because so little of natural uranium is U-235. The shipment sent under Lend-Lease was a tiny fraction of what was needed to extract enough U-235 to build a bomb, even if the Soviets had the know-how, which at the time the shipments were made they did not. In fact, as we now know, the first Soviet A-Bomb, detonated in 1949, and copied from our “Fat Man” weapon, was a plutonium based bomb.
All of this information and more can be found in David Holloway’s definitive study, Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939-1956, which West seems not to be aware of. “In April (1943),” Holloway writes, “General Groves gave the Soviet Purchasing Commission an export license for 10 kilograms of uranium metal…. A later request by the Soviet commission for eight long tons each of uranium chloride and uranium nitrate was turned down.”
As Holloway notes, the Soviet files offer no evidence that Igor Kurchatov, who led the effort to build the first Soviet A-bomb from information provided by the espionage at Los Alamos, ever used any of the material that came in the Lend-Lease flight. He cites evidence from Soviet archives that show that as late as 1945, their labs desperately needed uranium. Holloway writes: “Certainly Kurchatov’s need for uranium remained urgent. V.V. Goncharov, a chemical engineer who joined Laboratory No. 2 in 1943, has written that in 1943 the laboratory had only 90 kilograms of uranium oxide and 208 kilograms of metallic powder, and that these had been brought from Germany.”
In a letter of Sept. 29, 1944 Kurchatov complained to NKVD chief Lavrenti Beria about “the uranium problem.” The “state of affairs,” he wrote, “remains completely unsatisfactory.” Moreover, the “question of separation [of the isotopes] is particularly bad.” He believed, as Holloway writes, that “the Soviet leadership was not treating the uranium problem as a matter of high priority.” Had the Hopkins flight provided the material that Diana West says gave them the material for the bomb, all this concern would have been unnecessary.
Technical questions aside, in concocting her conspiracy theory of Lend-Lease as a Soviet plot to help Russia win the war and build an atomic bomb, West refuses to consider a range of political realities that had nothing to do with Kremlin agents. Lend-Lease aid to Russia was premised on the assumption that it was better to have Russia as an ally in the war against Nazi Germany than fight the war alone. The entire point of Lend-Lease was to give military support to the Russian and British war efforts. The purpose of Lend-Lease (profoundly self-interested for the U.S.) was to prevent a Russian defeat so the Soviets would continue to assume the brunt of the war against the Nazis, wearing them down and saving American lives in the process. Moreover, Lend-Lease aid was far more important in helping the British war effort than the Russian one.
In advancing her theory of Lend-Lease (while ignoring this Everest), West relies heavily on Richard Rhodes’ Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb. But revealingly she makes no reference to this passage from his text: “Until the Anglo-American invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, the Soviet Union fought Germany essentially alone on the European continent … Had the USSR lost that fight, hundreds of German divisions bulwarked with Soviet resources would have been freed to turn west and challenge Britain and the United States [emphasis added].”
Rhodes then goes on to quote Averill Harriman, a stalwart anti-Communist who negotiated the Lend-Lease deal with the Russians. It is a passage that West also ignores: “To put it bluntly,” Harriman said in a speech to the American people, “whatever it costs to keep this war away from our shores, that will be a small price to pay …. The United States agreed to furnish Lend-Lease and the Soviets did not doubt that they had earned it — at Leningrad, at Stalingrad, at the monstrous enclosures in the western USSR where the Germans…confined Soviet prisoners of war completely exposed without water or food. At least 4.5 million Soviet civilians and combatants had been killed by 1943; at least 25 million…died before the eventual Allied victory. From the Soviet point of view, Lend-Lease was the least America could do when the Russian people were dying; anything the Soviets could grab…must still have seemed less than a fair exchange.”
Did Truman Know About the Venona Decrypts?
This third West claim pertains to the opening years of the Cold War. But if Harry Truman, who became president in 1945, knew about the Venona decrypts (first de-classified in 1995), yet failed to pay attention to the evidence they provided of Soviet infiltration, it would bolster West’s claim that Truman was so anxious to avoid offending Stalin that even when confronted with hard evidence of Soviet treachery, he chose to do nothing about it.
To make her case, West relies on the book by Jerrold and Leona Schecter, Sacred Secrets: How Soviet Intelligence Operations Changed America. The Schecters first claim that on June 4, 1945, Truman had a fifteen-minute meeting with Gen. Carter W. Clarke and Col. Ernest Gibson of Army Intelligence, who informed the President that army code-breakers had been attempting to read Soviet cables from Moscow to Washington since 1943. Truman was worried, according to West, that making the decrypted cables public or dealing with what they revealed would “damage FDR’s place in history.” West further comments that Truman saw the revelations only as “a partisan political problem” that Republican hawks would use to bash Democrats, adding, “the sensational body of information which belonged to a betrayed nation, remained on political ice at all costs.”
The problem with this fanciful indictment is that in June 1945, the code-breakers had not fully decrypted any of the intercepted messages. Consequently, General Clarke and Colonel Gibson would not have had much to report about the contents of the cables the code-breakers were working on. Truman could not have had such an alarmed reaction to information they were unable to give him at the time.
West then shifts the time frame five years forward, relying on an interview with Oliver Kirby, an American cryptanalyst who worked on the Venona project. Kirby gave the interview to the Schecters in the late 1990s. Kirby told them that both Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White were “positively identified” in decrypts in 1950, and that he brought this information to General Omar Bradley. According to Kirby, Bradley reported that Truman “was most upset and agitated by this,” saying that if the operation became known “it could take us down.” West then writes: “In other words, President Truman took in and grasped revelations that according to Soviet secret cables, the most senior-level, trusted, and powerful government officials had been working on behalf of the Soviet Union, and then he, as president, did nothing about it.” He pretended the whole thing was a “fairy story.” No evidence, she writes, has “emerged to contradict Kirby” whose “assessment of Truman’s visceral aversion to Venona’s revelations comes from notes he made at the time…” She concludes that Truman made “consistent efforts to quash any and all information pertaining to the Communist infiltration of the U.S. government….”
Once again, West shows that she does not know how to evaluate the reliability of a source or assess the evidence produced. The Schecter interviews with Kirby occurred nearly a half century after the events alleged to have taken place. Even worse, Kirby’s account is third-hand. He claimed that General Clarke told him this at some unspecified time, and acknowledges that he himself was not present at any meeting between Truman and Bradley. Nor is there any documentation to show that such a meeting ever took place.
Reading about this supposed meeting in the Schecter’s book, Harvey Klehr checked the White House logs. They showed that in June of 1945 Clarke did meet with Truman, but they say nothing at all about what was discussed. I also contacted Jerrold Schecter, the authority West depends on. He emailed me: “The Kirby notes you refer to were simply that Truman knew of the project to decode Venona but the details of the code breaking came much later. She has taken this out of context it appears to me.”
Most importantly, Kirby’s version contradicts the NSA’s own account of the Venona project chronology. The Schecters say, and West accepts their claim, that Truman was told in June 1945 that the U.S. was “reading secret Soviet messages.” The NSA official history says that at that time, they had made progress in decoding the cables, but did not have any significant readable text. Cryptanalysts had deciphered a few messages, but the underlying Soviet code had not yet been broken. Consequently, the cryptanalysts had at that time only a few cover names and isolated words, no clue as to what the subject of any of the cables were. That came only after 1946, when Meredith Gardner began his work on Venona, and made the necessary progress in breaking the codes. A year before this breakthrough Clarke had nothing of substance to tell Truman, which means that Kirby’s claim about Truman’s alleged reaction is without foundation. Indeed, the Schecters themselves write that “Clarke did not show any messages to the president; he could only report that the efforts were under way and initial results were promising after two years of work.” As in her use of source material elsewhere, West ignores these crucial facts.
There is, in addition, a 1949 FBI memo indicating that Omar Bradley had decided not to inform Truman about the Venona program, which was at the time top-secret. The FBI had by then told Truman about information contained in the messages, but not that it was information that came from decoded Soviet cables. Truman’s well known distrust of FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, as Klehr and Haynes have written, “denied the president any assurance that the information was reliable and may have misled him about the seriousness of the problem [of Soviet espionage].”
Kirby told the Schecters that Clarke had long conversations with Bradley and Secretary of Defense James Forrestal about Venona. But contrary to West’s claim, Kirby acknowledged to the Schecters that he had no notes of this meeting. There is nothing in either Bradley’s or Forrestal’s own papers that would corroborate Kirby’s story.
In short, a third key element in West’s vast conspiracy theory is so much hot air.
Should the United States have joined Germany to Fight the Soviet Union?
Bizarre as it might sound, this is the fourth pillar of West’s argument. In her effort to paint the Roosevelt administration as a puppet of Soviet intelligence, she argues that towards the end of the war, the American government turned down the opportunity to arm German soldiers willing to form a new army to go to war against the USSR. American leaders were so pro-Soviet, in other words, that they missed one final opportunity to halt the Red Army’s advance into Eastern Europe, thereby delivering these countries to Stalin’s tender mercies and precipitating the Cold War. As she writes, “There existed many German anti-Nazis, even many high-ranking ones…who wanted to end World War II early; that’s the basic concept…we ignored them…Our best interests, once again, were subverted for Soviet ends.”
Her case rests on a story told by FDR’s old friend and former Governor of Pennsylvania, George H. Earle. She spends pages relating how Earle contacted German intelligence chief Admiral Wilhelm Canaris in 1943, and tried to persuade him to accept U.S. “peace feelers.” Although this is another well-known episode, West organizes the material to make the reader believe that it was ignored when first made public years ago, and that her own book is finally revealing its momentous significance.
In presenting her case, she has facile answers to the obvious difficulties that confront her scenario. She writes, for example, that the US could have supported the opposition to Hitler and backed a coup against him, thus producing “the defection of the German army and negotiate its surrender to the Allies.” She suggests Canaris and others had the ability to overthrow Hitler, close the death camps, and thwart Soviet conquests in Europe and Asia.
It is apparent that West is unfamiliar with much of the research that has been done on World War II, or the fact that her counterfactual speculations are not regarded as realistic possibilities by any reputable historian of the era. She does not seem to know the context of the decisions that FDR, Churchill and the generals in the field made, or appreciate the factors they had to take into account. Or more likely she prefers to ignore them because her theories could not survive the encounter.
In one paragraph she writes that the “German underground movement was resolutely and operationally anti-Communist just as much as it was anti-Nazi. In Communist occupied Washington — and London, too — this particular wing of the Anti-Hitler resistance was viewed as the enemy just as much as Hitler was.” She adds: “common cause with the Communist regime superseded all, even German surrender.” In explaining Washington’s failure to take advantage of the conditions for anti-Soviet collaboration with Germany, she writes later in her book, “a point of secret penetration and subversion had been passed beyond which appeasement was a fundamental principle.”
West has read historian Laurence Rees’ World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis, and the West, British Book Award Book of the Year for History in 2009 and also the basis for a BBC television documentary which was aired on all American PBS stations. West cites Rees in her text, and clearly much of her account comes from his own findings and work. But she has ignored all the evidence Rees assembles in his book, and all the arguments he makes that refute her conclusions.
When I myself read about George H. Earle’s advice to FDR in West’s book, it sounded very familiar, until I realized I had read the same account, with the same quotes and detail in Rees’ book. Rees gives a nuanced account of how Western leaders dealt with Stalin and the Nazis that shows that they went out of their way to placate the Soviet tyrant, if necessary by hiding the facts of the massacres conducted near Katyn Forest, a suppression that has been known for decades. But Rees does not share West’s conspiratorial mindset, or her claim that the suppression, which Churchill demanded, was the result of machinations by Soviet agents. In fact Rees reaches conclusions quite the opposite of West’s, something readers of West’s book would be unaware of.
Rees asks an important question that West might have paid attention to: Could Western leaders have “prevented the Soviet dominance of Eastern Europe by acting differently during their partnership with Stalin?” One possible way would have been the Earle-West proposal. But this is Rees’ judgment of such a course:
It would have been a disastrous course of action. Perhaps the Red Army would have been forced back, but at a terrible cost in Allied lives. Even more importantly, the Europe that would have then existed after the war would have been a good deal less stable than the one we were actually left with. That is because, even after Stalingrad, the German army was still a fearsome fighting machine. If the Western allies had fought alongside the Germans and then reached some kind of uneasy peace with the Soviets — who would, of course, have felt betrayed by the West, probably fueling a future conflict — who would then have disarmed the German army? Germany would have been unoccupied by the Western Allies and still immensely powerful. So, thankfully, Roosevelt filed Earle’s plan in the bin.
This is the consensus of every historian of the war. The decision not to consider an entente with Hitler’s army against Stalin was a clear-headed affirmation of U.S. interests, not a betrayal, as West virtually screams.
Consider the political difficulties of reversing the course of wartime history at this late juncture. For four years, the Soviet Union had been portrayed as an ally to western publics, praised for its sacrifices and efforts in behalf of “freedom,” while the Germans had secured a place in the public mind as evil incarnate. Could Western leaders turn this equation inside-out while the war was still hot? These are the kinds of questions that never occur to West because she is entirely focused on explaining the decisions of the Allies in terms of the Soviet “occupation” of Western governments: “World War II could have been ended years earlier had Communists working for Moscow not dominated Washington, quashing every anti-Nazi, anti-Communist attempt beginning in late 1942, throughout 1943 and 1944, to make common cause with Anglo-American representatives. Their main condition, Allied support on keeping Russian troops out of central and eastern Europe, was an instant deal breaker—the anti-Red line- neither the Communist-occupied British government nor the Communist-occupied American government would dare to cross.”
To West, Roosevelt and Churchill were seeking to liberate Europe for the Soviets, because of the Communist occupation of their governments. This construct is a conspiracy theory that has run off the rails and is utterly oblivious to the realities on the ground.
The Issue of the Second Front
The final piece of West’s conspiracy puzzle is the decision to open a Second Front on the continent of Europe, which Stalin had been demanding from the moment Hitler broke his pact with the Kremlin and invaded the Soviet motherland. Let us assume for a moment that a cross-Channel invasion had been mounted in 1943 (before the Axis armies had been decimated in North Africa, Sicily and Italy) instead of at Normandy in 1944. In that case, as Rees argues, the Allies might indeed have reached Eastern Europe earlier in the fighting and Soviet influence would have been lessened. West, as we have seen, attributes the failure to Soviet agents who prevented Roosevelt and Churchill from following this course, allowing Stalin to take control. But Rees also writes (in a passage West also ignores) that “the cost in human terms for the Western Allies would have been enormous.”
The U.S. lost roughly 420,000 soldiers during the war and Britain lost 450,000, while the Soviet Union’s military death toll was an estimated 8 million. Forget the fact that the Allied armies, learning by doing, were not ready for an invasion of Europe a year before D Day. West doesn’t even consider the question of whether Churchill and Roosevelt would have been willing to sacrifice so much as one million more dead British and American soldiers to keep Eastern Europe out of Soviet hands at the war’s end, let alone whether the American and British publics would have stood for such a sacrifice and policy.
Another point that West fails to consider is the continuing fear shared by both FDR and Churchill that at any point in the fighting, the situation she envisions might be reversed and Stalin might seek a separate peace with Nazi Germany, and move towards a rapprochement as he did during the Nazi-Soviet Pact. In March 1942, when the Allies were facing major military setbacks, Churchill wired FDR that the “gravity of the war” forced him to conclude that Britain and the U.S. could not deny Stalin the frontiers he wanted in Eastern Europe, even though it might contradict the goals of the Atlantic Charter. It was not Soviet agents who led Churchill to this judgment, but the military reality on the ground.
Instead of weighing these fears, West turns to another anecdote telling how George Elsey found confidential files in the Map Room that showed FDR naively thinking he could trust Stalin, and instructed Hopkins to tell Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov that FDR was in favor of a Second Front in 1942. She believes that this was a smoking gun proving that FDR was “making common cause with the NKVD.” But here’s what Hopkins actually told Molotov: “I can tell you that President Roosevelt is a very strong supporter of a Second Front in 1942, but the American generals don’t see the real necessity of the Second Front. Because of this I recommend you paint a harrowing picture of the situation in the Soviet Union so that American Generals realize the seriousness of the situation.”
An obvious explanation of this (one by the way that Rees provides) is that FDR wanted to give Molotov the impression that he supported the Soviet request for a Second Front, but was frustrated by his recalcitrant generals. Thus while giving the Soviets the impression that he was their friend, and cementing the alliance that saved so many American lives, he kept his options open. Molotov came out of the meeting expecting a Second Front that same year, which as FDR already knew he would not get. The reality, which West closes her eyes to, is that FDR denied Stalin’s wishes without giving him cause to seek another accommodation with Hitler.
Contrary to West’s shallow and erroneous interpretation of this event, when the Second Front did not materialize on Stalin’s timetable (as Laurence Rees notes), Stalin came “to believe that Roosevelt had added outright duplicity to the mix,” and that “he had been betrayed.”
In his book The Cold War: A New History, John Lewis Gaddis, the pre-eminent historian of this conflict, agrees that Stalin’s goal was to dominate the continent of Europe in the same way Hitler had before the war. But in 1947, Stalin said, “had Churchill delayed opening the second front in northern France by a year, the Red Army would have come to France…We toyed with the idea of reaching Paris.” If FDR and Churchill were really Stalin’s errand boys, as West suggests, why would they not have delayed the Normandy invasion and allowed the Soviets to reach Western Europe?
Gaddis also agrees with Rees and other major WW II scholars that “the greatest Anglo-American fear had been that the Soviet Union might again cut a deal with Nazi Germany…which would leave large portions of Europe” under totalitarian rule, “hence the importance Roosevelt and Churchill attached to keeping the Soviet Union in the war.”
This meant providing all possible assistance in food, clothing, and armaments, even if flying them in by desperate means and at a great cost: running convoys to Murmansk and Archangel while avoiding German submarines was no easy thing to do. It also meant not contesting Stalin’s demands for the restoration of lost territories, despite the awkward fact that some of these…had fallen under Soviet control only as a result of his pact with Hitler. Finally, forestalling a separate peace on the European continent as soon as was military feasible, although in London and Washington that was understood to require postponement until success seemed likely at an acceptable cost.
I quote Gaddis at length to indicate that the decisions reached by FDR and Churchill were not the results of being run by NKVD conspirators who had infiltrated Western governments, but because they needed to win the war against Hitler, which they realized would be impossible to accomplish without Soviet military strength.
Even the most minimally informed reader will recognize the most obvious chink in West’s conspiracy theories: the failure to explain how the anti-Bolshevik Churchill, whose hatred for the Soviet regime went back to 1917 when he sought to crush it in its cradle, became a Soviet dupe.
At Yalta Churchill did agree to the division of Europe with a Soviet sphere of influence in the East in exchange for a promise by Stalin to accept British hegemony in Greece.
True, the way the agreement was sold to western publics was outrageous. Stalin was presented as a leader who wanted democratic regimes in his own sphere. But the Yalta agreements were concluded in order to win the war while minimizing casualties, and, in any case, merely registered what had already occurred on the ground. It was most certainly not the conspiracy that West conjures. Western leaders hoped, foolishly perhaps, that Stalin might keep his word to allow free elections in the Baltic States and Poland. But as Stalin told Molotov when signing the Yalta accords, “Do not worry. We can implement it in our own way later. The heart of the matter is the correlation of forces.” That correlation of forces is something West simply wishes away.
In agreeing to these arrangements Churchill was hardly a patsy let alone an unwitting tool of Kremlin agents. As the historian of Yalta, S. M. Plokhy, writes in Yalta: The Price of Peace, at the same time Churchill was defending the agreement to the British parliament, and facing his critics, “he was haunted by memories of Munich as he considered and reconsidered what had happened.” Churchill realized, however, that there were limits to what he could do to rein in the Soviet dictator. “Great Britain and the British Commonwealth,” Churchill said, “are very much weaker militarily than Soviet Russia, and have no means, short of another general war, of enforcing their point of view.” The reality, as Stalin said, was that “whoever occupies a territory also imposes on it his own social system.”
One of the first rude awakenings about Yalta was Stalin’s treatment of American POW’s in Soviet territory. West writes about “how they were being preyed upon by Russian thugs and prevented from coming home — but it wasn’t ‘appropriate’ for their commander-in-chief to send another crummy cable about this unconscionable outrage to the Soviet dictator, whose army…[was] still being fully fitted out by the magnanimous American taxpayer via Lend-Lease.”
Actually, as Plokhy shows, the Soviets treated American POW’s fairly well. Nevertheless, contrary to West, FDR “lost his temper with Stalin and sided completely with his representatives in Moscow, who by now were sick and tired of Soviet ways of doing things.” He sent stern messages to Stalin inspired by Averell Harriman, no pro-Soviet stooge, who was angered by the dictator’s behavior. FDR said to Anna Rosenberg Hoffman, his unofficial advisor on labor matters, “Averell is right: we can’t do business with Stalin. He has broken every one of his promises he made at Yalta.” He said this on March 24; a few weeks before his death. I looked in vain for that statement in West’s book. What is in West’s book is a condemnation of FDR for not doing more, for not scheduling retaliatory measures, and for not taking the advice of those who advocated turning against the Soviets although the war was not yet over. FDR was, to the very end, she writes, “America’s Dupe Number One.” No wonder the statement to Anna Hoffman does not appear in her book.
West also does not show any awareness that Harry Truman instituted a stern opposition to Stalin’s Eastern European policies culminating in the Truman Doctrine which drew a line in the sand opposing further Soviet expansion, and led to a Cold War that ended with the collapse of the Communist system. West doesn’t confront this little development because it would be inexplicable if America was a Soviet occupied state run by Stalin’s agents.
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. This is the path that Diana West has taken in her 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 Rubik’s 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 West’s 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 West’s 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.
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