Today, my review of Diana West’s new book, American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character, has been posted at FrontPageMagazine, the website of the David Horowitz Freedom Center. I urge PJM readers to go and read it, and to consider the arguments I make about why I find her book to be a betrayal, but not the kind she charges existed in our past. Indeed, what I argue in the review is that her book is actually a betrayal of serious and honest history, an ideologically bound argument that ignores real evidence, distorts our past, and creates a mythical counter-narrative to understanding decisions made during WWII.
Here is my concluding paragraph:
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.
What I want to discuss is why I took upon myself the job of writing a lengthy and detailed critique of West’s book.
First, as a historian and a conservative, I believe that my responsibility is to the truth. I cannot countenance conspiracy theories, whether they come from those on the Left or those on the Right. On these pages and elsewhere, I have regularly written about the corruption of history by writers such as Howard Zinn, and the team of Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick. I have also written a great deal about Soviet espionage, the influence of Communism on American life, and the fallacies of anti anti-Communism.
When self-proclaimed conservatives echo the methodology and conspiratorial type thinking of those on the Left, because they consider themselves conservatives means that those of us who want a responsible, sane conservative movement, and a vibrant conservative intellectual culture, have the responsibility to speak out and to criticize, no matter what source it comes from.
An analogy can be made with the dilemma William F. Buckley Jr. faced when, in 1962, he decided to take on first Robert Welch, the head of the John Birch Society, and later the Society itself. At the New Republic last year, Geoffrey Kabaservice wrote the following:
Having spent the better part of a decade doing research in Buckley’s archives, I can attest that it was no easy matter for Buckley to take on Welch and his Society. Many of the financial backers and readers of Buckley’s National Review magazine admired Welch and his organization; Buckley’s own mother was a Bircher. His editorial colleagues warned that criticizing Welch risked splitting the conservative movement. Buckley’s position as movement leader would be jeopardized by the liberal plaudits that predictably would follow his editorial condemnation of the Birchers; as Buckley put it privately, “I wish to hell I could attack them without pleasing people I can’t stand to please.”
Nonetheless, in February 1962 National Review ran a six-page editorial against Welch, arguing that he was damaging the anti-Communist cause by “distorting reality” and failing to distinguish between an “active pro-Communist” and an “ineffectually anti-Communist liberal.” It would be several years before Buckley excommunicated all Birchers from the conservative movement, but his editorial emphasized that “There are bounds to the dictum, Anyone on the right is my ally.”
Two years later, Buckley finally wrote his famous editorial condemning the Society. The conspiracy theories of the Society, Buckley wrote, made conservatism seem “ridiculous and pathological,” allowing liberals to portray conservatives as extremists. Conservatism, he wrote, had to expand “by bringing into our ranks those people who are, at the moment, on our immediate left…If they think they are being asked to join a movement whose leadership believes the drivel of Robert Welch, they will pass by crackpot alley, and will not pause until they feel the embrace of those way over on the other side, the Liberals.”