As his biographer John B. Judis wrote in 2001, Buckley and National Review,“drew the line when the John Birch Society and its founder, Robert Welch, began to maintain that the American government itself was being run by Communists rather than liberals. Such a position not only ran directly counter to that of National Review; it also threatened to cast the Right into what [James] Burnham called ‘crackpot alley.’” As readers of Diana West’s book know, she argues that during World War II and the early Cold War, the American government was “occupied” and run by Stalin’s secret police, through its agents who controlled the White House. This is, indeed, thinking that echoes Robert Welch.
Of course, Buckley was talking about a movement, and not about a book. But the analogy holds. Diana West’s thought pattern indeed bears a strong resemblance to that of the Birch Society and Robert Welch. As Buckley himself wrote in Commentary in March of 2008, Birch thinking went like this:
The fallacy is the assumption that you can infer subjective intention from objective consequence; we lost China to the Communists; therefore the President of the United States and the Secretary of State wished China to go to the Communists.
Readers of Diana West’s tome will no doubt quickly see the similarity in what Buckley attacked as the method of the conspiratorial mind. West believes that since Eastern Europe was lost to the West and conquered by Stalin, it meant that the American and British leaders, including FDR and Winston Churchill, were presiding over an “occupied” and controlled government. As I write in my review, West thinks that “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 and, later, that the President allowed Stalin to gain Eastern Europe.
The other question I wondered about is why so many conservatives, who I believe should really know better, have responded so favorably to her book. I think the answer is that they are fed up with the leftist narrative that there was no threat from Communism in any way; that the 50s were a period of witch-hunts against non-existent enemies; and that, therefore, anyone who realizes this was not an accurate picture of that era must be correct in their analysis about what happened.
As I believe I show in my review, West takes this understanding one step further — to argue that not only was Communism an actual threat, and not only had Communists infiltrated the government during the New Deal, but that they actually controlled and ran the White House and made the major foreign policy decisions. She also castigates all of those, including me, who have written for decades about Soviet espionage and Communism. While she acknowledges at times that scholars like me, Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, Alexander Vassiliev and Allen Weinstein have done a yeoman’s job of revealing the extent of Soviet espionage, she condemns all of us for not accepting her judgment and conclusion that American policy was made for the benefit of the Soviet Union, and that the spies literally ran both the American and British governments.
She knocks down straw men continually. For example, on the question of espionage, she argues that all of us view Soviet espionage as a matter of personal conscience and “not as an issue of national security.” This is preposterous, and I point specifically to article Steve Usdin and I co-authored in 2011 that appeared in The Weekly Standard, in which among other things we specifically reveal what real damage the Rosenberg spy ring did to our national security, above and beyond trying to obtain material pertaining to the atomic bomb. Telling the truth, however, would interfere with her narrative in which she is continually trying to show that, in essence, even those who have exposed the extent of Soviet espionage are part of the great conspiracy to cover up the truth.
I end by asking readers to carefully read my review, and to reconsider jumping on the Diana West bandwagon. To continue to give her very bad book credibility will only work to harm the integrity and reputation of conservative intellectuals. After all, it has been decades since William F. Buckley Jr. acted courageously to push the Birchers out of the movement he was building. Do we really want to welcome their successors into it now, after so many lessons have been learned?