Revisiting the Diana West Controversy

The controversy currently raging among conservative luminaries over the substantive nature and scholarly status of Diana West’s new book, American Betrayal, need not be rehearsed in detail here; its features are by now reasonably familiar to most readers of the political sites. But it will do no harm to offer a schematic overview of the broad contours of the “debate”—to give it the politest of tags.

It began when David Horowitz at FrontPage Magazine scrubbed Mark Tapson’s favorable account of the book and replaced it with Ron Radosh’s intemperate and distressingly ad hominem demolition masking as a “review.” Indeed, Radosh’s logomachic intervention read more like a personal vendetta than a scrupulous assessment. As a seasoned writer and veteran debater, Radosh should have known better. From that point on, a war of words was launched and the psychodrama shows no signs of tapering off. West published her Rebuttal and was heatedly defended by the notable historian Andrew Bostom and by many of the talkbackers to Horowitz’s own site. Meanwhile Horowitz and Radosh, and even the orotund Conrad Black, continued to pummel both book and author.

I do not wish to enter into the vortex of the dispute. I readily admit that I am no expert on the subject West’s volume addresses. Was Harry Hopkins the infamous KGB agent 19 or was it Laurence Duggan? Was American WWII policy subtly shaped and surreptitiously directed by Soviet espionage and penetration of the inner circles of the White House—and if so, to what degree? Was Eastern Europe lost to “Uncle Joe” Stalin owing to American ineptitude or to Communist infiltration of the decision-making process? I am in no position to weigh in on the matter. These issues may—or may not—be satisfactorily settled in the future, provided an honest, impartial, and intellectual debate is permitted to flourish without rancor and personal vituperation.

I can only say that Diana West’s thesis is surely deserving of scholarly consideration, whether pro or con. Whether one agrees with her conclusions or not, one must recognize that her argument is meticulously researched and abundantly footnoted. It seems to me that David Horowitz was wrong to remove a review that he had originally vetted and, furthermore, to substitute a largely personal imprecation in its stead rather than, say, to post a countervailing review and let the reader decide. Whatever his motive, the decision leaves an editorial stench that is not easily dissipated.

This is unfortunate, for Horowitz is one of the great conservative writers of our time who has done yeoman service in defending the principles of liberal democracy, in both the political and educational domains. No less unfortunate, there has been far too much name-calling on either side of the embroilment. But it needs to be candidly said that the unseemly fracas began with Radosh’s and Horowitz’s ill-advised, adversarial tactics.