“Although Senator Kerry never fully revealed the source of those outrageous accusations, I recognized them as being the product of another KGB disinformation operation. In the 1960s and ’70s, when I was a leader of the Soviet bloc intelligence community, the KGB spread those same vitriolic accusations, almost word for word, throughout American and European leftist movements. They were part of a KGB disinformation operation aimed at discouraging the United States from protecting the world against communist expansion.”
In his book Disinformation, Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa notes that by 1968 there were 7 million anti-war protesters in the United States. Many of them, including Secretary of State John Kerry, were operating on disinformation about the Vietnam War thanks to a carefully constructed KGB campaign called “Operation Ares”.
Created by the KGB with the “dual purpose of counteracting American efforts to protect the world against communist expansion, and of creating doubt around the world about American power, judgement, and credibility,” Operation Ares was named by KGB chief Yuri Andropov after the Greek god of war. Pacepa details the great lengths to which the KGB went to follow through on the disinformation campaign, including the creation of the Stockholm Conference on Vietnam. The Conference, which met annually through 1972 acted as the clearinghouse for the distribution of “..fabricated descriptions of American atrocities committed against civilians in Vietnam, as well as counterfeited pictures supporting the allegations.”
In his discussion of Ares, Pacepa poignantly reflects upon Andropov’s belief that, by planting the seeds of disinformation, these lies about American involvement in Vietnam would grow into its own unique breed of acculturated disinformation:
“Eventually, American leftists would seize upon our Ares and would start pursuing it of their own accord. In the end, our original involvement would be forgotten and Ares would take on a life of its own.”
Pacepa’s words clarify the observations of Hilton Kramer regarding the transformation of the intellectual class in the 1960s:
“The emergence of the New Left in response to the Vietnam war and the accompanying eruption of a vigorous anti-government, anti-middle-class counterculture had the effect of casting even the most extreme Stalinist positions of Thirties radicalism in a new and more favorable light. Actions and beliefs which had long been regarded as morally repugnant because of their abject subservience to the interests of the Soviet Union and which, as we know, in some notable cases had led to spying and espionage, began to enjoy the benefit of a sweeping revisionism. …As the call to revolution beckoned the young and the revivified romance of the Left renewed the celebrity of aging radicals, a kind of sainthood began to be conferred upon almost anyone who had once been identified with Stalinist causes and had not at any time publicly repudiated them.”
Operation Ares sounded the death knell in the battle between pro-and anti-Stalinists, paving the way in the Liberal left for “…a new willingness …to disavow the criticism of Communism in the name of an anti-war movement that identified Washington, rather than Moscow or Hanoi, as the primary enemy of peace and democracy.”
Nowhere was this “new willingness” more apparent than in the pages of the left-wing intellectual journal Partisan Review, which had until the 1960s been a stalwart in the leftist, anti-Stalinist movement. Having fallen “…hostage to the authority of the new radicalism and [Susan Sontag’s] ‘new sensibility'” writers like Mary McCarthy vilified George Orwell for his anti-Communist writings and praised the “sacred tradition of socialism” in her endless stream of praise for the “moral, ascetic government” of communist Vietnam. Sontag herself would use the pages of Partisan Review to declare “the white race is the cancer of human history…which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads” in a metaphorical nod to what we now know to be KGB disinformation.
Perhaps the most shockingly blatant form of pro-Sovietism would come at the culmination of Operation Ares with the release of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago in 1973. Solzhenitsyn, a Red Army officer imprisoned in the gulags by Stalin from 1946 – 1954, painstakingly chronicled his story and the stories of other gulag survivors in the groundbreaking three volume set. Leftist intellectuals were quick to criticize the undeniable account because, as Hilton Kramer notes, their reviews “…always had less to do with the realities of Communism and the Soviet system than with the need to uphold the pieties of Left-liberal orthodoxy”. To the American intellectual left it did not matter that Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Soviet Union for his work; he had gone too far in his critique of the communist system. As George Steiner wrote in the New Yorker, “To infer that the Soviet terror is as hideous as Hitlerism is not only a brutal oversimplification but a moral indecency.”
The Vietnam War brought the conflict between pro and anti-Stalinist liberals to an ugly head. The confluence of KGB disinformation and Left-liberal orthodoxyism revamped the American cultural landscape through the youthful energy of the Baby Boomer generation. Tragedy would follow, none perhaps more poignant or relevant than the one observed by Robert Conquest:
“Many in the West had become accustomed to the existence of the Soviet Union, treating it as though it were a normal component of the world scene … while in fact it was a ghastly aberration, which distorted history for most of our century.”
In their blind faith defense of the human havoc wreaked by the followers of Marx, leftist intellectuals in America fell for the distorted history of the KGB, and used it to re-define America’s understanding of morality and patriotism. Andropov was right; by the end of the Vietnam War Ares had taken on a life of its own. A life that would soon become distinctly American in nature.