Ed Driscoll

Interview: Diana West on the Cold War and American Betrayal


On the back cover of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character, Diana West’s new book, is a blurb from Amity Shlaes, the author of the 2007 book The Forgotten Man, a brilliant look at how FDR’s policies devastated the nation, turning the Depression into the lengthy and protracted Great Depression. Shlaes’ book begins in the mid-1920s with “Progressive” American intellectuals of the 1920s, several of whom would form FDR’s brain trust less than a decade later, taking an ocean voyage to visit the nascent Soviet Union. After touring Potemkin Village after Potemkin Village, they believed, to paraphrase Lincoln Steffens, they had seen the future — and it worked.

In American Betrayal, West writes that it didn’t long for Moscow to return the favor. As West notes, FDR recognized the Soviet Union in November of 1933, which was a concession that even his fellow “Progressive” Democrat predecessor Woodrow Wilson refused during his term of office, along with his three Republican successors. And as West told me early in her interview, think of how bloody the Soviets’ early history had been by 1933:

A very useful way in to understanding what has become of us, was the act of recognition of the Soviet Union by Roosevelt in November 1933. This was just about half a year or so after the end of the terror famine, the famine in the Ukraine,  by which Stalin was able to murder by forced starvation, some five, six million people, maybe more.

That the United States decided to normalize relations right on top of this — this atrocity, is a staggering, staggering realization. I mean, imagine if a nation decided to normalize relations — if we play a little historical scrabble — mind-scrabble — with a Hitler, after having killed six million of its own people — six million Jews, say? It’s not thinkable.

And yet this is what we did in 1933 with an agreement that was a set of lies from the start. It was essentially based on promises by the Soviet Union that they would not follow up on their revolutionary declarations to overthrow the United States along with every other nation in the world.

This had been the reason, primarily, why four American Presidents and six Secretaries of State had not normalized relations with the Soviet government that had come in after 1917, after the revolution.

During our interview, Diana will discuss:

● Why West chose this theme as the follow-up to her best-selling 2007 book, The Death of the Grown-Up. (Click here and here for Michelle Malkin’s fascinating two-part video interview with West on that earlier book.)

● Did America make a Faustian pact by FDR extending our Lend-Lease program to the Soviet Union during World War II?

● How badly was FDR confidante Harry Hopkins played by the USSR during World War II?

● Who was the Democrat who founded and initially led the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and who would quickly become as demonized by the left as Joe McCarthy?

● Why was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn treated so shabbily by not just the American left, but by Gerald Ford, when he arrived in America in 1975?

● Why has Hollywood virtually ignored the evils of Communism?

And much more. Click here to listen:


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Transcript of our interview begins on the following page; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.


MR. DRISCOLL:  This is Ed Driscoll for PJ Media.com, and I’m talking today with Diana West, syndicated columnist who blogs at Diana West.net. She’s also the author of the new book, American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character. It’s published by St. Martin’s Press, and available from Amazon.com, and your local bookstore. And Diana, thanks for stopping by today.

MS. WEST:  Thank, you Ed.  Great to be back.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Diana, your first book was The Death of the Grown-Up in 2007.  What made you choose the thesis of American Betrayal as its follow-up?

MS. WEST:  Well, in some ways, I suppose, the thesis chose me.  I was still puzzling over disconnects between what I looked on as fact and conclusions, which is some of the same issues I was trying to sort through with The Death of the Grown-Up.  And I felt like — I felt like the grownup metaphor needed to go — I needed to go a little deeper.  And I wanted to find out if I could actually find a historical precedent for what I was seeing as — as a disconnect between amassing facts and making conclusions or making judgments.

And boy did I.  I was quite shocked and often appalled by what I found by going back down the rabbit hole into our historical layers.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Diana, your new book has a blurb on the back from Amity Shlaes, the author of The Forgotten Man, her brilliant look at the devastating impact of FDR’s domestic policies on America in the 1930s. Shlaes’ book begins with a group of American intellectuals, who would later become FDR’s brain trust in the 1930s taking an ocean voyage to the Soviet Union in the mid-1920s, and believing that, as Lincoln Steffens famously said, “They had seen the future — and it worked!”

You write in American Betrayal that it didn’t take all that long for the Soviet Union to return the favor, is that correct?

MS. WEST:  Right, right, yes.  Well, it’s a different — it’s a different sort of tranche than the one Amity was mining.

Yes, what I discovered was a very useful way in to understanding what has become of us was the act of recognition of the Soviet Union by Roosevelt in November 1933.  This was just about half a year or so after the end — what we consider the end — of the terror famine, the famine in the Ukraine which — by which Stalin was able to murder by forced starvation, some five, six million people, maybe more.

That the United States decided to normalize relations right on top of this — this atrocity, is a staggering — a staggering realization.  I mean, imagine if a nation decided to normalize relations — if we play a little historical scrabble — mind-scrabble — with a Hitler, after having killed six million of its own people — six million Jews, say?  It’s not thinkable.

And yet this is what we did in 1933 with an agreement that was a set of lies from the start.  It was essentially based on promises by the Soviet Union that they would not follow up on their revolutionary declarations to overthrow the United States along with every other nation in the world.

This had been the reason, primarily, why four American Presidents and six Secretaries of State had not normalized relations with the Soviet government that had come in after 1917, after the revolution.

FDR went ahead and made — signed this agreement, this piece of paper.  It was a lie the day it was signed, and it certainly was a lie afterwards as the Soviet Union began directing the subversion of our Constitution, the support of cadres of secret agents in our midst.  And this indeed was the basis of the agreement.  In other words, they promised they would not do this, and this was actually what was going on and certainly what when on, and I think to just tragic, tragic consequences.

MR. DRISCOLL:  American Betrayal discusses FDR and America’s Lend-Lease program supplying vehicles and equipment to the Soviet Union. As you write in the book, the most common objection to this is that, given that both we and the Soviets were at war with Nazi Germany, what was wrong with this?

MS. WEST:  Well, it’s a very fair question.  The premise of it, I think, is something that we’ve never quite understood.  We assume — and people did at the time — that America, Britain, and the Soviet Union, all had as their primary objective, in fighting the war in Europe, the overthrow of Hitler — of Hitler’s Germany, of the Nazi Reich.

Certainly, that was the operational premise that led us into war along with Great Britain.  Stalin, however, had a different idea.  He wanted to supplant the Third Reich.  He wanted to overthrow it and take its place.  And indeed he did, with our help.  And the Lend-Lease story is something that is so shocking when you realize the scope of hundreds of millions of dollars’-worth of aid that flowed from the United States to the Soviet Union, to a point where I was quite staggered to read a comment that Khrushchev made in 1970.  He basically — one of the few times you get an acknowledgement of American aid from a Soviet leader, he actually said in Life magazine that it — if he hadn’t had those half a million Dodge trucks and cars and other kinds of American cars and transport, he didn’t know if the Red Army could have made it to Berlin.

I mean think about that.  We were actually supplying the means by which the Red Army was able to move into Europe and indeed take it over.  This was the kind of aid that was going forward.  And additionally — and this is another bit of our completely lost history — we through Lend-Lease actually gave the Soviet Union uranium, heavy water and something like a hundred other atomic materials, during the Manhattan Project, when there were embargoes on such materials, particularly, namely uranium.

And after the war, when this came out, this was the beginning of a huge scandal that was sort of tamped down.  And I believe that this was one of the sort of disappearing little kind of back legs of a tiger going down a hole here, that I try to pull out and take another look at what was going on with the late breaking developments since the ’90s, knowing about the agents in our midst, what was going on with Lend-Lease, what was going on with the atomic supply to the Soviet Union during World War II.  This was the kind of question I was trying to take our new understanding, the new intelligence archival information and go back, reweave the narrative, and see what it really looks like.

And that’s why I called the book American Betrayal.  There was a lot of betrayal going on of the American people by our leadership.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Diana, I wanted to ask you about a couple of names that appear in American Betrayal. First off, who was Harry Hopkins, and what role does he play in your new book?

MS. WEST:  Well, who was Harry Hopkins?  I mean, I didn’t know.  I knew the name.  I could even imagine in — on hearing the name when I began my research, a very skinny fellow, a New Dealer.  But I really didn’t know much more than that.  And when I went back into the records, again, something we’re not taught in — even in high school or college courses about the period — Harry Hopkins was about the most important man in America besides Roosevelt.  And sometimes more important, because very often he had the final say on programs and projects.  It’s kind of an astonishing fact.

He lived in the White House for three and a half years, with the Roosevelts, part of that time actually during the war.  He was the overseer of Lend-Lease and many other programs.  In fact, he generally was thought of as Roosevelt’s foreign office run out of the White House.

This was a time where you actually see the executive branch ramp up and take all manner of powers that once were part of the Senate.  Treaty-making powers once were certainly part of a State Department, normal work of the State Department and Secretary of State.  They almost became fifth wheels during World War II, when Harry Hopkins was essentially our foreign minister.

And when you actually go back to the wartime conferences, the famous wartime conferences such as Tehran or Yalta with Stalin and Churchill, or the other meetings with — with Churchill without Stalin, Harry Hopkins is the man functioning as our foreign minister.

Churchill and Stalin would come with their own foreign ministers, and you would think the American Secretary of State would be coming.  No.  It was Hopkins until Yalta.  It was always Hopkins.  And at Yalta, it was a man named Stettinius, one of our lesser-known Secretaries of State, who was very much considered a Hopkins selection and kind of a puppet.

So this was how powerful this man was.  He’s a controversial figure.  There is, in the intelligence historian community an ongoing debate over whether he was a conscious agent of Stalin’s or not.  I tried to pull together what I think is about the fullest dossier on Hopkins that I’ve seen anywhere.

I convinced myself, anyway, that he was, indeed a conscious agent.  But this is — this is a point I hope becomes a matter of debate.  It’s a very important point.  Because if Franklin Roosevelt’s top aide was an asset of some kind for Stalin, I think we have to re-examine everything about the Roosevelt administration, and again, start thinking of it — was this an extension of Soviet policy?

The White House was riddled; the State Department was riddled; the OSS was riddled.  I mean, we’re looking at what I decided at a certain point in my research, was actually something best to think of as a de facto occupation, certainly a strategic occupation of the halls of power by the Kremlin.

MR. DRISCOLL:  And compared to Harry Hopkins, there’s a much more obscure politician who appears about halfway through American Betrayal. Who was Martin Dies?

MS. WEST:  Martin Dies.  He is one of the heroes of the book.  As dark a tale as it is, there are those I think of as the truth tellers, or the truth seekers, either the great witnesses who come out of the Gulag or out of a cell, or just are good observers, and then the investigators in Congress or journalism.

Martin Dies was a Democratic representative from Texas who in 1938, opened up the House Un-American Activities Committee.  And what he was interested in doing was investigating, essentially, totalitarianism of all stripes, whether it was fascism, Nazism, Japanese spying, or Communism.

And fascinatingly enough, when he opened shop, he was actually quite good friends with Roosevelt at this time, Roosevelt tried to dissuade him from investigating Communism in this country.

And indeed, this became a bone of contention that actually broke up their friendship.  And later on, Roosevelt would essentially destroy his career when Dies set up to run for the Senate later one.

But Dies was able to uncover an awful lot of what was going on in terms of Communist subversion and fascist subversion as well in the run up to World War II.  When we became allies with Stalin, of course, that stopped.  But it was interesting to me — I first read about him in Stanton Evans’ book Blacklisted by History, which is a marvelous book, a revisionist’s look, if you will, at the life and times of Joe McCarthy — Senator Joe McCarthy.

And I was fascinated to read Stanton Evans say everything that was ever said about Joseph McCarthy, which would be in the ’50s, was first said about Martin Dies.  And indeed, he was smeared as a Red baiter, a — you know, a fantasizer, a fraud, what have you — all of this by the left, seeking to shut down his investigations of the Communist penetration that was rife.  I mean, it was happening regardless of how — we still look back on the era as, you know, in terms of witch hunts, which of course suggest fantasy.  They were real.  They were here.  We’ve got hundreds of them identified by now.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Well, speaking of looking back on that era, how complete are the records of the activities of Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s?

MS. WEST:  Well, this was something else that was quite fascinating to learn.  You know, we think back to, Sandy Berger a couple of years ago, a few years ago, at the Archives, stuffing his pants pockets and socks and so on with archival papers in terms of a shocking act of a never-before conceived of act of vandalism or theft.

However, what you find out — and again this is something Stanton Evans alerted me to in his book — in his work — our archives have been essentially sacked of much of the primary documentation of the era, at least in terms of where it should be.  Very often Congressional investigations are not there.  State Department records are not there.

I realized I was actually starting to do real live primary research myself, when at Georgetown University in the Harry Hopkins papers, I came across an empty file.  And I — aha, someone has been here before me and removed these personal letters to Hopkins that I was — I was looking for, and was able to still find.  I found one out of place that was still quite illuminating.  But I found a notice saying that these documents had been removed and actually taken to Hopkins’ house, and I guess never came back.

But this is the kind of, I think, point, that would shock Americans, who actually imagine that our archives are very orderly and complete.  They’re not.

But you find things.  You know, you find — you find people at the time who kept archives or individual papers that belonged to the person himself or, you know — and so on.  There are ways to reconstruct many of these — of these documents, fortunately.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Let’s talk about a very different kind of missing document. To this day, Hollywood cranks out plenty of films on the evils of Nazi Germany. But why has Hollywood virtually ignored the evils — and the horrors — of Communism?

MS. WEST:  Well, that is a great question and it’s something that in some ways kicked off the book.  The book in many ways began with ruminations on the so-called Hollywood black list.  Remember back when Elia Kazan was awarded a special Oscar, this was in about 1999.  And even after we had the Black Book of — I think the Black Book of Communism had just come out, where we had a numerical figure put on the crimes of Communism at something like 100 million dead in the 20th century, after all of the wars and the Gulag and all the — the witnesses to these crimes, it was an amazing thing to realize that Elia Kazan, this old man going to take his due recognition from the Hollywood community, where he’d, you know, been such a contributor, had to be sneaked into a side entrance of the Academy Awards theater ceremony, because he had protestors.

People were talking about him as a snitch.  He had, of course, been a “friendly witness,” they called them, trying to, again, bring light on people who were there, as he wrote in his memoir, to serve Stalin and overthrow the Constitution.  And where is the crime in that, he asked.

This was something that stuck with me, that when you actually go back to Hollywood, what you learn is, it is not so much that the Communists in Hollywood were able to insert, for example, dialog, pushing a little Marx here or there, which sometimes we hear about or read about.  No.  What they were able to do was to prevent the great anti-Communist manifestos and novels from ever being treated on the silver screen.

And indeed, Dalton Trumbo, who is probably the most talented of the so-called unfriendly Hollywood Ten, he actually bragged about this in the pages of the Daily Worker.  He actually bragged about the fact that you wouldn’t be seeing, for example, Arthur Kessler’s Darkness at Noon coming to the movies anytime soon or Trotsky’s biography of Stalin.  And he named a bunch of other very celebrated works that would never enter American popular consciousness, because of course, film is such an important tool.  It’s part of our — how we understand ourselves, how we understand our own mythology.

When you go back and look at the record, it is — there is scarcely any single Communist drama that just depicts this incredibly epic and important movement that caused so much pain and also brought people to rise to such heights of nobility and, you know, honor, in terms of fighting it.  None of these dramas are part of our film lore.  And I think that that is part of the reason that we have so little appreciation for what we have been through and why it has been so easy, essentially, to brainwash us and condition us to still regard Communism with none of the condemnation that we rightly show to Nazism, for example.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Let’s jump ahead to the mid-1970s. When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn arrived in America in 1975, he was received with a remarkable coldness by American intellectuals. And even Gerald Ford snubbed him. What was the cause of this?

MS. WEST:  Well, this — this was — this was a seminal moment, really, in terms of the annals, I would call it, of capitulation and appeasement.  There was always — and again, going back to Roosevelt — but pretty much steadily, with the occasional ray of sunshine, such as a Ronald Reagan, there was always a movement or a directive, a policy, to appease the Soviet Union, and more importantly to deny the truth about the system.

And indeed, you could not have such a thing as detente, which of course was the kind of appeasement du-jour in the 1970s, if you actually recognized the depravity of the system.  And here was this man, this absolutely — this force of nature, who had captured the world’s attention inside the Soviet Union.  And here he was coming to America for the first time.

For the — that White House to have acknowledged his achievement and what he contributed to our understanding, would have been to acknowledge that they could not possibly be involved in something like detente with these same people.

So in the urge to put over on the world this — this, really delusional kind of alternate reality of moral equivalence and so on, they had to reject the truth of Solzhenitsyn.  And they did.  And I think it is a real stain in our history.

MR. DRISCOLL:  There’s a wonderfully ironic 1981 quote from R.W. Apple of the New York Times atop the second chapter of American Betrayal: “Some Soviet officials are evidently worried by the possibility that Mr. Reagan will find himself imprisoned by his philosophy.” Could you talk about that quote in the context of your book?

MS. WEST:  I’m glad you like that one, Ed.  I do to.  Oh, gosh.  Well, you know, this is — this is really — you know, shows the power — the mesmerizing powers of Soviet propaganda, that they were able to convince — or it wasn’t just the Soviets of course.  This was the Western elite notion that if you didn’t go along with the alternate reality of a Kissinger and a Ford and the way they dealt with Solzhenitsyn, and you had an actual fairly frank appraisal of the Soviet system by Ronald Reagan, that somehow that was being a prisoner of some kind of ideology or philosophy, as opposed to just trying to make sense and bring reality to what had been absolutely topsy-turvy land.

But one thing I found quite interesting; I cite from time to time — I rely on the wisdom of Robert Conquest, who’s one of the great historians of the Soviet Union of the modern age.  And he — he grappled with a lot of these people in real time, because this is the period where he was doing his most famous work about the terror famine, about the show trials and so on.  And so he was up against it all the time.

And he had some very trenchant observations.  And one of them was that he felt that it was a misnomer — it was a misnomer from the start to portray the Cold War as an ideological struggle, in other words between competing ideologies.  Because he said the Marxist-Leninist program is indeed an ideology.  Everything is preordained according to the ideological dictates, right down to the very words you use and the subjects you even are allowed to talk about.

By contrast, the Western system, the Western evolution of liberty, is not ideological.  It is rule-of-law based.  But there is no preconceived reaction according to ideology in such — in such a system.  The individual — again, the individual liberty versus the collectivist state of totalitarianism.  They are — they are as mismatched as possible.

And yet, we still think of the Cold War as competing ideologies.  And in many ways this is another triumph of sort of the Marxist Leninist outlook.  But I think what Apple is falling for is this notion, this same notion, that Reagan is somehow the ideological captive as opposed to everyone else.

So, yes, it is ironic indeed.

MR. DRISCOLL:  And last question.  While the Soviet Union is no more, the centennial of its founding is just around the corner.  What, in your estimation, has been the ultimate impact of nearly a century of what you describe in the subtitle of American Betrayal as the left’s assault on our nation’s character?

MS. WEST:  Well, on reexamination, after — this has been about a four-year project, writing this book — I really feel that the Cold War victory we claim abroad, I think is quite questionable.  But I feel more than that, we lost the Cold War at home.

Proof of that would be, look at our college campuses, outposts of Marx.  I mean, this is a place where, for example, the great witnesses to Communist infiltration, such as an Elizabeth Bentley, for example, she would never get a statue on her campus — her alma mater, Vassar.  The left is in control.

They’re in control of so much of our cultural understanding of ourselves, of our narrative.  They have managed to keep even the tremendous mounting evidence of this infiltration separate from our historical understanding.  And indeed, the only way that I could even hope to — I mean, it’s a kind
of — it’s kind of something to try another book about World War II and the Cold War — however, it is indeed brand new because the left has managed to keep a wedge between the intelligence confirmations of the infiltration and our general historical narrative.

And so what I do in American Betrayal is actually weave the two histories together, which amazingly enough, basically had not been done.  And this — this is part of the triumph, I would argue, of sort of Marxism-Leninism ideology.  I think that we — from that original relationship that was based on lies, we have seen the rise of double standards in our policies, and indeed in our culture itself, and indeed in our hold on facts and on morality.

I think it has been an utterly corrupting experience, which is why the subtitle is “The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character.” It really was a changing relationship.  And we haven’t grappled with it yet.  We have not reckoned with it yet.

And I hope — I hope — it is my hope that my book opens the door on this.  Because I really think we need to think very hard about what happened to us and try to reorient.  Because I think we are still living in a very delusional frame of mind.

MR. DRISCOLL:  This is Ed Driscoll for PJ Media.com, and we’ve been talking with Diana West of Diana West.net, the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character. It’s published by St. Martin’s Press, and available from Amazon.com, and your local bookstore. And Diana, thank you once again for stopping by today, and continued success with the new book.

MS. WEST:  Thank you.  It was a great pleasure talking to you.

(End of recording; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.)

Transcribed by eScribers.net, with minor revisions (including hyperlinks) by Ed Driscoll. Artwork created using images by Shutterstock.com.