One of the most significant critical phenomena occurring within the last five years was the persistent and oftimes viciously personal neoconservative (“neocon”) attack on Diana West’s compelling and thoroughly documented account of how the U.S. lost World War II because of Soviet infiltration and manipulation of the Roosevelt administration. These machinations were fiddled not so much by Josef Stalin, as by his fifth column and domestic politburo of American Stalinists and an obliging U.S. president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. The book is American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character. The U.S. government then was termite-riddled with Soviet agents and sympathizers (“fellow-travelers”), much as our government now is termite-riddled with Muslims.
I reviewed Diana West’s path-breaking book in May 2015 in my Rule of Reason column, “Blaming the Right Culprits.” In it I wrote:
Diana West has performed yeoman’s work in exposing the Soviet-FDR connection in American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character. She has aired out America’s dirty laundry and hung it out to dry. Neocons and other strange creatures attacked her for contradicting their over half-century-old meme that FDR was a blameless dupe of Joseph Stalin and that there were no real Soviet agents and fellow travelers in FDR’s administration.
Such were the number of attacks and the personalities making them that she had to write another book to counter all the lies, misconceptions, academic pufferies, character assassinations, and misrepresentations about her and American Betrayal in those attacks, in a second book, The Rebuttal: Defending ‘American Betrayal From the Book Burners. I followed this ongoing exchange between West and her detractors from Day One….
What is it that a neoconservative wants to “conserve”? A neocon is someone who is an ex-leftwing “radical” who finally understood the error of his ways, recanted, and joined the Non-Fight Club.
We're neocons! We're ex-communists and ex-socialists who have seen the light and acknowledge the horrors visited upon millions of people by those collectivist ideologies in practice. What, however, are we for? We're for the status quo! Whatever that is or may be at any given point in time.
The occasion for this column is the review of a new movie, Trumbo, by Ronald Radosh, who participated in a veritable witch-hunt to discredit – nay, destroy – both West’s book and her intellectual, scholarly, and moral bonafides. PJ Media ran his November 26th review of the film, “Red Star Falling: The Trumbo Train Wreck.” This was a follow-up review of his November 2013 predictive critique of the film before it had been made, “Will the New Trumbo Movie Rehash Old Myths?” in the National Review.
Radosh’s review of the Trumbo movie is fair-to-middling. Not a trace of malice can be detected in his appraisal of the film or of its subject, Dalton Trumbo, one of the “Hollywood Ten” who refused to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947 concerning Communist influences in Hollywood and the sly boots campaign by many directors, screenwriters, and producers to indoctrinate Americans from the big screen.
When it was announced two years ago that Bryan Cranston would play Dalton Trumbo in a new movie about the late blacklisted Communist screenwriter, I wrote an article for National Review that asked a simple question: would the film be honest and portray Trumbo accurately, or would it perpetuate the myth of innocent and victimized Hollywood Reds?
Indeed, because of this piece, the producers and/or the publicity people of Bleecker Street Cinema claimed that I had “trashed the film” in advance and barred me from the screening, thus preventing me from writing about it for a national publication. One could say that Bleecker Street Cinema blacklisted me -- but we all know they are against blacklists….
Now we have the latest incarnation in the film Trumbo, starring Cranston as Trumbo, Louis C.K. as one of the Hollywood Ten, Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper, Diane Lane as Trumbo’s wife Cleo, and John Goodman as a schlock film producer for whom Trumbo wrote lousy films under a pseudonym while blacklisted. The film is good at recreating Hollywood in that era, but does exactly as I feared.
The film presents Trumbo as a hero and martyr for free speech, a principled rich Communist who nevertheless stands firm, sells his beautiful ranch for a “modest” new house in Los Angeles, and survives by writing film scripts -- most run of the mill but some major films (such as the Academy Award-winning Roman Holiday) -- using a “front” who pretended to be the writer. Trumbo brought in other blacklisted writers to do likewise, his theory being that if enough films were scripted in this way, when the truth came out, the blacklist would end. Trumbo was right. After it was revealed that he would write the movies Exodus and Spartacus, the blacklist was effectively over. At the same time, Trumbo is shown as having an extraordinary work ethic -- working day and night to support his family, while existing on alcohol, nicotine, and amphetamines.
While Trumbo was an interesting and colorful character, the film gives us the story of the Communists and the blacklist in the mold of the Ten’s own propaganda book published after their HUAC appearances. The book is Hollywood on Trial, which portrayed them as advocates of free speech who were defending the American Constitution, civil liberties, and American freedom itself.
Fair enough. In both the National Review and PJ Media articles, Radosh reveals some unsavory details about Trumbo’s character and actions. Read them for yourself. He was a Stalinist, and then he wasn’t one when the truth came out about Stalin’s horrendous policies and body count. Then he apparently threw up his hands and became…a neocon, in every way but name, in a manner of speaking. Radosh and his colleagues in calumny did not wish to acknowledge itinerant conversion. Trumbo became a neocon just as the three former Left Wing individuals and activists had – Radosh, David Horowitz, and Conrad Black – who later pilloried Diana West for writing an anti-Communist book about the scope of espionage and manipulation of U.S. policies and strategies during WWII.
Dalton Trumbo, Alger HIss, the Rosenbergs – these were “soft targets” for the neocons. Easy pickings. They can be condemned or criticized. Radosh even wrote a September 2008 piece for the Los Angeles Times about how guilty the Rosenbergs were, “Case closed: The Rosenbergs were Soviet spies.” This was a Johnny-Come-Lately piece (by thirty years) on which is based Radosh’s claim-to-fame.
So, the question to ask is: If these three were now anti-Communist, as well, why did they object so much to West’s book? Why did they go to extraordinary lengths to attempt to refute her thesis that our WWII military strategy was stealthily fine-tuned to oblige Stalin, with a great assist from a State Department more or less run by Communists and Communist sympathizers? Why the strenuous denial and attempted excoriation of West’s thesis, punctuated by adolescent name-calling?
If these individuals were so confident that West was wrong, and instead had embarked on a calm and courteous and reasoned refutation of her thesis and the pages of information she produced to support and validate her conclusions, why then did they launch a venomous personal campaign to kick her down the stairs? Why was their response to her book couched more in anger than in sorrow?
Why were they so determined to extinguish her? Why were they willing to resort to misrepresentations of her work, to misquoting her, to consecutive, thickly layered, pseudo-scholarly obfuscations, to smears? Why did they behave as though their authority was being challenged, jeopardized, and threatened?
If West was so wrong, why did they feel it absolutely necessary to berate and belittle her now? Bad ideas and hypotheses over time are outed and refuted by reality and facts. Could they not wait? Or were they afraid that her thesis was anchored in facts and they didn’t want it to be communicated to the nation, because that would not reflect well on FDR and how he conducted the war?
I think that part of the answer can be found in their adoration and “iconization” of Roosevelt, a Populist Progressive and champion of the mixed economy – that is, an economy of some freedom and a lot of government regulation and controls, all subject to the direction Roosevelt wanted to take it. Rooseveltian policies perhaps represented to them and may still represent to them the status quo they would prefer reigned over the country.
It is not the purpose of this column to revisit all the issues that were the center of the assault on West; that is impossible, as it would take more than a column. In fact, another book. Speaking of books, in his entry, “An American Threat,” Baron Bodissey of Gates of Vienna in November 2013 made this salient observation about Horowitz and Radosh on the occasion of Horowitz’s appearance at the Heritage Foundation. It gives us a peek at the motives behind the attack on West:
The video below contains fourteen minutes of footage excerpted from an hour and a half of live stream from the Heritage Foundation. Listen closely to the questions directed at the guest speaker, and his answers. To my mind, the most telling statement by Mr. Horowitz is this one:
“I see it as a threat to everything that I’ve done, and that Radosh has done, and that Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes and all of the conservatives who have dredged up the information from the archives about Communist influence.”
This is the crux of the matter in a nutshell: Diana West’s book was a personal attack from the point of view of David Horowitz and his associates. It was not something with which they could simply disagree, and present reasoned arguments against in rebuttal. The author had to be “taken down” through personal attacks, snarky insults, misrepresentations of what she said, denigration of her character, and anything else that would serve to consign her to academic oblivion.
Notice that David Horowitz brings up historical events, and then declines to “get into the weeds” when confronted on what he said by a historian who is an expert on the subject matter involved (which Mr. Horowitz admits he is not).
This is not about academic matters. This is not about history. This is a personal conflict initiated by someone who feels his pre-eminent position being threatened by another writer’s book.
Jeff Lipkes, in his July 2014 American Thinker column, “Diana and Ron: What Was Going On?“ asks:
Why a “take-down” of West instead of a review of her book?....
The prosaic truth, however, is that Radosh has done West a real injustice, but American Betrayal nonetheless has some significant flaws. It’s an important book, as well as a riveting one, and deserves a close and critical reading.
Frankly, I have read West’s book twice, and also her book-length The Rebuttal : Defending American Betrayal From the Book-Burners. I noticed no flaws in either work, significant or otherwise, but for the occasional typo or ill-formatting. But Lipkes must have been shaking his head and felt compelled to make this observation:
The distinguishing feature of the controversy was the venom directed at West.
The titles of some of the articles from Radosh and his cohort are revealing, starting with “McCarthy on Steroids”: “Diana West vs. History,” “Why I Wrote a Take-Down of Diana West’s Awful Book,” “Diana West Attempts to Respond,” “Diana West’s Epic Fail,” “Diana West Down Crackpot Alley,” etc.
There was also a back-stage email campaign.
On September 3, an article appeared on the Gateway Institute site by Senior Fellow Claire Lopez, which drew on West’s account of the decision to recognize the Soviet Union in 1933. The article was pulled later in the day and the next morning Lopez was informed that her relationship with Gateway had been terminated. Less than a month after the Radosh review, Diana West had become radioactive.
What precipitated the ongoing Muslim gang-like beat up of West, in Horowitz’s own words, was the removal from FrontPage of an article that endorsed American Betrayal, which, in another salvo launched at West, Horowitz refers to as an “embarrassingly kooky book” (“Diana West Invents a New Conspiracy”). In his editorial of August 7, 2013, “Our Controversy with Diana West,” Horowitz wrote:
Rather than responding to Ronald Radosh’s FrontPage review of American Betrayal, as a reasonable author might, Diana West has launched a series of personal attacks not only on Radosh but on the editors of FrontPage, calling us “hypocrites,” “totalitarians,” “ossified totalitarians,” commissars” and liars (“If FrontPage Will Lie about This, What Won't They Lie About?”) and claiming we “suppressed” -- also “purged” – a favorable review of her book because its opinions were “incorrect,” clearly implying that they were politically incorrect. She also seems to have inspired a small army to conduct a war on her behalf in our pages, whose attacks use the same talking points and seek to defame and discredit us, representing us as renegades who have persecuted her because of her views. In other words, instead of answering the factual criticisms that Radosh has made of her book, she prefers to treat his review as part of a political conspiracy against her work by people who only pretend to have the views they do. Readers of American Betrayal will find this kind of paranoid fantasy all too familiar.
I am solely responsible for the decision to remove the positive review of her book that originally appeared on FrontPage on which she builds her anti-FrontPage case. Here is what happened. When the FrontPage review of American Betrayal appeared I received an email from Ron Radosh whom I have known for more than sixty years, and whose work as a historian is respected not only by me but by every conservative academic historian with whom I am familiar….
So, Radosh’s feelings were hurt. He’s an authority, you see, and I’ve known him for years. Horowitz to the rescue. But the question here should be: Why remove the “offending” column that endorsed West’s book? Why not let it stand, and let others read it and judge for themselves whether or not it speaks to the truth? Horowitz can do whatever he likes on FrontPage. But the act of removing an editorial with which he and others might disagree is a telltale sign of what West accused him and others of: a penchant for censorship (not a strictly appropriate term, since only governments can censor), or at least for selective “information management.” It smacks of the New York Times.
The emotional and deprecatory response to West’s book, and the nearly visceral resentment against her campaign to defend herself against her attackers, were so disproportionate to the subject that it can't be deemed a mere academic dispute. It was more like a Mafia vendetta, meant to draw blood instead of civilly addressing a crucial historical issue. It echoes Turkey’s refusal to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. “It never happened! It was all the Armenians’ fault!”
The motto of Horowitz’s FrontPage is “Inside every liberal is a totalitarian screaming to get out.” The behavior of Diana West’s neocon enemies remains inexplicable. It’s what you’d expect from The Huffington Post or Salon. It’s abnormal. Perhaps for these veterans of the Left, old habits die hard. Perhaps something else screamed to get out, and it did get out to hound West everywhere she turned. Those old Communist “let’s squelch the opposition” habits can be suppressed for a time, but flare up in the most unflattering circumstances and at the most inopportune times.
Perhaps they’ve all forgotten why they repudiated Communism, ostensively over the suppression of freedom of speech and the purging of dissenters from the ranks.
If that is the case, then we are dealing with a form of selective amnesia.