264 Diana West

Diana West is a Yale-educated journalist, writing a weekly syndicated column with a decidedly conservative slant.  Determined to understand and explain certain features of modernity, she ties together interesting threads of evidence and teases out possible conduits of elucidation that prod the reader to ponder her presentations rather than thoughtlessly embrace her perspectives.  Four decades ago Eric Hoffer, in Reflections on the Human Condition, warned: “If a society is to preserve its stability and a degree of continuity, it must know how to keep its adolescents from imposing their tastes, attitudes, values, and fantasies on everyday life.” Now Diana West declares the adolescents have done precisely that.  In her first book, The Death of the Grown-Up:  How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization (c. 2007) she took a critical look at the effective defection of adults in various crucial societal roles.  Whereas many writers have lamented the “prolonged adolescence” plaguing the Western world, West suggests it has become institutionalized!

  She began awakening to this fact when still a child, after spending a year with her family in Ireland (far away from her Los Angeles home) while her father worked on a novel.  Returning to America, she was struck by the strangeness of many things she’d earlier taken for granted.  This included the childish behavior of adults.  She began to see that:  “Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, childhood was a phase, adolescence did not exist, and adulthood was the fulfillment of youth’s promise.  No more.  Why not?  A profound civilizational shift has taken place, but, shockingly, it is one that few recognize” (#79 in Kindle).   Teenagers no longer aspired to become adults and adults longed to behave like adolescents.  So “father and son dress more or less alike, from message-emblazoned T-shirts to chunky athletic shoes, both equally at ease in the baggy rumple of eternal summer camp” (#124).  Clergymen, once determined to appear as serious adults, now try to dress more casually than day laborers.  In fact, “More adults, ages eighteen to forty-nine, watch the Cartoon Network than watch CNN.  Readers as old as twenty-five are buying ‘young adult’ fiction written expressly for teens” (#97).  

If only such similarities were merely superficial!  But abetted by Hollywood films and rock-and-roll music and pop journalism and progressive education, adults (and particularly fathers) have abandoned their traditional roles.  Whereas children were once duty-bound to care for their parents, now parents are obligated to make life enjoyable for their offspring; children once circled around their parents, but today’s adults orbit like helicopters around their kids.  Before WWII, homes were adult-centered; following the war they became increasingly child-centered.  The signal adult endeavor in centuries past was what Lionel Trilling termed “making a life,” seriously pursued by all mature persons.  Now we are more likely to be concerned with “enjoying life,” playing with our “toys,” and we no longer revere “what goes along with maturity:  forbearance and honor, patience and responsibility, perspective and wisdom, sobriety, decorum, and manners—the wisdom to know what is ‘appropriate,’ and when” (#173).  Consequently, as Mike Males says:  “‘The deterioration in middle-aged adult behavior has driven virtually every major American social problem over the past 25 years’” (#665).  

Beyond describing—with a journalistic flair for telling anecdotes and exaggerations and provocative examples—the various symptoms of societal decay, West seeks to explain what has happened, why America has changed so dramatically in half-a-century.  She concludes, in accord with (though never citing) some of the past century’s finest thinkers (notably C.S. Lewis and Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI), that moral relativism is the culprit.  Once we began talking about “values” rather than “virtues” we tossed aside the moral objectivity needed for a healthy society.  We thus inhabit a moral universe that “no longer sees any point in inculcating ‘good’ or ‘moral’ behavior in its young.  Rather, it labors to encourage ‘better choices.’  Instead of virtues to live by, society provides ‘news you can use’ about hygiene, about cliques, about tattoos, about sex, about STDs, about alcohol, about drunk driving, about rape, about gang rape, about date rape, about date-rape drugs, about other drugs . . . the list of vices to bone up on is endless” (#1729).   Never is it suggested that casual sex is bad—it’s just something to be properly informed about in order to make personal (i.e. “safe”) choices.  Above all one must never be “judgmental” or “prudish” or “xenophobic” about much of anything lest it “offend” someone.  “Openness and acceptance on every and any level—from personal to national, from sexual to religious—are the highest possible virtues of the postmodern Westerner.  This makes boundaries and taboos, limits and definition—anything that closes the door on anything else—the lowest possible sins” (#3140).  

This is dramatically evident in today’s multicultural climate, wherein nothing critical of Islam is allowed.  Our claims to avoid offense out of respect are more likely the silence of fear.  As President George W. Bush quickly discovered, no reference to a “crusade” will pass the scrutiny of political correctness.   No one dare suggest that Muslims shouting Allahu Akbar—“Praise Allah”—are following Islamic teachings.  None dare insist that Jihad, in Islamic tradition, always means violent aggression, defeating and subduing non-Muslim peoples.   “Terrorists” there may be, we’re told—but they are incidental extremists, a title easily applied to Christians or Jews as well as Muslims.  All religions are equal and thus equally capable of disreputable behavior.  Submitting to this kind of thinking, many Westerners have unwittingly submitted to the dhimmitude described by Bat Ye’or:  the guards around synagogues in Europe and the security lines in airports equally denote a people under siege, a culture capitulating “to the infringement of freedom” orchestrated by the advance wave of militant Islam.  

Unfortunately, “Our leaders and pundits, our generals and academics, pay repetitive and obsequious obeisance to ‘noble Islam’ (with never a bow, of course, to ‘noble’ anything else).  They depict jihad as a mutation of Islam—the ‘distorted,’ ‘hijacked,’ or ‘defiled’ practice by the ‘violent fringe’ or ‘tiny band of extremists’—despite jihad’s central, driving, animating role throughout the history of imperial Islam.  As for dhimmitude, it remains an alien concept, even as non-Muslims in the West are increasingly accommodating themselves to Islamic law and practices.  While the president of the United States appears no longer to consider Islam an out-and-out religion of ‘peace,’ he’s settled into an equally ahistorical formulation by delegitimizing jihad violence s ‘the perversion of a few of a noble faith into an ideology of terror and death’” (#4997).   

How unlike from Barack Obama was Winston Churchill!  “Sharp and direct, Churchill says what he has seen, and what he thinks about what he has seen—sans gag, filter, rose-colored glasses, or net.”  Commenting on the Muslims he’d encountered, he wrote:  “‘How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays upon its votaries!  Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy.  The effects are apparent in many countries.  Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the prophet rule or live.  A degraded sensualism deprives this live of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity.  The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a power among men.  Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. . . .  But the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it.  No stronger retrograde force exists in the world’” #5027).  Churchill thought as an adult, facing the oft-harsh reality of things.  We need men like him today.  “Eternal youth is proving fatal; it is time to find our rebirth in adulthood” (#5083).

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Few books have sent me to check sources and order cited monographs more than Diana West’s American Betrayal:  The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character (New York:  St Martin’s Press, c. 2013).  In part this is because she refers to fresh historical evidence regarding Soviet espionage in America, but mainly because she suggests—almost in a stream-of-consciousness style, studded with journalistic jibes and off-the-cuff comments—connections and plausible interpretations that challenged some of the notions I’d earlier absorbed from mainline historical works.  So I review American Betrayal with a real skepticism regarding West’s position conjoined with an admiration for her willingness to look for fresh explanations while trying to understand this nation’s development.  I also share her concern for what George Orwell discerned in 1936 (when writers dealing with the civil war in Spain lost interest in evidence and objective reporting):  “What is peculiar to our age,” said Orwell, “is the abandonment of the idea that history could be truthfully written.”  Still more, he said:  “I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various party lines.”  

Unfortunately, some writers (such as Orwell) who have tried to present evidence and stand for truth have all too often been ignored or smeared by devotees of various “party lines.”  Ideology easily trumps truth!  Thus Whittaker Chambers declared, in his memorable memoir, Witness:  “The simple fact is that when I took up my little sling and aimed at Communism, I also hit something else.  What I hit was the forces of that great socialist revolution, which, in the name of liberalism, spasmodically, incompletely, somewhat formlessly, but always in the same direction, has been inching its ice cap over the nation for two decades . . .  [This] is a statement of fact that need startle no one who voted for that revolution in whole or in part, and consciously unconsciously, a majority of the nation has so voted for years.  It was the forces of that revolution that I struck at the point of its struggle for power” (pp. 741-42).   Equally important, Chambers—and Diana West as well—probes beneath the details to a philosophical hypothesis, linking today’s “cultural relativism” to critical decisions made by this nation’s leaders during the past century.   

West’s story begins with the 1934 appearance of William A. Wirt, a famous Indiana schools superintendent, before a select House committee regarding an insidious plot to destroy “the American social order.”  There were, he’d earlier alleged, schemers (notably some of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Brain Trusters” such as Jerome Frank, who brought Alger Hiss to Washington, and Rexford Tugwell, who was positively infatuated by the “Soviet Experiment”) working inside some New Deal agencies.  So Wirt came to Washington to disclose what (based on first-hand information) he knew.  The Democrat-controlled committee, however, refused to grant Wirt a fair hearing, taking every opportunity to suppress his evidence and smear his character.  FDR and his devotees in the press ridiculed Wirt and he slid quickly into obscurity.  Six years later, however, one of the Democrats on the committee, John J. O’Connor (D-NY) admitted to helping quash Wirt’s testimony and was lamented having helped turn the “thumbscrews” on him.  In retrospect, O’Connor said he’d come to believe much Wirt had claimed was in fact true.  

That Wirt was right provides Diana West a guiding light whereby to understand how America was first betrayed by supporters of Stalin and his Communist ideology and more recently by defenders of Islam and its role in the world.  Dealing with both movements, American leaders seemed unable to deal honestly with evidence and make clear moral judgments regarding how this nation should respond.  She wrote this book, primarily, what “throughout eight years of George W. Bush and four years of Barack Obama, caused our leadership to deny and eliminate categorically the teachings of Islam from all official analysis of the global jihad that has wracked the world for decades (for centuries), and particularly since the 9/11 attacks in 2001?” (#273).   She actually finds many “parallels between America’s struggle with Communism and with Islam” (#395).  Indeed:  “As enemies of the West, godless Communism and godcentric Islam are strangely, eerily similar, in their collectivist, totalitarian natures, in their dysfunctional ideological reliance on the Eternal Foe for forward thrust, and, above all, in our blindness to all related and resulting implications of our struggle against them” (#513).  

When telling the story of Communist inroads West relies on significant historical studies done since Soviet archives opened to Western scholars in the 1990s, though her interpretations are sometimes more assertive than their carefully-nuanced works suggest.  She also emphasizes the importance of earlier truth-tellers such as the English historian Robert Conquest, the Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and the American journalist, Eugene Lyons.  Conquest’s delineation of Soviet brutality (ca. twenty million killed under Stalin) began with The Great Terror, a 1968 publication countering the generally pro-Stalinist position of academic historians.  Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich began his career of exposing the Soviet gulag archipelago.  And Lyons’ Red Decade told of Bolshevik inroads into America, while his Assignment in Utopia reveals his transformation from a “committed fellow traveler and dedicated apologist of the Soviet experiment to outspoken and remorseful anti-Communist” (#2253).  

It is now undeniable that Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy and the Rosenbergs transmitted information regarding America’s nuclear research to the USSR.    There’s little doubt that Elizabeth Bentley and Whittaker Chambers were witnesses to the truth in their post-WWII testimony before congressional committees.  But West finds much more regarding Soviet influence within the Roosevelt administration.  She takes seriously the words of a Russian researcher, Vladimir Bukovsky, who said:  “‘Because of the documents I recovered [in Soviet archives], we now understand why the West was so against putting the communist system on trial.  It is not only that the West was infiltrated by the Soviets much deeper than we ever thought, but also that there was ideological collaboration between left-wing parties in the West and Soviet Union.  This ideological collaboration ran very deep [emphasis added]’” (#1288).  

Consider one of the many instances West investigates, the “Soviet First” policy followed in FDR in his Lend-Lease program.  Initially adopted to help England in its “finest hour,” struggling to defend herself, it turned into a massive funnel moving American industrial goods to Russia, even when it meant denying supplies to American forces under Douglas MacArthur then embattled in the struggle with Japan in the Philippines.  According to Major George Racey Jordan, the officer in charge of distributing massive amounts of war materials from a base in Montana, the Soviets were given “first priority” and received  newly-minted airplanes sorely needed by the U.S. Army Air Force.  Implementing Lend-Lease (dubbed by Jordan “the greatest mail-order catalogue”) delivered “to the USSR those half a million trucks and jeeps that Khrushchev declared in 1970 were indispensable to the Red Army sweep across Eastern Europe, pulling the Iron Curtain down behind them” (#2614).  Among other items Jordan shipped to Stalin were the aluminum tubes and uranium needed to build a nuclear reactor.  Conventional historians think supplying Russia with war materials a wise move, necessary to defeat Hitler.  To West, however, it seems better understood as naively arming an evil tyrant, Stalin, who was above all determined to expand his power throughout Eastern Europe.  Drawing upon Jordan’s diaries, along with other sources, she suggests that Harry Hopkins, FDR’s most influential advisor and virtual “co-president” was primarily responsible for dispatching so much aid (via Lend Lease) to the USSR.  Indeed, Jordan said, “Harry Hopkins’s name was invoked daily by the Russians” (#3317) seeking to secure additional Lend Lease supplies.  

Right at the center of the controversial hypotheses highlighted by West in American Betrayal stands Harry Hopkins, labeled FDR’s “one man cabinet” by Life magazine in 1941.  For several years Hopkins, the one-time social worker elevated to cabinet positions by FDR, lived in the White House and constantly advised the President.  He, or his trusted assistants, accompanied FDR to all the important wartime conferences, and his views were clearly shared by the nation’s chief executive.  At the 1943 Tehran Conference, for example, Charles Bohlen remembered, Hopkins played a central role.  “‘Roosevelt was relying more and more on Hopkins, virtually to the exclusion of others.  At Tehran, Hopkins’ influence was paramount’” (#6636).  Illustrative of his eminence, when Hopkins entered a room, Averell Harriman says, Stalin “‘got up, walked across the room and shook hands with him.  I never saw him do that to anybody, not even Roosevelt.  He was the only man I ever saw Stalin show personal emotion for’” (#6336).  The men he fostered and supported form a “Who’s Who of the Roosevelt years:  Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, White House Chief of Staff Adm. William D. Leahy, Vice President Henry A. Wallace” (#3178).  FDR’s final Secretary of State, Edward J. Stettinius, who represented the U.S. at Yalta, was a loyal Hopkins’ protégé who had earlier worked within the Lend Lease organization.  

Though West stops short of definitively branding Hopkins a Soviet agent, she certainly provides incriminating evidence leading to that conclusion.  For example, she cites Oleg Gordievsky, “a former KGB colonel and KGB London chief who later served as an undercover British secret agent in Moscow (1974-85);” in 1990 he “reported that as a young KGB agent in the 1960s, he had heard Iskhak Akhmerov, the most spectacular of the secret Soviet spymasters or ‘illegals’ in wartime America, devote most of a lecture at KGB headquarters ‘to the man whom, he alleged was the most important of all Soviet wartime agents in the United States:  Harry Hopkins’” (#3401).  If Hopkins was, in fact “the most important of all” agents—surpassing Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs and Harry Dexter White—he deserves serious scrutiny!  Thus far, however, conventional historians have dismissed allegations regarding Hopkins—probably seeking to preserve FDR’s reputation.  Without further research, I cannot render a verdict on Hopkins—but I’m now curious and willing to entertain questions regarding his role in shaping FDR’s foreign policy.  

West tackles yet another controversy when she deals with the Allies’ wartime decision of to open a “second front” in northern France and attain “total victory” against Hitler.  In 1943, given the recent successes of American and English armies in North Africa and Italy, some military leaders (General Mark Clark, commander of Allied forces in Italy) and Winston Churchill, urged a concerted military movement through the Balkans and Austria to the heart of Germany.  It would be a shorter route, benefitting from bases and troops already in place around the Mediterranean.  Since Nazi forces were still mired down in the USSR, these analysts believed a rapid end to the war could be achieved.  Many of them also feared that Stalin wanted to ultimately occupy and control Eastern and Central Europe—something he could not do if the war ended quickly.  He desired, according to the Russian historian Viktor Suvorov, “the war to last as long as possible in order to exhaust both Germany and its Anglo-American opponents.  Stalin was fighting to expand the Communist Empire.  He wanted open-ended war to do so” (#6421).  So “Uncle Joe” Stalin adamantly insisted on an invasion in France and FDR (strongly influenced by Harry Hopkins) supported the Russian dictator.  Thus D-Day! 

West certainly leans in the direction of “conspiratorial” suspicions.   She certainly has incited strongly mixed reviews of her work.  But by challenging, with impressive documentation, conventional histories, she drives us to consider views and scholars worth considering.