Mona Charen, Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got it Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First (Washington, D.C.: Regnery), 308 pages, $27.95.
July 15, 2003
by Ronald Radosh
There are even some who, like former Clinton administration official Strobe Talbott, argue that “the doves in the Great Debate of the past forty years were right all along.” Evidently Talbott believes that the Soviet Union never posed any threat to the United States, that the only impediment to peace was U.S. foreign policy, and that had we accepted the Soviet Union and met its just demands, the Cold War could have disappeared early on and the peoples of both the United States and the Soviet Union would have been spared the burden of heavy defense budgets.
It is the great merit of Mona Charen’s wonderful book that she does not let us forget the sorry record of those she terms “useful idiots,” a phrase possibly coined by Lenin to refer to those in the West who regularly provided apologies for communist totalitarianism, and were always ready to fool themselves, and those who listened to them, about the reality of life in the countries of the Soviet Bloc. With scores of examples, lively writing, and quotes that simply make one wince, Charen demonstrates that scores of major American commentators—journalists, statesmen, policymakers, and entertainers—moved through the years of the critical fight against totalitarianism by apologizing for it, minimizing the very real dangers posed by the Soviets, approving Soviet policy as defensive and well-meaning, or openly attacking the United States for pursuing supposedly wrong-headed and unnecessarily aggressive policies.
Starting with the Vietnam War years, Charen reminds us that the 1960s New Left were perfectly well aware of communism’s horrors; she observes that their sympathy for it was simply “an outgrowth of [their] hatred for the United States.” As for the press, she reminds us that Walter Cronkite’s much-heralded reporting from Vietnam spoke “not for middle America, but instead for the liberal intelligentsia and for a growing segment of the Democratic Party.” Turning to the politicians, she quotes Senator George McGovern telling a delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention that the United States should give the North Vietnamese all they demanded and then beg them to return American prisoners of war.
Among the intellectuals, Charen uncovers a pantheon of shame, including authors Susan Sontag, Frances Fitzgerald, and Jonathan Schell—all of whom provided ostensibly serious intellectual rationales for the new anti-Americanism. And then, of course, there was Jane Fonda, about whom Charen comments, “No amount of sympathy with America’s Communist enemy was considered too much.” Charen reminds us that when the Vietnam War ended with a Communist victory, aside from the courageous pacifist folk singer Joan Baez, most of
Ronald Radosh is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute; Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, and the author of many books, including "The Rosenberg File;" "Divided They Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996," and most recently, "Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left."
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