It must have struck many people besides myself that anti-Americanism, so much a world-wide sentiment and problem, is, to an extent it is hard to quantify, an American export. No nation, surely, has produced such a large volume of self-criticism, proceeding through self-denigration to self-hatred. Is it surprising that the rest of the world has listened to, copied, and amplified the message? Yet it was not always so; indeed Americans fought both World Wars and the Korean War with little dissent. Television may have been the ultimate morale-breaker in the Vietnam War, but why did those responsible use it for this purpose, even turning good news into bad, as with the crushing of the Vietcong “Tet offensive”? This book doesn’t give the motivations, just the facts.
“Lenin is credited with the prediction that liberals and other weak-minded souls in the West could be relied upon to be ‘useful idiots’ as far as the Soviet Union was concerned,” states the author and I have been unable (like her, I suppose) to find any source for Lenin’s insight in the handful of books of quotations I have consulted; it would be interesting to know to whom it was first contemptuously applied. If the function of a useful idiot is to support a cause detrimental to his best interests, then the definition is perhaps a little imprecise, for few, if any, of the useful idiots described in this book have received their come-uppance. But then, their cause didn’t triumph. Or didn’t where they lived; elsewhere, it was a different matter. For most of the book Communism was the cause to which the useful idiots gave aid and comfort and here the author might be accused of making the category rather too inclusive, from fainthearted opponents to blatant advocates. The study also is confined almost entirely to America, so that many, perhaps most, names will be unfamiliar to readers elsewhere. They must also get used to the nomenclature; it may jar that “liberal” does service for an inclusive left, perhaps because the name has no historical political ancestry in the US, and socialism has never been successfully sold to the working class, or otherwise become an OK word.
Even to those most eager for its fall, the collapse of Communism came as a surprise. Rather as one who, pushing hard at a door, falls flat on his face when it is suddenly opened, western leaders seemed more disconcerted than overjoyed, worried at the sudden fragmentation of their giant opponent. As for the leftist intellectuals, some tended to claim that this proved the USSR had never been a menace (Strobe Tallbott) and that it certainly wasn’t the US that was responsible for ending the Cold War (Frances Fitzgerald) – though former top Soviet officials have said they thought it, and Reagan’s policy in particular, was (p. 116). Others said that everyone had really been united against Communism all the time: “One of the greatest sources of our strength throughout the Cold War,” declared President Clinton in 1997, “was a bipartisan foreign policy . . . politics stopped at the water’s edge (p. 10).” From someone who had crossed the water’s edge to avoid the draft, this was pretty cool. As well as being, of course, completely untrue.
In fact the national consensus against Communism lasted into the sixties, perhaps being a little dented by distaste for Senator McCarthy’s investigative methods and then by Fidel Castro’s gradual revelation of himself as a Communist, which could, of course, be ascribed by his defenders to American “hostility”. Nixon and Kennedy competed with each other to take a hard line against Communism, Kennedy giving the famous pledge at his Inauguration in 1961 that the US would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to ensure the survival and success of liberty (p. 24).” It was Kennedy, making good his word, that took America into Vietnam, Johnson his successor who mismanaged both war and diplomacy into a hopeless stalemate and Nixon who finally resolved matters as best he could. He got no thanks for this and the Watergate scandal empowered the mischief-making propensities of the media. It was not impossible now for a journalist to imagine that with a little luck, a lot of hard work, and a cooperative judiciary, he could destroy a president. This was quite a subversive baton to pack into his knapsack. There was no baton for the preservation of the status quo.
It was during the Vietnam War that the useful idiots increasingly had their impact and “that the consensus against Communist expansion was permanently shattered . . . American liberals – as distinguished from the hard Left – became not just neutral about Communist expansion, but contemptuous of cold warriors (p. 28).” Unfortunately liberals included most academics and much of the media. Because conscription (the draft in US parlance) was in operation and students were subject to it, it was not difficult to persuade them that the war was immoral as well as dangerous (when the draft was abolished, student protest ceased).
After 1968, when the Republicans took over the Government, the Democratic Party as a whole could, and did, turn against the War, with its leaders becoming defeatists, followed, if not led, by a defeatist media, willing to put the worst construction on every military episode and certainly not doing anything to keep up the morale of the fighting soldiers, most of whom, like most of the country (as polls howed) were willing to fight until victory was gained. Although Chasen names several writers, journalists and others – Susan Sontag, Ramsay Clark, Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Mary McCarthy, Frances Fitzgerald, Jonathan Schell – it was probably the mass of run of the mill journalists that did the damage.
There had now developed a vociferous and influential left-wing constituency that, far from being worried about an American and South Vietnamese defeat, strongly desired the Communists to win. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, one of the most distinguished Democrat senators lamented: “I do not want to see the Democratic Party become a party which gives any aid and comfort to people who applaud Vietcong victories or wave Vietcong flags”, now standard behaviour at anti-war rallies. “But Jackson’s was a lonely voice in the Democratic Party (p. 42)”. After American forces had been withdrawn, the Democrat dominated Congress refused all aid to South Vietnam; “Edward Kennedy [brother of the dead President] mobilized a 43-38 Senate vote to forbid the expenditure . . . it needed to survive (p. 49)”.
The antiwar consensus in the Democratic party was sufficiently strong for “John Kerry, tall, handsome and highly ambitious” to reassess his attitude and jump on its bandwagon, though perhaps without looking very carefully at the “veterans” he was associated with, whose lurid stories of atrocities, which he then retailed, have never been confirmed while some have been falsified; the account here of his political debut (pp. 44-46) and his anti-SDI activities (p. 164) long predates, of course, his presidential bid.
In the aftermath of the North’s victory and occupation of South Vietnam (remnants of the local Vietcong guerillas, crushed during the Tet Offensive, were marginalised) a few of the antiwar activists had misgivings as “Boat People” fled the unified country, and large numbers (between 200,000 and 1,000,000) of the defeated or liberated, including discontented Vietcong, were sent to “re-education camps”, while some 65,000 were executed (p. 49). Joan Baez, the Quaker pacifist singer, a rally fixture, appealed to 350 activists for signatures to a very moderate appeal to the North Vietnamese – she got 83, and a large volume of abuse. Jane Fonda, her “particular hope”, refused: “I worry about the effects of what you are doing,” she replied; it might encourage people “who continue to believe that Communism is worse than death (p. 53).”
Thus the liberal left saw no reason to change its mind and, in a sense, have kept it unrepentedly in Vietnam War mode ever since. It remained so even after the horrendous genocide by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, something that Democrat Congressmen (Carr, Dodd and Downey) and Sydney Schanberg, a journalist on the spot who later actually witnessed it, denied could ever happen. And when it did, their explanation was simple: the US bombing had driven the Khmer Rouge crazy, which accounted for their behaviour more than one and a half years after it had stopped! In fact, the Khmer Rouge were attempting to imitate Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward – but this time it was going to work. William Shawcross is one of the few to retract the “America started it” excuse for their atrocities, which he made in his book, Sideshow.
The election of Democrat Jimmy Carter as President in 1976 set the seal on near-defeatism as a United States policy. In the four years of his presidency Communist regimes were established in Cambodia, Laos, South Yemen, Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Grenada, Nicaragua and Afghanistan (not the Soviet occupation), all, needless to say, undemocratically. All these he seems to have accepted with resignation until he was shocked by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980. This was just after he had seen his attempt to show his disapproval of the Shah result in the installation of a rabidly anti-American Islamic regime in Iran.
This Communist advance was not exactly the “domino effect” the US had feared, which was probably something like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, in that order of risk. But the catalogue is bad enough, and though the misery entailed in the imposition and maintenance of Communist rule cannot be held as directly the responsibility of the United States, even in the case of the first two, its acceptance of defeat in Vietnam, and its subsequent withdrawal and passivity, encouraged Communist insurgency worldwide. “The fact is,” said President Carter’s Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, as he contemplated the mess, “we can no more stop change than Canute could still the waters (p. 82).” Interfering to prevent Communist takeovers would only make things worse. With these signals to go by, the USSR could assume it was being given carte blanche, and it took it with both hands (pp. 84-85). Besides, what political and economic alternatives did America offer? Left-liberal intellectuals were not exactly champions of laissez-faire capitalism; their sophisticated view was that the US and USSR were in a state of “convergence”. The eminent economists Paul Samuelson, Lester Thurow and John Kenneth Galbraith, for that matter, were all confident that the Soviet system was delivering as well and as much as that of the United States (pp. 104-105).
Chapter Four gives an account of the long love-affair between American left-wing writers, artists, journalists and intellectuals and the USSR, from its beginning right up to the end and from Lenin to Gorbachev. Much of this is the usual chilling stuff, though that does not mean it is necessarily familiar. Just one grim story: the hope of Paul Robeson, the famous black singer, that Communism would abolish racism led him, as he confessed, to do nothing to save his friend Feffer the poet from Stalin’s anti-Jewish persecution (p. 95). On the other hand it is almost amusing to discover how Andropov was built up into a sympathetic figure and, when he died, hopes were raised about his successor, Chernenko. Of course, such positive assessments paled in comparison with the ecstasy that greeted the arrival of Gorbachev and made Time, in 1990, name him Man of the Decade, though he had been around for less than four years. The notion of giving the title to Reagan, who in fact deserved it, would have been inconceivable.
Chapter Five is of “Fear and Trembling”: the United States seems to have started seriously worrying about the bomb ten to fifteen years after we did. In fact, however, this was the left-liberal consensus worrying about Ronald Reagan, whose term as President started in 1981 and who was taking up a completely different attitude from the last three Presidents – he “not only gave every indication of wanting to fight the Cold War; he also seemed to think the West would win it (p. 120).” To do so, Reagan had to fight the antinuclear activists and most of the Democratic Party, as well as the Russians, from the installation in Europe of Pershing missiles in response to the SS-20s deployed by the Soviets, to his floating of the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) as a feasible project. Dubbed “Star Wars”, this was opposed as something which wouldn’t work but would upset the Russians, presumably because they would think it could – reasonably so, in fact, because they had something rather like it, built in contravention of treaty agreements, defending Moscow. That Reagan won through we know from other sources was due to his own persistence, despite the opposition of his opponents, but also the misgivings of some of his own advisers.
Leaving the main arena, Chasen proceeds in Chapter 6, “Each New Communist is Different” to investigate the reactions of “political pilgrims” (the phrase is taken from Paul Hollander’s book of that title) to various Communist utopias. Perhaps the most unbelievable is Robert Scheer’s endorsement of North Korea, though admittedly as long ago as 1970 (p. 172). However, the section on Cuba and Castro (pp. 173-187) must run it a close second. The reports on the regime, for and against, are so incompatible that either one or other must be incredible; Chasen naturally has a long list of enthusiastic visitors whom she would classify as useful idiots and opposes them by others who report what a run-down, oppressive place Cuba is. Che Guevara, icon on a million sweatshirts, caused I.F. Stone, after meeting him to gush that “he looked like a cross between a faun and a Sunday school print of Jesus [and in him] one felt a desire to heal and pity for suffering”. Would he and Guevara’s many other admirers have changed their minds if they knew that in his will he praised the “extremely useful hatred that turns men into effective, violent, merciless and cold killing machines (p. 176)”? Or if they knew of the deeds that matched these words? How Janet Reno, with President Clinton’s acquiescence, returned the five year old Elian Gonzalez to Cuba and how questionable the process was, is recounted at length (pp. 236 – 245). That was in 2000 – has anyone followed up how the little boy is getting on?
When a Communist coup ejected the democratically elected government of the small Caribbean island of Grenada in 1979 and a thousand Cuban troops came to stay, there was, of course, no US reaction. However, four years later, when the economy had been ruined (as usual), one Communist faction had murdered and replaced the other as the government, there was general chaos and shooting in the streets and there were 750 American medical students on the island (why?), President Reagan ordered in the marines who tided up the place in short order. Does one need to say that critics at home (the usual suspects) and abroad sounded off? Comparisons were made with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (Ted Weiss) and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (New York Times) and Poland (Carl Levin). The Grenadians and the medical students were, of course, relieved and delighted. However, it all died down and perhaps not one person in a million in America knows the state of affairs in Grenada today.
Nicaragua and, by extension, Central America, was much less a flash in the pan. As in Iran, President Carter hoped that the destabilization of an autocrat, in the case of Nicaragua, Somoza (our sonofabitch, as a previous President had defined him) would result in the dawn of a new age of human rights. The Sandinistas, Communists who replaced him as a result, were just as bad in a different way. Despite generous funding by the Carter administration to start them off, the Sandinistas resolutely turned away from the US and with Cuban and East European help, built up an army of 75,000, larger than that of Mexico. All this met with the approval of the American liberal left (too many to list again here), some, such as Warren Christopher, even members of the Carter administration itself, others like Tom Harkin, Matthew Martinez, Patrick Leahy, Claiborne Pell and Edward Kennedy, Democrats in Congress. A blind eye was turned to the persecution of opponents and minorities such as the Moravian and Meskito Christians and, because of an alliance with the PLO, the Jewish community. Radio stations were closed, and strict censorship imposed on the main newspaper La Prensa, which had opposed Somoza. A guerilla opposition, the Contras, emerged, some of whose members had been Sandinistas; despite President Reagan’s pleas, the Democrat-dominated Congress refused them even non-military aid, resulting in the President’s attempting a clandestine method of helping them which came badly unstuck. The happy ending came unexpectedly in 1990: the Sandinistas deceived themselves into believing that a submissive meant a supportive population, called an election and lost it, hampered from rigging it because large numbers of observers flooded into the country to monitor it. Some were American left-liberals, who had come to celebrate a Sandinista victory and found that things had gone seriously wrong – “meaning the opposite”, as the right-wing gadfly journalist P.J. O’Rourke, who witnessed their discomfiture, mordantly put it. Charen tells us that, as of writing, Nicaragua remains free and democratic.
And after the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union – what? Our useful idiots can still be depended upon to find something to praise in Cuba, and to applaud the decision to deport a five year old there (the picture of his siezure at gun-point “warmed my heart” said New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman). But China? But does anyone there truly believe in Communism? Vietnam? North Korea?
But why bother with these when there is 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq? From the same crowd came the same response to the destruction of the Twin Towers: America was much worse: “The US has taken the lives of literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocents, most of them children . . . ” (Joel Rogers), “The US is is a leading terrorist state” (Noam Chomsky). It seemed that every violent death anywhere was America’s responsibility, plus “the policies that are a leading factor in the death of maybe a million civilians in Iraq and maybe half a million children” (Chomsky again, before Iraq War II, of course). However, at least one thing seems to be clear: we are not being asked to adopt, or even approve of, Muslim fundamentalist beliefs. There was no question of Susan Sontag donning a burqua. But then, it would be doubtful if she would have been happy writing to order in Ho Chi Minh City, or have settled down in an artists’ and writers’ colony in Moscow. It was not that there was anything to approve about Islam, with its bigotry about women, abortion and homosexuality, to mention just three of the sacred cows of the liberal left. America, however, was to blame for having provoked the resentment of these people. It had let the genie out of the bottle. There was nothing one could – or should – do about the genie, but it was in order to bash the bottle opener.
Open societies – and pace our useful idiots, the United States is probably the most open in the world – permit almost unrestrained abuse of anyone by anyone. In fact in the US anyone can tell lies about a public figure, who is unprotected by the libel laws unless he can prove malice was the motivation for them. Under these circumstances, and understandably, it is easier to attack the near at home than the far away, the known than the obscure, the rectifiable local abuse rather than the distant atrocity. Add to this that the comfortable get bored, the young rebel, minorities are informed of their grievances and women ask “Why can’t I be more like a man?” Most people are content or look for opportunities to improve their lot; a very few look to a political solution. Unlike many other countries and societies, the United States has no one else to blame but itself if there is anything wrong with it. Is this, in the end, why so many of its elite have turned against it?
On my way through the book I have noted the names, no doubt missing some, of the “useful idiots” – more than 250 in all – so why not set them down, in alphabetical order, for easy reference? Some, of course, are more idiotic than others, for the net has been widely cast and is rather narrow-meshed. The index of the book (in which their names might have been starred to help) will allow the reader to find to what extent the author’s classification is justified. She must certainly have allowed many to remain in obscurity. Many Church organizations, both Catholic and Protestant, could be added to the list, though it is doubtful if their benign views of their country’s enemies would be representative of a majority of their memberships.
It is amusing to reflect that if this list were widely publicised, it would be as widely stigmatised as a “blacklist” and “McCarthyist”.
Bob Abernethy, Madeleine Albright, Bill Alexander, Muhammad Ali, John Ward Anderson, Susan Anspach, Bishop James Armstrong, Ed Asner, Joan Baez (though she had misgivings after the Boat People started leaving Vietnam), Michael Barnes, Richard Barnes, Harry Belafonte, the Berrigan brothers, Seweryn Bialer, Jim Bitterman, Robert Blake, Abraham Blumberg, Sydney Blumenthal, Edward Boland, Heirich Boll, David Bonior, Cathy Booth, Barbara Boxer, Jackson Browne, George Brown, Zbigniew Brzezinski, McGeorge Bundy, Helen Caldicott, Joan Brown Campbell, Stokeley Carmichael, Bob Carr, John Chancellor, Noam Chomsky, Warren Christopher, Connie Chung, Frank Church, Ramsay Clark, Paul Cleary, Clark Clifford, Eleanor Clift, Hillary Clinton, William Sloane Coffin, Richard Cohen, Stephen Cohen, Robert Coles, Joseph Contreras, John Conyers, David Corn, Julio Cortazar, Katie Courie, Alan Cranston, George Crockett, Walter Cronkite, David Crosby, Joseph Davies, Angela Davis, Karen De Young, David Dellinger, Ron Dellums, Colleen Dewhurst, Russell Dilley, Julian Dixon, Christopher Dodd, Dusko Doder, Phil Donahue, Byron Dorgan, Michael Douglas, Tom Downey, Michael Dukakis, Walter Duranty, Mervyn Dymally, Paul Ehrlich, Linda Ellerbee, Henry Fairlie, Richard Falk, Mike Farrell, Vic Fazio, Jules Feiffer, Geraldine Ferraro, Frances Fitzgerald, Jane Fonda, Barney Frank, Betty Friedan, Thomas Friedman, Carlos Fuentes, John Kenneth Galbraith, Robert Garcia, Todd Gitlin, Richard Gizbert, Henry Gonzalez, Bill Goodfellow, Ellen Goodman, Vivian Gornick, Richard Gott, Gunther Grass, Graham Greene, Dick Gregory, Bryant Gumbel, Lee Hamilton, Armand Hammer, Dashiell Hammett, Tom Harkin, James C. Harrington, Michael Harrington, Ruth Harris, Gary Hart, Mark Hatfield, Tom Hayden, Lilian Hellman, Hendrik Herzberg, Abbie Hoffman, Stanley Hoffman, Al Hubbard, Steve Hurst, Julian Huxley, Jesse Jackson, Bianca Jagger, Peter Jennings, Tamara Jones, Robert Kaiser, Gary Kayima, George Kennan, Edward Kennedy, John Kerry (yes, him), Barbara Kingsolver, Jerry King, Ted Koppel, Jonathan Kozol, Kris Kristofferson, Cardinal John Krol, Admiral Gene La Rocque, Diane Ladd, Corliss Lamont, Saul Landau, Brook Larmer, Owen Lattimore, Vint Lawrence, Pat Leahy, Barbara Lee, Mike Lee, John Leland, Mickey Leland, Max Lerner, Julius Lester, Carl Levin, Anthony Lewis, R.W.B. Lewis, Stuart Loory, Norman Mailer, Ed Markey, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Matthew Martinez, Mary McCarthy, Cynthia McFadden, George McGovern, Mary McGrory, Matthew McHugh, Robert McNamara, Barbara Mikulski, George Miller, Mark Crispin Miller, C. Wright Mills, Parren Mitchell, Jessica Mitford, Walter Mondale, Robert Morris, Lance Morrow, Bruce Morton, Edmund Muskie, Graham Nash, Mary Rose Oaker, David Obey, Phil Ochs, Thomas (Tip) O’Neill, Tim Padgett, Wolfgang Panofsky, Claiborne Pell, Byron Pitts, Don Podesta, Katha Pollitt, John Quinones, Bert Quint, Ed Rabel, Charles Rangel, Marcus Raskin, Dan Rather, Barry Reckord, Robert B. Reich, Elliott Richardson, Alan Riding, Paul Robeson, Walter Rodgers, Joel Rogers, Suzanne Ross, Carl Sagan, Edward Said, Harrison Salisbury, Paul Samuelson, Sydney Schanberg, Robert Scheer, Jonathan Schell, Sergei Schemamm, Carlotta Scott, Pete Seeger, George Bernard Shaw, Gail Shehy, Bob Simon, Upton Sinclair, Michelle Singletary, Samantha Smith (aged 10!), Wayne Smith, Steven Solarz, Susan Sontag, Benjamin Spock, Pete Stark, Ronald Steel, I.F. Stone, Oliver Stone, Meryl Streep, Richard Strout, William Styrom, Kathleen Sullivan, Donald Sutherland, Strobe Talbott, Evan Thomas, Richard Threlkeld, Lester Thurow, Robert Toricelli, Mary Travers, Paul Tsongas, Ted Turner, Anne Tyler, Peter Van Sant, Cyrus Vance, Mike Wallace, Barbara Walters, Michael Walzer, Harry Ward, Maxine Waters, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, Ted Weiss, Victor Weisskopf, Dessima Williams, Edmund Wilson, C. Vann Woodward, Jim Wright, Andrew Young.