We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]


Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right
Ann Coulter
Crown, 2002

I see from the current issue of Reason that Ann Coulter is not entirely persona grata with other enemies of the left. “Why are conservatives trying to rehabilitate McCarthyism and the Japanese internment?” asks Cathy Young, but treats only the second half of her question. Coulter is faulted for her favourable view of McCarthy in her book Treason- but Young does not discuss it. “In both cases there was a geniune security risk and a wrong headed government response that did grave damage to the very freedoms it was supposed to protect,” she writes. In fact it is the pairing of the two issues that is wrong-headed. In Treason, Coulter says nothing about the rights and wrongs of the internment, but does point out that the “liberals” supported it. It “was praised by liberal luminaries such as Earl Warren, Felix Frankfurter and Hugo Black. The national ACLU didn’t make a peep… There was one lonely voice opposed to the Japanese internment: that of J. Edgar Hoover (pp. 194-5).” Moreover, the intermnet was (Democrat) government initiated and enforced; McCarthy was trying to stimulate government activity. Does Young mean by the “wrong-headed government response” its passivity and stonewalling of McCarthy’s attempts? I do not think so.

This introductory paragraph might not have been necessary if I had read Ann Coulter’s books in the right order, instead of coming across her Treason hardback (2003) in a charity shop before finding her Slander paperback (2002) for five times the price in Borders Books. In this book she attacks what she sees as bias against the right in what is now termed the Mainstream Media (MSM) in the US- effectively the press and TV networks. Our own media in Britain (as in the rest of the world) is left unexamined, though someone else might find it worth looking at to see what the differences are, both in variety of political orientation and in national coverage. → Continue reading: Slander

‘Liberal’ as a dirty word

Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism
Ann Coulter
Crown Forum, New York 2003

‘Liberals’ are the villains of this book, and its first word. How it became pejorative would need research more diligent than that to unearth the origin of ‘neoconservative’. Still respectable in the United Kingdom, though most of us are aware that the Liberal Democrat party stands on the left of New Labour, in the United States it is a label which those to whom it is affixed seem reluctant to display and wary of using even in discussion. Ann Coulter, it is hardly necessary to say, is dealing with ‘liberals’ in the United States and, while confident that her designation of her quarry is well-understood, she states, for additional clarity:

“Whenever the nation is under attack, from within or without, liberals side with the enemy… They are either traitors or idiots, and on the matter of America’s self-preservation the difference is irrelevant. Fifty years of treason hasn’t slowed them down.”

Taking more than one chapter to deal with the case of Alger Hiss, Coulter begins by emphasising to what extent he was protected by the government establishment, as high up as the two Presidents, Roosevelt and Truman. Hiss’s guilt would probably never have been established but for the persistence of Richard Nixon in 1948, more than nine years after Whittaker Chambers had defected from the Communist Party and as a Soviet agent and then reported to a high government administrator that Hiss, his brother and “at least two dozen” others working for Roosevelt were Soviet spies, an allegation which Roosevelt himself simply laughed off. The documentary evidence against Hiss produced by Chambers, in Hiss’s own hand or typed on his typewriter was sufficiently overwhelming to have him convicted, not of espionage (prosecutions for this have a time-limit) but for perjury.

Yet it would not be too much to say that the media, academic and ‘establishment’ consensus that had been incredulous about the accusation remained incredulous about the verdict, up until and even after it had been verified by opened Soviet archives. Before their British opposite numbers preen themselves on being different, however, it might be as well to remember that the famous quartet of traitors – Burgess, Maclean, Philby and Blunt – were never pursued, prosecuted and imprisoned, as was Hiss – the incredulity or inertia of the ‘establishment’ was quite enough to prevent that happening. → Continue reading: ‘Liberal’ as a dirty word

The rise, decline and fall of an Islamic empire

The Ottoman Turks
Justin McCarthy
Addison Wesley Longman Ltd 1997

On Horseback Through Asia Minor
Frederick Burnaby
First publ. 1878 (not, as stated 1898), republ. in pb by Oxford University Press, 1996, introduction by Peter Hopkirk.

The Turks have been a European problem for nearly a thousand years. The process began in the early eleventh century when the Seljuk Turks, invaders from south central Asia and converts to Islam, took control of the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad. Welcomed as fellow-believers, they rejuvenated the core of the Muslim world. In 1071 they broke the barrier into Asia Minor that the Byzantines had held against Islam since the seventh century. The response of Christendom, the Crusades, was inadequate and misdirected. The Turks were left to consolidate their position and, at the end of the thirteenth century, about the time the Crusaders were being finally ejected from the Holy Land, a small Turkish state was founded by one Osman or Othman in Northwest Asia Minor which by continuous conquest over the next three centuries became, and then for the next three centuries remained, the Ottoman Empire. Nomadic empires normally disintegrated rapidly: the Ottoman Empire was to be the exception.

Professor McCarthy describes and explains the events of these six centuries very satisfactorily, especially for beginners, though the more learned may carp that his text is not cumbered by any notes or bibliography. The maps are adequate and there is a sequential family tree of the sultans (unlisted, however, in the Table of Contents) on pages 45, 75, 160 and 288. If a historian can be both objective and sympathetic, he seems to have managed it, though perhaps by glossing over the devastation of conquest and emphasising the crippling financial restraints imposed by western bankers on sultans desperately trying to modernise a state two or three centuries too late and defend it at the same time.

One reason for the rise of the Ottomans was the destruction of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum by the Mongols around 1250, and the resulting fragmentation of the Turkish presence in Asia Minor (Anatolia). This setback to Islam had been of no use at all to Christendom, which had been itself fragmented by the activities of Crusaders who had captured and sacked Constantinople in 1204 and then divided up amongst themselves those parts of the Byzantine Empire they could lay hands on. Although the Byzantines recovered Constantinople in 1261, this merely distracted their attention from their Anatolian lands which they had held while waiting for this opportunity. Less than a century later, these were all gone and the Ottomans crossed the Dardanelles to Europe – and stayed there. By 1400 they had conquered most of the Balkans – the territory now Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania and northern Greece – and mopped up Anatolia, cleverly using their Christian subject allies to do so. Even the defeat and capture of the Turkish sultan Bayezit by Tamerlane in 1402 was a mere blip (he turned east, failed to start his project to conquer China, and died in 1405). But the disruption it caused, including a decade-long succession struggle between Bayezit’s four sons, postponed the fall of Constantinople, after an epic siege, until 1453.
→ Continue reading: The rise, decline and fall of an Islamic empire

The Mughals – 200 Years of Indian History

The Mughal Empire
John F. Richards
Cambridge University Press, 1993.

The Great Moghuls
Bamber Gascoigne
Jonathan Cape, 1971; 1976.

The New Cambridge History of India is a massive project still in progress, stretching from Mughal times to the present – 30 volumes in all. From the General Editor’s Preface it is not at all clear what is to be done with pre-Mughal India. The Mughals and their Contemporaries is Division I of Four similar Divisions and The Mughal Empire is just one volume (here in pb), of the 9 of which Division I consists.

The Mughal line (is “Mughal” the form which is now currently correct, rather than “Moghul”?) – Babur (1526-1530), Humayun (1530-1556), Akbar (1556-1606), Jahangir (1606-1627), Shah Jahan (1627-1658), Aurungzeb (1658-1707) – was from first to last aggressively expansionist, with large numbers of men permanently under arms, on which most of its income was spent. The conquered lands were fertile and well-populated and their exploitation well organized to be profitable. The economy was a monetary one, taxes paid in coin stimulating an agricultural surplus to pay them with, with a net flow of gold and silver from trade with the north and increasingly by sea with the west. Although paper as a essential bureaucratic adjunct had been in use as far back as the 11th century, printing seems to have made no appeal to the Mughals, except possibly to Akbar who, unfortunately, was illiterate, the only Emperor who was.

The foundation of this centralised economy, which Richards analyses in considerable depth, was undoubtedly laid by Akbar, the most interesting of the Mughals and the one most open to innovations and ideas. To a large extent, almost all of India had already been penetrated by Muslims; in the previous century the Sultanate of Delhi had, for a few decades, ruled almost the whole subcontinent before it disintegrated, in the manner Indian empires always seemed to do. Thus when the Mughals arrived, most of Northern India was still ruled by Muslims, everywhere in a minority and increasingly so further and further south. Babur, in fact, established himself in northern India, by defeating the Sultan of Delhi at Panipat. → Continue reading: The Mughals – 200 Years of Indian History

Isaiah Berlin lectures on Liberty and Romanticism

Freedom and Its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty
Isaiah Berlin
Chatto & Windus, London, 2002

The Roots of Romanticism
Isaiah Berlin
Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1999

Berlin’s stock is probably drifting down, as is the way of things after an author’s death. This may be why the transcripts of these dozen lectures have been remaindered to the PostScript shop. A contemptuous review in this August’s The Oldie (which may be getting nastier, or I more sensitive) of a volume of Berlin’s Letters may also be indicative – Berlin’s work is all cod-Macaulay, he’s the most celebrated windbag in history, responsible for Stalin’s persecution of Anna Akhmatova and for failing to cop Burgess and Maclean and Anthony Blunt. So he can’t be much good, can he? But oh yes he can.

“Fifty years ago [in 1952 - begins the Editor's Preface to Freedom and Its Betrayal] when the six hour-long lectures in this volume were delivered, they created a broadcasting sensation.”

To anyone who can remember what broadcasting was like fifty years ago, and it was, of course, entirely by the BBC, this is perfectly believable. I never heard them, and a recording of only one survives, but anyone who has heard Berlin’s wonderful spoken delivery, as I have when his later Mellon Lectures, The Roots of Romanticism, given in 1965, were re-broadcast in 1989, recordings of which are accessible, can believe it too. Berlin prepared his lectures with great care, first as complete works, then boiling them down to notes and finally to headings, then delivering them extempore in rapid-fire mode. Whether by design or not his method of composition employs consecutive adjectives, similes, near-synonyms or other modifiers that elaborate and as it were surround each point as it is made, at the same time illuminating it and yet introducing that element of redundancy which helps the reader stay on track while the vehicle containing the subject bounds and bounces exhilaratingly and unstoppably on. → Continue reading: Isaiah Berlin lectures on Liberty and Romanticism

The greatest work of prose ever written?

Power and Glory: Jacobean England and the Making of the King James Bible
Adam Nicolson
HarperCollins Publishers 2003

A claim on the dust jacket states:”The King James Bible is the greatest work of prose ever written,” and the message of the book, while not repeating it, is an elaboration of this claim; Nicolson, though not quite a believer or an unbeliever, is obviously besotted with the King James Bible, often called The Authorised Version, though it was never officially authorised by King or Parliament. It is now rarely to be found in the pews and on the lecterns of most churches, and hardly ever heard in public worship, where its language, already deliberately archaic even in its predecessors, has also been discarded and God, just like everyone else, is addressed as ‘you’. If Christians are a minority in the English- speaking world, then KJB readers and users are a minority within a minority. Does this matter? The Centenary of its publication in 1611 is approaching and is unlikely to be celebrated, or commemorated by as much as a postage stamp, the excuse being that this would be ‘controversial’ or ‘divisive’, in the way that 1588, 1688, 1603, 1605, and 1707 were or will be. Adam Nicolson has written a fine book, of interest to all of us brought up on the King James Bible, quotations from which resonate in the memory, even when not at once identifiable, while those from all other subsequent translations set the teeth on edge. Here we are told part of the story – for most of it is lost – of how this seminal work was produced.

Why lost? The Translators (then and now capitalised), organized into six ‘companies’ of nine men, left few clues as to their working methods, their deliberations, discussions or disagreements and the manuscript sent to the printers has disappeared, possibly burnt in the Great Fire of London in 1666 (p. 225). Just as the whole scaffolding to build a great edifice is taken down and dispersed, so notes and drafts of the great translation ended up in the wastepaper basket, with some intriguing exceptions, and the fifty workers (four short of what there should have been) got on with their lives afterwards, leaving no memoirs, let alone diaries, of what it was like to have been on the project and not dreaming they had written the world’s bestseller, the Bible to dominate the English-speaking world for four centuries and help shape the English language. Only a few, fascinating scraps remain. Like the copy of the Bishops’ Bible (the text the Translators were supposed to revise) which the Bodleian bought from one of them (or someone) for 13/4 (pre-decimal for 2/3 of a pound), with his suggested emendations for the new translation marked in it. Or John Bois, the rather humble, impoverished but very learned Translator, who took notes of the revisers-translators’ discussions of the complete work and whose notebook has somehow survived – everything in it written in Latin, bar Greek, of course. This leads Nicolson to speculate whether the discussions were carried out in Latin. → Continue reading: The greatest work of prose ever written?

Admit nothing, explain nothing and apologize for nothing

In Denial: Historians, Communism & Espionage
J.E. Haynes & H. Klehr
Encounter Books, San Francisco, 2003

“We should recognize the issue of communism and Soviet espionage has become an antiquarian backwater. After all, the Cold War is over.” With these words, a typical leftish US historian, Ellen Schrecker, recommends that a whole sector of an historical era should be ignored and work on it effectively closed down. “It is time to move on,” remarks another academic, using the modern terminology that neither denies nor accepts responsibility, but leaves a mess behind for someone else to clear up. Now historians are, by definition, paddlers up backwaters, investigators of things that are “over” and move in, not move on when invited to examine data never before available. When World War Two ended historians started, not stopped, writing about it, just as an unending stream of books about Napoleon has continued in the nearly two centuries since he was bundled off to St Helena. The idea that, just as enormous quantities of material from Soviet and other archives are being released, work on them should be called off is so ludicrous that it could only have been suggested by those who feel the foundations of their beliefs and attitudes crumbling beneath their feet. However, though public apathy is what they would like, the hard facts, and writers such as Haynes and Klehr, have forced some response.

According to the authors of In Denial, the two examples quoted are not isolated oddities, but characteristic of the mindset of a large, perhaps predominant section of US academic historians. Certainly those they cite, or otherwise mention, whom I list at the end of this review, make up a considerable body. They also must include at least the majority of the editors of The American Historical Review and The Journal of American History which rarely publish articles critical of Communism, or have done for the past 25 years at least. Yet these two must be distinguished from Radical History Review which avowedly “rejects conventional notions of scholarly neutrality and objectivity’ (p. 44)”. The Encyclopedia of the American Left omits such matters as the large subsidies the Soviet Union transmitted to the American Communists, specifically for subversion (pp 70-72), the evidence that Alger Hiss spied for the Soviet Union (p. 106), indeed that American Communists had anything to do with espionage, even after opened Soviet files had massively documented the fact that this was so. After all, if something is in print in an accepted reference work, as the Encyclopedia is, it becomes history – an interesting example of history being written by the losers, for a change. Why, though, did the editors of the “highly prestigious”, 24 volume American National Biography for its entry on the Rosenberg spies commission a Communist academic who then, not surprisingly, brushed aside recent confirmatory evidence of their guilt as “discredited” (p. 104)? → Continue reading: Admit nothing, explain nothing and apologize for nothing

No Marx for Historical Research

The Bourgeois Epoch
Richard F. Hamilton
University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Born to Rule: British Political Lives
Ellis Wasson
Sutton Publishing, 2000.

Like most people, I have never read a word of Marx, but that does not make The Bourgeois Epoch any the less enjoyable, especially since it tells us that not just were his predictions hopelessly wrong (as everyone knows), but that his historical research was negligible and that his analyses of the revolutionary crises of his own time, of which there were quite a number, were inconsistent, not only with each other, but with the actual facts as they happened. The writings which Hamilton analyses are ones written ad hoc between 1848, a year of revolutions and attempted revolutions, and when The Communist Manifesto was publshed, and 1851, when Louis Napoleon ended the French Second Republic with a coup d’etat.

Marx attempted to interpret history as a sort of economic jungle-warfare conducted between distinct classes. There is a sense of unreality here, when it is realised that what we think are great movements, events and landmarks, such as the Renaissance, Reformation, the discovery of the New World, the rise of nations and struggle for domination, even the not so long ago Napoleonic War, Marx regarded as irrelevancies and unimportant surface phenomena compared with what was really going on. And what was that? The aristocratic feudal order was being replaced by the the Bourgeois Epoch, the rule of the bourgeoisie. This, by its capitalist system would propel the rest of the population into a proletariat, which, driven into increasing misery, would revolt against it and take over. The prospect of this was, in the words of The Communist Manifesto, “a spectre that [was] haunting Europe”. Except, as Hamilton points out, there was no true proletariat, in the industrial sense of large numbers of factory-workers, on the Continent at the time. Marx and Engels were mesmerised by what was going on in Britain, where there were factories and an industrial proletariat, though not one that had any strong propensity to revolution. France, and Paris in particular, was still at the “artisan” stage, small workshops with a boss and a few employees.

Hamilton remorselessly and elegantly dismantles Marx’s whole construction. In the first place, as he reiterates again and again, the bases for his theories are entirely assertions, without any foundations in research. Thus to Marx (and Engels) England, the most developed industrial country, must have had a bourgeois revolution, and since its Civil War ended by deposing and executing its monarch and abolishing the House of Lords and the Church of England establishment, that would be it. There was, of course, the Restoration in 1660, which brought back the monarchy, the House of Lords and the Church of England, and the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, which replaced a Catholic with a Protestant King. These events do not seem to have affected Marx or Engels, and rightly so – for the Civil War was not a bourgeois revolution. “The rich merchant oligarchies in the cities were either cautiously and selfishly neutral or sided with the King as the protector and patron of their political and economic privileges.”

If Marx had examined the structure of British governments throughout the next two centuries, he would have noticed to what extent the aristocracy remained in control. This was because they knew the ropes; an actual bourgeois exception, Bright, brought into Gladstone’s cabinet, purely as a political makeweight, was a misfit and a disaster. The middle class, in fact, was quite content to have a governing class running the country and leaving them alone to make their money. Perhaps the clearest statement to this effect was made to the French historian Hyppolyte Taine by “one of the greatest industrialists in England”. This anonymous tycoon said bluntly: “It is not our aim to overthrow the aristocracy: we are ready to leave the government and high offices in their hands. For we believe, we men of the middle class, that the conduct of national business calls for special men, men born and bred to the work for generations, and who enjoy an independent and commanding situation.” This was a state of affairs about as far from class warfare as it is possible to conceive. Moreover, unlike today, there were no sources of career politicians, top civil servants and diplomats (who had to be, of course, fluent in French) other than the richer landed gentry. → Continue reading: No Marx for Historical Research


The Keys to Eygpt
Lesley Adkins & Roy Adkins
Perennial, 2001.

Empire of the Plains:Henry Rawlinson and the Lost Languages of Babylon
Lesley Adkins
Thomas Dunne Books, 2004.

These two books together give an excellent picture of two pioneers in the decipherment of long-lost writing. In a more exact sense, Jean-Francois Champollion was the true pioneer, first in the field, working alone, in chronic poor health and constant poverty, exacerbated by an unstable political environment and, although achieving world recognition, dying young. Rawlinson consciously aimed to emulate Champollion’s achievement in deciphering hieroglyphics, by doing the same for cuneiform. He was, in contrast to Champollion, fortunate in his financial circumstances and in having an iron constitution, sufficiently robust for the environment in which he worked which, though certainly itself politically unstable, was in marked contrast to that back home in Britain, which had a government tolerant to the point of indifference as to what one of its representatives in the Middle East actually did. Both had state-funded jobs and both worked at their problems in what might be called their spare time. The academic world of Champollion was, however, state-dependent; Rawlinson’s was not.

The last dated hieroglyphic known was carved in 394 AD. It is surely an indication of the intellectual blind spot of the classical world that the writing and language of Ancient Egypt were available during the heyday of the Roman Empire, but that neither can have been of sufficient interest to its scientists and scholars to provoke study, interpretation and preservation. Alexandria was the cultural capital of the Western world from, say 250 to 50 BC, but there is no evidence that it left a legacy that included the millennia of Egyptian civilization. So all that has survived to help us understand it are some bi- or trilingual inscriptions, the most famous of which is the Rosetta stone. It is always nice to hear again the story of its discovery by the French and its acquisition by the British, and another account of Napoleon’s misconceived expedition to Egypt. → Continue reading: Decipher

Climate change and other alarms

The Satanic Gases
Patrick J. Michaels & Robert C. Balling
Cato Institute, Washington DC, 2000

Adapt or Die: the Science, Politics and Economics of Climate Change
Edited by Kendra Okonski
Profile Books, London 2003

Challenging Environmental Mythology: Wrestling Zeus
Jack W. Dini
SciTech Publishing Inc, Raleigh NC 27613

The Satanic Gases I found a somewhat difficult but reassuring book, published in 2000, so presumably not too out of date. In the overview at the beginning, the authors state: “Assuming a constant sun, we find that planetary surface warming should average around 1.3 degrees Celsius in the next century,” with twice as much warming appearing in winter as in summer (p. 3, 210), with warming occurring most at night (p. 137). Other mitigating features are that the tropics warm least (p. 182) and the coldest air-masses are warming most (p. 91), both according to observations and to modelling. Also, as is already known, higher carbon dioxide levels greatly benefit plant growth (Ch. 10). Some of these features will also be found in the other two books reviewed here.

The authors set out, in Ch. 11, p. 191-198, how government funding has strengthened the alarmist consensus, though they point out that any scientific paper denying it that gets past the rigorous peer review has greater impact. This is the silver lining” (p. 197), but it seems rather thin and faint, with the political opposition wielding, at the time of writing, a big vice-presidential stick (by Gore, p. 198). The public perception of what has been happening is also distorted by claims that anything in the way of bad (even unusually cold) weather can be put down to global warming. Clinton and Gore are guilty in this respect, Gore especially, with some over-the-top quotations included here (p. 198) from his Earth in the Balance.

The El Nino phenomenon (the periodical change from cold to warm masses of water arriving off the South American coast) has distorted temperature records, and sometimes not been taken into account (Fig. 5.5, p. 82). It is not related to global warming, having been in existence, and recognized, as a periodic effect long before the rise in carbon dioxide. This did not stop it being dragged into the debate as a symptom of global warming, all the same (p. 47). The alarmist Newsweek cover of 22 Jan 1996 (p. 140) the authors find “disappointing, to say the least” (p. 147) and “infamous” (p. 174). Some scares can be refuted: there are fewer hurricanes, less drought and more rain than there used to be – and that indeed, is consistent with computer modelling (Ch. 7). Underlying all the controversy is the problem of devising computer simulations which match the known observations which themselves must be disentangled from “contaminants” such as urbanisation which tends to overgrow land-based weather stations. → Continue reading: Climate change and other alarms

Bernard Lewis on what went wrong in the Middle East

What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response
Bernard Lewis
Oxford University Press, 2001

The Multiple Identities of the Middle East
Bernard Lewis
Schocken Books, 2001

In Goodbye to All That (pub. 1929), Robert Graves reports witnessing an encounter between Lawrence of Arabia and an American oil financier who had come over from the United States to ask him a single question: Did Middle-Eastern conditions justify him putting any money in South Arabian oil? Lawrence, without rising, simply answered: No. That was all the man wanted to know, and he left. At that time, the US produced almost three-quarters of the world’s oil, Iran less than three percent, while its presence in the Arabian pensinsula, if suspected, was unknown.

This exchange, some time in the nineteen twenties, though not alluded to by Bernard Lewis, is a reminder that in the absence of oil the whole region, from the Mediterranean to Iran, now detached from the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, might have been expected to slumber on as it had already done for centuries. Britain was burdened with the administration of Palestine, Transjordan, Iraq and the Gulf States, but its only real interest was in safeguarding the route to India via the Suez Canal. It might feel responsible to do rather more for the region than merely keep the peace, a valuable enough favour to the inhabitants, but, in the way of active development, there would be little it could do. One of Lewis’s more surprising statements quotes a World Bank estimate that “the total exports of the Arab world other than fossil fuels amount to less than those of Finland, a country of five million inhabitants (p. 52).” Admittedly there is perhaps little need to export anything else, indicative of the lack of any incentive to do so which has stimulated countries without much in the way of natural resources, but this merely leads us by another route to the question posed by the author: why has the Arab world remained stagnant for something like a thousand years? → Continue reading: Bernard Lewis on what went wrong in the Middle East

Idiots (complete with a big list of idiots)

Useful Idiots
Mona Charen
Regnery, 2003

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. → Continue reading: Idiots (complete with a big list of idiots)