Jewish World Review Feb. 21, 2003 / 19 Adar I, 5763
The useful idiots among us
They may be today's "useful idiots," the term once used by Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin to describe Western liberals he rightly foresaw as, knowingly or unknowingly, helping his Communist cause.
That's also the title of JWR columnist Mona Charen's just released book, "Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First". (Regnery). In her fast-paced, comprehensive and oh-so-satisfying account of how American liberals advanced the Soviet cause and prolonged the Cold War, she inevitably foreshadows the many American liberals who today profoundly undermine our war effort against Iraq and the larger assault on terrorism.
What's so satisfying? Charen pulls no punches. She largely lets American liberals - who hated Ronald Reagan as he stared down the Soviet Union but today typically claim to have been "Cold Warriors" all along - speak for themselves. And they do. In rich, full-toned, clear whole notes, thanks to the hundreds of quotes from them which Charen has unearthed.
She serves up a feast of one delicious "gotcha" after another, finally holding these people accountable for what is, in the end, their treachery.
Charen examines the Soviet Union itself, Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Cuba, and Communist Nicaragua and carefully recounts how American liberals cozied up to them all. She names names, including Ted Koppel, Katie Couric, Hillary Clinton, Peter Jennings, Ted Kennedy, William Sloane Coffin, Barbara Boxer, Jimmy Carter, Phil Donahue, organizations like the National Council of Churches and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and so many others.
To these folks and their ilk, it really was better to be a Communist than an anti-Communist.
From Coffin, who prayed at his elite New York City pulpit during the height of the Cold War ". . .were we to repent of our self-righteousness. . .we would realize that if we are not yet one with the Soviets in love at least we are one with them in sin. . ." to the CNN Moscow correspondent who wasn't exactly prescient when he declared in 1986, "If suddenly a true, two-party or multiparty state were to be formed in the Soviet Union, the Communist Party would still win in a real free election" - it's all here.
From respected MIT economist Lester Thurow who as late as 1989 praised the "remarkable performance" of the Soviet economy, to Newsweek writer Eleanor Clift who much later was still able to say of little Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez, ". . . to be a poor child in Cuba may in many instances be better than being a poor child in Miami. . ." - Charen chronicles the whole story.
It was leading American liberals who actively rooted for a Communist victory in southeast Asia. But when the atrocities of the millions massacred in Cambodia by the Communists finally made the light of day - no thanks to New York Times' Cambodia correspondent Sydney Schanberg who mocked fears of a Khmer Rouge bloodbath - liberals shifted the blame to American policy.
(Schanberg won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting.)
It was also the New York Times correspondent, Walter Duranty, who in the 1930s knowingly sent back glowing, and utterly false, reports of life under Stalin. (Turns out he was being blackmailed.) He too won a Pulitzer. Some newspaper "of record."
Like I said - this is satisfying stuff.
What's not satisfying is realizing that American liberals have not changed. Their first impulse is always to "blame America first" no matter how evil the sins of its adversary. And why? It's not just that they are so often loathe to condemn collectivism in any form, including Communism. It's not just that some simply hate America.
As Charen says, liberals find condemning America is easier and less frightening than facing up to the fact that there really is good and evil in the world, with all the implications that go along with that truth, and that mankind is not perfectible in spite of their best social engineering attempts.
Thankfully, this fear wasn't overwhelming to those Americans who looked Communism in the eye during the Cold War, recognizing its carnage of a hundred million innocent lives extinguished, and who finally defeated the Soviet Union.
But sadly every time a liberal today claims that when it comes to
Islamic terrorists we really should stop, focus on America first, and
ask "but why do they hate us?" - it's clear the useful idiots are still
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