April 8, 2004


Fools for Communism
Still apologists after all these years
: a review of In Denial: Historians, Communism and Espionage, by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr
(Glenn Garvin, April 2004, Reason)

In 1983 the Indiana University historian Robert F. Byrnes collected essays from 35 experts on the Soviet Union -- the cream of American academia -- in a book titled After Brezhnev. Their conclusion: Any U.S. thought of winning the Cold War was a pipe dream. "The Soviet Union is going to remain a stable state, with a very stable, conservative, immobile government," Byrnes said in an interview, summing up the book. "We don’t see any collapse or weakening of the Soviet system."

Barely six years later, the Soviet empire began falling apart. By 1991 it had vanished from the face of the earth. Did Professor Byrnes call a press conference to offer an apology for the collective stupidity of his colleagues, or for his part in recording it? Did he edit a new work titled Gosh, We Didn’t Know Our Ass From Our Elbow? Hardly. Being part of the American chattering class means never having to say you’re sorry.

Journalism, academia, policy wonkery: They all maintain well-oiled Orwellian memory holes, into which errors vanish without a trace. Stern pronouncements are hurled down like thunderbolts from Zeus, and, like Zeus, their authors are totally unaccountable to mere human beings. Time’s Strobe Talbott decreed in 1982 that it was "wishful thinking to predict that international Communism some day will either self-destruct or so exhaust itself in internecine conflict that other nations will no longer be threatened." A Wall Street analyst who misjudged a stock so badly would find himself living under a bridge, if not sharing a cell with Martha Stewart. But Talbott instead became Bill Clinton’s deputy secretary of state, where he could apply his perspicacious geopolitical perceptual powers to Osama bin Laden. [...]

During the final days of the 1990 election in Nicaragua, ABC News released the results of a poll showing the ruling Sandinista Party ahead by 16 percentage points. "For the Bush Administration and the Reagan Administration before it, the poll hints at a simple truth: After years of trying to get rid of the Sandinistas, there is not much to show for their efforts," Peter Jennings gravely informed his viewers. But a few days later, the Sandinistas lost -- by 14 percentage points. The "simple truth" was really that the poll, like so much of what ABC and other American news media outlets had been reporting from Nicaragua for the previous decade, was utterly, dumbfoundingly, whoppingly wrong. But if you think that triggered a frenzy of soul searching at ABC -- about how the poll could have been so mistaken, about how none of the network’s reporters sensed anything askew -- then guess again. Instead, Jennings dismissed the subject the next day with a single smirking reference to the inscrutability of Nicaraguans.

What went unreported was a research project conducted during the election by the University of Michigan, which by deploying various groups of student pollsters discovered that Nicaraguans mistrusted foreigners, presumed them active allies of the Sandinistas, and persistently lied to them. That fact had calamitous implications not only for what reporters had been writing about Nicaragua in the previous decade but for the reporters themselves. What had they done to make Nicaraguans view them as a foreign auxiliary of the Sandinista Party? Could it be that journalists covering Nicaragua had a (gasp!) ideological bias in favor of the Sandinistas? And could it be a coincidence that you’re probably reading about this study for the first time?

The end of the Cold War has produced many such numbing silences. The speed with which the Soviet empire imploded and the economic ruin and popular revulsion that were revealed have made it clear that baby boomer intellectuals and journalists, viewing the world through the distorted lens of Vietnam, overwhelmingly got it wrong.

Though it certainly doesn't hurt to be smart, there's a form of genius that doesn't require much brilliance, just a superior insight into the world around you. So, while an Einstein was likely smarter than most folks who've ever lived, a Charles Darwin simply put two and two together and came up with the fact that species develop in the wild quite similarly to the way they do when farmers breed them, allowing for significant change over time. He probably wasn't particularly smart, but observed correctly.

Similarly, Ronald Reagan was not likely possessed of a unique intellect, but along with only a very few other men of his time (most prominently Richard Pipes & Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) he recognized that the collapse of Communism was not just a worthy goal but inevitable.

Today it is another man of no particular brilliance, George W. Bush, who recognizes most clearly that Islam--unless it is Reformed--is doomed, that it can never meet the desires of its people and that, no matter what the experts say, that there is a roiling dissatisfaction with their lives which renders Muslims ripe for the revolution. As the battle against Communism, the struggle against Islamicism is unlosable--we just have to keep pushing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 8, 2004 8:47 AM

"Nicaraguans mistrusted foreigners, presumed them active allies of the Sandinistas, and persistently lied to them." Geez, how could they have gotten that idea, Senator Kerry?

Posted by: David Cohen at April 8, 2004 9:29 AM

Great picture, David!

I especially like the way Kerry's handmaiden, Tom Harkin, is beaming at that twerp Ortega.

Posted by: H.D. Miller at April 8, 2004 11:49 AM

" the struggle against Islamicism is unlosable"

The question is who pays the costs, and how much are we willing to push into the future. A Kerry Presidency will show that, as with the Cold War, we want someone else to die or live in misery for the next few decades so we can be spared a few years inconveniences. And we are willing to live lives punctuated by the occasional atrocity commited by the other side so as to not have any military deaths.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at April 8, 2004 11:54 AM


He'd either respond to attacks as President Bush has or he'd be voted out and be followed by a Reagan/Bush type figure who would.

Posted by: oj at April 8, 2004 12:05 PM

Mr. Miller --

Thanks, but modesty and Google require me to note that I was only following OJ's lead.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 8, 2004 12:06 PM

>He'd either respond to attacks as President Bush
>has or he'd be voted out and be followed by a
>Reagan/Bush type figure who would.

Unless he takes a page from his beloved Sandinistas and suspends elections -- "TEMPORARILY, just until this TEMPORARY emergency is over, you understand (and did I tell you how I served in Vietnam?)" with the media singing his praises, "Now and Forever! Democrats without end! Amen!".

Posted by: Ken at April 8, 2004 12:16 PM

The modern Democratic party is built on assumptions regarding the state and the power of top-down governance and elitist social planning/engineering. The similiarity with Lenin's bureacratism is so striking that to admit their stupidity vis a vis the Soviet Union and its sustainability would call into question a large part of their entire political ideology.

To admit their errors in judgement could be disasterous to the entire reason for being a modern liberal.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at April 8, 2004 12:49 PM

What Tom said except I would qualify liberal as: left wing, Progressive, Socialist/Marxist, anti-Capitalist, anti-American so called liberal ... and that's a bunch.

Posted by: genecis at April 8, 2004 1:12 PM

Orrin, you'd do well to avoid the gratuitous slams against Darwin, unless you're willing to study up.

If he had never written a word about evolution, he'd still have been the greatest naturalist of the English-speaking world -- ever -- and with Pasteur the greatest biological theorist of the 19th century: coral reefs, the effect of worms on soil, the expresssions of emotions in animals.

A whole bunch of stuff that everybody sort of knows today -- even if they hate darwinism and everything they imagine it stands for -- nobody noticed till Darwin pointed it out.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 8, 2004 4:03 PM


Yes, that's precisely what I said--his undeniable gift was observation, just like Reagan and Bush.

Posted by: oj at April 8, 2004 4:21 PM

David Cohen:

Thanks a bunch for that link -- I just posted in on my blog (for some reason, I can't link to it in this message). I've thought for some time that Harkin and Kerry's "political pilgrims" tour to Nicaragua in the mid 80s should disqualify them from national office, but I'm not a Democrat and so can't have a say in whether that party should employ people guilty of borderline treason. In any case, there are plenty of others where those two came from.

By the way, does anybody here remember that Jimmy Carter was p.o.'ed after Ortega lost? I'm too young to remember either Harkin and Kerry's trip or Carter's petulance, but I'm a history major and I keep track of things like this. Do correct me if I'm mistaken. Of course, Carter was a jackass either way.

Posted by: Matt at April 8, 2004 6:53 PM

A couple minor things.

P.J. O'Rourke's Holiday's in Hell presents a telling, and hilarious account of the Sandinatas electoral plunge.

Regarding forms of genius. Heny Ford came up with the assembly line based on what he had seen at a Chicago slaughterhouse.

Sound odd? Of course it does. Unless you are that form of genius, and note that a slaughterhouse is a disassembly line...

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 8, 2004 6:59 PM

I'm sorry, Henry Ford was a vicious antisemite, so I deny the truth of the Ford Motor Company.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 8, 2004 8:50 PM

Darwin makes you inane, Orrin.

Lots of folks had observed atolls before Darwin. He was the first to enunciate a theory to account for them.

Same with earthworm casts and a bunch of other stuff.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 8, 2004 10:55 PM


Yes, but only he saw. Lots of people observed Communism and Islam and their understanding advanced no further than yours. Reagan saw further and we'll see about Bush.

Posted by: oj at April 8, 2004 11:09 PM

"So, while an Einstein was likely smarter than most folks who've ever lived, a Charles Darwin simply put two and two together and came up with the fact that species develop in the wild quite similarly to the way they do when farmers breed them, allowing for significant change over time. He probably wasn't particularly smart, but observed correctly."

Uh, Harry? How is Orrin slamming Darwin here? The fact is, when I read this passage, I did a double- no, a triple-take - because Orrin was actually PRAISING Darwin. I don't think I'm likely to get a bigger surprise this week.

Posted by: Joe at April 9, 2004 5:35 AM


I was at least a half-dozen takes ahead of you.

However, Harry's point is well taken. Darwin overall contributions were so outstanding that he had to be far smarter than the average bear.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 9, 2004 10:01 AM

Bears aren't terribly bright.

Posted by: oj at April 9, 2004 10:05 AM


His vicious anti-Semitism is undeniable, and still leaves its mark on Ford.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 9, 2004 10:08 AM


How? Don't Jews buy F-150s? Somewhere?

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 9, 2004 10:49 PM