- - Wednesday, June 19, 2013

By Diana West
St. Martin’s Press, $26.99, 403 pages

Diana West’s book, “American Betrayal,” is bound to generate spirited debate with her assertion that the United States has been lurching toward socialism since the days of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. As will Miss West’s other major argument that top U.S. leaders appeased the Soviet Union and sold out Eastern Europe to Moscow after World War II. It can be argued that Miss West is right on both assertions — but only up to a point. And that makes all the difference.

First, the issue of socialism.

Taking office in 1933, Roosevelt was confronted by the Great Depression that impoverished millions of American families. These were desperate times. FDR had to act. If he did not, the country likely would have plunged into social unrest that could have destroyed the very fabric of society. This was the greatest domestic crisis since the Civil War. FDR answered the challenge with the New Deal.

The New Deal was designed to reverse the impact of this economic catastrophe. Among its programs was the creation of massive government projects to put people to work building roads, dams and bridges, and maintaining parks. The federal government even paid the salaries of many artists and photographers. Yes, these programs could be labeled socialistic — but they were meant to save capitalism, not to dismantle it.

The difference between this and the socialist countries of the Soviet bloc after the end of World War II is that the socialists seized successful enterprises to take over their profits as well as their entire assets without compensation — not to rescue them. That was not the aim or the modus operandi of Roosevelt. He was a patriot who wanted to rescue the system, not tear it apart.

Roosevelt managed to do just that, and that was no small thing. The Great Depression was finally overturned not by the New Deal, but by America’s entry into World War II. With millions of Americans fighting in the European and Pacific theaters, the U.S. economy took off.

Decades after the Great Depression, President George W. Bush also faced an economic crisis. His remedy: bail out failing banks, insurance companies and auto manufacturers with taxpayer dollars. Mr. Bush’s argument was that the survival of these companies was essential to the American economy. They were too big to fail.

Miss West disagrees. She writes: “The Bush administration’s intervention into the home-loan industry capped one of the great, bipartisan social-engineering disasters of all time.” However, the housing market has rebounded, and Mr. Bush’s reputation as a conservative seems unchallenged.

What about the charge of the “American betrayal” — that of abandoning Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union?

An argument can be made that Roosevelt was naive about Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Roosevelt told a confidant, William Bullitt, that Stalin could be trusted. “I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask nothing from him in return, he won’t try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace,” Roosevelt was said to have remarked.

Soviet aggression in the form of the Red Army indeed was useful in the fight against Germany. The Soviets inflicted horrific casualties on the German army in their victorious march from Stalingrad to Berlin, drawing German forces away from the Western front. The Soviet Union ultimately lost 20 million people in the war, while about 400,000 Americans were killed.

FDR died a few months before the end of the war. It was up to President Truman to negotiate with Stalin. A huge Soviet army presence in Eastern Europe and Stalin’s ruthless policies — not American betrayal — made Soviet domination of those countries possible.

Truman knew that the American people had no stomach to fight a war against the Soviets, especially after they developed their own nuclear weapons. The president acted to prevent further Soviet expansion by establishing the NATO military alliance, the Central Intelligence Agency and Radio Free Europe to counter Soviet propaganda.

The Cold War would end where it largely began — in Berlin — with the fall of the Berlin Wall. But it consumed the liberties of millions of people for four decades. One can argue that these populations were betrayed by the cruelest turns of history, but not by American indifference or complicity.

Frank T. Csongos is a longtime journalist who held reporting, editing and bureau chief positions at United Press International and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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