History

What Maisky Knew

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In the November 21 issue of The Weekly Standard, I have reviewed The Maisky Diaries, edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky. This fine volume covers the personal writings of Ivan Maisky, Soviet ambassador to the United Kingdom during the critical period of 1932 to 1943. Here’s a bit of my judgment of the man:

In the 1930s, British foreign policy was still a matter of balancing the continental powers, particularly France and Germany; and if we avoid the arrogance that hindsight can bring, we should also remember that Neville Chamberlain genuinely thought he was securing a course for peace in Europe. Britain knew how weak its armed forces were—its army, especially—and this knowledge, as Lloyd George told Maisky, was doubtless a factor in Chamberlain’s “deal” with Hitler at Munich.

Maisky, however, had nothing but contempt for such calculations, coming across at certain times here as a kind of thirties neoconservative. Indeed, it’s hard at times to discern that Maisky was a Communist at all, or that he represented a brutal, totalitarian government. His comportment in these pages is measured; his language free of cant. Even his looks—the well-fed, portly body, the kindly eyes, the authentic smile—will strike the reader as very different from the dour, self-defensive faces of that era’s most prominent Soviets.

Read the whole thing here.

In Memory of Arnaud de Borchgrave

In my first piece for The American Interest, I write about the amazing career of the late Arnaud de Borchgrave, whom I had the privilege of meeting about a year before his death. Arnaud was one of the last practitioners of a dead age of journalism we desperately need back:

When he talked, he peered at you, his head cocked down slightly so that his eyes, set behind wire-rimmed spectacles, seemed fixed behind rather than on you. It was not a creepy or uncomfortable stare; it was simply the confident gaze of a man born and cultivated in a very different era. I suspect Arnaud was always aware, and always proud, that he was becoming more of an anachronism as the years wore on.

Read the whole thing here.

Rest in peace, Arnaud. Thanks for returning my e-mail.

Why Have So Many C.I.A. Directors Been Roman Catholics?

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In the May 6 issue of The Catholic Herald, I analyze the history of Roman Catholics in the Central Intelligence Agency:

The United States is a country in which – with the recent exception of the Supreme Court – Catholics have never dominated the highest offices. Only one out of 44 US Presidents has been Catholic. The first and only Catholic Vice President is the current one, Joe Biden. Before John Kerry, the last Catholic Secretary of State was Alexander Haig, who left the post in 1982. Catholics are a rarity in other top positions such as Secretary of Defence.

By contrast, three out of the last five CIA directors have been Catholic: Michael Hayden, Leon Panetta, and the current director, John Brennan. Looking back, a number of Catholics led the agency in critical periods during the Cold War. (There were no Catholic directors in the 1990s.)

I have a few theories about why this turned out so. One is that the CIA’s predecessor agency, the Office of Strategic Services, was founded by the devout Catholic William J. Donovan and may have been something of a haven for anti-Communist Catholics:

Catholic anti-communism in the 1940s and 1950s was at its zenith. Major Catholic organisations such as the Knights of Columbus supported Senator Joseph McCarthy (himself a Catholic) in his quest to purge the US of communist influence. Were young Catholics inspired to take a more activist role in fighting the godless Soviets?

Near the middle of the 20th century, establishment Protestants still treated Catholics with suspicion. Donovan would have been attorney general in Herbert Hoover’s administration had anti-Catholic sentiment not kept him from it. Catholics were more likely to be trusted and accepted within Donovan’s OSS than in other government agencies.

The online version of the article is truncated. To read it in full, subscribe to the magazine or try out its new app.

Just as I suspected, the conspiracy theorists are already starting to appear; they are drawn to such articles like so many dogs to their own feces. Check out the comments section below my piece. One dim soul called Hugh O’Neill has wandered out of his catacomb to lecture me, “the oddly named Mr. Wargas,” on his version of events, which includes the CIA’s assassinating John F. Kennedy. I must call the Department of Justice to get them on this at once!

Brief Thoughts on Guns and the Holocaust

One of this week’s outbreaks of mass psychosis concerned Ben Carson’s claim that Jews could have “greatly diminished” the Holocaust if they had been armed en masse. At National Review, Charles C.W. Cooke has written the perfect response to the controversy, fairly critiquing Carson’s position while also going after his preening critics. Here’s a snippet:

Before getting into the details of this claim, I must confess to being unsure as to why the mere mention of this era offends people as keenly as it does. In his comments, Carson was presenting a counterfactual hypothesis. Maybe it’s a bad one and he’s wrong. Maybe it’s a good one and he’s right. But why the anger? If you don’t like his case — or you think it’s stupid — then explain why he’s incorrect. Don’t freak out just because he said the word “Nazi.” Godwin’s law exists to mock those who refer to the Third Reich when it doesn’t apply. It’s not a general prohibition on the discussion of Nazism.

My own brief thoughts are as follows. Carson likely has no idea what he’s talking about with regard to the history of the Third Reich. But it seems to me he was aiming for a general point, namely that if you are a member of an ethnic group targeted for extermination you are better off with guns than without. The unhinged response to his comments shows that his critics wish to repudiate not just his historical judgment but the broader moral point he was making.

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