Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First (Harper Perennial Series)


Meet the "Useful Idiots" Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Jesse Jackson, Madeleine Albright, Katie Couric, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen, and all the other liberals who were — and are — always willing to blame America first and defend its enemies as simply "misunderstood."

Now that the Cold War has been won, these liberals, amazingly, are proud to claim credit for the victory — conveniently forgetting their apologies for the Communists and their ...

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Meet the "Useful Idiots" Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Jesse Jackson, Madeleine Albright, Katie Couric, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen, and all the other liberals who were — and are — always willing to blame America first and defend its enemies as simply "misunderstood."

Now that the Cold War has been won, these liberals, amazingly, are proud to claim credit for the victory — conveniently forgetting their apologies for the Communists and their spluttering attacks on Cold Warriors like Ronald Reagan.

But nationally syndicated columnist Mona Charen isn't about to let them rewrite history. From politicians and professors to entertainers and journalists, she exposes the useful idiots for all the world to see in this arresting New York Times bestseller.

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
I prayed that such a book would be written but doubted anything so wonderfully readable and instructive at the same time would come along. But here is Mona Charen's great explication of the central conflict of our times.—National Review
Publishers Weekly
Syndicated columnist and CNN commentator Charen offers a moral indictment of those public figures-politicians, entertainers and professors-who, she says, stubbornly refused to see communism for what it was: a brutal, dictatorial death machine. Throughout the Cold War, some public figures and activists cheered the Communist movement and berated America for its capitalist ways. Famous actors traveled to Cuba to smoke a cigar with their favorite dictator; posters of Che Guevara, Castro's military leader, adorned college dorms during the '60s; the Soviet Union was praised and defended for its social progress. Charen particularly singles out the media as having played a significant role in distributing tendentious if not false accounts of world events. One example tells of Katie Couric's visit to Cuba in 1992. Upon her return, according to Charen, Couric raved about Cuba's "terrific health-care system," but uttered not a word about the men and women detained in Cuban prisons. The author highlights the kind of historical revisionism and self-hatred that marked some of America's most noted public figures and warns that the lessons learned from communism are just as relevant today. The tragedy of September 11, Charen says, has produced a cadre of left-leaning pundits who wasted no time in blaming America for the violence perpetrated by terrorism. Charen is operating as a polemicist here, and some readers will object to her tarring all liberals with the same brush. But there is a strong market for conservative polemics today, and many readers will cheer Charen on. (Mar. 1) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060579418
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/3/2004
  • Series: Harper Perennial Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 551,173
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Mona Charen's column on politics and culture is syndicated in more than two hundred newspapers. Before becoming a columnist and television commentator on CNN's Capital Gang, Charen wrote speeches in the Reagan White House for Nancy Reagan and worked on the presidential campaign of Jack Kemp. After graduating from Barnard College, Columbia University, she began her career in journalism at National Review magazine. She lives in Virginia with her husband and three children.

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Table of Contents

Introduction to the Perennial Edition
Introduction: None Dare Call It Victory 1
Ch. 1 The Brief Interlude of Unanimity on Communism 11
Ch. 2 The Consensus Unravels 23
Ch. 3 The Bloodbath 55
Ch. 4 The Mother of All Communists: American Liberals and Soviet Russia 77
Ch. 5 Fear and Trembling 119
Ch. 6 Each New Communist Is Different 171
Ch. 7 Post-Communist Blues 231
Epilogue 259
Notes 265
Acknowledgments 287
Index 291
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First Chapter

Useful Idiots
How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First

Chapter One

The Brief Interlude of
Unanimity on Communism

It is better to be a live jackal than a dead lion -- for jackals, not men. Men who have the moral courage to fight intelligently for freedom have the best prospects of avoiding the fate of both live jackals and dead lions. Survival is not the be-all and end-all of a life worthy of man....Man's vocation should be the use of the arts of intelligence in behalf of human freedom.
--Sidney Hook

In March of 1983, President Ronald Reagan, speaking to the National Association of Evangelicals, used words that would resonate throughout the remainder of his presidency and beyond. Speaking of the "arms race," he said, "I urge you to beware the temptation of pride -- the temptation blithely to declare yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong, good and evil."

The use of the term "evil empire" provoked a fusillade of contempt from the American liberal Left. Many news reports characterized Reagan's language as "strident" (or found observers who would). The Associated Press quoted Lord Carrington, former British foreign secretary, as condemning "megaphone diplomacy," and calling for "dialogue, openness, sanity, and a nonideological approach to the dangerous business of international affairs."

Henry Steele Commager, then a professor of history at Amherst, was quoted in the Washington Post a few days later, identified only as a "distinguished historian," not as what he was: a well-known liberal intellectual. He condemned Reagan's speech as "the worst presidential speech in American history, and I've read them all. No other presidential speech has ever so flagrantly allied the government with religion. It was a gross appeal to religious prejudice."

Time magazine's Strobe Talbott, who would later serve as deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration, made his disapproval clear. "When a chief of state talks that way, he roils Soviet insecurities."

Hendrik Hertzberg, a former speechwriter for President Carter and later the editor of the New Republic magazine, was beside himself. "Reagan's speeches are much more ideological and attacking than any recent president's speeches," he told the Washington Post. "Something like the speech to the evangelicals is not presidential; it's not something a president should say. If the Russians are infinitely evil and we are infinitely good, then the logical first step is a nuclear first strike. Words like that frighten the American public and antagonize the Soviets. What good is that?"

The notion that that harsh criticism of the Soviet Union had to be stifled because it would lead to nuclear war was rarely stated as bluntly as Hertzberg did, but it was widely believed on the Left, and resulted in a tendency -- evident until the day the Soviet Union closed its doors forever -- to excuse, airbrush, and distort the aggressive and despicable acts of that regime.

Mary McGrory, a columnist for the Washington Post, never quite got over her amazement at Reagan's obtuseness. Months later, writing on a related matter, she noted that "The president ... embarrasses them [members of Congress] with his talk of the Soviets as the 'evil empire,' but they think he has convinced the country that the communists are worse than the weapons."

It was obvious to liberals that the exact reverse was the case. It made some observers almost panicky to think that Reagan actually believed what he said. George W. Ball had been undersecretary of state in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He, too, referred to the "evil empire" speech as proof that Reagan was dangerous and simplistic on foreign policy. Writing of events in the Middle East, he condemned Reagan for "obsessive detestation of what you call the 'evil empire.' ... Mr. President, you have set us on a dark and ominous course. For God's sake, let us refix our compass before it is too late."

"Primitive, that is the only word for it," fumed Anthony Lewis, of the New York Times. "Believers, Mr. Reagan said, should avoid 'the temptation of pride' -- calling both sides at fault in the arms race instead of putting the blame where it belonged: on the Russians. But there again he applied a black and white standard to something that is much more complex. One may regard the Soviet system as a vicious tyranny and still understand that it has not been solely responsible for the nuclear arms race. The terrible irony of that race is that the United States has led the way on virtually every major new development over the last thirty years, only to find itself met by the Soviet Union."

Of course, even if Reagan had said that the Soviet Union was "infinitely evil," and we, "infinitely good," as Hertzberg recalled the speech (Reagan had not said that), it hardly follows logically that the "next step" would be a nuclear first strike. Hertzberg is a Harvard educated editor and certainly capable of understanding this, but fear distorted liberal thinking.

Sovietologist Seweryn Bialer of Columbia University disapproved of Reagan's rhetoric. Yet he provided evidence that it had hit home among the aged bosses of the Kremlin:

President Reagan's rhetoric has badly shaken the self-esteem and patriotic pride of the Soviet political elites. The administration's self-righteous moralistic tone, its reduction of Soviet achievements to crimes by international outlaws from an "evil empire" -- such language stunned and humiliated the Soviet leaders ... [who] believe that President Reagan is determined to deny the Soviet Union nothing less than its legitimacy and status as a global power ... status ... they thought had been conceded once and for all by Reagan's predecessors.
Useful Idiots
How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First
. Copyright © by Mona Charen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2007

    Not Bad Reading

    Not bad - I've read better but I have certainly read worse. I'm a moderate to conservative and am always looking for writings that challenge my thinking but also strengthen my arguments and provide new ways to look at issues. The author did that, but she spent too much time going into historical details about the evils of some government such as Pol Pot. The book could have been shortened by about 50 pages or so to give it a little more bounce. Good read, but could have been better.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2003

    Not for the uneducated

    This is a very powerful book. Well researched. Ms. Charen's vocabulary is a little too impressive for me, though. Maybe I'm a product of the dumbing down of America. (wink) I wouldn't recommend it to fans of USA Today which is written at a 7th grade level, because you'll need a Webster's by your side.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2003

    If You Love Your Country.....Read This Book!

    Mona Charen's columns have always been on point, intelligently written, but tend to appeal more to the political junkie than the average reader. 'Useful Idiots' should be read by anyone who believes he loves his country. This is especially true of anyone who labels himself a 'liberal' or 'progressive'. Having read Coulter and Goldberg, I understood the depth of liberal leanings in the media. Though this concept was feabily denied by the left, it is an accepted fact by most that the print and television media are generally seated well to the left of center. 'Useful Idiots' explains why, and lays out the history of the liberal love-fest with communism and most other anti-capitalist, anti-democracy revolutions since the 1940s. From communism in the US to Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba, North Korea, China and the USSR among many others, the left in America stood shoulder to shoulder to prevent America from countering these totalitarian efforts at world domination. The questions remains; 'Why do they hate America so'; 'Why do they blame America first every time'? If you don't believe this is true, look at the liberal web sites since the beginning of the Iraq war... Nothing but condemnation for the US. Not one news story favorable to the coalition. Every story was critical of the US and UK. Certainly bolsters Charen's thesis, and, hopefully, an opening for a follow-on book! All in all, this should be required reading in any political science class anywhere, regardless of affiliation! Good job Mona!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2003

    We Should All Learn From History!

    Terrific book! It has been said that if we do not learn from history, we are destined to repeat it. Ms Charen's book shows that many in the recent past and also currently have failed to heed that advice. I learned how so many of the government's leaders chose to ignore catastrophic events in other countries, and instead focused their words upon the faults and failures of the USA. Ms Charen gives us the additional information we would never have had which explains their unwitting and sometimes intentional oversight. One of the best books I have read recently. Also recommended: COCKPIT CONFESSIONS OF AN AIRLINE PILOT, by Keshner and LET FREEDOM RING by Sean Hannity....

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2003

    Righting their wrongs.

    This book is very timely, as the left wing is again taking the position of blaming America first. Mrs. Charen does a marvelous job of charting the course of liberal wrongness through the Cold War. There are numerous parallels between the rhetoric and biases of the Cold War and the liberal rhetoric surrounding 9/11 and the Iraqi war. 'Useful Idiots' addresses the Cold War, but is, more largely, a review of the anti-anticommunists. Mrs. Charen begins with Vietnam, and covers Nicaragua, El Salvador, the USSR, and touches on our current war on terror. She cites the blatant biases in media coverage, the blind sympathy that the left had (and has) for anything relating to socialism, and the refusal of liberals to admit wrong. Eventually, the attacks get monotonous. That's not necessarily a criticism of Mrs. Charen; the liberals have a lot of mistakes in the last half-century. But the liberal hypocrisies look very similar after 200 pages. Overall, this is a well-constructed and insightful book. This encyclopedia of liberal errors is a good read, and helps to reaffirm conservatism in a very trying time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2003

    Must Read!

    This book, which names names and cites published sources, should be required reading in every U.S. History class in the country! From the Cold War all the way up through 911, the author provides detailed evidence to demonstrate that many who attack America are quick to point out our own faults--which the author admits are many--while downplaying, ignoring or outright justifying horendous evil and even atrocities perpetrated by other countries. This book is not about excusing American right or wrong. It is about the lack of fairness, accuracy and honesty on the part of many who attack America.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2003

    too kind of a name fo them idiots

    finally someone has put into words what I have lived and endured in my life. As a Cuban American and 'not' blaming the US first, I rate this book an excellent analysis of my times. I wonder if US academia will dare use in our history teachings as it should.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2003

    Some Great Ideas!

    Loved this book! It woke me up..made me understand why my parents came here and why they are disgusted with the Liberal makeover of America. I am going to be an Independent Thinker..My parents escaped from Poland before I was Born..I now ask them to tell their tales of Horror to myself and my children..We Americans need to hear these things again..No work, No Money, No food, No Life, No rights, NO GOD, No Religion, neighbors would turn you in for your NON PC comments..and that is just the beginning. Communists guaranteed you a Health CareSystem, but you were afraid to USE IT!, it guaranteed you a Retirement check, but you couldn't get much with your share, and they took your meager income and gave most of it away..Income Redistribution was the TERM..God Bless America and READ THIS BOOK if you care about Freedom and LIBERTY!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2003

    Its About Time!!!

    It is about time that a book like this was written and it could not have come at a better time. It is a very revealing commentary on the US and how we allow these "idiots" to go on and on without shunning them. They should consider taking up residence outside this country in those contries they support. If they need help moving, I am available.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2003

    Communism: A brutal, dictatorial death machine indeed!

    As if The Black Book of Communism, Koba the Dread, Communism: A History, A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia and Reflections on a Ravaged Century were not enough, Mona Charen comes along with Useful Idiots and hammers the final nail in the coffin of the communist sympathizing Left. Anyone who can still see something positive in Communism, a totalitarian system of government that accumulated more corpses than Fascism and Nazism combined, is truly and IDIOT! An ABSOLUTE IDIOT!!! Like all of the "anti-war" (ie - anti-American, anti-Republican, anti-Bush) protesters last Saturday (Where were these "anti-war" protesters when Clinton invaded Haiti, launched hundreds of cruise missiles into Iraq, bombed aspirin factories in Sudan, bombed Serbia back to the stone age to get Monica off the front page???) In every news clip I saw protesters were carrying signs calling Bush's America an "Imperialist" state and waving banners of murderer Che Guevara and the old Soviet Empire. How could anyone with half a brain take seriously someone waving the bloodsoaked hammer and sickle??? Would anyone take seriously protesters waving the swastika? Those who support the protesters say that only a fraction of them were Marxist radicals. This might be true, but the organizers of these protests are hardcore Marxists (like the Workers World Party, A.N.S.W.E.R. and the I.A.C.) who openly support the dictators and murderers Castro and Kim Jong-Il and cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. I guess the protesters were just their "useful idiots." Recently on the O'Reilly Factor, useful idiot Janeane Garofalo compared the American bombing of Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge Holocaust. This was just sickening. This is no different than saying the Allied firebombing of Dresden during WWII was as evil the Nazi Holocaust, which many neo-Nazis like to do. This is typical of liberal Hollywood, who have yet to make a serious film on the atrocities of Communism ("Killing Fields" doesn't count because US foreign policy was the real villain in that film). To quote Mona Charen: "Quick: try to think of a single movie about the horrors of Stalinism. This is not a failure of imagination. This is moral meltdown." - Useful Idiots, pg 261... Now compare that to the scores of films made on America's "evil" foreign policy of aiding "right-wing dictatorships" during the Cold War - films such as Missing, Salvador, Death and the Maiden, The Evil That Men Do, Of Love and Shadows, Romero, etc. After watching all this tripe, it's no wonder that many still look favorably upon Communism and condemn the US as a "Rogue State." Liberal Hollywood is the biggest propaganda machine in the world today! As this book shows, no matter how many atrocities, mass murders and genocides the communists committed, the Left still viewed them as better or at least no worse than the Capitalist West. Nearly 100 million people were starved and slaughtered by Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Mengistu, Kim Il-sung, Castro, etc., but that doesn't seem to bother the Left (who are supposedly the champions of "human rights") one bit. And that proves that all their whining about "human rights" is simply about politics and that liberals are nothing but hypocrites.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2003

    Excellant work

    Allow me to first state that I, unlike the author, am a registered (proudly registered) Democrat and a moderate. However, even with that in line, I still think this is a good work - a work which today's liberals should pay attention today when they rave against modern U.S. tactics in the equally important War on Terrorism.. Indeed, the author (whose work I usually scoff at in the editorial pages of the Washington Times) gets it right - liberals took the moral high road against Communism - especially in the 1980's - and have been discredited in foreign policy ever since. They embraced a naive form of foreign policy which embraces not American interests but, rather, higher ideals, even when those ideals opposed our own interests. Also, liberals have never come to grips with Communism. The author is right in stating that - while fascism is condemned widely (as it obviously should be) - Communism is not. Communists were - at worst - "misguided idealists" in the eyes of many while fascists were evil thugs. Why are both not evil thugs? Look at Castro's Cuba, China, North Korea, Cambodia, etc. - millions upon million of men, women, boys and girls have been slaughtered to the altar of Communism. Is that 'misguided idealism'? I think not. It is, indeed, an outright evil and we as a nation were justified in vigorously opposing it. We were justified because Communism opposed all that sought to be free and affirm liberty. As a son of Cuban exiles, I know personally of the evil effects of this totalitarian doctrine. Therefore, on this vital note, the author gets my support. Indeed, this work is excellant. I would only dissent slightly from its attempted connection between liberals and the post-9-11 blues among the left. While liberals are - true - not behind the War on Terrorism as much as the author may want, maybe this is because of their resentment over President Bush - a man who truly stumbled into the history books. Yet, liberals do still commit some of the same error described in the book on terrorism. There is a level of moral relativism going on - both in the academic world and in our Catholic and mainline Protestant church organizations. We should hear more vigorous voices presented. We need more Joe Liebermans and Henry Jacksons.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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