My Online Prose Portfolio

"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer

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

By Mona Charen
Regnery Publishing, 308 pp, 2003

I was fairly excited when this book first came out (not excited enough to buy the hardcover, of course - I checked this out of the library). It was about time that someone held the Left to account for its blatant appeasement and outright sympathy for the Soviet Union and communism.

Now that I've read the book, I hope someone else gives it another shot.

Not that Charen does a bad job, or even that this is a terrible book. It could have been much better, and, quite frankly, better written.

In fact, the first two or three chapters are so bad I almost threw the book away. The introduction contains some truly horrid sentences. I'll share some examples:

  • Page 1, 2nd sentence: "It seems absurd to pose the question, and yet, the past decade has become so clouded by revisionism and retroactive self-justification that a measure of clarity on the matter has been lost." It's okay until the end, with that unfortunate blend of two prepositional phrases followed by the weak passive tense verb.
  • Page 1, 2nd paragraph, last sentence: "It is so obviously false that it seems unbelievable that this theory has slid so smoothly onto the history shelves." Even allowing for poetic license, I don't think it's possible for a "theory" to "slide."
  • Page 2, 3rd paragraph, first line: "The end was so abrupt that it gave rise to a kind of vertigo in the West." Can vertigo rise? I don't remember any vertigo when the Soviet Union fell, to be honest. 
  • Page 3, first paragraph, first line: "As they had one in East Berlin in 1953, in Budapest in 1956, and in Prague in 1968, the people of Eastern Europe saw the light glinting through the unlocked door and rushed to pry it open further." Light cannot glint through a door, but it can glint around the door frame. One assumes this door was closed, so how could it be pried open "further?" Had the Commies left a door open?
  • Page 4, 3rd paragraph, last sentence: "But the fall of the Berlin Wall was such an epochal event that the existence of distractions is inadequate to explain the neglect of it." Yikes.
  • Page 10, 2nd paragraph, 2nd sentence: "But the record of their actual positions on matters from the nature of the Soviet system to the need for defense spending, to aiding anticommunist guerillas around the globe, is available." Charen does this annoying tactic throughout the book - introduce the subject, throw in numerous little clauses, then finally add the verb at the end, leaving it dangling and separated from its subject, so the reader has to return to the beginning of the sentence to remember what the subject was so the sentence makes sense. 

I could go on, but you get the point. Luckily, the writing improves by about chapter 3. It's as if the editor skipped the first few chapters. 

Once you get beyond the writing, this isn't a bad book. Charen methodically examines the atrocious records of numerous Communist regimes - the Soviet Union, Cambodia, Vietnam, Cuba, Nicaragua, Grenada - and quotes several leftists and Democrat politicians who excused, apologized for, and aided, against the interests and security of the United States. Then, after the Soviet Union fell, they tried to tell everyone that they were cold warriors too! Charen refuses to let them re-write history in such a dishonest manner.

It is interesting to read quotes from Democrats twenty or thirty years ago, because they still say the same things today. Many predicted, for example, a "quagmire" in Grenada or El Salvador. Where we have heard that word recently?

Charen wonders why the Left behaves this way, ignoring the countless crimes and horrors committed by Communists while rejoicing in the far fewer and comparatively mild mistakes made by the United States, and concludes that the Left hates America. I don't know if I'd go that far. I think the Left loves socialism, and communism was the closest real-life system of implementing the worker's paradise. If the Left had its way, communism would rule the world, and we'd all be miserable.

So my thanks to Mona Charen for tackling this important subject. I just wish it were better written.

Back to Book Reviews