The burning of Johann Peter Zenger's New York Weekly Journal archives
Gates of Vienna has published a new essay, posted below, that sets American Betrayal into a novel historical perspective.
Baron Bodissey writes: Regular readers know JLH as our German translator, but he occasionally ventures into original commentary. The essay below connects the dots between Diana West’s American Betrayal and the current Islamization of the Western world.
It Depends on What the Meaning of IS Is"
This is about American Betrayal being not only a critical remembrance of things past, but a harbinger of things to come — what I would call a “gateway” event. Following is the event that, for some reason, brought this thought to my mind:
Johann Peter Zenger was a German immigrant to New York and the editor and publisher of the New-York Weekly Journal, in a city whose other newspaper was essentially a house organ for the governor of that time — William Cosby. Cosby lived up to his reputation as a tyrant and resented the Journal’s anonymous, critical editorials. At that time, someone who criticized the government — no matter how truthfully — could be charged with libel and sedition. This is what happened to Zenger, who was arrested in 1734 and tried in 1735 for seditious libel. Since Cosby had preemptively disbarred all the New York lawyers who might have defended him, Zenger was defended by Andrew Hamilton of Philadelphia — the most illustrious lawyer of the Colonies. Hamilton by-passed the hostile judge and appealed directly to the jury. The jury in turn, found Zenger and his newspaper not guilty.
Of course, the trial was public knowledge, and the result certainly appeared in print, at least in Zenger’s paper. It was not as sensational and/or violent as other events along the way to the Revolution, but it was a paving stone on the road to the formation of a new country. The attempt to suppress unwelcome opinion, and Hamilton’s advocacy of the right to print it, had combined to establish the principle that the truth is a defense against the charge of libel — a principle not widely evident in the Western world then, and under assault today. It was also a precursor of the freedom of the press clause in the First Amendment.
In the fifty-six years following 1735, there were many events propelling the Colonies and England toward a fateful conflict, and resulting in a new country. For example, the hated Stamp Act was passed by Parliament in 1765, and the Sons of Liberty were formed in the same year. Five years later the Boston Massacre was resolved by trial, not to everyone’s satisfaction. The pace of events quickened. In 1773, the Boston Tea Party and Parliamentary reprisal. In 1774, the convening of the Continental Congress, and in 1775, Lexington and Concord and the beginning of hostilities. Finally, in 1791, the first Ten Amendments, including the First with its protection of free speech and press, and called The Bill of Rights, were added to the Constitution. This is what I mean by a “gateway” event.
It may seem a leap to connect this prophetic, pre-revolutionary event to the publication and reception of American Betrayal, but the subcutaneous similarities are suggestive. Diana West’s previous book — The Death of the Grown-Up — had offered some unpleasant truths about the shedding of responsibility in recent generations of American “adults.” But it was not attacked the way American Betrayal was.
In American Betrayal, Diana West — like Peter Zenger — went one step too far, criticizing the “settled science” which has fashioned interpretations of FDR’s regime. Others had been there before her, dissecting the campaign to destroy McCarthy, excavating Soviet sources for evidence. These same historical investigators were among the first to defend Diana West when she came under attack. They differed from her in two ways. First, their credentials were difficult to assail: M. Stanton Evans, with long-established academic credentials; Vladimir Bukovsky, a respected Soviet dissident and researcher. Second, they were not only proof against really scurrilous attack, but the effect of their results could be deflected somewhat by looking the other way and pretending there was nothing there that was still relevant. Those who contested their arguments were not existentially threatened by them.
The “conservatives” who attacked Betrayal were threatened, however, because their interpretations of that era masked an adulation for FDR, including his benign relationship with Stalin and the Soviet juggernaut. Diana West’s book is not just a dissent from this opinion; it is a hard-nosed assertion of treachery — even treason, on the part of crucial members of FDR’s team. And perhaps her worst transgression is the way she did it. In an age of “journalism” and acceptance of “received opinion,” she acted rather more as an investigative reporter — meticulously and, seemingly endlessly, annotating every claim. The notes alone take forever to read and reflect upon. There was almost no room for factual rebuttal.
While the 18th-century colonial governor resorted to the power of the state to silence the pesky editor, a few doyens of “conservative” anti-communist opinion resorted to a flurry of attacks aimed at discrediting and ultimately silencing a voice that threatened their chummy clique. And, in doing so, they also emulated the actions of that 18th-century governor who attracted the attention of an even wider audience by initiating a public trial and unwittingly evoking the legal genius of Andrew Hamilton. Our modern arbiters of opinion proclaimed their anger on the marquee of the internet, and enlisted their acolytes to overwhelm and silence this impertinent voice. Other names — some greater than their own — rose to challenge their attack. Making matters worse, the victim fought back with a rebuttal as logical and factual as it was deadly. People who had had no opinion at all were now interested in hidden aspects of our history, and, indirectly, in the character and motivations of some of those who believed they were the exclusive keepers of that history.
The trail leading to and beyond the attempted quashing of American Betrayal is — like the timeline from Zenger to the First Amendment — a long one. Taking Pearl Harbor as an arbitrary starting point: from then until now is circa 73 years. In that time, we fought and defeated the Axis Powers and set the world map for the next four decades (or so we thought). And played a gigantic game of Risk on it. There were allegations of Soviet influence equal to anything we might have feared from the Nazis. Some of its early investigators were destroyed and relegated to the ash heap of history. The longer the argument wore on, the more ridicule and slander became the favored weapons, and the “red scare” became a foolish aberration. “War is not the answer” became the shibboleth of the day. 1989 brought the magical transformation of the world when the Berlin Wall and then the entire Iron Curtain fell. The “Prague Spring” was real, The “New World Order” proclaimed by George H. W. Bush was not. (And is it even possible to find a more Orwellian phrase to express optimism about the future course of world affairs?) Then there was the first attempt to bring down the World Trade Center, a string of attacks in Africa and elsewhere and, finally, 9/11 — not a climax, but a beginning.
Who first called the revolutions in the Arab world “Arab Spring”? The almost unbelievably civilized disentanglement from totalitarianism managed by the Czechs was certainly not the model for this “Spring.” Among other things, this revolution built on the work begun in the Carter era with the displacement of the authoritarian Shah by a self-perpetuating Shi’ite regime. During “Springtime for the Brotherhood,” governments fell across the region, with Tunis leading the way to democracy, and yet today still struggling to maintain it. Autocrats in Egypt and Libya were succeeded by Islamists and/or the military. Bashar al-Assad of Syria still holds out, but a super-terrorist state has become his neighbor, and has not stopped expanding. A side effect may (likely will) be the eradication in much of the Middle East of Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Alawites and the annoying Kurdish minority which has shown unfortunate inclinations toward autonomy in Iraq and (!) Turkey.
It is possible — even advisable — to ask: What is our own government’s policy and who, really, are our friends? The motives behind the attempted quashing of American Betrayal are instructive here. As are the author’s reasons for writing it.
She had wondered at the pervasive influence of Islamic (Islamist?) persons and groups in and around the US government, and noticed how it resembled what she already knew about the apparent Communist influence in the US government. And so, she investigated this historical precedent. Betrayal is a prelude and a guide to examining the most pressing question of today; how to recognize and deal with infiltrators in a — theoretically still — open society. How is it possible — or is it indeed possible — to pry open the complacently closed eyes of the Know-It-Alls and Do-Gooders and the multitudes of people they have convinced that self-defense and advocacy for our own rights are just an egregious social faux pas?
Paramount in the cases of both Zenger and West is the principle of social control of the many by the few. The concept is vividly represented on a placard seen in a recent demonstration: “Hate speech is not free speech.” Cosby’s case against Zenger assumed that the state is the ultimate judge of what is libelous. In our modern Western world, the assumption is that certain people are competent to decide what is and what is not “hate.” Whoever determines the definition of “hate,” will ipso facto decide what we are free to say. “Nixon was evil” is acceptable, even de rigueur, but “FDR was a socialist” will not pass. Similarly, “Judaism is genocidal” and “Christianity is racist” are just harmless opinions, but “Islam believes it should dominate the world” is xenophobic, racist and impolite.
There always have been and always will be those who are willing to confront authority when they perceive that it is wrong. But it will be very difficult today to reach, let alone convince, the good people whose brains have been marinating in the syrup of governmental benevolence, open-hearted diversity and self-sacrifice for the sake of the world and its weather. Solzhenitsyn said: “The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie.” Yet, how is it possible to reveal the lie of Islam(ism)? Why have 9/11 and what preceded and followed it not caused the same kind of awakening as, for instance, the attack on Pearl Harbor or the V-2 attacks on London? The comparison to Pearl Harbor was certainly made when the twin towers went down, and yet our PC world dithers on in the perpetual expectation that it is all a terrible misunderstanding.
The example of American Betrayal tells us that a similar investigation of Islamic influence would meet with a storm of protest, obfuscation and demands that it be banned and/or scrutinized for “racist” content. Indeed, as much — and more — has happened to the efforts of Bar Ye’or, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and others. Would such a work be read at first only by those already convinced of the problem? How long would it take to percolate through the layers of disinformation?
And yet, unexpectedly, an opportunity has presented itself. We have been trying to make the point that these are not just a few misguided madmen, like survivalists gone astray. This is not a rogue band that can be stamped out. This is not a scattering of criminals striking out at society. This is a powerful and malevolent force which draws inspiration from its sacred books, and is following their directives. The people of ISIS leave us in no doubt. Seeing is believing, and they are eager to make us see.
The gory, arrogant and triumphant spectacle of the Islamic State is the best and possibly the last chance for the great mass of the public across the Western world to open its eyes and see beyond the dreams of utopian diversity. Let those who recoiled in horror from Abu Ghraib contemplate true xenophobia: the gleeful destruction of ancient historical monuments, the exhilaration of mass rape and murder, the sadistic pleasure taken from crucifixions and beheadings. Then let them consider that this is the true nature of who is coming for us.
If all that has led up to this moment and the evil that is now being played out every day fails to strike the semi-conscious public with the same visceral fear that Russian cities felt before the Tatars and the coastal cites of France and the British Isles felt at the coming of the Vikings, then our “gateway” opportunity may be lost, and what awaits us we may all discover by asking the Serbs, the Albanians, the Greeks, the Persians, and countless others. So let us give thanks for the “inspired” ad men of the Islamic State and do everything we can to help them to all the publicity they want. In the name of free speech and the right of free people to know what is happening, let us protest whenever we notice a “blackout” by YouTube or some other supine member of the electronic or print media. Use the bully’s own methods against him, while he is still dim enough to believe that terrifying us is a good idea.
Do not send to know for whom the bell tolls. It’s gone and there is a minaret in its place.
For links to previous articles about the controversy over American Betrayal, see the Diana West Archives.