ONCE AGAIN, SOMEBODY LIED, and once again -- just as Josef Goebbels predicted -- a chorus of malleable morons broadcast the deceit far and wide via the alchemy of incompetent journalism, and a venomous lie was thus transmogrified into an apparent truth.
I started this piece with the notion of quoting Vladimir Lenin on the revolutionary function of "useful idiots" and then following up with a few vivid examples of John Kerry’s useful idiocy – none more outrageous than his 1971 statement to Congress that U.S. behavior in Vietnam was "reminiscent of Genghis Kahn." Since Genghis Kahn is considered the very nadir of murderousness (worse than Hitler or even Stalin), this was tantamount to labeling America equivalent to the most bloodthirsty conqueror in history.
Hence, because I am of the old school and believe fervently in confirming my facts -- not distorting reality a la Maureen (Doctored Quotes) Dowd or simply making it up a la Jayson (Affirmative Action) Blair -- I dug out an ancient copy of Ten Classics of Marxism, a book produced in 1940 by International Publishers, a long-defunct Communist Party printing operation in New York City. I blew the dust of many years off the book’s exposed surfaces, paged dutifully through both "State and Revolution" and "‘Left-Wing Communism,’ an Infantile Disorder," and discovered I could not find the notion of "useful idiots" anywhere in Comrade Lenin’s turgid prose.
Next I turned to Bartlett, got no help there either, and finally embarked on a long Google search that led me to several Marxist websites (who even knew there were such things?) including one that looked as if it might have begun life as an official organ of the old Soviet government. Lots of references in Marxist literature (sic) to "idiots" – typically as a synonym for opponents of Lenin, Stalin and Marx himself – and many more occurrences of the term "useful," but zilch about "useful idiots."
Finally I telephoned the reference department of the Timberland Regional Library, which serves the five-county, predominantly rural district of southwestern Washington state in which I live. I was on a deadline, I explained, and wanted to use Lenin’s "useful idiots" quote in an Internet column, but I wanted the full passage in which the term had occurred and not just the phrase, because before I employed it, I wanted to make certain the context was accurate and that I had indeed chosen the proper tool for the job at hand.
The reference librarian, an articulate and helpful woman named Heather, called me back exactly as promised and read me the following:
"Lenin, it is said, once described left-liberals and social democrats as ‘useful idiots,’ and for years anti-communists have used the phrase to describe Soviet sympathizers in the West, sometimes suggesting that Lenin himself talked about ‘useful idiots in the West.’ But the expression does not appear in Lenin’s writing. We get queries on ‘useful idiots of the West’ all the time, declared Grant Harris, senior reference librarian at the Library of Congress, in the spring of 1987. We have not been able to identify this phrase among his published works."
The source of this passage is a work entitled They Never Said It: a Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions, authored by Paul F. Boller Jr. and John George, published by Oxford University Press in 1989. The text goes on to explain that the phrase apparently first appeared in a John Birch Society pamphlet labeling President Ronald Reagan a "useful idiot" because of some agreement he had negotiated with the Soviet Union.
Astute readers will note (he said, wiping the metaphorical egg off his face) that I too was taken in. I was sure I remembered the quote from the Lenin I had read in my thoroughly debauched youth, repressing my instinctively libertarian sensibilities in vain hope of becoming more attractive to the radical slum-goddess in the pad next door – this in New York City’s East Village of course. East Village years not withstanding, my recollection of quotes and sources is dependably accurate – so the fact repetition of the "useful idiots" Big Lie imposed a bogus memory shows not only how insidiously the Big Lie tactic works, but how diabolically astute was Hitler’s minister of propaganda.
Falsely attributed to Lenin and vindictively hurled at President Reagan, "useful idiot" originally described no truth beyond its fabricator’s malice, but through popularization and endurance, the phrase has become an accurate description of a legitimately disturbing reality. Which brings us back to the subject of John Kerry and whether we want to believe the Even Bigger Lie that a man who could slander his country as Kerry did is fit to be President.
I remember the Vietnam years vividly. I served a Regular Army enlistment including 19 months in Korea that overlapped with the real beginning of the Vietnam War in 1961, was in the reserve during the first major escalations and was honorably discharged at the end of 1965. It is only luck of the draw I went where I did, and if I had been called back to active duty for Vietnam, I would certainly have reported for duty as ordered. After all, that is precisely what I promised to do when I took the oath of enlistment: to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, to obey the lawful orders of my commander-in-chief and all officers appointed over me. Kerry took virtually the same oath.
Like John Kerry, I eventually became an anti-war activist, but that was not until 1970, five years after I was discharged. What provoked my activism was precisely what prompted the activism of so many other veterans – fury at the fact the United States was sending good men into the Southeast Asian meat-grinder on what amounted to suicide missions – missions that were clearly doomed because the politicians at home obviously lacked the will to win the war and thus tolerated gross incompetence amongst the higher commanders in country. (Anyone who doubts this indictment should read The Betrayal, an informative book by retired U.S. Marine Colonel John Corson, published by Norton in 1968 and still available in used bookstores.)
Indeed, if the Democrats want to resurrect controversies about Vietnam -- under Republican President Dwight Eisenhower an obscure duty station for a handful of spooks and advisors but escalated into a full-scale war by Democrat President Lyndon Baines Johnson -- the Democrats would do well to remember it was thus by definition the Democrats’ own war. It was also one of the most outrageous violations of campaign promises in American history.
Some of my old anger – that I voted in good faith for Johnson the Peace Candidate but instead got Lyndon the Fumbling Warmonger – probably still shows. Even so, I did not become a "useful idiot," which by its spurious but now widely accepted definition is someone whose activity provides aid and comfort to the enemy. It is one thing to protest a war, quite another to officially denounce your nation as a genocidal tyranny. I did not equate American soldiers with the murderous savages who obeyed a homicidal overlord named Genghis Kahn. I did not repeat the malicious John Kerry/Hanoi Jane Fonda slander that our soldiers in Vietnam were committing "war crimes on a day-to-day basis." I did not thereby help lay the groundwork for all the subsequent denunciations of "Amerika" as the new Nazi Germany – embodiment of all earthly evil.
But John Kerry did all these things, which as far as I am concerned invalidates his war record as surely as if a court-martial had convicted him of the "useful idiocy" of treason. John Kerry’s 1971 Congressional calumnies gave aid and comfort to the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese enemies and thus betrayed U.S. soldiers still in the midst of battle, and just as other falsehoods have acquired the aura of truth, so did John Kerry’s lies became one of the cornerstones of a Greater Lie that has given aid and comfort to all the enemies of America ever since. And I do not believe – especially now that Islam has renewed its 1300-year war against civilization -- we dare allow such a "useful idiot" to occupy the White House.Posted by Loren at February 13, 2004 06:00 PM