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Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism Hardcover – June 24, 2003
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Synopsis Conservative commentator Ann Coulter presents an argument against what she sees as a decades-long conspiracy of liberal views that cross the line into treason. She presents a revisionist defense of Sen. Joe McCarthy, and claims he was vilified by leftists. She also finds evidence of liberal treason in other periods, such as the Vietnam war, the Reagan presidency and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Persian Gulf War. In Coulter's view, in each case liberal viewpoints were not only wrong but contrary to American aims and the verdict of history.
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Coulter’s exposition, interspersed with witty satirical comments, traces treason in the ranks of government beginning with the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1938 Whittaker Chambers broke with the American Communist Party, but not until 1939, following the Hitler-Stalin Pact, and then the invasion of Poland, first by the Germans, then by the Soviets, did Chambers decide to inform. He spoke with Undersecretary of State Adolf Berle and detailed to him knowledge of two dozen Soviet spies working for the Roosevelt Administration, including Alger Hiss. When Berle conveyed this information to Roosevelt, the President advised Berle “to go f*** himself.” Later, Hiss was promoted.(18)
Coulter recounts the struggle of some to expose the Communist network, but in general, Democrats were reluctant to believe the accusations, or dismissive, and/or often hostile to the accusers. Chambers’ revelations were ignored not only by Roosevelt, but later by President Harry Truman, referring to the investigation of Hiss as a red herring. Among the character witnesses for Hiss were US Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter and Illinois Democratic Governor Adlai Stevenson (27), and on the day Hiss was indicted for perjury, Truman’s Sec. of State, Dean Acheson announced he would “not turn his back on Alger Hiss.” (31) Moreover, Truman’s Dept. of Justice was less interested in discovering Hiss’s connections to the Soviets than in seeking methods to discredit his main accuser, Chambers. Truman’s Administration was less interested in purging spies from government than in smearing those whistle-blowers who identified such spies.
While for decades the Left defended the innocence of Hiss, the Rosenbergs, and other convicted spies, finally in 1995 the government released the Venona files (11) showing the Soviet cables of material delivered by spies in the US to their Soviet bosses. These cables proved that Hiss, the Rosenbergs, and hundreds of other Americans were transmitting information from the US to the USSR. Though it occurred after publication of her book, it should be noted that in 2012 Russian President Putin praised the Western scientists who provided the Soviets with suitcases filled with secret documents so that Stalin could hasten development of Soviet nuclear weapons.(Reuters, 23 Feb. 2012)
What is most interesting is that the Venona Project was begun by the Army’s Special Branch and kept secret from the FDR and HST Administrations.(36) When one official discovered the project, he ordered the army to halt all attempts to decode the Soviet cables, AND he also warned the Soviets about the Americans uncovering the cables; he urged the Soviets to revise their encryption so they would remain hidden from the Americans. Happily, the Soviets only slightly modified their code, so the US Army could continue to read these cables of treason. And the treason was so effective, that Stalin knew of the success of the American A-bomb before Truman did.(30)
Coulter contends that Truman did not begin his loyalty program until after the 1946 mid-tern elections which returned the heavily Republican 80th Congress. One of the big issues for the GOP was anti-Communism. One of the problems of her book is that she assumes that because the National Lawyers Guild was on the Attorney General’s list, that it was indeed subversive. But the NLG fought that designation and won in 1957 when it was removed.
Coulter is good at showing the smear campaign against the anti-Communists, the informers, the whistle-blowers (continuing to 1998 when many Hollywood stars stood and turned their backs as Elia Kazan, a great film director, was given a life-time achievement award. Kazan had cooperated in exposing the Communists in Hollywood, and one of his best films, “On the Waterfront” concerns informing. But to the Left, one should never muckrake to expose Soviet spies and infiltration; and if one does, one pays. Elizabeth Bentley was called psychotic, a spinster, an alcoholic – but Venona decades later revealed that she was telling the truth about Soviet espionage. Chambers was deemed a pervert, liar, psycho by the liberals determined to defend Hiss. And McCarthy, for exposing Communists who worked for the government, was called a homosexual on the Senate floor by liberal Republican Vermont Senator Ralph Flanders. Leftwing icon, Lillian Hellman gay-baited McCarthy and his investigators Roy Cohn and David Schine. Of course, McCarthy was also portrayed as an alcoholic, irresponsible, inquisitor, tax cheat, a man who “has no decency,” and in Herblock’s cartoons, unshaven and scruffy. Yet, McCarthy placed both Truman and Republican Eisenhower on the defensive in their handling of possible subversives employed by government.
Eisenhower proved just as reluctant to explain and justify his policies as had the previous Democratic administrations. When Republicans sought to discover “who lost China” in the US State Department, and some accused Ike’s friend and former boss, Gen. George Marshall of treason, Eisenhower defended Marshall and angrily resented such probes. To prevent in depth query, Ike invoked the new concept to obstruct Congressional investigations, “Executive Privilege” – a method to keep government secrets away from the people, and one used by Nixon (though without success during Watergate), and used to this day to hide corruption, incompetence, and even treason, especially under Pres. Obama.
Coulter blames the Bay of Pigs fiasco on Dem. Pres. John Kennedy, but much of the planning for this occurred under Republican Eisenhower. Worse, the CIA essentially lied to JFK, so he refused to send in air support for the landing. Coulter defends the GOP and condemns the Dems. in foreign affairs. She is a Republican partisan, even denying that Pres. Ronald Reagan suffered from senility.(185)
Coulter is good at contrasting the Reagan Administration’s notion of “victory” over Communism, with the policy of previous administrations of “containment.” Her argument that Reagan won the Cold War is convincing. But her defense of the GOP ignores how Ike made no effort to “liberate” Hungary in 1956, or even Berlin in 1953, and how he ordered his Western allies to withdraw from Suez and Egypt in 1956.
Moreover, I think Coulter is wrong on Vietnam. Ellsberg was correct and courageous to expose how the US got involved in that war in Asia. And while she blames the Communists for genocide (132, she has millions of reasons for so doing), the worst case, proportionally, occurred in Cambodia. Cambodia was then Communist, aligned with Mao’s China AND indirectly with the US. Communist Vietnam was in opposition to China and Cambodia, and when the murderous regime of Pol Pot grew too gruesome, the Vietnamese Communists invaded Cambodia to stop the genocide. And it stopped.
Coulter’s book exposes the Communist infiltration of the American government under Roosevelt and Truman, and how attempts to expose it were sometimes impeded, not only by Democrats but by Republicans like Eisenhower. She suggests a counter to containment, with MacArthur in Korea seeking victory (and fired by Truman), and possibly even earlier with US support for Chiang against Mao in China during the civil war. Coulter builds a powerful argument that it was not the containment policy that prevailed for decades, but it was Reagan’s victory approach that won the Cold War.
Coulter has good words for J. Edgar Hoover and Roy Cohn, men usually smeared in recent decades. She argues that McCarthy helped waken America to the treat of Communist infiltration of government, even in the 1950s, and he paid the heavy price too often charged to whistle-blowers.
There are some minor errors: she writes that Taft challenged Eisenhower for the GOP nomination in 1953 (147); it was Ike who challenged Taft in 1952. When Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Korea, “the International Longshoreman’s Union held a work stoppage as protest.”(151) Clearly she does not mean the Harry Bridges, Left-wing ILWU, but the east and south coast International Longshoremen’s Association.
Overall, Coulter has written a thought-provoking, witty, revisionist history – as pertinent today as when first published in 2003.