The term “useful idiots” has been attributed to Lenin, as a description of those mindless people in the Western democracies who would always find ways to excuse whatever the Soviet Union did. Columnist Mona Charen’s new book “Useful Idiots” shows that such people are still with us.
Long after the Soviet Union’s horrors had become too widely known around the world for their sympathizers in the West to be able to get away with whitewashing the USSR, new Communist dictatorships arose to become the new objects of the affections of the Western intelligentsia and of like-minded people in the media and in politics.
As Charen’s book makes painfully clear, this usually happened in a pattern that was repeated again and again, with the same useful idiots saying the same kinds of things again and again. She spells this out and names names, quoting Peter Jennings, Jesse Jackson, Anthony Lewis, Ted Kennedy, Ted Turner and a long list of others.
The founding of the Castro dictatorship in Cuba set the pattern that was followed later in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Grenada. By initially concealing the fact that he was a Communist, and having some non-Communists around him as window dressing, Fidel Castro was able to play the role of a popular liberator, out to end oppression, hold free elections, and do all sorts of good things for “the people.”
The useful idiots in the United States and other Western democracies ate it up. Many still do, to this very moment.
Once in power, Castro tolerated no opposition, held no free elections, and established a police state that made the previous dictators look like amateurs. Those who spoke out against what was happening were jailed or executed. So were those who tried to flee the country.
Now that the mask of liberator was no longer necessary, Castro revealed that he was — and always had been — a Communist, despite useful idiots who claimed that it was American hostility which drove him into the arms of the Soviet Union.
Not only was Castro part of the Soviet bloc from day one, he made Cuba the first Soviet military base in the Western Hemisphere and supplied Cuban troops to go help other Communists to gain and hold power in Africa.
How did the useful idiots see all this? In addition to saying that it was all the fault of the United States, because of American hostility to Castro, they said the Cuban people had a right to live under whatever form of government they wanted, whether or not Americans liked or disliked that kind of government. Eleanor Clift of Newsweek even said she was not going to criticize the Cubans’ “lifestyle.”
It never seemed to occur to these apologists that the Cuban people were not allowed to choose anything. They did what they were told, if they wanted to live. The fact that tens of thousands of them tried to flee the island at the risk of their lives, whether from drowning at sea or being shot by the Castro regime, never made a dent in the rosy vision of the Cuban dictatorship held by many in the media, in politics and among the intelligentsia.
With minor variations, this same pattern reappeared with the later emergence of other Castro-like movements and regimes in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Grenada. Charen’s book spells it all out with quotes from the useful idiots themselves.
Some of their gushing praises of brutal dictators simply have to be seen to be believed. Nor was this infatuation with Stalinist oppression limited to the Western Hemisphere. Some gushed over the mass murdering Mao regime in China and even the consummate bizarre evil in North Korea.
The collapse of the Soviet bloc has now made it clear that these useful idiots were not pro-Communist. They were and still are anti-American. They have contempt for the values of the American people and the principles on which this country was founded and built.
They are ready to give a sympathetic hearing to our enemies around the world, whether those enemies are Communists or Islamic fundamentalists or whatever. Mona Charen’s “Useful Idiots” spells it all out, citing chapter and verse.
Thomas Sowell writes for Creators Syndicate. His Web site is