Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Review: Love Letter to America

Love Letter to America, by Tomas Schuman (aka Yuri Bezemenov), can be read on my website here. The PDF is here.

I'll say the same thing here I did in my review of World Thought Police, Schuman's other book: "I should warn the prospective reader that the book contains many typos, is somewhat strangely organized, and may strike a reader who is totally innocent of this topic as insane conspiracy theory. Even for the seasoned reader of intelligence nonfiction, the book is eye-raisingly eccentric. But that is what makes it so interesting."

The book World Thought Police is more specific and based on Bezmenov's direct experience working for Novosti Press Agency. It is a complement to other books by defectors from Soviet intelligence. Whereas one might read Aleksei Myagkov to learn about the Third Chief Directorate (military counter-intelligence) and Vasili Mitrokhin to learn about the First Chief Directorate (foreign intelligence), one should read World Thought Police to learn about the activity of the KGB in media and public relations circles, specifically in terms of interactions with visitors from other countries, invited to the USSR. This further complements contributions by Stanislav Levchenko, who under cover as a journalist in Japan did similar work to that of Bezmenov/Schuman in India; and Ladislav Bittman, who was deputy chief of Czechoslovakia's Department D (Disinformation).

Love Letter to America, on the other hand, is more of a general work directed at a mainstream audience (even if it is only read by conspiracy theorists and intelligence agencies). It details Schuman's far-reaching theory of "ideological subversion" of the West, familiar to those who have seen the interview with G. Edward Griffin (Soviet Subversion of the Free World Press, 1984). This interview, which has been widely circulated in the past year, has great appeal for kooks of all types because Bezmenov talks about "brainwashing" and "subversion," casually forecasts the execution of Western fellow-travelers, calls them "useful idiots," and in general, maintains a wry, comical tone about some very depressing matters.

So he has a certain sicko appeal. He knows no one wants to listen to what he has to say (except for weirdos like Griffin). He has gone from a successful career where he is well-respected and thought to be an intelligent, thoughtful person, to a life as a deranged right-wing nutcase. You would act strange too, I think.

All in all, Schuman's thesis is simple. First, the Soviet Union demoralizes the United States (or its target). This is done by encouraging the disintegration of institutions and functions that have kept it together, encouraging class and race struggle, encouraging more and more functions of society to be assumed by the government, stressing the importance of relatively unimportant issues (global cooling, gay rights, equal pay for women-- in general, stressing special 'rights' for special 'interest groups') over important issues (national defense, economic stability and sustainability), and undermining the government and its agencies through the creation of anti-war and anti-proliferation groups, publishing secret information, and pouring the fuel on the fire of any scandal (like Bay of Pigs, Watergate, Pinochet, whatever).

Once a country is demoralized, it is ready for destabilization. This happens by weakening national defense and the economy. In the former, decreasing spending, limiting research, disarming and drawing down through a perception of peace and understanding. In the latter, creation of a socialist welfare state. The third stage is crisis, when the country is in turmoil and reacts irrationally, resulting in civil war, foreign invasion, or some kind of power shift. The final phase is normalization, when a pro-Communist or pro-Soviet government comes to power.

This is an interesting thesis on many levels. However, it is important to keep in mind how general these ideas and stages are. I think Schuman often gives his KGB active measures department too much credit. His work generally ignores the pathology of the West, its stupidity, its ignorance about its greatness and the failures of Eastern despotism (Communism). Yes, part of Schuman's thesis is that the Soviet Union gets the West to subvert itself, train itself in how to break down its society. But he underestimates 1) the aimlessness of that disintegration as it is affected by the West, and 2) the determination of some Western patriots to counter that subversion.

In my view, this is best illustrated by Schuman’s own words:
This is my 'simplistic' and highly 'unscientific' outline of the events which have happened in many countries of the world. Any nation is able to do this to herself without any help from comrades Andropov and Brezhnev and their numerous KGB agents. Any one of you can easily observe this vicious chain of events by simply reading your newspapers regularly or even watching the TV.
This illustrates both the mundane character of this ‘subversion’ and the indistinctness of its authorship. Both of these points serve to undermine, in a limited way, what is the central thrust of Schuman’s argument: that America is under the spell of a centrally-organized and systematic effort to weaken and ultimately destroy it. What he’s saying is still true. It’s just that it’s hard for him to say both that America needs no help from the Soviet Union to destroy itself; and this:
Introduction of NON-ISSUES is another powerful method of demoralizing at the level of IDEAS. It will take another full size book to describe in detail this method. Suffice it will be here to give a brief definition of NON-ISSUES. An issue, the solution of which creates more and bigger problems for majority of a nation, even though it may benefit a few, is a non-issue (civil rights of homosexuals is not an issue; defending sexual morality is the larger, real issue). The main purpose of non-issues and the devastating result of their introduction is the SIDE-TRACKING of public opinion, energy (both mental and physical), money and TIME from the constructive solutions. Soviet propaganda elevated the art of infiltrating and emphasizing non-issues in American public life to the level of actual state policy.
Okay, he says he would need another book to describe this. But how influential were Soviet attempts to influence American policy, to introduce “non-issues” into public life? This is vague and dubious, and I am therefore skeptical. As he said previously, Americans need no help introducing non-issues into public discussion. (Global warming, anyone?) The profit motive, American self-consciousness, and a large, regulatory government are sufficient for that.

The booklet is fascinating. I think what he is saying is largely true. But the author is too often bogged down in a kind of historical predetermination that leaves no room for new forces and new directions. Human society has more complexity than he gives it credit for. Read Love Letter to America with that, and Schuman’s genuine love for America, in mind.