At the time, Finkelstein was an unknown graduate student. He had grown up in Brooklyn, the son of Holocaust survivors who, he has said, mentally “never left the camps.” His parents were eternally grateful to the Soviet Union for having liberated them from the Nazi camps, and they inculcated him with a political radicalism that he has never shed.
Finkelstein’s tendency toward political fanaticism first emerged in his adolescent adoration of Chairman Mao’s China. He hung Communist propaganda posters on his bedroom wall, studied with the world’s leading Marxist scholars in Paris, and would espouse the virtues of the socialist paradise Mao was building to anyone who would listen. When his shoes were stolen while he was napping in the study lounge at university, he scolded his classmates that “this would never happen in China.”
But when Mao’s political heirs, the Gang of Four, were overthrown to mass celebration in 1976, Finkelstein realized that he had been a willing dupe of Communist propaganda. Devastated, he spent three weeks in bed depressed. He was disillusioned by his own self-deception, a quality he thinks radical activists can be particularly susceptible to.