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[Author’s Note: The following is part of a lecture being given this Thursday at the SUNY-Oswego Library at noon. All are invited.]
Joe McCarthy was right. Now that I’ve grabbed your attention, let me tell you why.
For fifty years I trust there isn’t an educator in either the academy or high schools who hasn’t failed to castigate Joe McCarthy as a hate-monger, liar, destroyer of careers, and someone who routinely accused innocent people of wrong doing.
“McCarthyism” has become the reflexive adjective among those on the American Left when accused of anything of less than patriotic motives or, for that matter, taken to task for questionable behavior. McCarthy was not only right, he’s been given a bad rap by history.
For four years, from 1950 until 1954, McCarthy was the only voice in America speaking out against those in government that were Communists, fellow-travelers (liberals who believed in but did not join the Communist Party), Russian sympathizers, and Stalin apologists. His enemies, consistent with the Left today, chose to attack the messenger rather than the message.
From the earliest years of the New Deal until the late 1940’s the government was deeply infiltrated with Communists and their supporters. There was no shortage of either messages to the President or evidence to support such infiltration. Yet, Roosevelt then Truman chose to ignore such evidence.
Adolph Berle, Undersecretary of State for internal security at State, went to Roosevelt in 1940 with a list of Communists in government provided by Whittaker Chambers, a party member who’d defected. Roosevelt, according to all accounts laughed it off and refused to deal with it.
J. Edgar Hoover, in 1943, informed Roosevelt of Soviet spying both within the government and at the Russian Embassy. On this occasion Roosevelt not only disregarded the evidence, he sent Harry Hopkins, his Domestic Affairs advisor, to warn the Soviet embassy that their phones were tapped.
In 1946 Hoover again went to the White House, this time providing Harry Truman with a list of known Communists and sympathizers still in the government. Truman’s response was: “What am I going to do? Give those @#%&* Republicans up on the Hill something to bash me with.”
McCarthy’s detractors, Communists, and Soviet sympathizers never anticipated two things: One, the Venona intercepts and their subsequent release; Two, the collapse of Communism and the opening of Soviet files.
From 1943 until 1980, unbeknownst to virtually everyone, the National Security Agency intercepted every Soviet message going from or to the United States. It was not until 1994 that their existence was even acknowledged, and 1995 when the first 1,400 of 240,000 intercepts were released to the public. Their content was damning and supportive of the contentions of not only McCarthy but Whittaker Chambers, Elizabeth Bentley, Hoover, and others.
The collapse of Communism opened files of not only internal Soviet spy documents but also gave the FBI, CIA, and American scholars access to the files of the American Communist Party that had been hidden in a Russian warehouse since 1950. The cat was out of the clichéd bag.
Just who was exposed by these documents. Alger Hiss who had been the number three man at State behind Dean Acheson and Dean Rusk, and who, most assuredly, at some point, would have eventually been Secretary of State. Harry Dexter White, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, who purposely withheld allocated funding for the Chinese Nationalists, during their Civil War, that destroyed their currency and, thus, their efforts against Mao’s Communists.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg had been conduits for even more damaging information than the atom bomb, for which they were executed. Lauchlin Currie, Special Assistant to F.D.R. Samuel Dickstein, member of the House of Representatives from Brooklyn.
William and Martha Dodd, son and daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Germany in the 1930’s. Lawrence Duggan, State Department Director of Latin American Affairs. Harold Ickes, Sr., father of Clinton’s impeachment flack, who was Secretary of the Interior. Finally, William Weisband, U.S. Army Signal Security Agency. This is just a very few, the most prominent or household names one might say.
Was Robert Oppenheimer, the Director of the Atom Bomb Project at Los Alamos, New Mexico, a member of the Communist Party? Quite emphatically, no! His wife was. His brother was. His mistress was. As were many of his closest associates at the University of California. In addition, Oppenheimer was one of those scientists in the 40’s who thought that all scientific information should be shared universally for the good of mankind.
Were any of the aforementioned exposed by McCarthy? Not one. He’d been too late at the spy discovery game. After all, Alger Hiss got Richard Nixon the Vice-Presidency. White had been shifted to that historical ashbin where failures are allowed to “resign” to, the International Monetary Fund.
Hiss, unquestionably the most brilliant of the rising stars at State at the age of 43, in 1947 became the head of the Carnegie E0ndowment for Peace; a position usually held by a senior citizen with insufficient retirement funds. Lawrence Duggan, as the FBI closed in on him, had the presence of mind and good sense to jump from a window and commit suicide. Of course, he was considered a “victim” of a non-existent “Red Scare”.
Just how many did McCarthy catch? Darn few. Of the 10,000 government employees who were exposed as Communists, security risks, or of questionable loyalty and lost their jobs, at the least, only forty can be attributed to McCarthy.
Any of the major players? None, as most had either been moved laterally by Truman or snared by the FBI.
Most of the forty were small time functionaries such as Owen Lattimore, John Stewart Service, Philip and Mary Jane Keeney, and Howard Shapley; and these were the most prominent. In every case, of the forty, they were all accorded trials and attorneys before their dismissal.
Lattimore had been Director of the School Of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University, advisor to FDR on China in 1941, advisor at State in 1946-1947, preached that Mao’s Communists were “agrarian reformers”, in 1948 encouraged George Marshall to stop aid to Chiang Kai-Shek and his Nationalists, and in 1949 urged U.S. withdrawal from Korea.
Lattimore was a McCarthy “coup”. Lattimore was the individual who coined the term “McCarthyism” in response to and defense of the charges brought against him. In a feeble attempt to attack the messenger, Lattimore went so far as to write a book declaring his innocence while, at the same time, attacking McCarthy.
There was only one problem in all of this for Lattimore: Hoover had given Lattimore’s FBI file to McCarthy and McCarthy had Louis Budenz as a witness, a former Communist, who’d worked with Lattimore. McCarthy carried the day but was forever stuck with the sobriquet “McCarthyism”.
John Stewart Service was another who had managed to hang on, long past FBI and other snares, only to be “outed” by McCarthy. Service was at State and had leaked secret documents to a “front” magazine called “Amerasia” that were used to damage the Chinese Nationalist cause. Again, Service was caught only as a result of a Hoover/FBI “black bag job” (breaking into the offices of “Amerasia”).
Philip and Mary Jane Keeney had been fired from the University Of Montana in 1938 for subversive activity. In spite of this Philip, within two years, was at the Library of Congress and, during the war, was with the OSS (forerunner of the CIA). Mary Jane, meanwhile, was at the Bureau of Economic Warfare during the war and subsequently became part of the U.S. delegation at the United Nations. Again, when McCarthy was challenged on these charges, Hoover had already provided him with their FBI files.
McCarthy’s discoveries were in inverse proportion to his notoriety. What McCarthy really did was breach the gentlemen’s agreement and game of using Communists prior to and during the war while they were slowly dispatched after the war. Many of these were part of the Eastern Establishment in that they came from the “right” families, went to the correct prep schools and universities, belonged to the right clubs, and had the right connections.
Hiss had gone to Johns Hopkins, Harvard Law, and had clerked at the Supreme Court for Felix Frankfurter. They all had impeccable credentials.
It was one thing to catch a handful of Communists outside of government, as in the case of the Rosenbergs. It was quite another to expose the dirty secrets of the 1930’s and 40’s. That was McCarthy’s sin.
Was he a pillar of virtue? Hardly! He was a dreadful alcoholic and eventually died from cirrhosis of the liver. He was a bully, unkempt, crude, and a lout. He once unmercifully pummeled Drew Pearson, his antagonist in the press, after a dinner party, in the coat room of a Washington doyenne. He had many physical and character shortcomings. But he was right.
For all those rushing to put pen to paper to denounce any of the above, you’d be best advised to first do your “homework”. Read “Venona” (Yale University Press); “The Secret World Of American Communism” (Yale University Press); “The Haunted Wood” (Random House); “The Venona Secrets” (Regnery); “The Secret History Of the KGB” (Basic Books); “Whittaker Chambers: A Biography” (Modern Library); and “Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the life and legacy of America’s most hated Senator” (Free Press). If at first you haven’t read the above, then you are coming unarmed for a battle of wits.
See you next week.
[Editor’s Note: All Ideas pieces are the opinions of their writers alone.]
Capron Writes: “He once unmercifully pummeled Drew Pearson, his antagonist in the press, after a dinner party, in the coat room of a Washington doyenne.” I have to take exception to the tone and tenor of this comment. It implies that Pearson did not deserve the beating. Pearson built his career on destroying people. A beating was small repayment indeed. JBOC