Front Page has a symposium on Ann Coulter's book, Treason, which is a valuable work in that it is forcing people to take another look at American anti-Communist policies during the late Forties and early Fifties and redebate the issue. The book has been criticized for being a whitewashing of Joe McCarthy and for being unduly harsh to the liberal Democrats of the time.
In Spain everybody knows what el maccartismo is, that evil time when sinister capitalist propaganda and the CIA drove all the Americans crazy so they would arrest all the freethinkers and dissidents and accuse them of being dirty no-good Commies because that's the way Wall Street wanted it. The word is used now in Spanish to refer to anything resembling a witch-hunt. Every few weeks our friend the Vangua refers to something as "the new McCarthyism". Interestingly enough, the term "McCarthyism" was coined by the Daily Worker.
We've got to get a few things straight here. Franklin Roosevelt's leftist New Deal movement (about which many good things can be said, of course) was made up mostly of honest liberals and Democrats, but there were a few pro-Soviet bad eggs in the omelet. During the 1930s nobody cared too much because, contrary to what some history books will tell you, it was the Nazis rather than the Commies we saw as the immediate threat. (Check any American book on international affairs published between about 1935 and 1941.) During World War II the Soviets were our allies and our espionage and security services were aimed at the Nazis and the Japanese, not the USSR. But once the Nazis were beaten--Japanese militarism is a system that is not going to be too popular anywhere outside Japan, we've got everybody's hearts and minds agreed on that case--the only threat left to the United States became the Soviet Union, clearly more powerful and dangerous than Nazi Germany had ever been. And the Soviet Union was expansionist. It expanded into Eastern Europe and it wanted to expand into Western Europe and it wouldn't have minded in the least expanding into America.
By about 1947 it was pretty clear, due to several defections and the Venona transcripts (this information was of course not made public at the time) that we had a bad problem with Soviet agents, literally hundreds of spies, within the federal government, especially at State and Treasury. President Truman became convinced of the Communist threat and purged Communists from Federal jobs in 1948. The House Un-American Activities Committee, meanwhile, was purging Hollywood, and the famous Hollywood Ten went to jail in 1947, while other folk like Lillian Hellman and Pete Seeger lied their way out of trouble. The Communist Party USA leadership was convicted under the Smith Act and sent up the river. Alger Hiss was convicted of espionage.
Truman got himself reelected in 1948 despite the defection of his predecessor as Vice-President, Henry Wallace, to the Communist-influenced Progressive Party; the Progressives got only a million votes from the most extreme New Deal leftists and failed to carry any states. In 1950 the Rosenberg espionage ring was broken up. Meanwhile, overseas, Truman sent aid to Turkey and Greece under the Truman Doctrine, which committed us to stopping Communism from expanding. NATO was established. We fought the Communist invasion of Korea.
Then Joe McCarthy appeared on the political scene.
Joe'd been elected back in forty-six and needed to get reelected in fifty-two, if I have the dates right. He didn't do much until he jumped on the anti-communist train in 1950. By then almost all the real action needed to clean Soviet spies and agents out of the government and out of the Hollywood "propaganda department" had been taken. So Joe blew hard and made up a bunch of stuff and accused almost nobody specifically by name--except Truman, Dean Acheson, and George Marshall, the Democratic foreign-policy leadership, all liberal Democrats and all strongly anti-communist, like Hubert Humphrey and Walter Reuther and Sam Rayburn and Lyndon Johnson. Joe, a Republican, was accusing the ANTI-COMMUNIST Democratic leadership, which had taken very strong measures against communism, including that of sending American troops into battle, of being "soft on Communism".
This was unadulterated bullshit and the whole country knew it. Maybe you didn't think Harry Truman was worth much--a lot of people didn't--and maybe you couldn't stand Acheson for being snobby and talking with that damn phony English accent, and maybe you thought Marshall was a cold son of a bitch, which he was, but these men were not traitors. McCarthy was widely hated. It didn't help that he was ugly and was drunk most of the time and was obviously a nasty person. When Truman left the Presidency in 1953, Republican Ike squashed McCarthy--let him hang himself and then came down on his neck with a guillotine, just in case one was needed. And nothing more was heard from him except when the Senate publicly censured him. Then he drank himself to death.
The Truman Administration's error was to deny that there had ever been a problem with Soviet infiltration rather than to say, "Well, there were some Russian spies but we caught 'em".
Note: Richard Nixon, who was a leading member of HUAC, had nothing whatsoever to do with Joe McCarthy. Nixon was a representative from southern California and McCarthy was a senator from Wisconsin. Nixon was a Quaker. McCarthy was an Irish Catholic. Nixon was cold, aloof and calculating. McCarthy was a "one of the boys" back-slapper. Nixon was highly intelligent, with intellectual interests; McCarthy was as dumb as, well, most guys whose brains have been dissolved by a quart of whiskey a day since age twelve. Think Shane McGowan. McCarthy was a caveman; Nixon was a rather liberal Republican, and never an isolationist. Nixon was a professional politician, not a loud-mouthed demagogue. He knew better than to get involved with that irresponsible lout McCarthy. And Nixon had made his name years before McCarthy came along.
About the only thing the two had in common was that they were both poor boys who wanted to make it big in politics.
I recommend you read the whole thing; I think the admission by well-known Dem and Friend Of Hillary Susan Estrich that
The Anti-Joe camp suffers from the American Liberal Left's pathological inability to admit that it was wrong about most, if not all, of the big issues during the first 10 to 20 years of the Cold War. For example, it is now established, as a matter of historical record, that the Rosenbergs were spies; that Hiss was a member of the Communist underground and engaged in espionage; that Stalinist Russia had designs on Western Europe and anything else the Comintern thought it could get its hands on; and that the Soviets deliberately infiltrated, and attempted to manipulate, both Hollywood and the American civil rights movement.
These are the facts. The truth is that all of the old shibboleths of the American Left -- "Hiss was framed by Nixon!"; "The Rosenbergs were framed by Hoover!"; "Stalin was Papa Joe!" -- just weren't true. The Commies were out to get us, whether the American Liberal Left wants to admit it or not. To this end, there were secret Reds in the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations -- whether the American Liberal Left wants to admit it or not.
This is the first time I have read an American Liberal Leftist like Ms. Estrich admit that not only was the Left tremendously wrong about something of critical importance, but that the American Left of that time, 1945-50 or so, was strongly under Communist influence.
Here's Emory University historian Harvey Klehr:
While I deplore McCarthy and his tactics, I agree with those who note that his influence had been exaggerated all out of proportion. There was no reign of terror in the United States during the 1950s. Several thousand people lost their jobs--some unjustly or unfairly--and a few hundred went to prison for brief periods of time--including some who probably should not have been prosecuted. Two--Julius and Ethel Rosenberg--were executed for conspiracy to commit espionage, although Ethel should not have been subjected to that punishment. Compared to the violations of civil liberties during previous American wars--and remember that we were fighting both a Cold War with Russia and a hot war in Korea when McCarthy rose to prominence--this hardly justifies the fevered and breathless suggestions that Americans were living in a state of sweat-drenched fear and that it took real courage to challenge the ogre from Wisconsin.
Here's historian John Earl Haynes from the Library of Congress.
I think it is important to add that, by the time, 1950, that Joseph McCarthy became a national figure in the debate about domestic communism the American public, the government, and both major political parties, were already well awakened to both the domestic and foreign Communist threat. McCarthy appeared years after Truman's order setting up a loyalty program to remove Communists and security risks from government service, after the announcement of the "Truman Doctrine" that implemented America's Cold War containment strategy against Soviet aggression, after the Marshall Plan to save Western Europe from economic collapse and Communist takeover, after the CIO expelled Communists from their power base in some trade unions, and after the Popular Front liberal allies of the Communists had withdrawn from the Democratic Party and embarked on their disastrous Progressive Party venture.
The new young liberal stars of the Democratic Party were men such as Hubert Humphrey who had risen to the leadership of the Democratic party in Minnesota (Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party to use its exact title) by defeating the Popular Front liberals and their secret Communist allies who had seized control of the Minnesota party in 1946. And among Republicans, Richard Nixon's work on the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1948 on the Hiss-Chambers case contributed greatly to arousing public opinion in regard to the seriousness of Soviet espionage. Nixon's activities both preceded that of McCarthy and were far more responsible.