Thursday, September 25, 2008

McCarthyism in the 21st Century

There are any number of cases where Leftists have been proved wrong by events, but one of the most interesting has to do with Senator Joseph McCarthy, as I’ve been discussing. I’ve made reference to the Venona papers and the declassification of KGB documents that prove that McCarthy was right when he said there were Communists in the State Department and Army. Surely the Leftists will have nothing to say and would be better off keeping quiet. But at least two leftists think otherwise.

Ted Morgan has written Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America. It is reviewed by Thomas Powers in the NYROB. While several articles from this issue were posted on the NYROB website, this one isn’t.

At first I thought the review/article might be fair and objective. It began that way by admitting that there really were spies in our government, and they really did give our secrets to the USSR. However, the damage had already been done, according to the article, before McCarthy came on the scene. A very successful anti-spy exercise had routed out all the spies; so McCarthy was coming on the scene after the fact. He was merely chasing nonexistent communists for his own aggrandizement. Morgan and Powers then trot out all the old accusations that had been heaped upon McCarthy during his lifetime: he drank too much. He exaggerated his war record. He tolerated a homosexual as his right-hand man. He allowed his homosexual right-hand man to attempt to get David Shine out of the draft. He was unscrupulous in attacking his victims.

Interestingly, Powers rather inconsistently says that Morgan didn’t describe who the victims were and mentioned the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss. At the time the Communist sympathizers did their best to argue that the Rosenbergs and Hiss were innocent. The Left not in the know thought these people were innocent. Powers if not Morgan admits that the Rosenbergs and Hiss were guilty. But then Powers goes on to do the same thing he is critical of Morgan for. Powers says that the real victims were a number of people McCarthy ruined by questioning them about their Communist affiliations when such affiliations were of the mildest nature – perhaps nothing more than idle curiosity. But Powers doesn’t name these victims, nor does he give evidence of their ruin, nor does he give evidence that they were truly not Communists or Communist sympathizers.

What Morgan and Powers have forgotten is that McCarthy’s character was attacked during his lifetime in order to demonstrate that his accusations about Communists in government were equally unreliable. Now that we know that his accusations were reliable, the attacks upon his character seem very like Bush-bashing: lots of innuendo intended to discredit his reliability, but nothing pertinent or of substance.

McCarthy paid a heavy price for not being prejudiced against homosexuals. His enemies argued that if he had one working for him, then he must be one himself. Indeed Cohn did try to get David Shine out of the draft, but he believed that the army placed Shine on the draft out of order as a means of retaliation against what Cohn and McCarthy were doing.

And it’s hard to know how many missions McCarthy made as a tail gunner, because tail-gunning wasn’t his job. He had a noncombatant job but went on every flight he could, nonetheless. Because tail-gunning wasn’t his official job and since accurate records of what he did weren’t available, his enemies made the most of the worst interpretation. But evidence exists that he was indeed fearless and did indeed go on as many missions as he could. In some circles, to go on combat missions when you didn’t need to would be reason for admiration, not reason for excoriation because the exact number was not known or perhaps exaggerated.

As to his drinking, people back then drank more than they do today. I watched an old movie recently with William Powell, perhaps The Return of the Thin Man. William Powell was shown as drinking throughout the movie – perhaps a little bit tipsy at all times but never really drunk and still able to solve the murder. After Prohibition, the alcoholic floodgates were opened and huge numbers did a lot of drinking. This phenomenon existed throughout our society and it is easy to find examples of people who would have been better off not drinking, but McCarthy’s drinking habit now has nothing to do with the accuracy of his allegations back then. He wasn’t a drunk incapable of sound judgment. He did have evidence enough to convince him that there were Communists in our government and the Venona papers and declassified KGB documents now show him to have been correct.

What legitimate Leftist-innuendo remains? Not much. The scholars who first rummaged around in the KGB declassified documentation were thought to be American Communists. When it was discovered that they were not, the documents made available to them were withdrawn. We know the names of a lot of Communists that we didn’t know before, names even McCarthy didn’t know about. We know that McCarthy was right in his accusations, but we don’t know all the Communist spies that were working in our government. The Venona project had access to only diplomatic dispatches. Only the KGB documents would disclose who the rest of the spies were, and the historians were not able to study them exhaustively. Therefore, Leftists will still be able to say, a lot of people were ruined because they innocently dabbled in a curiosity about Communism. Were these people Communists or Communist sympathizers? They don’t say. Innuendo doesn’t need to be specific.

Do you now or have you ever been suspicious of someone who had the trappings of being either a Communist or a Communist, and Islamist or an Islamist sympathizer? If so, then you are a McCarthyite and deserve to be excoriated by the Left even now.

Powers entitles his review of Morgan’s book, “Spy Fever.” But it wasn’t an imaginary fever. The people with this fever were not hypochondriacs. There really were spies in our government.

Lawrence Helm

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