Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Re: Spying successes in the U.S.

Charles Jones wrote:

I think the problem with McCarthy is that he discredited "us" --- people who believed the Soviets were actively out to get us and represented a far worse alternative than our own society. With "friends" like that.... We're still struggling with the burden he imposed on us.

I think that when it comes to combating leftist/islamist/nazi/any--other threats, the most effective strategy laymen can pursue is to publicize what those people believe and what their connections are. In a word, exposure. You've done that when you reported your extensive reading of Islamist writers. That was informative and effective.

Also, I think that the exposing has got to be fair and accurate. One mistake in accusing the wrong person or even a marginal figure or even using the wrong tone, and the person doing the exposing loses credibility. I think that there are severe limits on how effective any argument can be. So, I don't really expect even "knockdown" arguments to be persuasive. Over time they may have some effect, but I never expect a verbal/written exchange to really change minds. And lots of non-logical factors strongly affect the effectiveness of an argument. McCarthy is a case in point --- his arguments were made in the context of governmental investigations that he ran (a bullying environment), he had an unpleasant demeanor, he made charges he backed away from. The best way to maintain your argumentative effectiveness is to maintain your public integrity and cool.

Additionally, I think it is normally a mistake to call for punishment. It may be logically correct, but it lacks sensibility and judgment. It's like anti-abortionists calling for the killing of abortion doctors and bombing abortion clinics. Or Islamist mullahs saying it’s OK to kill certain writers, bomb certain TV stations, or kill unbelievers. I even think blacklisting Hollywood communists was a mistake and hauling fellow-travelers before HUAC was counter-productive. Although I supported it at the time, I now think impeaching President Clinton was a mistake. Every punishment move distracts from the exposure role. If you argue for punishment then you've got to try to show that the punishment is justified, that all objections to punishment can be countered, that there are no mitigating circumstances, that the punishment can be put into practice, that there are no unforeseen consequences of punishment, that collateral damage is limited, etc. In the meantime, no exposing is getting done.

Lawrence responds:

I would reword Charles first paragraph slightly before agreeing with with it. The problem with McCarthy isn’t that he discredited us. It was that he was largely discredited by four forces: 1) Democrats surrounding Truman who believed that all the talk about Communist was a “red herring.” He thought there was a political motivation behind it. The Republicans were out to discredit his administration. 2) then there was a Gentleman’s code. Gentlemen like Acheson did not read other Gentlemen’s mail. Also these “gentlemen” did not abandon friends and acquaintances. Acheson never did abandon Owen Latimore even though Acheson didn’t particularly like him. 3) many agencies, such as the Army, were being exposed by McCarthy and they thought it more important to protect their reputations than to cooperate in rooting out Communists. 4) Communists had infiltrated and influence the media of the day, and they made it a high priority to discredit McCarthy.

In my view we are still struggling with the burden of McCarthyism, but this burden was mostly the work of the four forces that opposed him. Herman isn’t unmindful of McCarthy’s faults. They made It easier for the forces above to discredit him. 5) he was an alcoholic. 6) he was overly loyal to his friends, friends who often got McCarthy into trouble. The most notable case was when his right-hand man Cohn, a homosexual, tried to keep his “friend” Larry Shine out of the Army during the time McCarthy was trying to expose Communists in the Army. Cohn effectively sabotaged chose efforts.

As to exposure being “fair and accurate,” McCarthy was at a disadvantage. J. Edgar Hoover was feeding him information about Communist spies based on what he was learning from the Venona decryption program. But he couldn’t tell McCarthy where he got the information. McCarthy then charged ahead with the knowledge that a certain person was a Communist, but he often had no proof. Herman on page 106 writes, “Hoover and other intelligence officials became quite cynical about their chances or prosecuting Soviet espionage cases in the courts, and about the support they could count on from government bureaucrats in getting Communists out of sensitive posts. Hoover would support McCarthy’s efforts to ferret out Communists in government, at least at the beginning, partly because Hoover believed that whatever McCarthy’s obvious shortcomings, he was willing to do something about the problem.

“Anyone trying to assess the ‘Soviet threat,’ then, had to take into account between two hundred and four hundred active espionage agents; fifty-four thousand Communist full-time party members and, according to Hoover’s own estimate, at least a half-million active sympathizers, who were protected constitutionally from surveillance or even close scrutiny – protected, as it happened, by the very laws that Communists wished to see destroyed in order to establish a foreign utopian dream. In this sense America faced a threat far out of proportion to the actual size of the Communist Party or its secret apparatus. The real danger was that “through their agents and networks, Communists could set in motion a series of actions or bureaucratic decisions at crucial moments, or leak classified or background information, or set traps for the unwary that would undercut America’s ability to deal effectively with Stalin’s cold war maneuvers. . . . It could take large dramatic forms – again, the theft of atomic secrets gives the ready example. But it could also take innumerable small forms – subversion could be almost imperceptible without a clear understanding of what was going on behind the scenes.”

Herman provides a footnote at this point to illustrate “small form” subversion: “A good example is how Soviet agents in the Treasure, including Harry Dexter White, Solomon Adler, Frank Coe, and Harold Glasser, managed to stall the Roosevelt administration’s dispatch of $200 million in gold to the Chinese Nationalists to prop up their faltering currency. White and the others convinced Treasury Secretary Morgenthau that the gold was largely unnecessary or would be stolen, and urged caution in delivery. By July 1944, of $2000 million promised, only $12 million had reached China. At the other end, Adler and Coe introduced a secret communist agent, Chi Ch’ao-ting, into the Nationalist government as adviser on monetary policy. By the time shipments resumed under Truman in May 1945, it was too late. The Nationalist yen had collapsed, and rampant inflation and a worthless currency (all under Ting’s direction) set the stage for Chiang Kai-shek’s defeat in the coming civil war: Details are in Rusher, Special Counsel, pp. 100-102.”

The climate of opinion was very different back then. There were people, like Jack Kennedy’s father who though Joe McCarthy a great patriot, but he got very little worthwhile cooperation. He was to a large extent on his own. We can say he didn’t do as well as he could have. A personality transplant would have helped, but we should bear in mind that his abrasive personality didn’t prevent his being elected and reelected. Also, he should have drunk so much, but that was the thing to do back then. Watch movies describing the 40s and 50s and characters do a lot of drinking. My father was of that era and became an alcoholic as well. Many who “controlled” there drinking would be considered alcoholics by today’s standards. But yes, that was one of McCarthy’s faults.

As to punishments, for the most part the punishments consisted of job loss. On page 4 Herman writes, “The best and most generous estimate is that during the entire decade of the red scare, ten thousand Americans lost their jobs because of their past or present affiliation with the Communist Party or one of its auxiliary organizations. Of those who lost their jobs, two thousand worked in the government, and in perhaps forty cases McCarthy himself was directly or indirectly responsible for their being fired. In only one case – that of Owen Lattimore – can anyone make the argument that McCarthy’s allegations led to any actual legal proceedings, and there a judge eventually threw out most of the indictment.”

I enjoyed Herman’s book, but McCarthy has been demonized, and to rehabilitate a demon may be more than an ordinary historian, like Herman, can accomplish.

As to how effective arguments are in changing minds, I agree with what Charles has written. Perhaps some minds are changed, or perhaps they are only changed in small ways. He may be talking about me as well as McCarthy here. I’ve been involved in some “knockdown” arguments lately. I would just say in my defense, and perhaps in McCarthy’s that if we feel a responsibility, if we are functioning in accordance with principle, if like Whitaker Chambers we are not willing to abandon the truth even if we suffer for it; then I know of no other course then to bull ahead. What if our enemies oppose us? They were going to do that anyway. If we lose our tempers, well shame on us. We shouldn’t. We’ll try and do better next time. Maybe we won’t change any minds, but by pitting the truth against their error in our “knockdown” arguments, they will at least learn that pushing Communism, Leftism, or Islamism comes at a cost – the price they actually pay will be small, but as long as we have done our best, we can do no more.

Lawrence Helm



Rev. Don Spitz said...

You seem to imply there is something wrong if a babykilling abortion mill is burned or bomb. Which do you prefer, a pile of bricks or a pile of dead babies? Innocent unborn babies deserve to be protected just as born children deserve to be protected. You would have no problem protecting born children if they were about to be murdered.
SAY THIS PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I am a sinner and am headed to eternal hell because of my sins. I believe you died on the cross to take away my sins and to take me to heaven. Jesus, I ask you now to come into my heart and take away my sins and give me eternal life.

Lawrence Helm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lawrence Helm said...

Rev. Don. There is indeed an objection to the blowing up of abortion clinics in the note you are referring to, but it wasn't written by me. See clarification in http://www.lawrencehelm.com/2008/09/judt-spitz-and-crossing-road-to-have.html

Lawrence Helm