Sunday, February 24, 2019

Baruma, the red scare and Daniel Defoe

[From a discussion on 10-18-20}

I won’t be surprised if Ian Baruma lands on his feet.  Though the editors of the New York Review of Books deny it, it seems likely that some sort of pressure was applied to make him resign. 

Perhaps if we were to say that Baruma was a victim of the Feminist Movement – or something like that, we could as a sort of analogy recall that there was once a “Red Scare” movement and Joseph McCarthy for a while was its spokesman.  The Feminist Movement is still growing strong and no one is discrediting it that I’m aware of.  There were plenty of people discrediting the Red Scare movement however and eventually McCarthy became a victim of matters he didn’t manage very well.

Kremlin documents have been examined by Western historians and there were indeed spies in our Pentagon and elsewhere in our country.  The Verona Papers record communication between the USSR ambassadors office in Washington with the USSR, and Soviet spies were mentioned.  J. Edgar Hoover was privy to this but was unwilling to do anything with the information overtly.  Truman was president at the time and Dean Acheson was secretary of state.  One of the Soviet spies was a personal friend of Acheson and Truman liked him.  Hoover would send information to McCarthy about these matters without giving him the evidence behind the information.  McCarthy took the information and tried to make something of it, but he was an alcoholic in poor health who was a Republican and hated by Truman; so he crashed and burned. 

Years ago I read a couple of books about the Verona Papers and the information historians obtained when the Kremlin files were made public.  An important American News Reporter happened to be a Soviet sleeper agent and the chief antagonist of McCarthy.  McCarthy didn’t have a chance.  Interestingly, I first read about these matters in the NYROB and then subsequently ordered the books that were mentioned in the NYROB articles.  One important antagonist of McCarthy’s was questioned about the Verona papers and the books publishing the discoveries from the Kremlin documents.  He said “I don’t care.  Maybe we were wrong, but you needed to be there.  In those days it was right to be wrong!”  In retrospect he was right – sort of – Yes there were spies in government and sleeper-agents in various places, but it didn’t matter.  The USSR was never going to overthrow our government or seriously hamper our anti-communist military activities.  At root was the fact that we could outspend them.  Our economy with all our entrepreneurs was better than anything the Soviet Union’s economy could achieve. 

Looking back, I began work at Douglas in 1959 at age 24.  I recall some arguments I had with a member of the John Birch Society, an engineer who had escaped from the Soviet Union with his family.  He had severe ulcers and chewed some chalky antacid pills as we argued.  He would get so mad that white spittle would dribble down his chin as he raged at me.  He later told me that he had considered turning me into the Douglas Security department, but decided that I was merely deluded and represented no threat.  I don’t think I had bad arguments back then.  I argued that the USSR was not going to be able to overthrow our government and the John Birch Society was over-reacting.  I also argued that China was not interested in converting the world to Communism.  Historically China was more interested in their internal matters than anything of a wider nature. 

In any case I find it interesting that there really were spies in the American government, and that McCarthy was really onto something, but even to this day almost anyone who discusses this matter is more critical of McCarthy than of the Soviet Government for putting spies in our government and of the Soviet agents who undermined our government and only incidentally McCarthy as well.  It is called “the Red Scare” when other terms might better describe what was really happening.  There really were red spies.  “Scare” makes fun of McCarthy’s failed attempts to out them.

But as I hiked I also thought about the squatter encampments on the river.  Was I being unfair to them in thinking they were there because of bad choices.  I had friends that I tried to influence.  We were all from blue-collar families.  I tried to talk several of them into going into the Marine Corps with me.  No one did.  Later after I got out of the Marine Corps, I tried to talk them into going to college.  No one did.  They would rather be “idle” in the Defoe sense of the word.  In Edgell Rickword’s article “The Social Setting (1780-1830)” in From Blake to Byron, (volume 5 from) The New Pelican Guide to Literature.  Rickword writes,

“When Defoe had toured Great Britain it was with the consciousness of a man of business that he enjoyed the countryside.  The gentlemens mansions, the near farmsteads, and stout cottages seemed to him a natural reward for industry and enterprise.  Wealth appeared to be a secretion from the process of exchange, whether it concerned a luxury from the Far East or a farmer’s crop brought to the local market.  It was a process by which everybody gained (though some gained much more than others), excepting the idle, the extravagant, and the afflicted.  The idle and extravagant brought their punishment on themselves, they were bound to ‘break’; the afflicted, since they suffered by decree of Providence, ought to be relieved by private charity. . . .”

That puts the matter in a better perspective for me.  If it is the “idle and the extravagant” that are in those tents we hike past, then I may be a little justified in my criticism.  They are there because they broke.  But if they are “the afflicted,” and I do wonder about that whenever I talk to one of them, then they are there through no fault of their own.  “Afflicted” would have to be expanded upon.  Maybe someone with an IQ of 60 might be considered “afflicted,” but would such a man be able to erect the complicated tents and property defenses I have seen down there?  I think a higher IQ is required, and if the people down there possess these higher IQs perhaps they more rightly belong in one of the other of Defoe’s categories.

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