Biographical Historical Essay
By Richard E. Noble
Senator Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin precipitated hysteria in the United States that seems to be only surpassed by A. Mitchell Palmer and the Wilson administration’s “Red Scare.”
The word “McCarthyism” was added to our language in his honor. As of this moment, I know of no one, right or left, not even one time McCarthy defender William F. Buckley Jr., who now classify McCarthy as an honorable character.
He even had his own little scandals going with cohort Roy Cohn and Cohn’s “chum” G. David Schine who was drafted into the Army to the dismay of Cohn - his whispered male sexual partner.
J. Parnell Thomas chaired the House Un-American Activities Committee. Thomas eventually went to jail for payroll padding and taking Kickbacks. Richard Nixon and Robert Kennedy were both on the McCarthy payroll at this time also.
During this fiasco many Hollywood celebrities like Robert Montgomery, Ronald Reagan, Adoiphe Menjou, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart and a host of others became infamous in leftist circles for ratting on their friends and fellow movie stars.
McCarthy was born on November 15, 1908 on a dairy farm in Appleton, Wisconsin. In 1942 McCarthy, age 35, joined the Marine Corps and received a direct commission as a first lieutenant. In an initiation in honor of the event of crossing the equator, he broke his left foot. A medic removing the cast burnt Joe’s leg with some glacial acetic acid. Using this injury, he evidently forged a letter describing his “heroism” and signed his commanding officer’s name to it. This resulted in a citation signed by Admiral Chester Nimitz.
Although Roosevelt won every election handily and always had a Democratic majority in both the house and the Senate, by the time that Truman came along the public was ready for a change. Truman won over Dewey in a real squeaker, but the Democrats lost both the House and the Senate. From then on the Truman administration was under fire. The suggestion that the Democrats had been soft on Communism had been prevalent all during the Roosevelt years, but with the Republican victories in 1946 and 1948 the poop really hit the fan.
Alger Hiss was first on the Republican hit list. Hiss was not convicted of treason or on charges of espionage. He was convicted on December 15, 1948 on two counts of perjury. He had stated in his testimony that he had never turned any documents over to George Crossley (Whittaker Chambers) and that he had not seen Mr. Crossley after Jan. 1, 1937. Hiss was indicted on two counts of perjury. In a second trial - the first ending in a hung jury - he was convicted. The statute of limitations had run out on any espionage charges against Hiss. The material that it was accused he had secreted to the Russians was deemed harmless and insignificant but yet he was still convicted. He was convicted of lying under oath to the Commission that he didn’t know Whittaker Chambers and had no recollection of ever transferring any documents to him.
In 1949, China was lost to the Communist movement and then in February of 1950 came the arrest of Dr. Klaus Fuchs for espionage. Fuchs was one of the distinguished nuclear physicists who had worked on the Atomic bomb. Shortly after Fuchs, McCarthy came onto the scene in red, white and blue. These events, coupled with the joyous defeat of Adolf and Nazism left the American public unconcerned about profiteering on the part of American business and their trading with the Nazis; obfuscated any threat from right wing Nazis in American government, and put the onus on “the Communist threat” and Stalin.
The stage was set and McCarthy, an Irish-Catholic representing a German-American constituency, jumped in with both feet. McCarthy is credited with starting an epic hysteria often compared to the Puritan Salem Witch hunts promoted by playwright Arthur Miller. McCarthy accused everyone short of the Pope (the Pope was, of course, a Nazi and Fascist sympathizer and supporter being adamantly opposed to the atheistic Communist movement) of being a Communist or a “pinko”, including General George Marshall. McCarthy, was more anti-Democratic Party than anti-Communist Party. He attacked any Democrat - even the staunchest of Capitalists and party stalwarts.
Truman had sent Marshall to China to survey the situation there. In his report, Marshall recommended that we should seek to get a union between Mao Tse-tung and Chaing Kai Shek. He didn’t think much of Chaing. This led McCarthy to accuse Marshall of heading up the biggest spy ring that America had ever known and led to a right wing investigation of the entire U.S. Army and eventually McCarthy’s downfall.
The Rosenbergs were convicted and then executed during this era. They were the only couple ever to be executed for espionage during a time of peace in American history.
The Eisenhower administration is usually credited with bringing down McCarthy. But he was also anti-Communist. He passed Executive order 10450, which intensified Truman’s system of making government employment a privilege and not a right. This was a battle between Republicans and right wing Republicans. Most main stream Republicans didn’t like McCarthy any more than the Democrats. McCarthy’s tactics were underhanded and abusive and he was personally brash, rude and belligerent. Eisenhower was ready to split the party if push came to shove. Eisenhower thought Truman had handled McCarthy all wrong; “In sheer political terms I was increasingly convinced that I would defeat him by ignoring him.” Eisenhower considered McCarthy a big-mouthed attention getter. His goal was to give the man as little attention and press as possible.
But when McCarthy and Cohn got into a battle with the Army over the drafting of Schine - McCarthy and company had bit off more than they could chew. When he started calling U.S. war generals Communists, the Army formed ranks and fought back. It wasn’t long before the Army and Eisenhower had McCarthy backing up.
Many thought McCarthy was pushing for the presidency. His lies, fabrications, and total lack of moral ethics may really have had more to do with his downfall than the efforts of his opponents.
But were there really people in the Democratic Party who were sympathetic to the Communists in the government? There were plenty; just as there were people in the Republican Party who were sympathetic to the Nazis. There were people who were pro-Communist and people who were pro-Nazi working daily in the Roosevelt Cabinet and administration - and Roosevelt knew it. Roosevelt wanted everybody out in the open where he could keep track of them.
After the War the U.S could have gone either right or left. That is why McCarthy becomes important as an historical figure. Instead of having Congress investigating people in the government and the business community who had been carrying on treasonous activities with Hitler, McCarthy actually succeeded in turning the focus on the Communists and turning people who had supported an alley into traitors. It was a truly masterful “spinning” of circumstances and events and, of course, Uncle Joe Stalin did not do anything to hurt the cause either. Throughout the entire population of the United States there were pro-Communists and pro-Nazis. The country had been divided on which side to support right up to December 7, 1941.
McCarthy was without doubt an extreme right wing Republican, but really he was not any more extreme than many of the right wing Republicans of today. Many Americans supported McCarthy and McCarthyism and many Americans supported Hitler and Nazism and many Americans supported Marx and Communism and Norman Thomas and Socialism and Labor and Unionism - and all the very same battles and arguments go on today - only the vocabulary has changed. Today’s “ism” is not Socialism, Communism, Unionism, Capitalism, Anarchism, Bolshevism, Americanism, Nationalism, Patriotism, Elitism; it’s Globalism, Terrorism, Militarism and most of all Extremism. I think the most fearful of these “ism’s” is still the last - Extremism. Extremism implies more than enthusiasm and zealousness - it implies excess, abuse, fanaticism, fear and hatred.
McCarthy lost his Senate seat, became an alcoholic and died in 1957.