Marquette Warrior: The “Myth” of McCarthyism

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The “Myth” of McCarthyism

The politically correct orthodoxy about Communism in America during the 30s, 40s and 50s is that it was only some sort of McCarthyite fantasy. It couldn’t really be possible that there were Communists in government, any more than there could have been real witches in Salem, could it?

Well, there were Communists in government. From the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a piece by historian Thomas Reeves on this issue. Reeves notes:
In 1995, the federal government revealed the existence of the Venona Project, a top secret operation from the 1940s devoted to the interception and decoding of Soviet spy messages. Four years later, a magnificent piece of scholarship appeared on the topic, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, by historians John Haynes and Harvey Klehr. This study analyzed some 3,000 decoded telegrams between Soviet spies in the United States along with materials from newly opened American and Russian archives. The book’s conclusion was a bombshell that roused intense debate on both the Right and Left, for the new evidence pointed to the existence of Communist spies throughout the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations.

Among those listed by Haynes and Klehr as having covert relationships with Soviet intelligence agencies were: Lauchlin B. Currie, senior administrative assistant to President Roosevelt; Harold Glasser, a Treasury Department economist; David and Ruth Greenglass, who were related to the Rosenbergs; Theodore Alvin Hall, a physicist working on the Manhattan Project; Maurice Halperin, a State Department expert on Latin America; Alger Hiss, the famed American diplomat whose case polarized a generation of political observers; Julius and Joseph Bella, who worked for the Office of Strategic Services; Philip Keeney, another employee of the Office of Strategic Services; Duncan Chapin Lee, highly placed officer in the Office of Strategic Services; William Perl, a top aeronautical scientist and member of the Rosenberg network; Victor Perlo, Treasury Department economist; Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed in 1953 for being Soviet spies; Nathan Gregory Silvermaster, an economist who held several government posts; Morton Sobell, an engineer and member of the Rosenberg ring; and Harry Dexter White, assistant secretary of the Treasury and later director of the International Monetary Fund.
Some on the right might view this as a vindication of McCarthyism, while many on the left will shout “McCarthyism” at the mere mention of this reality. Reeves, in fact, denounces McCarthy in strong terms:
McCarthyism, in short, was an immoral, irresponsible, and often cynical tactic to link Democrats with Joe Stalin. It was designed to win votes. And it was successful. For awhile. So let us not pretend that Joe McCarthy was a hero, that the Second Red Scare didn’t happen, and that efforts to seek out Reds in high places were wrong only because it underestimated the reality of their actual presence.
The fact that McCarthyism ever existed is a blot on American history. But so too is the fact that a substantial number of intellectuals, journalists, academics and government officials were deluded enough to think that Communism was the wave of the future, and promised a better life.

Academics and journalists, circa 2005, will happily talk about the former reality, but avoid the latter.

Why? Because the dupes who supported Stalin’s Russia were embarrassingly like them.


Anonymous Cliff Wells said...

Nice article. However part of the problem with Mccarthy that you gloss over is the fact that for someone to be a communist in no way implies that they were, in fact, a Soviet spy.

If there were indeed spies in our government (I'd assume there were, since we used that tactic heavily ourselves), then yes, they needed to be rooted out. Unfortunately Mccarthy (and most of the American public) lacked either the imagination or the education to realize there's a distinction.
Whether or not those people were mistaken isn't relevant. Mccarthy was a blight upon U.S. history not because of his beliefs, but because of his abuse of power. The same can't be said for the (arguably mislead) many who merely embraced a different ideology.

4:40 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

You are missing the point. Of course there were communists who are not spies. But the article concerns communists who were spies.

Of course, the communists who where not spies were bad people, who were no better than Klansmen.

4:43 PM  

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