Before I explain what it was like to become friends with the pre-eminent McCarthy scholar of our time, M. Stanton Evans, I'd like to point out some of the pitfalls of the territory, starting with the anti-McCarthy tripwire.
This relic of the Cold War, circa 1950s, is used to bring down anyone even thinking about stepping out of line to reconsider the place of Sen. McCarthy in our nation's history (hell). The anti-McCarthy tripwire is the first trigger. Tripped once, maybe twice, it activates the anti-McCarthy force field, which I will get to below.
"You know that you are going to be attacked," Stan said to me in the fall of 2012 on reading the manuscript of American Betrayal, which, building on the research in Blacklisted by History, takes as a given that McCarthy is the most demonized man in American history to whom the nation now owes plaudits and apologies galore -- and moves on from there. It is not an exaggeration to say that American Betrayal is first an homage to Blacklisted by History. Not surprisingly, I think it reads as a companion piece to the 2012 book Stan and the late Herbert Romerstein wrote as a follow-up to the McCarthy book -- Stalin's Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt's Government. For these reasons, this Amazon "Frequently Bought Together" box is very pleasing to the junior author.
"Attacked? So what!" I replied. Stan liked that. He sometimes even told people I'd said it. Neither of us quite imagined what was coming, even if "so what" still very much applies. (It was not a "tripwire" but a dirty bomb, but that's another story.)
Even when the anti-McCarthy tripwire doesn't actually cut the dissident fleeing the gulag of enforced "correctness" (provenance in Marxism-Leninism) to his knees, it has an effect. It almost invariably dampens his enthusiasm for next time. Is it really worth all that unpleasantness and hassle? Better to avoid the "McC" subject altogether -- as we will see in the environs of the anti-McCarthy force field -- than to become caught in the tongue-lashings of some anti-McCarthy enforcer.
Such calculations, however, do not deter the unbowed Fraternity of `So What?', which I hope to get to another time.
I was reminded this past week just how hair-trigger-sensitive the anti-McCarthy trip wire remains after the appearance of an appreciation of Stan and his monumental McCarthy biography at Pajamas Media by J. Christian Adams. What is notable in this instance is that Adams' nice, short piece includes only mild praise of McCarthy himself -- "In short, McCarthy was more right than wrong." Not exactly red flags and fightin' words, but especially not, a normal person would think, in this immediate aftermath of Stan's death following a long struggle with pancreatic cancer. Funeral arrangements for Stan had yet to be made, however, and there was ex-Communist historian a.k.a. "Serial McCarthy Critic" a.k.a. "the Learned Professor" Radosh, asserting in the comments section below the Adams piece:
Stan Evans was a lovely man, outgoing, warm and sincere. The problem is that on Joe McCarthy, he was wrong, as is J. Christian Adams. I urge readers to consider the argument by Harvey Klehr, updated at Frontpagemag.com.
Such obituary-heckling is shocking but, as I can attest, this boorish breach of common decency actually counts as pretty good behavior for Radosh. Still, time will tell whether Adams decides to drive deeper into McCarthy territory.
As an aside, I had recent occasion to demonstrate the outdatedness of the very "argument" that Radosh has set forth to prove Stan (and his 663-page book about McCarthy) "wrong." How did I do it? Using Stan's research! It wasn't hard at all. What Radosh has cited is a 2005 speech about McCarthy by Harvey Klehr -- re-purposed more than "updated" in December 2013 -- which, on the basic question of whether McCarthy identified Communists in the federal government, does not reflect Stan's voluminous findings as first published in Blacklisted by History (2007). Stan distilled some of these findings in a January 2014 article, including a table of 50 McCarthy cases, that ran at Breitbart News and Human Events.
Very few among us will pick up on this point, though, because most people today function inside the anti-McCarthy force field -- perhaps often without knowing it. In this strangely placid world, such violent devices as anti-McCarthy tripwires are no longer necessary. McCarthy is no longer necessary; indeed, the thought of him is not verboten, just embarrassing, and something to suppress.
What is shocking (but no longer surprising) is that many of these same people inside the anti-McCarthy force field consider themselves "conservative." Some, it will be seen, even work and write for National Review, the once proto-typically "conservative" magazine where Stan served as an original editor, and whose founding editor, William F. Buckley Jr., not only stood athwart history and yelled "Stop!" but also stood as one of the original McCarthy loyalists. With L. Brent Bozell, Buckley co-wrote McCarthy and His Enemies (1954), one of the earliest defenses of McCarthy, which, by the way, Stan continued to recommend as a lasting contribution to the literature.
In 1999, Buckley would also write The Redhunter: A Novel Based on the Life of Senator Joe McCarthy, which, surprise, surprise, did not please Radosh or The Nation's Eric Alterman, who, I discovered, while reading about Stan this week, tossed the Buckley book back and forth in an online colloquy at Slate that amounted to no fewer than ten entries. These include a response by aggrieved author Buckley (so very politely titled "William F. Buckley Barks Back") from which we get the following, quite stunning entry in the annals of the McCarthy Wars:
There is no point in Radosh, burdened by his mindset, reading [The Redhunter] because it would necessarily be uphill for him, as hard going as an impotent locked in all night with a whore.
It may be equally hard going to dislodge this rather unfortunate simile from the mind, particularly given Radosh's subsequent public discussion of the general topic in his memoirs. (See relevant passage in review preceding: "about as much fun as watching a Labor Day parade.")
Buckley goes on to dispense a point of clarity which, although written in 1999, has nonetheless borne directly on the many battles over McCarthy that have followed. More recently, such battles rage also around the topic of general Soviet subversion of the US government, as laid out in Stan's follow-up work with Herb Romerstein, Stalin's Secret Agents (2012), The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Foreign Policy (2013) by John Dietrich, and, as nearly endlessly attacked in my own work, American Betrayal (2013).
But an examination of the McCarthy scene tells us things Radosh desperately wants not to think about. McCarthy's suggestion that Communists were influential in writing U.S. foreign policy was--what? All those things.
A decade and half later, it is not just Radosh who desperately wants not to think that "Communists were influential" -- and, as illustrated in the above-mentioned books, that secret Soviet agents inside the US government were influential, too -- in writing US foreign policy, including war strategy, before, during and after World War II. An aversion to studying Soviet/Communist "influence" -- as opposed to "spying," meaning the theft of secrets -- blinds the academic community as it sets the course of study on World War II and the Cold War certainly, but also the "American Century" more broadly, and/or writes the standard texts and histories. These gaping omissions are a topic of extended scrutiny in American Betrayal, drawing much wrath.
But I have gotten ahead of the story.
I can think of no better illustration of the anti-McCarthy force field in action than in the uniformly McCarthy-less contents of multiple appreciations of Stanton Evans that have appeared in recent days. I've read four or five such glowing but deficient tributes at National Review Online alone. None of them includes even the title of Stan's magnus opus, Blacklisted by History, let alone a word about its significance, its relevance to the McCarthy tragedy, its application to our own times -- or its stunning revelation that much our consensus-history, or "court history," as Stan liked to call it, is based on lies. Deception. Cover-up. Former NR editor John O'Sullivan's piece is typical for never mentioning McCarthy, either. (O'Sullivan: Stan "wrote important historical works.")
Inside the anti-McCarthy force field, the great McCarthy scholar is eulogized -- sanitized -- sans McCarthy.
John Fund does break ranks and "name name," writing: "His biography of Joseph McCarthy made clear that, despite his many excesses, the senator had identified serious national-security weaknesses."
Regarding those "many" "excesses": I can just about hear Stan say: "Name. One." I would further underscore Fund's designation of ideological Communists and Soviet agents covertly embedded in the federal government as "serious national-security weaknesses." Weaknesses?
The most concise way to describe the inspirational legacy of Blacklisted by History is to say that it overturns more than half a century's worth of lies about Joseph McCarthy with the counterweight of documented evidence, much of which comes from formerly secret FBI documents that were not available to researchers until recent decades. This is a signal achievement, and Stan did it by himself. He devoted six solid years to researching and writing the 2007 book, although, as he told me in an interview I conducted with him in December 2012, he had planned to write a McCarthy biography ever since the McCarthy years in the 1950s.
Even to describe Blacklisted by History and its significance, however, is to blast the anti-McCarthy force field to smithereens -- or at least to weaken it severely with a hard blast of doubt. What? There's another side to McCarthy? A widely and warmly eulogized conservative lion set out to prove that the conventional image of McCarthy as a liar and demagogue is ... untrue? In an engagingly written, can't put it down book that costs less than $10?
The anti-McCarthy force field held -- and not just at National Review. This same pattern of omission -- again, omitting what is arguably if not demonstrably the crowning achievement of Stan's life -- repeats in obituary notices about Stan at many of the larger conservative sites and media outlets, from Powerline to The Washington Free Beacon to Fox News to the Weekly Standard to the Wall Street Journal to the Heritage Foundation.
The McCarthy scholar is dead. Don't mention McCarthy.
Thankfully, there are many other outlets that do not overlook Stan's defining work on McCarthy, which led to additional trailblazing work in Stalin's Secret Agents. These include the newspaper obituaries, from the New York Times to the Washington Times, and The Blaze. At Breitbart News, Alfred S. Regnery calls Blacklisted by HIstory, with Stalin's Secret Agents, "the culmination of [Evans'] life-long work." Human Events, CNSNews.com are among the sites that carry a remembrance by Lee Edwards calling Blacklisted by History "a 663-page masterpiece of research and analysis." The New American declares the book the "capstone of Evans life." Ann Coulter penned a fabulous column about Stan, declaring his defense of McCarthy to be his "most lasting legacy."
As a bonus, Ann also underscores Stan's coverage of suicidal "amnesty" policies that deeply troubled him in his last years. Speaking of Stan's more recent work, it's worth noting that he produced a splendid new piece last year correcting more lies about McCarthy, titled, appropriately enough, "More Lies about McCarthy." They just don't stop. Emanations of the anti-McCarthy force field, they circulate to keep it going.
So powerful is that force field that I also find there are a couple of outlets widely known as conservative that have so far not noted Evans' passing at all. To date, I have not been able to find anything about it, even an announcement, at American Thinker or at Frontpagemag.com. Followers of the controversy over American Betrayal may begin to notice a pattern taking shape.
There is something at least Orwellian about the spectacle: the process by which Stan's life on earth has been buffed by many on the Right to smooth away those "rough McCarthy edges." I read and watch as his recent, highly productive years of truly ground-breaking research, whether on McCarthy, or, continuing right up until illness interrupted him, domestic Communist subversion, are replaced by a more "acceptable" emphasis on "good" conservative works of the distant past. Readers of these de-McCarthy'd appreciations will come to know Stan as the ever-witty toastmaster who, by these accounts, appears to have spent more time waiting to speak at banquets than sitting behind a typewriter (Stan did not "do" computers). They will think of him as someone whose star rose quite early with the 1960 "Sharon Statement," charter of Young Americans for Freedom; whose work was practically over with the second term of Ronald Reagan. If they are reading National Review, they are now familiar with the first article he ever published at the magazine 58 years ago, posted to "honor" him today. How about honoring him instead with an in-depth review of his latest book, Stalin's Secret Agents? How about a long-awaited second opinion on Blacklisted by History to add balance to the egregious hit piece National Review published back in 2008? That hit piece, as some will recall, was written by Radosh. Stan Evans' rebuttal, a model for the applied use of facts with scalpel, is here.
The impact such efforts at honoring the man have, although unintended surely, is to paint him as a creature of the distant past. I only got to know Stan about 50 years after he wrote the 1960 Sharon Statement -- widely reprinted since Stan's death, maybe even sometimes as a means to avoid further comment. I can say that it never once came up in the many in-depth conversations I am lucky to have been able to have with him. Joe McCarthy did. Communist infiltration and subversion did. Continuing research to expose the long covered-up lies of our "court history" did -- in spades.
Stan Evans led a long life of accomplishment for which he is rightly admired and respected. It is true that he was an excellent journalist and mentor of journalists, a key player in the rise of modern conservatism, author of many books, and a steadfast and important Cold Warrior against the Soviet Union. But it is true also that the man was about much more than "history."
M. Stanton Evans was about correcting it.