Senator McCarthy's coffin is carried from the Senate by a detachment of Marines after his funeral service
Not a reader but a tweeter reminded me that on May 2, 1957, Senator Joseph McCarthy died.
Today is the sixtieth anniversary of his death at the age of 48.
I didn't know very much about McCarthy before I read M. Stanton Evans' Blacklisted by History. To write this book, Evans reconstructed McCarthy's political life from long lost, stolen or forgotten primary documents, in the process eviscerating the mass of McCarthy "anti-history" that keeps the nation reviling one of its greatest heroes. (Here are just a couple of recent examples of such anti-history.)
I am convinced that until we get McCarthy right, we will keep losing to our enemies within.
To add a little context on Sen. McCarthy and his investigations, an excerpt from American Betrayal follows:
Like today’s cries of “Islamophobia,” like the still-current cry of “McCarthyism,” the cry of “Red-baiting” in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s denoted taboo, requiring an immediate cease to all debate -- and thus a continued block against “exposure.” Interestingly enough, [HUAC/Dies Committee investigator Robert] Stripling notes that Dies Committee investigations into German, Japanese, and Italian subversive activities in the run-up to World War II were widely lauded, even inspiring government action -- as when an investigation into Adolf Hitler’s use of German diplomatic and consular officers as spies in this country led FDR to shut German consulates down. “But,” Stripling continues, “whenever we cast an inquiring eye on the equally subversive activities of the Communist Party, we were instantly assailed, though the strongest microscope could not differentiate between the nature of the Party’s conspiracy and that of the Germans, Japanese and Italians.”17
[Ex-socialist journalist Eugene] Lyons, too, observed this same double standard at work, noting the favorable reception studies of fascism and Nazism in America typically received. “We have yet to hear their authors denounced as brown-baiters, black-baiters or silver-baiters,” he writes, noting the colors adopted by fascist and Nazi followers. On the contrary, “the charges [against fascists and Nazis] are assayed on the basis of their truth or falsity. They are not arbitrarily dismissed with a hackneyed epithet. There is yet among us, it happens, no taboo against examining and if necessary condemning the operation of Mussolini, Hitler and their direct or indirect agents.”18
Not so Communism in the 1930s, Lyons’s “red decade,” or the 1940s, which Stripling would look back on, noting, “Of course, we fully expected to be smeared by leading Communists and by ‘The Daily Worker’ and its abusive carbon copies. But we did not expect what often became an avalanche of abuse from more conservative quarters—from men as high in public esteem as Franklin D. Roosevelt.”19
Neither Stripling nor Dies was prepared for this realization as they encountered active White House hostility to the committee’s anti-Communist activities. A decade later, Whittaker Chambers wasn’t prepared for it, either. I doubt Joseph McCarthy knew what he was heading into later still. In his memoir, Martin Dies describes a chance meeting he had with McCarthy and his wife-to-be, Jean Kerr, at the venerable and vanished Harvey’s Restaurant, which used to stand next door to Washington’s Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Avenue. It was 1952, and Dies had just been reelected to the House of Representatives after an eight-year hiatus. McCarthy would soon become chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations and, as Dies put it, “contemplated investigating Communism.” Matter of fact, Dies wrote, “Joe wanted suggestions and advice.”
Did the world hang in the balance for a pregnant pause while a trial by fire was ignited by bolts of lightning in the gathering storm—or something? Dies doesn’t mention augurs of heaven or hell. He continued, “I told him of my own experiences and warned him to expect abuse, ridicule, and every known device of ‘character assassination’ and mental torture. I told him to move cautiously until he was sure of his footing; to beware of unsupported charges that would soon be flooding his offices, and never to underestimate the cleverness and re- sourcefulness of the Communists and their fellow travelers.”20
Clearly—at least, clearly at a remove of more than a half century—this was war. A hidden army was in place—a secret insurgency—and much of the local population was sympathetic or even in league with it. When McCarthy came along, as M. Stanton Evans documents, he was entirely correct to suspect, track, and attempt to expose the extensive and ongoing conspiracy that Dies had probed before him, that Chambers had participated in and witnessed, that official Washington, for reasons to be discussed (none of them good), sought to keep under wraps.
The historical fact is, secret Soviet forces had made massive incursions into the federal government following FDR’s first election in 1932 and reached every kind of inner sanctum during the United States’ wartime alliance with the Soviet Union (1941–45)—the one really and truly “special relationship,” as I have learned. As Evans lays out in detail, much of it drawn from newly declassified FBI and Senate records, the United States wasn’t just riddled by Communist agents; we were for all intents and purposes occupied by a small army—a small army being just what this kind of war requires. Expert estimates now peg the number of Americans assisting Soviet intelligence agencies during the 1930s and 1940s as exceeding five hundred.21 Not one Aldrich Ames. Not two Rosenbergs. Not five “magnificent” Cambridgers. More than five hundred willing and variously able American traitors, many operating at the very highest levels of the federal government, with who knows how many more in support roles. This was a national security fiasco of a magnitude that has never, ever entered national comprehension.
There is something else Evans makes clear that must be understood: what he calls “the parlous state of the historical record.”22 It turns out that the historical record—our historical record—is in fragments. Much of it still remains classified. That which is declassified remains heavily censored. Other parts of the record, thousands of intercepted Soviet cables that make up the so-called Venona project, for example, have never been decrypted and deciphered, while We, the People have no way of knowing whether everything decrypted and deciphered from Venona has in fact been released. Meanwhile, the identities of numerous Soviet agents whose activities are tracked in Venona cables remain unknown. “Salient among the mysteries of ‘Venona’ are the hundreds of unbroken cryptonyms that stud the cables, protecting the identities of agents and informants even when the messages have been deciphered,” wrote U.S. Air Force historian Eduard Mark.23 In other words, we still don’t fully know what, or even who, hit us.
There are other stunning gaps in the record that became evident to Evans as he attempted to assemble his own McCarthy archive of primary sources. For example, on many occasions he discovered that some person or persons unknown had preceded him on this document hunt to delete the record. This had the unmistakable effect, if not also the intent, of thwarting, or at least delaying, Evans’s plans. Scads of primary sources—dozens of State Department docu- ments pertaining to Soviet penetration, letters listing Communist security risks from the Senate and the CIA, even newspapers of the era—have selectively vanished from their archival repositories. In one instance, Evans was searching for a memorandum by a State Department official named Samuel Klaus. The 106-page memorandum, written in 1946, listed and detailed security risks at State, including names of suspected Soviet agents on the department payroll. A copy of this document, at McCarthy’s behest, was obtained by a Senate committee in 1950. Today, neither the original State Department document nor the Senate’s copy is to be found. At the National Archives, Evans discovered a letter of transmittal attesting to the memo’s entry into the Senate committee’s files, and an index listing the memo in Klaus’s personal papers. In both cases, in the Senate committee files and the Klaus files, the document was gone.
Another example: When Evans traveled to Wheeling, West Virginia, to examine the Intelligencer’s coverage of the famous, and famously disputed, February 1950 speech McCarthy gave in town, kicking off the McCarthy Era, he was directed to the local library where the newspaper archives on microfilm are stored. There, Evans discovered that the newspaper editions for January and February 1950—and only those editions—were missing from the collection. Incredibly, it was the same creepy story at the Library of Congress: Those same Wheeling Intelligencer editions had vanished. Sandy Berger may be the first man to become famous for scrubbing the archives to set the record crooked, but he is far from the first. Who were these secret thieves of history? Anti- McCarthy authors protecting their (phony) turf from marauding facts? Soviet spies? The relative of an erstwhile “security risk” seeking to protect Grandma or Grandpa from infamy for the ages? These mysteries endure.
While some primary documents have made all-too-easy pickings in open archives, others remain overly protected. Declassified FBI files, which Evans describes as “a treasure trove of information on Communist penetration of American life and institutions, suspects tracked down by the Bureau, countermea- sures taken, and related topics,” remain heavily censored. “In case after sig- nificant case,” Evans writes, including the most famous investigations into the Communist activities of high-ranking government officials such as Alger Hiss￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼ (State Department), Lauchlin Currie (White House), and Harry Dexter White (Treasury), “entries have been held back or heavily ‘redacted’ (blacked out), sometimes for dozens of pages at a stretch.” Much more remains classified and thus under government lock and key. Evans writes, “Without the documents referred to, and without the items blacked out in the records, attempts to chronicle our domestic Cold War, while not entirely futile, are subject to the most serious limits.”24
This is astonishing. After all, we’re not talking about three-thousand-year- old cuneiform tablets, fragments of ancient papyrus, or shards of pre-Columbian pottery. These are essential documents of relatively recent vintage. They date back to an era some of us were actually born into, and some of us still predate. It was concurrent with radar, sonar, atomic energy, and the jet engine, not to mention good old Smith Corona typewriters and carbon paper, and it featured functioning institutions equipped with archivists and protocols for record keeping and the like. There is simply no good reason for these missing links, nor is there any sound purpose for the U.S. government’s continuing to withhold so much evidence from Us, the People. There must be a reason and purpose behind the continued secrecy, but it is neither good nor sound. That’s because such secrecy only preserves the life of the lies that the release of the documents would destroy.
From what you might still call the Communist perspective, there remains every reason and purpose to keep the historical record hidden. That’s because it is by now an observable axiom: The more the tightly held record is dislodged from secret archives at home and abroad—even piecemeal, requiring both the analytical and foraging talents of scholar-detectives like M. Stanton Evans—the more once-reviled anti-Communists such as Martin Dies, such as Whittaker Chambers, such as Joseph McCarthy, are vindicated, and the more the false narrative we have been taught as truth is debunked as Communist agitprop. The kind of document poaching Evans discovered in his own hunt for the record and the continuing government-sealed secrecy only benefit that same Other Side.
Evans observes, “It’s not too much to say . . . that the loss of so many primary records has created a kind of black hole of antiknowledge in which strange factoids and curious fables circulate without resistance.”25
Maybe in this black hole of antiknowledge lies the epicenter of American betrayal. Of course, Evans’s entire book stands as bold correction of such “antiknowledge.” With hard-won facts, he reconstructs McCarthy’s career without the dirty smears that the Establishment used to depict “the caveman in the sewer,” as Evans describes the elite consensus on McCarthy, that “Red”-hunting monster of the liberal demonology who preyed on such pure souls of chivalric progressivism that they were besmirched even by proximity to his fetid clutches.
On the contrary, it is a singular American patriot who emerges from Evans’s efforts, a genuine martyr, the proverbial lightning rod who withstood, for as long as he humanly could, the surging currents of the death-house switch as flipped by the most genteel and privileged members of the Attack Left.
I’ve read that last sentence over several times just to make sure the metaphor hasn’t taken on an overly vivid life of its own, too independent of the thought process that inspired it. No, it hasn’t. The sentence conveys what I consider to be the appropriate intensity. McCarthy was a patriot. McCarthy was a martyr. As a colossal and popular force of exposure—the Gallup poll ranked him the fourth-most-admired man in America at the beginning of 1954—McCarthy had to be utterly and completely neutralized, then destroyed. Just as there was extreme caricature in his demonization, there should be an operatic flourish to his redemption. He deserves it.
But McCarthy remains a special case. Historical reevaluation continues to pass him by—Evans’s tome the most obvious exception—in most of what might be termed post-Venona “exposure” research.26 Conducted by notable scholars and intelligence historians, such research counters the bulk of the “antiknowledge” still circulating about Soviet espionage, infiltration, and subversion in the West by providing new proofs of their existence from previously unavailable archival materials. McCarthy himself, the man best remembered and worst damned for his efforts to expose this same espionage, infiltration, and subversion, remains history’s Lost Man. Events recede and conditions change—the forbidding Berlin Wall, for example, became rubble marketed as souvenirs— but the venomous sting of McCarthy, or, rather, McCarthyism, remains as deadly as ever.
Evans explains the reluctance to reevaluate McCarthy’s role as an anti- Communist warrior: “Such reluctance to tackle McCarthy in light of the new information may seem odd, but is understandable in context. ‘McCarthyism’ is the third rail in Cold War historiography—and of our political discourse in general—and any contact with it could prove fatal to writers trying to get their work accepted in academic or mainstream media circles.”27
Any contact could prove fatal. This should tell us the war isn’t over, not by a long shot. This should tell us it goes on, now, against an enemy who still controls vital territory -- political, academic and mainstream media circles -- to such a degree that research diverging from this party line cannot be published without dire consequences to the author. That’s because the cause these remnant or reflexive anti-anti-Communists championed in the absence—or, rather, the suppression—of facts has never been discredited to a point of acknowledged surrender. On the contrary, having successfully warded off attacks of the facts led by individuals of singular courage, having successfully maintained the vacuum of deception, they long ago usurped the prerogative of the victor—the writing of history—to produce the antihistory we rely on to this day.
Outside Senator McCarthy's funeral service at St Mary's Church in Appleton, WI.