Senator Joseph McCarthy, a Republican from Wisconsin, saw political capital in the growing anti-Communist sentiment. He charged that the Communists had penetrated the U.S. Government and traitors within were why the Communists had been so successful. McCarthy on delivered a speech in which he claimed to have a list of 205 people in the State Department known to be Communist Party members (February 9, 1950). McCarthy was grandstanding, his list was hardly a secret. It had actually been published earlier by the State Department (1946). The people on the list were hardly all Soviet spies. Some were Communists (which does not mean necessarily spies), but others were Fascists, alcoholics, and homsexuals. (McCarthy himself if not a Congressman might have been put on the list because of his drinking and homosexuality.) FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover played a major role in the rise of McCarythy, although it was unknown at the time. Hoover secretly provided McCarthy confidential FBI information. The Republican ledership in the Senate made McCarthy chairman of Government Committee on Operations of the Senate, giving him the opportunity to investigate communist subversion. McCarthy seized the opportunity and for 2 years conducted investigations often termed a witch hunt targeting the State Department and other Federal agencies. Federal employees brought before the Committee had few legal protections. McCarthy set out to ruin them unless they named Communist Party members. Favored targets were New Deal Democrats, many of who had left-wing political views. President Truman was portrayed as a bumbling incompetent with dangerous political views. Some of the finest civil servants were accused of being Communists, men like George Marshall and Dean Acheson. Critics of McCarthy had been defeated in the 1950 Congessional elections. as a result, few Senators dared object to his high-handed tactics. McCarthy McCarthy appointed Roy Cohn as the chief counsel to the Government Committee on Operations of the Senate (1952). Hoover had recommrened Cohn on the basis of his role in prosecuting Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. McCarthy also targeted what he called anti-American books in libraries. His researchers prepared a list of 30,000 books by "communists, pro-communists, former communists and anti anti-communists."
Widely publicized spy cases during the 1950s added to the public concern about an internal Communist threat. A myth developed during the 1960s that the American Government eroneously pepetrated a myth that Soviet agents penetrated the U.S. Government. One can argue about the seriousness of Soviet operations, but the historical record is clear. Soviet spies did obtain valuable information, especially on nuclear weapons. And Soviet agents or individuals sympathetic to the Soviets did rise to important positions, especially in the State Department. Information was developed by the FBI at the time. Subsequent information revealed by the Verona Papers and the brief opening of KGB files after the fall of the Soviet Union tell us much more. Two of the most important involved involving Alger Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. At the time the degree to which the Soviets had penetrated the Manhattan Project was not known. Only later were the Verona Intercepts lead to a fuller understanding of the Soviet spy network. Later Robert Oppenheimer himself came unders suspision. The Rosenbergs were probably not the most harmrful spys. There were others, including Klaus Fuchs who provided much more useful information. There is no doubt, however, Julius Rossenberg was a Soviet spy and was guilty of passing atomic secrets to the Soviets. While the Rosenbergs provided information of only limited value, they proved to be enormously effective in Soviet propaganda to condemn the United States. Rudolf Abel was the Soviet master spy in America during the Cold War. He operated under the name of William Fischer. He entered the United States in 1948 and set up an effective ring of agents. His primary assignment was nuclear weapons. He worked with both the Cohens and the Rosenbergs.
Joseph Raymond McCarthy was born on a farm near Grand Chute, Wisconsin (1908). This was a small community near Appleton. He attended the Underhill School, a typical one-room rural school which taught 8 grades together. He completefd 8th grade there, but did not go on to highsdchool which would have required living in a town with a high school. He did not like farm work, so he attempted to start his own chicken business while still a teenager, but disease wiped out his flock. This left hiim broke. He found a job at age 20 as a clerk in the Appleton grocery store (1928). At the time there were no self service stores. Housewives went to grocery stores with lists that counter clerks filled. McCarthy became the store manager. His boss was impressed and made him the manager of a brand new store in Manawa (1929). While at Manawa he enrolled in Little Wolf High School and completed the four-year curriculum in one school year. His academic performance gained him acceptance to Marquette University, a Jesuit institution in Milwaukee (1930). At Marquette he helped pay for the fees by coaching boxing and working other part-time jobs. He completed the BA program and entered the Law School. He was elected president of his law school class and earned his Law Degree (1935). After graduating, he opened a law practice in Waupaca. He then joined a law firm in Shawano, becoming a partner (1937). He took an early interest in politics. He served in the Army Air Force dueing World War II and got the nickname 'tail gunner Joe'.
Newly elected Republican Senator McCarthy saw political capital in the growing anti-Communist sentiment. He charged that the Communists had penetrated the U.S. Government and traitors within were why the Communists had been so successful. McCarthy on delivered a speech in which he claimed to have a list of 205 people in the State Department known to be Communist Party members (February 9, 1950). McCarthy was grandstanding, his list was hardly a secret. It had actually been published earlier by the State Department (1946). The people on the list were hardly all Soviet spies. Some were Communists (which does not mean necessarily spies), but others were Fascists, alcoholics, and homsexuals. (McCarthy himself if not a Congressman might have been put on the list because of his drinking and homosexuality.) At the time, relevations that a person was homosexual would get them fired from most jobs, especially governmernt jobs. McCarthyism today is widely reviled. And the condemnation is valid in terms of McCarthy's methods. Some liberal groups also deny there was a Communist threat or serious Communist subversion. This is simply untrue. MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews ignited a firestorm on liberal Web sites when on his television show he said about McCarthy, "He may have been unable to shoot straight, but there were lots of targets there. He just didn't hit any." Many Liberal voices are intent on painting America in the worst posdible way by denying people like the Rosenbergs were guilty despite the rock solid evidence.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover played a major role in the rise of McCarthy, although it was unknown at the time. Hoover initiallly provided McCarthy confidential FBI information. This was a violation of the law. The relationship, however, did not last. Hoover fairly early came to see McCarthy's detrimental effect on the ant-Communist effort. Hoover at the time was aruably the most prominent anti-communist in the country. Initial problems between the two may have begun as a turf war. Hoover's personal dealings with McCarthy led him to question his expansive claims and eventually understand that the Senstor's approach was damaging the very important effort against the Soviet Cold War threat. While at the time the term 'anti-Communism' was used st the time the Soviets controlled the American Communist movement and the Party and agents were operating in the knterest of the Soviet Union. Hoover's faults are today well known. And despite his excesses, Hoover was not inclined gto make frivolous, broad brush accusations about communist sunversion that McCarthy rotinely did. Hoover was a serious anti-Communist warrior. And he understood that the Party's objectives was not only to support Soviet subversion, but to promote confusion, illwill, and strife among the American public.
Hoover had a good command of the Communist effort and McCarthy's recklessness and attacks on innocent people disturbed him. [Meroney]
The Republican Senate ledership McCarthy chairman of Government Committee on Operations of the Senate, giving him the opportunity to investigate communist subversion. The Republicans in the 1948 election had pursued the theme of Communist subversion. There was indeed substantial Communist subversion, but the extent was not yet fully undersyood. And the Republican cgarges only intensified when China fell to the Communists (1948) and when the Soviets exploded an atomic bomb (1949). McCarthy seized the opportunity and for 2 years conducted investigations often termed a witch hunt targeting the State Department and other Federal agencies. Federal employees brought before the Committee had few legal protections. McCarthy set out to ruin them unless they named Communist Party members. Favored targets were New Deal Democrats, many of who had left-wing political views. President Truman was portrayed as a bumbling incompetent with dangerous political views. Some of the finest civil servants were accused of being Communists, men like George Marshall and Dean Acheson. Critics of McCarthy had been defeated in the 1950 Congessional elections. as a result, few Senators dared object to his high-handed tactics. McCarthy appointed Roy Cohn as the chief counsel to the Government Committee on Operations of the Senate (1952). Hoover had recommened Cohn on the basis of his role in prosecuting Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. As a result of this, McCarthy became one of the most prominent figure un the Senate and a nation-wide celeberty.
McCarthy also targeted what he called anti-American books in libraries. His researchers prepared a list of 30,000 books by "communists, pro-communists, former communists and anti anti-communists." A list was published, we are not sure it included all 30,000 titles, and many of these books were removed from public libraries all over America. The 1950s were the height of the Cold War between the Communist Soviet Union and the United States. Senator Joseph McCarthy instigated one of the most notorious waves of censorship the nation has ever experienced. We do not know of a copy of the 30,000 banned books or an account of how it was prepsred. It may have never existed. Some of the banned books were obvious, books authored vby known Communists like Marx, Lennin, and others. It also included home-grown classics like Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience (1849) which advocated the peacefully protest of unjust laws. Roy Cohn traveled to Vienna to determine what works by American authors were approved by the Soviets, "In Vienna Cohn and Schine paid a hasty visit to the Soviet Information Center, where they were observed going through the file cards to determine what works of American authors were deemed acceptable to the Soviet. Armed with this evidence, they then walked the three blocks to the U.S. Information Center--a unit of the much-attacked International Information Administration--and there they conducted some eager researches into our card files to see if we were distributing books that the Russians found acceptable. By this astute cross-checking, they made a momentous discovery. The works of Mark Twain were on display in both the American and Russian information centers." [Cook, p. 411-13.] Of course, neither McCarthy or even the Federal Government had the authority to ban books from libraries all over the America. McCarthy did have influence and books were removed. The Federal Government did control the books in U.S. Information Center libraries overseas. Many American were apauled, and not just Liberals, seing the similarities with the NAZI book burnings.
Famed CBS bradcasterm Edward R. Murrow's criticisms of the techniques McCarthy severely damaged the Senator's reputation. Murrow was at the time the most respected journalist in America. He had electrified America with his live broadcasts from London during the height of the Blitz. Murrow addressed an entire episode of his popular CBS program 'See it Now' to Senator McCarthy, focusung on his public commnts and undicumnted accusations (On March 9, 1954). Murrow made a string case that the Senator was not only reckless with the truth but launched scurilous attacks on innocent Americans. His principal chrge was that McCarthy was creating a climate of fear and repression in the nationl life and dividing Americans.
He ended the program with this statement, "This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home."
McCarthy's next target was the U.S. Army. The first Repulican voice to speak out against Mccarthy was Senator Margaret Chase Smith from Maine. She began McCarthy's downfall with her 'Declaration od Conscience' speech in which she publically criticized the Wisconsin senator for 'the reckless abandon in which unproven charges have been hurled from this side of the isle.' President Eisenhower, who had been elected in 1952, was furious when McCarthy went after the Army. The Army was ably defended by
Joseph Nye Welch, their chief counsel before McCarthy' Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Eisenhower had failed to come to his mentor's success when McCarthy during the 1952 election campasign had attacked Secretary of State Marshall. President Eisenhower began to lend his influence to put an end to the McCarthy hearings. The Army was not about to be railroaded by McCarthy and Cohn had abused Congressional privileges. Drew Pearson, an enormously influential columnist published the story. Eisenhower ordered Vice President, Richard Nixon, to attack McCarthy. Nixon had made his career as an anti-Communist. Nixon followed orders declared, "Men who have in the past done effective work exposing Communists in this country have, by reckless talk and questionable methods, made themselves the issue rather than the cause they believe in so deeply." (1954) More columnists now joined the attack. One particularly effective critic as Washington Post cartoonist Herb Block. The most damaging attacks was deliverd by veteran CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow. He used his popular television programme, "See It Now" (March 9, 1954) to criticize McCarthy's methods, using footage of Mccarthy's own hearings to show people what he was like. Other important columnists, including Walter Lippmann and Jack Anderson stepped up their criticism of McCarthy. McCarthy decided to televise his investigations into the Army to answer his critics. Television was still very new and this was an innovative step. The result was more exposure of his methods. The Senate was able to muster a censure vote of 67 votes to 22, condemning the now disgraced Senator.
The term McCarthyism has entered the popular lexicon meaning something like, "A political attitude characterized by charhes of subversive and by the use of tactics involving personal attacks on individuals using indiscriminate allegations based on unsubstantiated charges and unrevealed sources". This is a reasonable description of Senator McCarthy tactics. But usually omited when modern pundits use the term is that there were substantial numbers of individuals with left-wing views favorable to the Soviet Union that penetrated the State Department, other Government agencies, and critical research facilities like the Manhattan Project. Most of these people were not Soviet agents, but some were. A few were known at the time, we now have a much better idea of the Soviet agents and their activities. Senastor McCarthy's methods were reprehensible and lives were damaged if not ruined when people were exposed as Communists. The numbers involved in Hollywood were notable. It is also true that many of those exposed were perpetrating a critical view of the United states and a sanitized view of Soviet Communism. In some cases the individuals involved had joined the Communist Party as youths during the deoression. In other instances they were still ideologically motivated and firm believers. All of this is not is also not mentioned by modern pundits. It should also not be thought that the Soviet Union was not a real danger to the United States during this early period of the Cold War. In fact it was the most dangerous period as Stalin still controlled the Soviet Union. And it should not be thought that Soviet penetration of the U.S. Government did not occur. This later aspect is usually glossed over by many media pundits.
Cook, Fred J. Nightmare Decade: The Life and Times of Senator Joe McCarthy (Random House: New York, 1971).
Meroney, John. "Hoover dismayed by McCarthy's methods / As serious an anti-communist as FBI director was, he felt name-calling senator damaged the cause," SFGATE (March 12, 2006).
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