Army-McCarthy hearings began sixty years ago today

This largely anti-Joe McCarthy article by Jesse Walker points out that the Army-McCarthy hearings began exactly sixty years ago today. He has put his story under the title, Four Great Myths of the McCarthy Era so let us get into the two most important myths raised. First there’s this:

The great radical myth of the Red Scare is that it was nothing but a scare—that the Americans accused of being Russian agents were virtually all innocent. (It’s hard to maintain that position now that the Venona files have been released and some of the left’s biggest causes célèbres have come crumbling down—at this point even Julius Rosenberg’s children have acknowledged that he was a spy—but some folks still hold onto the dream.)

So with Venona there is no longer any denying that McCarthy was onto something. But these guys never give up. Here is the modern version of the attacks on McCarthy in the voice of a “libertarian” who apparently thinks defending ourselves by identifying communists in positions of influence is somehow against the rules:

The great conservative myth of the period, meanwhile, is that the espionage justified the witch-hunts. People like Ann Coulter and M. Stanton Evans have taken to declaring that McCarthy was right without acknowledging that the bulk of his accusations were false.

So let me look at the evidence that Stanton-Evans and Ann Coulter were wrong and that the bulk of McCarthy’s accusations “were false”. I have divided the core passage from this article cited as evidence by Walker (but which is not itself Walker’s article) into two parts, firstly focusing on the accusation that McCarthy’s approach was over the top and harmful to the anti-Communist cause, and then into a second part where it is conceded McCarthy wasn’t entirely wrong. Note that in the original article the two halves were mixed together but I have here separated the two distinct threads out. Here’s the attack on McCarthy and those who continue to defend him.

McCarthy’s scattershot approach to the facts greatly damaged the cause of anti-communism and greatly emboldened, even legitimized, communism’s apologists. It also raised serious civil liberties questions: Should you lose a government job merely for your political opinions? How far left could you drift and remain employed [in the State Department!]? . . .

But what of those specifically accused by McCarthy of being either security risks or agents of the Kremlin? Here Evans is on shakier ground. . . .

Take his treatment of one of the better-known McCarthy cases. In 1950, the senator denounced the China scholar Owen Lattimore as Russia’s “top spy” in the State Department, an influential “China hand” who deliberately “lost” that country to Mao’s communists by seeking to undermine Washington’s support for Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek. McCarthy’s initial accusations, such as his risible claim that Lattimore acted as Alger Hiss’ “boss,” were demonstrably false, something McCarthy himself quickly realized, beating a hasty retreat from his wilder charges. It was a damaging concession, red meat to the growing ranks of McCarthy haters, but one which receives just a single sentence in Evans’ narrative.

Nobody was going to get it 100% right and the ability to backtrack when the evidence could not be fully supported is reasonable since the pressure from every direction was on McCarthy and the evidence was very hard to come by. So from that same passage, I now extract the bits that are a concession to McCarthy’s accuracy. These points were originally interwoven within the passages just quoted:

McCarthy was broadly correct; most of those accused were members of the Communist Party. But what does this add up to? Was the assemblage of New Deal liberals, fellow travelers, and communist agents that McCarthy tossed together “the product of a great conspiracy,” as he famously bellowed on the Senate floor, “a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man”? . . .

Evans’ recapitulation of events begins plausibly enough, with an outline of what readers probably already know: The Soviet Union operated a sophisticated network of agents in the United States, many of whom—including Hiss, Julius Rosenberg, Justice Department employee Judith Coplon, and White House economist Lauchlin Currie—passed secrets to Moscow.

Evans does demonstrate that Lattimore was an “indefatigable shill for Moscow.” There is little new here, though it is still a much needed corrective to the widely held view, successfully advanced by Lattimore himself, that he was in fact a generic New Deal liberal and an anti-communist. McCarthy grilled Lattimore on his previous writings, such as his view that Soviet forced collectivization “represent[ed] a kind of ownership more valuable to them than the old private ownership under which they were unable to own or even hire machines.”

Such touching gullibility even after all these years. With the left media, driven and supported by the communist underground, blowing a trumpet in his ear at every turn, it is a wonder that McCarthy got so much of it right. It matters not whether Marshall was personally a member of the communist party if everything he did was favourable to Soviet interests and harmed the interests of the West. So he wasn’t a paid agent, merely acted like one. Better to have a fool like Marshall in place than an actual agent if you can get him to do exactly what you want. The question “who lost China?” is far from an empty one, and McCarthy’s answers even today seem more plausible than any I have come across from any other source.

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