Ann Coulter’s new book Treason has raised some eyebrows within the conservative camp. While making legitimate points about where liberals have been wrong on foreign policy issues, the conservative pundit and author arguably went too far by 1) defending Joseph MacCarthy and 2) accusing all liberals of treason.
Joe McCarthy was an individual who severely damaged the cause of anti-Communism. Why would a conservative try to legitimize him? And what purpose is served by accusing all political opponents of “treason”? Doesn’t such a broad-brushed charge profoundly trivialize the word “treason” itself and make it more difficult to discuss actual cases of treason in a serious way?
To discuss these and other issues connected to Coulter’s Treason, Frontpage Symposium is privileged to invite: Susan Estrich, one of the nation’s leading legal scholars who is a Harvard law professor, a syndicated columnist and the author of the Los Angeles Times bestseller Sex & Power; Phil Brennan, a veteran journalist who writes for NewsMax.com. He is editor & publisher of Wednesday on the Web (http://www.pvbr.com) and was Washington columnist for National Review magazine in the 1960s; Harvey Klehr, a professor of political science at Emory University. He was one of the first Western researchers allowed access to the archives of the Comintern, and is a co-author, with John Earl Haynes, of "The Secret World of American Communism" and "The Soviet World of American Communism"; and John Earl Haynes is Twentieth-Century Political Historian, Library of Congress. He is a co-author, with Harvey Klehr, of "The Secret World of American Communism" and "The Soviet World of American Communism."
Interlocutor: Ladies and gentlemen, in her new book Treason, Ann Coulter comes to the defense of Joseph McCarthy. Why would a conservative want to do this, seeing that McCarthy did more to discredit anti-communism than anyone else in the past half century?
Brennan: It wasn't Joe who discredited anti-Communism - it was the liberals and fellow travelers who launched a vicious and unrelenting campaign of lies against him. As Ann Coulter notes in Treason, the great majority of the American people applauded his stand against communist infiltration of the government. The charge that Joe attacked innocent people is false - utterly false. The only people who feared Joe were those who had something to hide. I have yet to hear of one so-called innocent victim - and I was there during the so-called McCarthy era.
Klehr: Mr. Brennan claims never to have heard of any people falsely or maliciously attacked by McCarthy. How about James Wechsler, editor of the New York Post? Wechsler had long been public about his Communist background in the student movement of the 1930s and had for years been a vigorous and forthright anti-communist liberal. Senator McCarthy went after him largely because Wechsler had criticized McCarthy and suggested that Communist denunciations of Wechsler were actually part of a Communist effort to make him appear to be an anti-communist.
Even when he was attacking Communist sympathizers or fellow-travellers, McCarthy was often reckless and wrong. Did it do the anti-communist cause any good to accuse Owen Lattimore, a despicable man to be sure, of being the top Soviet spy in the United States? Whatever Lattimore's sins, that was not one of them. The more errors McCarthy made the easier he made the job of the pro-Communist left: to call anyone accused of communism a victim of a McCarthyite slander.
Haynes: Let's get the dates straight. Joseph McCarthy did not emerge as an anticommunist spokesman until 1950. By that time the back of the domestic Communist movement already had been broken and anticommunism dominated both major parties. President Truman in 1948 set up a massive loyalty program to remove Communists from federal employment. Truman's Justice Department convicted the leadership of the CPUSA under the Smith Act, convicted Alger Hiss, and in 1950 arrested and later convicted the Rosenbergs, David Greenglass, Harry Gold, and Morton Sobell for espionage.
Most importantly, Truman, Cold War Democrats and anticommunist liberals in 1948 smashed the bold attempt of the Communists and Popular Front liberals to carve out a major role in mainstream politics through Henry Wallace's presidential campaign and the Progressive Party. The expulsion of Communist-led unions from the CIO completed the destruction of the institutional base of Communist influence in 1949. Abroad, Truman enunciated the Truman Doctrine of aid to nations facing Soviet aggression, committed America to war in Korea to stop Communist aggression, and launched the Marshall Plan that restored European prosperity and contained the internal Communist threat there.
McCarthy's anticommunism was a partisan bludgeon used for short-term partisan gain. His target was not an already crippled American Communist movement but Truman and the Democratic party.
Estrich: I'm almost amused to see conservative men racing around with their righteous indignation as if Ann Coulter is a traitor to their cause. On the other hand, you can't live in this town (Hollywood) and be unaware of the effect that McCarthy(ism) had on the creative life, energy, freedom, and spirit of the arts. Now, will I admit that liberal efforts over the years to champion the Rosenbergs, or Alger Hiss, as something other than Communists were misguided; that American Communists were naive about Moscow, and about Communism? Sure. But does that mean that McCarthy did no harm, that his tactics justified his ends, or that liberals today ought apologize for their efforts to political freedom or protect civil liberties....obviously not, or I'd be taking offense at the mere suggestion that I'm a traitor.
Treason? It's just a book title meant to get my goat. But what if I don't fall for it?.....What if there is no bear in the forest?
Brennan: Susan, how many times must it be said that Joe McCarthy had nothing to do with Hollywood? As Ann repeatedly noted in "Treason," the hearings on the notorious Hollywood 10 which created a firestorm in Tinseltown were the work of the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities – Joe had nothing to do with those hearings - he was a member of the Senate and his sole focus was dealing with the now demonstrated presence of a large number of Communists and security risks in the U.S. government. The revelations that key Hollywood figures were members of the Communist party and very much subject to Soviet manipulation scared the living daylights out of studio executives. It was their reaction, not so-called McCarthyism, that created any climate of suspicion in Hollywood.
By the way, isn’t about time that, given the fact that the word "McCarthyism" was coined in the bowels of NKVD headquarters at 3 Dzerzhinsky Square in Moscow and first published in the Communist "Daily Worker,’ Moscow’s U.S. house organ with the justified belief that it would be enthusiastically picked up and used by America’s useful liberal idiots, that it be banished from use? Or are liberals so enchanted by this misleading term coined by Moscow, which justifiably feared McCarthy’s efforts to expose their espionage aparat, that they can’t bring themselves to admit that they were manipulated by Moscow and our motley crew of homegrown traitors?
Just a month ago every major newspaper was wailing about the injustice done to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg martyred on the altar of McCarthyism. But Ann Coulter managed to get liberals to cry uncle on the Rosenbergs and Hiss and the dozens of other Soviet spies within a mere three weeks of publication of Treason."
By the way, Susan, just what "tactics" are you talking about – Joe’s real modus operandi as shown by the record Ann recounts, or the liberals’ version based on distortion or outright lies?
As for Dr. Klehr’s assertions about Lattimore, in his recent book co-authored by Dr. Radosh on the notorious "Amerasia" case they cited the fact that that Communist propagandist Louis Gibarti said party officials in the ’30s had sent him to Owen Lattimore for assistance. I understand the enormous pressure Dr. Klehr is under to preserve his tenure, so I can understand his attempts to tone down his characterization of Dr. Lattimore, who, as Stan Evans has brilliantly demonstrated was identified by a host of credible witnesses as a member of the Communist party and a willing participant in Soviet espionage operations.
Nothing here, however, diminishes my admiration for Drs. Klehr and Radosh – they have done much to shine light of truth on the myths created by the liberal anti-anti-Communists.
Klehr: Brennan's understanding of the academy is as misguided as his understanding of Joe McCarthy. I can assure him that I'm under no pressure to preserve my tenure by denouncing McCarthy. I can say anything I want about him and no one is going to suggest I shouldn't be teaching. What he doesn't seem to understand is that you can denounce Lattimore as a contemptible person and Soviet apologist- as Ron Radosh and I did in our book on Amerasia- and understand that there is no conclusive evidence he was a spy. In his biography of Joe McCarthy, Arthur Herman claimed that Venona demonstrated that Lattimore was a spy and hence McCarthy was right. But Lattimore is not mentioned in Venona. I'm glad that Mr. Brennan and Ann Coulter admire the work John Haynes and I have done on Soviet espionage-but I wish they would read it more carefully.
Haynes: Polemicists and partisans have a different role than that of historians. Political debate is adversarial, and nuance and balance are usually not winning qualities in partisan exchanges. Exaggeration and one-sided presentations of evidence are normal. And, given that such arguments are usually adversarial, this is not necessarily improper in as much as the adversary is normally using the same tactic, and the audience is perfectly capable of making up its mind while mixing and matching arguments and evidence of the adversaries.
Historians, however, should not be polemicists and are bound by what available evidence can sustain, not by what may be true, or even by what we likely suspect is true, but by what we can establish with documentation. Ms. Coulter writes, "Denouncing McCarthy is the establishment's loyalty oath. A professor who puts in a kind word for McCarthy would end his career ... Even Haynes and Klehr, the authors of Venona, utter the ritualistic malediction before cheerfully returning to identifying another hundred liberals who were Soviet spies."
Speaking kindly of McCarthy does horrify the academic establishment. But Klehr and I burned our bridges with the reigning establishment years ago. Whatever maledictions we direct at McCarthy are our actual judgments. Further, we identify hundreds Communists, not liberals, who were Soviet spies. There were some Popular Front liberals whose pro-Sovietism was so ardent that they assisted Soviet espionage against the U.S.; Lauchlin Currie and Harry White come to mind. But Popular Front liberals even in the 1930s-40s were a minority wing of the New Deal coalition. Communists and liberals were and are not the same and it is historically inaccurate to conflate the two.
Estrich: Mr. Brennan, sorry, lawyers are used to stressing the facts that help their clients, and avoiding the facts that hurt them. That's what we do. But historians and political commentators are supposed to be more impartial and willing to address and analyze "bad facts." Unfortunately, McCarthy's new-born conservative advocates are as partisan and polarized as his long-established liberal detractors. Anyone who argues that McCarthy's widely publicized accusations of "Reds in Government" had nothing whatsoever to do with the HUAAC, Hollywood and the Hollywood 10 is engaging in the worst kind of ignoring the historical facts.
McCarthy's very public allegations were part of the history of the onset of the Cold War, and were part of the context in which HUAAC operated. They also were part of the context in which various state and federal "Loyalty Boards," and the courts, operated. Trying to isolate McCarthy's charges and antics from the rest of the post-war period makes about as much historical sense as trying to isolate the Vietnam War, the American civil rights movement, rock and roll, and the drug culture. Those of us old enough to have lived through the 60s know that all these blended together, and fed off, each other.
Let me get this straight: The "studio executives" who eagerly used the work of "Red" writers, directors and performers before World War II suddenly changed their minds after the war and on their own decided that the "Fellow Travelers" had to go? When, pray tell, has Hollywood ever, before or since, acted on any other principle but box office draw and profit?
The "Hollywood Reds" were blacklisted because the studio executives indeed had "the living daylights scared out of them." But what scared Mayer, Cohn and the rest was the thought that hack politicians groping for an issue -- McCarthy, Parnell Thomas, Nixon and the rest of the so-called "Red Baiters" – would use the alleged Communist influence in Hollywood as an entry to regulating the film industry. This, of course, might have cost Tinseltown the one thing it valued, and continues to value, above all else -- MONEY!
Again, this is the historical record, as established by the biographies of the studio executives involved. It may be fun to rewrite or ignore this record, but don't call it history. And if you don't want to call it McCarthyism," what term would you prefer we use? "Bully-ism?" "Liar-ism"? "No Fair Trial-ism"? "Lynchmob-ism"? You tell me -- any one of these works equally well, and accurately describes the tactics of the late junior Senator from Wisconsin as established by the
The fact that the term "McCathyism" allegedly was first used in the Daily Worker is, if true, meaningless. The Daily Worker called Hitler a fascist murderer back when no one else was doing so. Does this make Hitler a nice guy? Were the articles the Daily Worker published about lynchings in the Jim Crow South untrue? The truth is the truth, regardless of where it is published.
Ironically, Brennan is engaging in one of the chief tactics used by the Communists he despises: Attacking the truth by attacking the motives of the person who states the truth. The Daily Worker could have published the Law of Gravity, but that would not make it subject to attack. (And why do conservative commentators on the Red Scare get such an obvious thrill out of invoking the Great Boogymen of the Cold War: "NKVD"! "3 Dzerzhinsky Square"! No less authority than Whitaker Chambers noted the charge that American left-wing spy wannabes got out of his ritualistic incantations of the alphabet soup of the Soviet espionage apparatus, from the Cheka to the NKVD to the GRU to the KGB. I guess the same magic works on modern right wingers.)
"Just what 'tactics'" am I talking about? The tactics that the American public had a chance to witness firsthand on television. Ms. Coulter may have come up with some very inventive interpretations of the events in question for modern readers. (McCarthy really never had a hangover? How does she know?) But in the early 1950s, the American public had a chance to see McCarthy in action, live and in their living rooms. They were repulsed by his patently unfair treatment of virtually everyone who came before him. Tell me: Why are conservatives so reluctant to accept the judgment of McCathy's contemporaries, the Great American Body Politic, that he was a bully, a liar, and a drunk?
All this said, I still say that conservatives are right to point out that the Liberal Left clings to ideas that Just Aren't Truth -- the Innocence of Hiss, the Rosenbergs, etc. It's hard to let go of the Big Beliefs one grew up with. They have an emotional attachment that can never be replaced, like the memories of your first boyfriend or your first car. But ranting and raving and ignoring the facts is Bad History. Heck, it's even bad lawyering!
Haynes: One second, sorry to interrupt here, but time's arrow flies in only one direction and when writing about history, it is essential to get the dates right. Joseph McCarthy's entry on the national stage in regard to domestic communism came in 1950. The House Committee on Un-American Activities began its highly publicized hearings, hearings that led the imprisonment of ten Hollywood writers (all who really were secret Communists by the way) for refusing to testify and also refusing to invoke their fifth amendment rights. What McCarthy did in 1950 and later could in no way have influenced or caused what happened in 1947, 1948 and 1949 in regard to Hollywood and the House committee.
It is also important to realize that there was not a single anticommunism. The various anticommunisms (left, right, and center, religiously-based, trade union-based, or patriotically-based) did not follow a common agenda aside from their shared opposition to communism or even approve of each other. Liberal anti-Communists, usually Democrats, and conservative anti-Communists, usually Republican, often loathed each other. Nor did Roman Catholic anti-Communists inspired by the Papal declarations of Renum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno have much in common with Ayn Randian anticommunism.
Interlocutor: Thank you Dr. Haynes. Mr. Brennan, would you like to deal with anything Ms. Estrich has said?
Brennan: Yes, thank you Jamie. First of all, Ann Coulter never said Joe never had a hangover in her book or anywhere else. Susan, where do you get this notion from?
I would also like to answer Susan on a few points. First of all, I am not a "newborn conservative advocate – I knew and supported Joe when the anti-anti-Communist liberals were ganging up on him. I’ve waited years for somebody like Ann Coulter to come along, set the record straight, and not have her work blacked out by the liberal media.
Okay, let’s get our facts straight. The HUAC hearings concerning the infamous Hollywood 10 took place in 1947, the year Joe came to the Senate and was just another backbencher nobody ever heard of. The whole Hollywood "blacklist" furor took place long before Joe came into prominence in the 50s. It was Hollywood execs who established the blacklist – and did so long before Joe came on the scene.
Joe "bullied" hostile witnesses? Please. Susan, you are a lawyer – I’m sure you’ve heard the term "cross examination." You know, the way you question hostile witnesses.
Let’s keep in mind that there was a Communist strategy known as the Popular Front. They would set up front groups dedicated to some praiseworthy liberal cause and then suck the useful idiots into a coalition with the party. The party raised a lot of money that way posing as good liberals and got a lot of non-Communist to do their work for them.
Also, Susan, in terms of you lavishing praise on the Daily Worker, did the Worker's description of Hitler as a fascist murderer come before of after they enthusiastically embraced the Hitler Stalin Pact? The Worker, the voice of the worst collection of mass murderers in history, did indeed see Hitler as a nice guy when he was making nice with Stalin.
Let us also keep in mind that The Daily Worker was the loudspeaker though which the Comintern in Moscow spoke to the U.S. Communist party. The same Moscow which was butchering people by the millions.
The Chekists, by any name, were a crew of murderous thugs who played a large part in setting up espionage rings in the U.S. and the rest of the free world. They were a fact.
In terms of Joe and alcohol, Joe didn’t begin to drink heavily until after the censure. He was not a drunk. Nor was he a bully – but instead a victim of some of the worst bullying in American history by liberal anti-anti-Communists, a large part of the mainstream liberal media and Democrats who feared his enormous popularity among average Americans.
And Susan, isn’t it about time you let go of another of those "Big Beliefs one grew up with" – the myth of McCarthyism to which you cling with almost religious fervor and which Ann Coulter, by reporting the demonstrably true facts about Joe, has demolished? Read her book Susan, you might learn something.
Estrich: In one of the reviews of Ann's book, it quotes her description of Joe McCarthy as someone who didn't get hangovers -- always on the ball the next morning...
Interlocutor: Ok, we can get back to this matter of hangovers later on. For the moment I would like to focus on Joe McCarthy as a figure and what he represented. Mr. Brennan, do you see McCarthy as someone who victimized others or as a victim himself?
Brennan: Jamie, the bottom line is that the liberals were coming at Joe from all sides, and Joe struck back, sometimes a lot harder than he should have. People like Wechsler were hitting at Joe from indefilate cover - they were heroes of the dominant Marxist left. As far as the argument that the Communist infiltration of the government was a thing of the past under Truman I can only refer you to my column where I dealt with the strenuous efforts the Truman and Kennedy administrations exerted to prevent security risks from serving.
Klehr: Wechsler a "hero of the dominant Marxist left?" The Communists and their allies hated Wechsler and his fellow Americans for Democratic Action liberals like Walter Reuther, Hubert Humphrey and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. precisely because they had fought the Communists long before Joe McCarthy knew the difference between Earl Browder and Louis Budenz. It was liberal anti-communists- including Ronald Reagan- who organized ADA after WWII who helped cleanse the CIO of communist influence, fought against Henry Wallace in the Democratic party and supported a strong anti-Communist foreign policy. You don't have to agree with every aspect of their ideology to recognize the invaluable contribution they made to anti-communism- long before McCarthy arrived on the scene to distort their views and malign them.
Haynes: From 1945 through 1947 the Truman administration treated domestic communism and espionage as not serious and Republican complaints as partisan nuisances. Truman regarded the FBI's Hoover as an alarmist and did not take his reports seriously. But by late 1947 Truman came, belatedly, to comprehend the Soviet menace and the domestic threat of Wallace and Popular front liberals to Truman's Cold War policies and the evidence sank in from the Bentley and Gouzenko defections and the Venona project.
The Truman administration shifted and adopted a series of anticommunist measures. It continued to deny Republican charges that there was or had been a subversion problem while simultaneously removing the problem and preventing its reoccurrence. While intellectually illogical, it was effective damage control as demonstrated by Truman's election in 1948, defeating the Republicans and smashing beyond recovery the pro-Communist left under Wallace.
McCarthy did not only point out the belatedness and shortcomings of the Truman administration's anti-subversion measures, he accused the administration of participation in the Communist conspiracy and that its highest officials were traitors. The charge was false and was of a nature that exceeds that which a healthy democratic polity can sustain. Exaggerated, malign, and angry partisan rhetoric is common and tolerable in American politics. But accusations of treason set the stage for a systemic crisis that undermines the polity itself.
Brennan: I have a T-shirt that bears the Marine emblem and the legend "To err is Human; To Forgive is Divine. Neither of which is Marine Corps Policy." Joe was a Marine – when influential figures such as Wechsler struck out at him, he struck back. Whereupon the legion of Wechsler’s fellow anti-anti-Communists sprang to his defense. Wechsler was not persecuted for his anti-McCarthy views – he was lionized for them. Wechsler came to the defense of accused Soviet agent William Remington, after Truman’s Loyalty Review Board wrongfully cleared him. In his 3-page 1949 article "The Remington Loyalty Case – The Long-Delayed Vindication of a Man Wrongfully Banished From His Work Throws A New Light On Washington’s Witch Hunt." he opened with this line: The case of William Remington is officially closed."
It wasn’t. Remington ended up in prison for lying about his Party membership. In two books he later wrote about the era, Wechsler never so much as mentioned his hero Remington’s name.
Joe McCarthy accused the Truman administration of refusing to clean house of known security risks, especially in the State Department. And there were traitors high in his administration, as the Venona transcripts proved. Joe was right all along. Ann’s crime? She has demolished a cherished article of liberal faith.
Estrich: I had a professor in law school who used to say, "the facts don't matter," -- why let them interfere with a perfectly good fight....So I've been doing a little research on the facts.
The "Pro-Joe" camp ignores the historical facts that McCarthy did not give two pins about Communist infiltration until he faced a difficult reelection fight after a lackluster first term in the Senate. McCarthy was casting about for a Big Issue to ride into a second term. With the help of a rabidly anti-communist Catholic clergyman of the Father Coughlin-ilk, McCarthy found his issue: Reds in the Government!
McCarthy rode this issue to a second term; to national and then international prominence -- and ultimately to ignominy. But any suggestion that McCarthy acted out of any selfless motive, or was an Altruistic Hero, is completely at odds with the facts. "Tail Gunner Joe" wasn't rooting out Reds to help America. He was helping himself and his political career.
The Pro-Joe camp also ignores that McCarthy was a drunkard, a bully, and a man who ignored the liberties and constitutional protections he claimed to be trying to protect from the Communist Menace. McCarthy apologists argue that the situation required this, that the threat of subversion was so great that fundamental rights of communists, and suspected communists, could be ignored. But this kind of "ends justifies the means" was the argument usually made by the Communists to justify their show trials and purges.
The Anti-Joe camp suffers from the American Liberal Left's pathological inability to admit that it was wrong about the most, if not all, of the Big Issues during the first 10 to 20 years of the Cold War. For example, it is now established, as a matter of historical record, that the Rosenbergs were spies; that Hiss was a member of the Communist underground and engaged in espionage; that Stalinist Russian had designs on Western Europe and anything else the Commintern thought it could get its hands on; and that the Soviets deliberately infiltrated, and attempted to manipulate, both Hollywood and the American civil rights movement.
These are the facts. The truth is that all of the old Shibboleths of the American Left -- "Hiss was framed by Nixon!"; "The Rosenbergs were framed by Hoover!"; "Stalin was Papa Joe!" -- just weren't true. The Commies were out to get us, whether the American Liberal Left wants to admit it or not. To this end, there were Secret Reds in the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations -- whether the American Liberal Left wants to admit it or not.
So both sides are right, and both are wrong. Branding American Liberals as "traitors" is fun for conservatives, helps sell books, and gets people on talk shows. By the same token, continuing to blacken McCarthy, while ignoring the real risk Communist espionage posed in a post-World War II world that was learning how to deal with the threat of nuclear annihilation, is emotional satisfying to liberals.
Neither position, however, helps understand the past, or helps us deal with the future. The "Patriot Act" contains provisions limiting the right to a public (and fair) trial and giving the government the right to spy on its citizens that McCarthy, at his worst, would have loved -- and which Stalin would have endorsed. If the Republic lasts that long, in 50 years liberal commentators may be called Attorney General Ashcroft a failed politician who seized on the "War on Terrorism" to promote his own career. Conservatives may be touting him as the Christian Hero who saved America from the Islamic Horde. If we consider all the facts about MacCarthy and the Red Scare, maybe we can avoid another fifty years of divisive, unproductive, and ultimately dangerous, name-calling.
Interlocutor: Ok, ladies and gentlemen, Coulter obviously went over the top regarding her defense of McCarthy. But let us look at it from another angle: she is surely more right about the McCarthy era and the Communists than the NY Times. Right?
In making that point, let me ask this question: should the era of the Fifties be called the era of "McCarthyism" and "The Red Scare" or "The Red Threat"? McCarthy’s tactics might have been reprehensible, and he might have been a demagogue, but unfortunately the era took the label of something associated with him personally. Shouldn’t we now recognize that calling that period “McCarthyism” is actually quite inaccurate and misleading in terms of the real danger that America faced at the time from one of the most evil regimes in history?
Haynes: In one of the history profession's leading journals, Professor Ellen Schrecker, a prominent member of the historical establishment, commented, "McCarthyism is a loaded word" and "is invariably pejorative." One would expect scholars to use words that are pejorative and loaded with care. But in the moral squalor of today's academia where Communists are heroes and those who opposed communism are despised, Schrecker proclaimed that just those qualities made it a "useful" epithet that "should become part of our regular historical discourse," and called on historians to use "McCarthyism" as the term of choice for "the movement to eliminate communism from American life during the late 1940s and 1950s."
And so it has been in book after book. The term is not merely inaccurate, it is a act of propaganda in the academic left's campaign to rewrite history to teach that the wrong side won the Cold War. The term "Red Scare" isn't much better because a "scare" often means a panic over a nonexistent or minor threat. "Red Threat," however, seems a bit lurid. Better would simply be the "anti-Communist era," encompassing both the initial Cold War mobilization against the external Soviet challenge and the recognition and neutralization of the domestic Communist threat.
Klehr: McCarthy was right about one major point- there had been a significant problem of Communist subversion in American government and it had to be dealt with. He was wrong on many of the particulars. Likewise
Ann Coulter is right to emphasize that the anti-anti-communist mindset that dominates the New York Times and other major media but is wrong on many of the details. It doesn't advance our understanding to label their obtuseness "treason."
Jamie, you are right to suggest that calling this the age of McCarthyism is to allow the left to define the debate. While I deplore McCarthy and his tactics, I agree with those who note that his influence had been exaggerated all out of proportion. There was no reign of terror in the United States during the 1950s. Several thousand people lost their jobs- some unjustly or unfairly- and a few hundred went to prison for brief periods of time- including some who probably should not have been prosecuted. Two- Julius and Ethel Rosenberg- were executed for conspiracy to commit espionage, although Ethel should not have been subjected to that punishment. Compared to the violations of civil liberties during previous American wars- and remember that we were fighting both a Cold War with Russia and a hot war in Korea when McCarthy rose to prominence- this hardly justifies the fevered and breathless suggestions that Americans were living in a state of sweat-drenched fear and that it took real courage to challenge the ogre from Wisconsin.
Brennan: Sorry Jamie, Ann Coulter did not go "over the top" in defending Joe McCarthy. What she did was to show how the record now proves that Joe was right. I'm still, waiting for her critics to cite the names of a single individual who Joe wrongly accused or otherwise harmed, or exactly what were the "reprehensible" tactics Joe allegedly employed.
In "Treason" Ann Coulter conclusively demonstrates that everything Americans have been told about Joe McCarthy for the last 50 years is a myth, carefully nourished over the years by the left and based on nothing but a pack of lies and distortions.
If we have to call the era anything, it should be the era when America woke up to the dangers posed by internal subversion of the government. And as Ann writes in "Treason," it was Joe more than anybody else who awakened them.
Let's call it "The Awakening" and, thanks to Ann Coulter, we can now call this era, "The Re-awkening."
Interlocutor: Um, sorry Mr. Brennan, with all due respect, when you argue that McCarthy did not engage in any "reprehensible" tactics, are you actually being serious? Let's try to stay away from the flat earth society’s mentality here. . . .
Brennan: I'm still waiting to be told exactly what "reprehensible tactics" Joe employed. Surely somebody can come up with an example. Was attempting to root out security risks in the government "reprehensible?" Was fighting back against those who slandered him, lied about him, subjected him to an unrelenting campaign of intimidation "reprehensible?" The flat earth mentality is a hallmark of the liberals who cling to the myths Ann Coulter has exploded, using facts, not the leftist fantasies that have fed the hate-Joe McCarthy- mentality that has been an article of liberal faith for 50 years.
Haynes: Senator Joseph McCarthy painted the entire New Deal as little-more than a disguised Communist plot and depicted Dean Acheson, secretary of state under President Truman, and George C. Marshall, Army chief of staff under President Roosevelt and secretary of state and secretary of defense under Truman, as participants in "a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man. A conspiracy of infamy so black that, when it is finally exposed, its principals shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all honest men."
In the light of history both Acheson and Marshall in their role as leading policy makers in diplomacy and national security made mistakes and exercised poor judgment as well as achieving striking successes. Whatever one's judgment on the balance between their successes and failures, however, it is utter balderdash, indeed a vile and reprehensible smear to implicate them, as
McCarthy did, in a Communist conspiracy and betrayal of the nation. It will also not do to insist that if one carefully parses with a defense lawyers eye the words McCarthy used and resolving grammatical ambiguities in a certain way, then he did not exactly say they were traitors. Such lawyerly hairsplitting is an evasion. No on at the time had any difficulty understanding that McCarthy was accusing both Acheson and Marshall, and the Truman administration in general, of conscious and knowing assistance to Communist subversion and Soviet aggression.
Estrich: I agree with Jamie’s comment about avoiding the "flat earth society’s Mentality." But I think it applies to both sides, not just to Brennan. Looking over the exchanges in this debate, I am reminded of Fran Liebowitz's quip to the effect that "The opposite of talking isn't listening. The opposite of talking is waiting."
Neither side is listening to the other: They're just waiting their next turn to attack the motives and honesty of their opponents. Once again, both the Pro-Joe and Anti-Joe camps refuse to address, or even acknowledge, the opposing facts that are not subject to any legitimate or reasonable dispute. The Pro-Joe camp refuses to admit the facts that McCarthy was a self-promoting bully, a liar, and drunkard who abused his office for his own ends, using the same sort of show trial tactics that Communists employed. The Anti-Joe camp refuses to admit (or at least, refuses to admit in their hearts) the facts that American Communists infiltrated government and betrayed their country, in the same way Philby, Burgess, Maclean, Blunt and the rest of the "Cambridge Spies" betrayed both England and the upper class of with they were privileged members.
Refusing to admit facts, and the consequences of those facts, is not "debate" or reasoned argument. It's just name-calling. It may whip up an audience for exchanges like this, sell books, and get people "Talking Head" time in the media. But it does not help understand the history of the McCarthy Era. It also does not help this Nation formulate a response to the new threats we face without again sacrificing the very principles and freedoms that are again threatened -- this time by Islamic religious fanatics who attack us openly, rather than Communist ideologues who skulk around in "Study Groups."
I'm only a law professor, not a historian. I am not going to make my reputation attacking or defending McCarthy. I'm more worried about having to explain to my law students how this country once again seems to be so frightened by the threat of ill-defined (and potentially, non-existent) Dark Plots, Conspiracies, and Sinister Forces that we are throwing all of our
cherished constitutional protections to the winds.
I have something to say to both the Pro-Joe and Anti-Joe camps: If you both are not concerned about the raping of the Constitutional and Bill of Rights by that legislative abomination entitled the "Patriot Act"; if the creation of an all-encompassing and all-intrusive government entity like the "Department of Homeland Security" doesn't make both of you cringe; if you both find it acceptable that the Executive Branch can, merely by labelling someone an "enemy combatant," strip a U.S. citizen of his constitutional rights to a public trial, habeas corpus, and to speak to a lawyer -- Well, then, guys and gals, you're beyond hope. Continue to call each other names if that makes you happy, but leave us adults alone to deal with the problems your kind of thinking has created, and continue to create.
Interlocutor: Ms. Estrich, what do you think about Mr. Brennan asking for “one example” of McCarthy’s “reprehensible” tactics?
Estrich: One example of the "reprehensible” tactics McCarthy employed? How about McCarthy misusing his Senatorial office, and the Senatorial hearing process, to enable his aide, the notorious Roy Cohn, to blackmail the U.S. Army into giving preferential treatment to his homosexual lover, David Schine. That's what the Army-McCarthy hearings were all about, Brennan. Cohn, fresh from his behind-the-scenes machinations during the Rosenbergs trial, was miffed that the Army would dare to draft his gay lover and refuse to make him an officer.
Separate and apart from the abuse-of-power involved, the Army-McCarty hearings diverted the attention of senior Army staff, and wasted thousands of man hours, at a time when our military preparedness was a critical issue. Brennan may not think it "reprehensible" for a Senator to undermine our national defense merely to ensure that his chief aide's "Boy Toy" is kept
happy. I don't think the rest of the country would agree.
That's just one example. I, or any impartial commentator, could go on and on. But I have a better suggestion.
The Army-McCarthy hearings were televised and recorded. You can get them on videotape if you know where to look. I suggest that the Pro-Joe camp invite their friends and neighbors over some night for a private screening of "Joe in Action." If one picture is worth a thousand words, an hour of videotape should be worth a entire library of books like "Treason" and "Slander." If your friends and neighbors are not as repulsed by McCarthy's bullying and unfairness as the American public was when they first watched him in the early 1950s -- when, then, we've gone backwards as a Nation and as a People.
As to the Anti-Joe camp: I can't think of an equivalent "Blockbuster" evening that would wake you up. Maybe the easiest equivalent would be for all of you to pull out some old photographs showing the way you dressed and looked in college, or look at some of the books you thought were "deep" when you were younger, and compare them with who you are now. Long hair, sideburns and palsy shirts looked cool, and escapist garbage like Marxist-Leninism and equally utopian science fiction was fun to read. It's just embarrassing to dress that way, or believe in such things, once you grow up.
It's also dangerous: As recent events have shown, there are whole groups of people out there who Really Are Out To Get Us. But guys, let's not help our real enemies destroy our way of life, and everything we stand for, by doing it to ourselves.
Haynes: I think it is important to add that, by the time, 1950, that Joseph McCarthy became a national figure in the debate about domestic communism the American public, the government, and both major political parties were already well awakened to both the domestic and foreign Communist threat. McCarthy appeared years after Truman's order setting up a loyalty program to remove Communists and security risks from government service, after the announcement of the "Truman Doctrine" that implemented America's Cold War containment strategy against Soviet aggression, after the Marshall Plan to save Western Europe from economic collapse and Communist takeover, after the CIO expelled Communists from its power base in some trade unions, and after the Popular Front liberal allies of the Communists had withdrawn from the Democratic Party and embarked on their disastrous Progressive Party venture.
The new young liberal stars of the Democratic Party were men such as Hubert Humphrey who had risen to the leadership of the Democratic party in Minnesota (Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party to use its exact title) by defeating the Popular Front liberals and their secret Communist allies who had seized control of the Minnesota party in 1946. And among Republicans, Richard Nixon's work on the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1948 on the Hiss-Chambers case contributed greatly to arousing public opinion in regard to the seriousness of Soviet espionage. Nixon's activities both proceeded that of McCarthy and were far more responsible.
Interlocutor: Ladies and gentlemen, Ann Coulter has obviously erred in implying that all Liberals are traitors and guilty of treason. Unfortunately, such a wild and erroneous charge makes it difficult to even speak about treason in a serious way.
Having said that, Ms. Coulter is certainly right in pointing out that many Liberals have, in general, engaged in historical amnesia to hide the crimes of their political comrades.
We know today that many Left-Liberals were dead wrong during the Cold War. It has been proven beyond reasonable doubt – as if we ever needed more than common sense to figure it out -- that the Soviet regime was a pernicious and diabolical entity that sought the destruction of freedom everywhere and that the U.S. was legitimate in its fear of communism at home and abroad.
So my question: when will a multitude of Leftists and Liberals finally step forward and, in consideration of the 100 million lives that were liquidated on the altar of socialist ideals in the 20th century, pronounce: mea culpa?
Brennan: Never! It would be against their nature.
Haynes: Liberals in general have nothing to apologize for in regard to domestic communism, but one faction of liberalism, its "progressive" Popular Front wing, does. Its defense of the Moscow Trials and the Nazi-Soviet Pact, rejection of President’s Truman Cold War policies against Soviet aggression, and support for the covertly Communist-dominated Progressive Party of Henry Wallace were shameful episodes. And fifty year of claiming innocence for Alger Hiss and Julius Rosenberg was not merely misguided but a campaign of intellectual dishonesty coupled with an effort to smear anyone who spoke the truth about Soviet espionage, a campaign of lies and personal destruction as vile as anything Joseph McCarthy ever undertook and which lasted far longer than McCarthy’s brief appearance on the national stage.
McCarthy was not the Great Satan of left historical myth but he was a minor devil. His use of anticommunism as a partisan weapon against not just the guilty Popular Front liberals but anti-Communist liberals and Cold War Democrats as well was highly divisive and ultimately destructive of anti-Communist goals. For little short-term partisan gain McCarthy’s tactics allowed Communists and their allies to hide their guilt behind the innocence of others.
So overall, Liberals as a group need not enter a mea culpa in regard to the Cold War. Some should, but many do not. Harry Truman led America into the Cold War and the Truman Doctrine with its commitment to American containment of Soviet aggression remained the basic U.S. strategy until the USSR collapsed in 1991. John Kennedy was an ardent although not always skilful Cold Warrior, and his administration forced the Soviets into a humiliating retreat from their plans to install nuclear missiles in Cuba. Although the policies he pursued in Vietnam led to America's major Cold War defeat, Lyndon Johnson's commitment to containing Soviet expansion cannot be doubted. And to take two more recent examples, foolish indeed would be questioning the anti-Communist commitment of Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's National Security Adviser, or that of the recently deceased liberal Democratic Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. No mea culpas due there.
It is one wing of liberalism, the Popular Front liberals of the 1930-1950 era (most prominently represented by Henry Wallace in his 1948 presidential campaign) and their heirs who emerged after the Vietnam War and from the New Left who got the Cold War wrong. Expecting mea culpa may be unrealistic. But what is reasonable to ask and expect, is that academicians stop rewriting history to show that Harry Truman was wrong and Henry Wallace was right about the Cold War and that Alger Hiss, Julius Rosenberg, Lauchlin Currie, and so on were innocent or, the fall back position, that the evidence is still ambiguous and their guilt is not established.
Klehr: Some liberals were dead wrong during the Cold war and some are dead wrong today in their evaluation of that Cold War. Others got it mostly right. Coulter is right that far too many liberals today are unwilling or unable to confront the crimes of communism in the same forthright way they confront the crimes of fascism. The University of Massachusetts Press is about to publish the memoirs of an American communist who deserted from the US Army in the 1950s and made a new life in East Germany. While mildly critical of some aspects of East German society, it is an apology for that nasty little regime and the idealism of its founders.
Can anyone imagine a comparable book about the idealism of Nazi Germany by an American deserter? While Holocaust deniers are shunned by anyone with a shred of decency (some on the American left persist in lionizing Noam Chomsky despite his defense of French holocaust deniers), there are plenty of American academics and liberals who persist in explaining that despite making some mistakes, Stalin did a lot of good or the number of victims of communism has been exaggerated or that communists really meant well. But there were and are plenty of other liberals who saw quite clearly the nature of communism and courageously fought against it. Coulter's mistake is tarring all liberals with the sins of some of them.
Interlocutor: Harvey Klehr, John Haynes, Susan Estrich and Philip Brennan, thank you for doing Frontpage Symposium’s discussion on Ann Coulter’s “Treason.” We are out of time. It was a pleasure to have you here. We will see you again soon. Take care.
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