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The Red 'Scare' Was Real By: Ronald Radosh
The New York Post | Tuesday, July 09, 2002


SUPPORTERS of taking out the phrase "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance have come up with a new twist in their arsenal of arguments: It was part and parcel of the McCarthyite witch-hunt of the 1950s, when America faced a phony Red menace and the real dangers came from right-wing proponents of a new conformity.

Historian David Greenberg, for example, writes in the online magazine Slate of a time when "Billy Graham rose to fame as a Red-baiter," not as an evangelical Christian. The words added to the Pledge went "hand in hand with the Red Scare, to which it was inextricably linked." The campaign to add "under God," he states, "was part of this [Red Scare] movement."

In reality, the Communist insistence on "atheism" was part and parcel of their totalitarian ideology: Marxism-Leninism, itself a state religion, could not sanction a free society based on freedom of religion and tolerance for competing systems of faith or belief.

At home, moreover, there was a very real Communist threat, as scores of revelations from the Soviet archives since the collapse of the USSR have shown.

For decades, many people believed that anyone who was accused of being a spy for the Soviets in the '50s was in fact just another innocent victim of the McCarthyite smear machine. The claim is a staple of the writers at The Nation, the ultra-liberal journal of opinion.

Just last year, its publisher and editorial director, Victor Navasky, wrote a lengthy article on what he called "the Missing Red Menace," warning of a new attempt to resurrect McCarthyism, so that tactics "pioneered by the red-baiters of half a century ago" can be used today against opponents of the Bush administration.

Navasky and his political friends insist that a small group of right-wing historians are out to resurrect Joe McCarthy's reputation. In fact, a consensus exists that McCarthy was a demagogue who made reckless and irresponsible charges, and who did in fact slander innocent people.

But McCarthy's greatest crime was to give anti-Communism a bad name, so that persons who actually did betray America and aided Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union through espionage have been for years portrayed as heroic victims.

Among this group we now know to have been working for the KGB and its predecessors, and for the GRU - Soviet military intelligence - were prominent Americans who in the war years infiltrated every major agency of the U.S. government, from the State and Treasury Departments to the Manhattan Project.

The Venona project files - thousands of decrypted 1940s cables between the KGB in Moscow and its agents in New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, only released to the public beginning in 1995 - makes the evidence overwhelming. Thanks to Venona, we have definitive proof of the guilt of Alger Hiss and Julius Rosenberg, as well as the most important American atomic spy, Theodore Hall.

But Venona also revealed that the KGB had among its agents such people as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Harry Dexter White; the chief of the State Department's Division of American Republics, Laurence Duggan; the head of the State Department's Latin American Division, Maurice Halperin; and Lauchlin Currie, administrative aide and State Department liaison to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman.

Venona in fact confirmed what anti-Communists had argued at the time, and which their detractors, the anti anti-Communists, had always denied: There was a successful and dangerous Soviet penetration of our government, as well as a network of spies working for the KGB.

It also has been established that many of them were recruited directly out of the ranks of the American Communist Party. Contrary to what the left of the time had maintained - that the Communists were small, insignificant and hardly a danger - there was in fact good reason to view them not simply as members of an unpopular but legal political party, but as potential spies in waiting. The CP-USA was, as scholars Harvey Klehr and John Haynes have written, "indeed a fifth column working inside and against the United States in the Cold War."

Indeed, new revelations about Communist intrigue seem to never stop appearing. In their new book "Sacred Secrets: How Soviet Intelligence Operations Changed American History," Jerrold and Leona Schecter reveal that J. Robert Oppenheimer, the legendary chief of the Manhattan Project, was himself a member of the Communist Party until 1942, at which time the KGB ordered him to suspend his membership.

Documents they have obtained show us for the first time that Oppenheimer was a major Soviet asset, and had agreed to hire Communist scientists for the project who would then ferret out secret data to the Soviets. From December 1941 through the early months of 1942, they write, "The American Communist Party underground and Soviet intelligence were enlisting Oppenheimer's cooperation to obtain atomic secrets." KGB chief Lavrenti Beria, Stalin's main henchman, called the scientist "a member of the apparatus of Comrade [Earl] Browder," the American CP's wartime leader.

Then, as now, America faced serious enemies. Then, as now, it made sense to allow the FBI to carefully watch and monitor these enemies of our nation's security and freedom.

When we look over the history of our recent past, it turns out that the red-baiters, and not the Reds, were right.


Ronald Radosh, Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, is an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute.


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