“Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands, and at whom it is aimed.” Joseph Stalin
In a previous post I described how left-leaning historians, who resent the backlash against Soviet influence that roiled the nation in the 1940’s and 1950’s, have portrayed Senator Joseph McCarthy as the “villain” who created and drove the whole anti-Communist movement. McCarthy, the textbooks tell us, accused innocent Americans of being Soviet agents. McCarthy, they tell us, destroyed people’s lives and careers with malicious lies. McCarthy, they tell us, invented the whole idea of Communist subversion in the US government.
The truth is very different. Abundant evidence shows that the Soviet Union had an extensive network of agents in the American government in the 40’s and 50’s. And many American politicians crusaded against Communist subversion during this period; McCarthy was not the only one. In fact McCarthy was actually pretty late in joining the movement. Leftist have made McCarthy the face of the anti-Communist movement not because he started it, but because he is easier to demonize than any of the other leaders. And history professors and textbook writers are not above playing fast and loose with the facts when it comes to the man they have chosen as the face of anti-Communism.
Many of the statements about Joseph McCarthy in college textbooks are flat-out false. The three history professors 1 who wrote the book America’s Promise, for example, tell us that McCarthy’s political downfall began “when McCarthy accused the army of harboring communists,” and that “He made the accusation after army officials revealed that McCarthy had sought special privileges for his former aide, Private G. David Schine.” (Italics added.)
The textbooks Nation of Nations and Making a Nation make the same claim, that McCarthy started investigating security problems in the army only after David Schine was denied special privileges. The implication is clear: McCarty investigated security leaks in the Army not because the leaks actually existed, but because he had a vendetta against the Army.
The statements in these three textbooks are false, unless you can interpret the word “after” to mean “before.”
M. Stanton Evans lays out the chronology of the “Army-McCarthy” conflict in great detail in his abundantly footnoted book Blacklisted by History. The truth is, by the time the Army accused McCarthy’s associates of trying to get special privileges for Schine, McCarthy’s committee had been investigating evidence of Communist agents in the Army for some seven months.
The story starts in 1947, many years before David Schine started working with McCarthy. In that year the Army draft board classified Schine “4F” (physically unfit for military service) because of a bad back. Roughly four years later, in 1951, the FBI wrote up a report about thirty-four suspected Communist spies at the Army Signal Corps’ research facility at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Two years after that, in the spring of 1953, an Army intelligence officer gave Joseph McCarthy a copy of the memo. By this time Schine was working for McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations as an unpaid volunteer.
McCarthy’s committee held hearings about the security problems at Fort Monmouth in August, September, October, November, and December of 1953.2 David Schine was an unpaid assistant to McCarthy’s group during this whole period.
Many of the Fort Monmouth workers McCarthy interrogated at these hearings had to resort to invoking the Fifth Amendment to avoid incrimination. Joseph Levitsky, to cite just one example, was asked whether he had attended Communist Party meetings with atom bomb spy Julius Rosenberg; Levitsky took the Fifth. McCarthy then asked Levitsky “Were you a member of the Communist conspiracy while you were handling classified material for the government?” and Levitsky took the Fifth. When McCarthy assistant Roy Cohn asked Levitsky “Did you ask persons who were employed at Fort Monmouth, in the Signal Corps, to commit espionage?” Levitsky again took the Fifth..3
As McCarthy turned up more and more evidence of security problems in the Army Signal Corps, relations between his group and the Army brass became strained.
During this period the Army suddenly changed David Schine’s draft classification from “4F” to “1A” and drafted him. He reported for duty in November of 1953, at the age of 26.4 Roy Cohn and others accused the Army of drafting Schine to intimidate McCarthy’s committee, but of course there is no way to know for sure whether the sudden change in Schine’s status was anything more than a coincidence.
During November and December of 1953, and January of 1954, Cohn asked the Army several times to grant Schine leave so that he could work on projects related to the ongoing investigations. The Army did in fact grant Schine leave for this purpose on several occasions. On March 10 of 1954, some seven months after McCarthy’s subcommittee held the first of its hearings on security problems at Fort Monmouth, the Army for the first time5 accused McCarthy’s people of seeking special privileges for David Schine.
McCarthy’s group did persuade the Army to grant Schine more leave than soldiers normally get, and Army brass did eventually complain that the days off amounted to “special privileges.” But the decision to investigate security problems at Fort Monmouth clearly was made before, not “after,” the Army complained about Schine. The authors of these textbooks have apparently resorted to bending time to make McCarthy’s investigation of Fort Monmouth look like a witch hunt.
“No Basis in Fact”
The Textbook Give Me Liberty goes even further with its attacks on Senator McCarthy. The author, Professor Eric Foner, has reason to resent the Anti-Communist movement of the forties and fifties. Two years before he was born, his father, Professor Jack Foner, was fired by the City College of New York when he was accused by a committee of the State legislature of being a Communist, and refused to testify before the committee.
The younger Professor Foner didn’t fall too far from the tree. The sympathetic portrayals of the Communist Party USA in his textbook give some indication of where his sympathies lie. The book tells students that during the 1930’s the Communist Party USA “helped to imbue New Deal liberalism with a militant spirit and a more pluralistic understanding of Americanism.” He goes on to say that it was “not so much the party’s ideology as its vitality – its involvement in a mind-boggling array of activities including demonstrations for the unemployed, struggles for industrial unionism, and a renewed movement for black civil rights – that for a time made it the center of gravity for a broad democratic upsurge.”
Needless to say, Eric Foner is not a fan of Joseph McCarthy. He too goes beyond bias and becomes downright dishonest. McCarthy, he tells us, “never identified a single person guilty of genuine disloyalty,” he simply “made sweeping accusations with no basis in fact.”
The truth is very different.
Space does not permit anything like a comprehensive list of Soviet Agents McCarthy investigated and exposed. A few examples will have to do. For the reader’s convenience, I have chosen examples that can easily be confirmed via Wikipedia.
Leonard Mins was a defense worker with access to sensitive information when McCarthy called him in for a hearing. McCarthy and Roy Cohn asked Mins a series of direct questions including: “At the time you had access to this material were you a member of the Communist Party?” “Did you transmit the information…to Soviet military intelligence?” “Were you at that time on the payroll of the Soviet military intelligence?” Mins took the Fifth in response to each of these questions.6 The Venona documents confirm that he was a Soviet agent for many years.
V. Frank Coe was a Treasury Department employee questioned by McCarthy’s committee. He took the Fifth in response to the question “At the time you wrote that memorandum, were you engaged in espionage activities in behalf (sic) of the Soviet government?” The Venona decrypts confirm that he was. His code name was “Peak.”7
Harold Glasser, like Coe, was a Treasury Department employee investigated by McCarthy’s committee. (He was also a friend of Alger Hiss.) He took the Fifth in response to “At the time you attended those meetings, where you engaged in espionage?” as well as to “At the time you attended those meetings, were you a member of the Communist Party?” The Venona documents show that his Soviet code name was “Ruble.”8
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In 1950 McCarthy accused a journalist named David Karr of being a Communist agent. Karr had written harsh criticisms of McCarthy and other anti-Communist crusaders of the time. McCarthy adduced Civil Service Committee records showing that Karr had been a member of the Communist Party USA, and had written for the party newspaper The Daily Worker. We now know that David Karr shows up in one of the Venona decrypts under his own name, without benefit of a code name, as a Soviet source.9 He also turns up in KGB files (which were made available to Western researchers for a short time in the early 90’s) as a “competent KGB source.”10
Given the abundance of evidence to the contrary, it is hard to find an innocent explanation for Dr. Foner’s claim that McCarthy “made sweeping accusations with no basis in fact.” It seems more likely that the professor is intentionally misrepresenting history. History students who are required to study Dr. Foner’s book would do well to remember how tendentious the author is.
McCarthy’s True Legacy
The Soviet Union was precisely what President Reagan said it was: an evil empire. The Soviet government murdered millions of its own citizens and fomented revolutions and terrorism around the world in an effort to enlarge its sphere of influence. The Soviets’ stated goal was to bring the entire world under Communist domination. To this end, the KGB and its predecessors employed a virtual army of traitors within American trade unions, media, academia, and, especially, within the US government itself.
The people who worked to expose Communist traitors, and expel them from positions of power in our government, deserve better treatment than they get in most history books. Today Soviet Communism lies moldering on the “ash heap of history,” thanks in part to the contributions of people like McCarthy. A few left-leaning scholars may pine for the Soviet Union, but most of us are glad it’s gone.
A fair rendering of history would credit Joseph McCarthy with being one of the men who helped defeat Communism, thus making the world a safer and better place. Unfortunately for the Senator, the people who write most of the commonly used history textbooks have no interest in presenting a fair rendering.
1Rorabaugh, Critchlow, and Baker
2M. Stanton Evans, Blacklisted by History, p. 506
3ibid., p. 508
4ibid., p. 544
5ibid., p. 546
6ibid., p. 46
7ibid., p. 43
8ibid., p. 43
9ibid., pp. 44, 45
10Romerstein and Breindel, The Venona Secrets, pp. 138, 139
6 thoughts on “Lying About McCarthy”
I am not sure if you were aware or not but, at the time homosexuality was illegal at the time and the reason why homosexuals were rooted out was so they could not be blackmailed into giving information to anyone. Hope that clears some of your concerns up.
hmmmm. reading above I see the criticism of “sweeping statements that fly in the face of fact” followed by unsupported conclusions about McCarthy’s “other criminally and morally egregious behavior” and “politics of reckless accusation and paranoia”. . . . .
I hadn’t heard of “thousands of innocent US citizens” losing their jobs, either. . . .
pretty irresponsible rhetoric, don’t you think?
Thank you for your comment. It is always gratifying to see that one of my columns has lead someone to question what he’s been taught about history. I was especially pleased to hear you opine that the subject of McCarthyism deserves “further research.” I hope you and others will follow through on that.
I quite agree that you should not accept anything I say at face value, any more than you should accept the view of history taught in mainstream history books at face value. As Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
If you do spend some time looking into this, you will learn that the claims about hundreds of innocent people being imprisoned during the “McCarthy Era” are not actually true. Very few guilty people were ever inprisoned, and few if any innocent people.
Senator McCarty’s investigations never sent a single person to jail. Not even one of the obviously-guilty men I quote in this column. Outside of the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss, virtually no one went to jail for spying for the Soviets.
Thanks, and keep up the healthy skepticism!
As a moderate Democrat always interested in different interpretations, particularly where facts support the argument, I found the first three quarters of your essay compelling and worth further research. Foner’s sweeping statements indeed ring untrue.
However, your conclusions surprised me in that they are exactly what you claim to abhor: sweeping statements that fly in the face of fact. Your statement: “A fair rendering of history would credit Joseph McCarthy with being one of the men who helped defeat Communism, thus making the world a safer and better place.” is particuarly skewed, to the point of almost delusional bias. That his efforts in part led to the arrest of some Soviet spies I do not disupte, and is indeed laudable. However, to ignore the other criminally and morally egregious behavior of McCarthy and the object lesson he represents for the politics of reckless accusation and paranoia is simply a staggering oversight on your part. McCarthy’s actions led to persecution and loss of employment for thousands of innocent US citizens, and imprisonment for hundreds more. The boundaries were not limited to suspected Communists, but included the persecution of suspected homosexual citizens. This was clearly and demonstrably a black period of US history and to selectively ignore these facts in favor of a minority of less reprehensible ones is a bit irresponsible, don’t you think?
What would be nice is to see a major newspaper or network TV program detail where McCarthy was right and where his detractors were wrong. Oh, I’m sorry, I must have dozed off and landed in fantasy land.
These liberal creeps would never admit they are wrong, and just get angrier when you prove them wrong.