Redeeming McCarthy or Look out! Communists!

Fine, if short, essay in the NY Times on a ridiculous new publication (it’s a good season for this, apparently, seeing as Jonah Goldhagen has published his book, too), “Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America’s Enemies” by M. Stanton Evans. Here’s an excerpt but read the whole essay, it’s worth it.

Part of Evans’s appeal is his boast to have unmasked the biases and distortions of previous McCarthy critics, this author included. He begins by describing a massive Russian spy operation in the United States, drawing his evidence from K.G.B. files as well as portions of the Venona project, a top-secret operation that traced Soviet intelligence traffic during World War II. Evans leaves the impression that he has uncovered fresh material, suspiciously overlooked until now. In fact, numerous scholars have used these documents to craft a thorough portrait of Communist espionage in Washington, though most believe that the worst of it was over by the late 1940s, when the F.B.I. began a crackdown on spying and a federal security program was put in place. If anything, they say, this evidence serves to reinforce the standard portrait of McCarthy as a bit player in the battle against Communist subversion, a latecomer who turned a vital crusade into a political mud bath.

Evans disagrees, claiming that the Communist problem was very much alive in 1950, when the senator first made his charges of treason in high places. […] Most important, Evans buys into the heart of the McCarthy conspiracy — the belief that leftist elements in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations created a foreign policy to advance the spread of world Communism.

How else could one explain the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe or the fall of Chiang Kai-shek to the army of Mao Zedong? “[…] McCarthy blamed the fall of China on “a conspiracy so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man.” Evans not only endorses this conspiracy but actually expands it to include “the Eastern, internationalist faction” of the Republican Party, “with ties to Wall Street, large corporations, big Eastern media outlets and Ivy League establishment.” To Evans, the conspiracy passed from president to president — from Roosevelt and Truman to Eisenhower and even Nixon, a former McCarthyite, who “would fall off the teeter-totter, landing with Henry Kissinger in Red China, thereafter pushing on into the mists of détente with Moscow.”

One thought on “Redeeming McCarthy or Look out! Communists!

  1. And after you read the review, read the book.

    Evans uses McCarthy’s actual lists of cases, which disappeared from the Tydings subcommittee archives and Senator Tydings’ personal papers, but which Evans recovered and reproduces photographically for the first time — thus dispelling the myths that McCarthy “never had a list” or “didn’t know the names.”

    Evans checks these names against information on these suspects that had previously been supplied to the Roosevelt and Truman administration from FBI files, State Department security, Army Intelligence, etc., dispelling the myths that McCarthy “made up” information about his cases, or that his cases had never been brought to the attention of Roosevelt and Truman administration officials.

    Evans updates this information from data later made available from the Subversive Activities Control Board, Soviet archives opened briefly after the fall of the USSR, the Venona decrypts declassified in 1995-97, the Executive Committee sessions of McCarthy’s own committee, made public in 2003, and other records.

    From these primary sources, Evans dispells the myth that security data on these cases compiled by the FBI and other agencies was unreliable — and shows that Oshinsky made numerous errors about McCarthy and his cases in his 1983 book.

    It is telling that, given a platform in the New York Times, Oshinsky declines to answer any of these specific charges.

    If you read the book, I would be interested in your response.

    Best wishes, Mark LaRochelle

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