What Joe McCarthy got right
On Monday, the conservative Washington Times published an op-ed piece by Gerard Leval on "McCarthyism" that featured an illustration with McCarthy's face in the background and four dead victims hanging from ropes connected to a human hand. Leval, a lawyer in Washington, praises Arthur Miller's 1953 play "The Crucible" for its role in seeking to "awaken the national conscience to the devastating impact of the fear that was being engendered by the rumors that communists had infiltrated the United States." The rumors were true.
Leval writes about the pursuit of communists evolving into a veritable "witch hunt" and the "hysteria fueled by McCarthy" that "spread throughout the nation." He mentions the fear and social ostracism suffered by actors and writers in Hollywood — a reference to the famed "Hollywood Ten" — and decries that "anti-communist hysteria" that made it "difficult to espouse any kind of left-wing opinions." Leval praises Miller and Joseph Welch for beginning the process of undermining McCarthy and McCarthyism and freeing the nation from "one of the worst episodes in its history." Leval ends the piece by equating McCarthyism with the current efforts to purge from history "many of the pillars of Western society" and expressing a wariness about "the fervor of those who vociferously seek to purge anyone and anything which is not in keeping with the new morality."
You would expect a piece like Leval's to appear in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Nation, or some other left-wing publication, not in the Washington Times. Leval obviously accepts the conventional view of McCarthy and McCarthyism. The illustration accompanying the piece — like Miller's play — implies that McCarthy's "purge" led to hangings of innocent leftists similar to the hangings or burning of witches in 17th-century Salem, Massachusetts.
It is a sure bet that Leval has never read M. Stanton Evans's Blacklisted by History, a book that uses FBI reports to support most of McCarthy's accusations, or Arthur Herman's Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator, which provides a balanced view of McCarthy's life and legacy, or James Burnham's The Web of Subversion, which detailed communist infiltration of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations during the New Deal, World War II, and the early years of the Cold War, or the many books on the Venona papers, which reveal Stalin's extensive network of spies, agents of influence, and fellow travelers within the American government at the time. Nor must he have read Diana West's American Betrayal, or Whittaker Chambers's Witness, or Harvey Klehr's and Ronald Radosh's The Amerasia Spy Case. Soviet agents infiltrated the highest levels of the State Department, the Treasury Department, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the Office of War Information, and the Manhattan Project. As William Rusher noted in the Claremont Review of Books, "every important branch of the American government ... was infested with Communists busily doing the work of the Soviet Union."
Even some on the left finally had to admit that McCarthy had it right when it came to the big picture about the extent of communist infiltration of America in the 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s. In 1996, Nicholas von Hoffman wrote a piece in the Washington Post about the revelations of Soviet archives and Venona intercepts that "provided proof ... that the Communist Party of the United States was subsidized by the Soviet government and used as a base for extensive espionage," and that "the Roosevelt and Truman administrations were rife with communist spies and political operatives who reported, directly or indirectly, to the Soviet government, much as their anti-communist opponents charged." Von Hoffman concluded that "[t]he Age of McCarthyism, it turns out, was not the simple witch hunt of the innocent by the malevolent as two generations of high school and college students have been taught." And as Gerard Leval and the editors of the Washington Times apparently were taught.
To be sure, Von Hoffman was no fan of McCarthy, but he had the courage to admit that "in a global sense McCarthy was on to something." "This is the essential truth," Von Hoffman wrote, "that the left end of the American political spectrum has evaded." Joe McCarthy, he concluded, was "closer to the truth than those who ridiculed him" — and, as evidenced by Leval's piece in the Washington Times, those who still ridicule him.
Leval's hero Arthur Miller, by the way, admitted helping communist front groups in the 1940s, according to the New York Times.
Miller later said he could never believe that the leftists he associated with — some of whom were Communist Party members and others who were fellow travelers — were "actual or putative traitors." These were people, mind you, who sided with Stalin against their own country.
In 2012, Ron Capshaw revealed that Miller wrote for the communist New Masses under the name "Matt Wayne" in 1945 and 1946. And Miller also later acknowledged that his play "The Crucible" was inspired by his belief in the innocence of the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. If Leval still doubts the Rosenbergs' guilt, he should read Ronald Radosh's The Rosenberg File. Capshaw concluded that "Miller was not only a [communist] party member, he was also an obedient one."
Joe McCarthy did not burn or hang communists as the illustration in the Washington Times implies, but Josef Stalin shot and imprisoned millions of communists and non-communists, and most of the people McCarthy and others (like the House Un-American Activities Committee — which McCarthy had nothing to do with) investigated were communists, agents of influence, fellow travelers, or dupes who took Stalin's side in the Cold War.
Image via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.