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Many Are the Crimes (1999)

av Ellen Schrecker

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1373147,667 (4)2
The McCarthy era was a bad time for freedom in America. Encompassing far more than the brief career of Senator Joseph McCarthy, it was the most widespread episode of political repression in the history of the United States. In the name of National Security, most Americans--liberal and conservative alike--supported the anti-Communist crusade that ruined so many careers, marriages, and even lives. Now Ellen Schrecker gives us the first complete post-Cold War account of McCarthyism. Many Are the Crimes is a frightening history of an era that still resonates with us today.… (mer)

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In her preface to the paperback edition, Schrecker takes note of the recent publication of The Haunted Wood by Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev, a book that took advantage of KGB and FBI files that have become available since the end of the Cold War to examine the issue of Americans spying for the Soviet Union. In that book, it becomes clear that many had indeed spied for the USSR, especially during the 1930s and in WWII. By 1950, Schrecker concludes, this was pretty much over. The normal background investigations of government employees in sensitive positions would have done just fine to protect the government from internal subversion, yet it was in the first years of the 1950s that the most virulent anti-communism flourished.

Having studied anti-communism and the career of Tail Gunner Joe for more than two decades, Schrecker is probably better positioned than anyone alive today to put the Red Scare of the 40s and 50s into perspective. What she concludes is that anti-communism was a crusade that has its roots in the 1930s, when the "old left," sympathetic to the USSR, had worked to further causes like trade unionism. In that timeframe, the infrastructure for an anticommunist crusade was put into place. J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, HUAC, and a network of professional anti-communists were all in place by the late 1930s and WWII represented merely a diversion from the crusade. The reason why this crusade received such wide-spread acquiescence is that it was plausible that communists were in government -- indeed, as Weinstein and Vassiliev have shown, many were. There are many different reasons for individuals picking up the anti-communist cause in the immediate post-war period. The U.S. was, in fact, sliding toward cold war, with confrontation increasing at an ever more rapid pace from 1946-49. Partisanship, and ultimately official government sanction of anti-communism's institutional apparatus were amongst the most effective supports.

Schrecker is concerned with the general effect on America of a creeping conformity that distanced itself from anything "controversial". For individuals singled out, such as the author's sixth grade teacher, there was plenty of personal trauma. The nation as a whole emerged from the anti-communist crusade weakened, with the range of discussion narrowed to a "Cold War consensus". One wonders if the creeping conformism of "the good war" also laid some of the groundwork for this phenomenon. As Richard Polenberg points out, the New Deal Liberals who ran the OWI stepped away from anything that resembled conflict, approving only films that were "patriotic" in that they did not show any conflict between labor and management, ethnic groups, or black and white. The Red Scare era's aversion to controversy had already been pretty well developed in the course of the hot war, now it's pernicious influence was extended to the cold war.

So what of "Tail Gunner Joe"? Schrecker sees him more as a creature of the anti-communist crusade than as its maker. If the Truman administration had merely played down the Wheeling W VA speech when he announced the alleged list of communists in government, the Senator from Wisconsin may have remained at best a marginal figure. He gained credibility when the Truman administration fought back. In the hothouse atmosphere of the Korean War, McCarthy exploited the partisan potential of attacking the state department for the "loss" of China to the "reds." The Acheson state department, so the conservative argument went, had lost China. McCarthy inherited a group of witnesses who were just waiting to testify against Dean Acheson's faculty at the "cowardly college of containment" (Richard Nixon's formulation). The NY lace importer Alfred Kohlberg was among the star witnesses that had been looking for a political outlet to purge the state department. McCarthy called on Kohlberg and a whole list of others before Patrick McCarran's Senate Internal Security Subcommittee to investigate the communist ties of the Institute for Public Research. The committee grilled the "China Hands" like John Stewart Service, John Carter Vincent, and John Patton Davies. (All of whom were eventually fired from the department) The roughest treatment was reserved for the eminent Sinologist Owen Lattimore. Lattimore's career as an academic in the U.S. was effectively destroyed by the process. He ended up leaving the U.S. to head the Chinese Studies Program at the University of Leeds in 1963.

As the IPR investigation revealed, McCarthy was aided in his meteoric rise by a network of professional anti-communists. Among this network certainly the most prominent and powerful was J. Edgar Hoover, who only turned against him after he became worried that too many former G-Men were working for the Senator's Committee and only cut him off totally when it became clear that his recklessness had angered Ike. Always the consummate bureaucrat, Hoover knew when to cut an ally loose. When McCarthy took on Eisenhower, by calling the administration "soft" on communism in November 1953, he prompting Eisenhower to get down in the gutter to fight back. The Army McCarthy hearings were prompted by the release by the administration of the records on Private Shine, which then lead to McCarthy being investigated for securing privileges for the special friend of his chief counsel Roy Cohen. The brilliant setup by Joe Brewer was a very public finale to a process whose outcome was more or less pre-determined. Once McCarthy took on the very popular and politically astute president, he was a doomed political figure.

Why did Eisenhower let him get away with it so long? It seems that the reasons were purely political. As Michael Rogin pointed out in The Intellectuals and McCarthy, McCarthy was the darling of the conservative mid-western wing of the Republican party. Eisenhower, clearly in the camp of the eastern elite moderate Republicans, feared splitting the party. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut "And so it goes."
  mdobe | Jul 24, 2011 |
The McCarthy era was a tragic chapter in American history. Schrecker's book is one of the best I've read on this period. She reminds us that hundreds, maybe thousands, of lives were shattered by unfair or disingenuous accusations. Most affected were academics, union leaders, Hollywood writers, directors, and actors, and government workers. Many of them were chastised for trying to live their political ideals 20 years before, when the economy was in ruins and people were looking for more equitable solutions to poverty, not to mention racism and unfair labor practices. Communism, along with socialism and anarchism, was seen for a brief period of time by some as offering alternatives to what was then a very broken system.

There was never any threat to the American way of life, despite what Joe McCarthy and others said. As Schrecker points out, many of the loudest accusers knew this. Their real motive was breaking up union activity, protecting corporate power, and undermining many of the successes of the New Deal. In large part, they succeeded.

Worse still, and beyond all the lives and families it destroyed, McCarthyism had lasting negative effects on politics and culture that still hurt us. It destroyed the left. The damage done to the labor movement has never been recovered. McCarthyism hurt America's international relations by narrowing foreign policy, and thus intensifying the cold war. As Schrecker puts it, "The anticommunist purges wiped out the means through which it was possible to offer an alternative vision of the world." ( )
1 rösta msbosh | Aug 16, 2010 |
McCarthyism is often seen as an aberration in American society. It was a brief moment when hysteria and fear overcame the American ideal of fairness and due process. Ellen Schrecker works to overturn that idea by looking at McCarthyism as a phenomenon over the course of the Cold War. Schrecker, however, does not look at the causes of McCarthyism so much as the effects in personal terms. Her goal is to demonstrate how state oppression has a human and societal cost.

She does not paint American Communists as saints. She points out that many collaborated with the USSR and others lied about their affiliations. Nevertheless, thousands were driven from their professions and some ended in jail based on paranoid accusations. Even people who were eventually exonerated suffered such trauma that they sometimes never recovered.

Schrecker uses a great deal of case studies and tends to use McCarthyism as a trope for general repression in society. She emphasizes the human cost while avoiding looks at the larger causes. She has opened the door for research with a more sociological approach, although ten years later, no major work comes to mind that has built on her work. ( )
1 rösta Scapegoats | Nov 25, 2009 |
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The McCarthy era was a bad time for freedom in America. Encompassing far more than the brief career of Senator Joseph McCarthy, it was the most widespread episode of political repression in the history of the United States. In the name of National Security, most Americans--liberal and conservative alike--supported the anti-Communist crusade that ruined so many careers, marriages, and even lives. Now Ellen Schrecker gives us the first complete post-Cold War account of McCarthyism. Many Are the Crimes is a frightening history of an era that still resonates with us today.

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