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The Confederate Lawyer
July 31, 2008

Joseph R. McCarthy: Time for Truth
by Charles G. Mills

In the final scene of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the newspaperman tears up his notes about the shooting of Valance and says something to the effect that in the West you print the myth, not the facts. Sometimes the myth about someone is so strong that nobody wants to print the facts. Such is the case with Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.

In early 1950 Senator McCarthy made a speech in which he probably said that there were 57 Communists in the State Department. It was sometimes erroneously reported as 205 Communists; it probably should have been 56. Whatever he said, the truth as we now know it with access to Soviet and FBI files from the period is that substantially more than 57 Communist spies, Party members, and propagandists taking orders from the Soviet Union were working for the State Department, for international organizations after working for the State Department, or elsewhere in the government after working for the State Department.

State Department Risks
The espionage problem in the State Department was fairly severe. The FBI had put together a good espionage case (Amerasia), but the Truman administration through Tommy "The Cork" Cocoran had fixed the U.S. Attorney's office to prevent a successful prosecution.

The Democrats, who knew that the loyalty/security situation was far worse than reported, feared that a public discussion would lead to an electoral disaster for them. The administration feared that exposure of the extent of Communist influence in the China section of the State Department would jeopardize the pre-Korean War, Acheson-Truman Cold War strategy of setting up our Asian defenses much further East than Eisenhower eventually did.

For these reasons and probably because of personal grudges, Democrats talked about things like expelling McCarthy. However, it turned out that he had more than 50 detailed files on Communists in the State Department. The Democrats had to back off for the moment. We now know that the FBI and the Truman White House had fierce battles over loyalty/security issues that were not made public at the time.

The loyalty/security problem had much more to do with dedicated Communist spies and propagandists than with people who were simply sympathizers. At that time, discipline within the Communist Party was extremely rigid. There were more than enough idiots around who thought it was fine to lend confidential, secret, and topsecret documents to their Communist friends or relatives.

McCarthy Missteps
Later, McCarthy wrote an unfortunate book about General George Marshall. This probably had a lot to do with the way Marshall's friend, Eisenhower, despised McCarthy. Marshall's policies were a mixed bag that sometimes helped the Communists and sometimes were very anti-Communist. McCarthy wrongly suspected that Marshall’s mistakes were deliberate misconduct.

McCarthy got a bit of a reputation as a book burner because he wanted to remove the blatant Communist propaganda of William Z. Foster, Herbert Aptheker, and Howard Fast from the United States Information Agency libraries overseas. Early in the Eisenhower administration, these libraries underwent an almost total transformation, with more serious books replacing less serious ones. These libraries were a boondoggle that served no real national purpose.

Fort Monmouth Breaches
After the Republican victory of 1952, McCarthy discovered a problem with thousands of classified documents being passed to Communists at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Fort Monmouth, the headquarters of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, was the location of sensitive radar research. A dentist at Fort Monmouth had lied about the fact that he was a Communist to get into the Army. He was already under suspicion when he was promoted to major. The civilian leaders of the Army wanted to get rid of him, but McCarthy wanted him court martialed and was furious when the dentist received an honorable discharge. McCarthy blew up at a general who had seemed to be on McCarthy's side until he was reached and silenced by the Army civilian leadership. McCarthy insulted him unnecessarily.

McCarthy had Robert Kennedy and Roy Cohn on his staff, an obvious source of friction. He brought J. B. Matthews onto his staff to keep peace, among other reasons. Matthews was an ordained Protestant minister, and the last thing he wrote before joining McCarthy was a study of Communism in the Protestant clergy. McCarthy was subsequently depicted to the unsophisticated as attacking Protestantism and the U.S. Army.

Senate Censure
McCarthy was accused of using his power to get special treatment for a former staffer in the Army. At a televised hearing, McCarthy seems to have won every substantive point and lost every rhetorical and dramatic one, a disaster for him. Finally, the Senate censured him for failing to disclose his tax returns for the period before he was in the Senate. He believed that his obligation was to let the Senate pry into anything about him after he was a Senator, but not before. Senators Goldwater and Dirksen were unsuccessful in their attempts to arrange a last-minute compromise.

The Democrats were unanimous on the censure vote. The Republicans were split, with the conservatives voting against censure and the liberals for it.

I have not said anything about McCarthy investigating anyone outside the government because he never did. That he accused lots of people of being Communists is the biggest myth of all about him — and the most persistent.

M. Stanton Evans has written a new 600-page book called Blacklisted by History — The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and his Fight against America's Enemies. It is a start in printing the facts, not the myth.

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The Confederate Lawyer is copyright © 2008 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.

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