WASHINGTON — Although Joseph McCarthy was one of the most demonized American politicians of the last century, new information — including half-century-old FBI recordings of Soviet embassy conversations — are showing that McCarthy was right in nearly all his accusations.
“With Joe McCarthy it was the losers who’ve written the history which condemns him,” said Dan Flynn, director of Accuracy in Academia’s recent national conference on McCarthy, broadcast by C-SPAN.
Using new information obtained from studies of old Soviet files in Moscow and now the famous Venona Intercepts — FBI recordings of Soviet embassy communications between 1944-48 — the record is showing that McCarthy was essentially right. He had many weaknesses, but almost every case he charged has now been proven correct. Whether it was stealing atomic secrets or influencing U.S. foreign policy, communist victories in the 1940s were fed by an incredibly vast spy and influence network.
The conference, a gathering of old McCarthyites and younger scholars, commemorated the senator’s first speech, in Wheeling, W. Va., 50 years ago, when he first held up a list of names of employees of the State Department whom, he said, were major security risks. McCarthy questioned how, in six short years after America’s winning of World War II, the communist world was triumphant and had expanded to include 800 million people.
Of the lists, a key one consisted of 108 names from a House Appropriations Committee report, of persons declared as “security risks” in the State Department — the Lee List. The House committee chairman had complained that State wasn’t bothering to do anything about the suspects. Details of the list and its accusations were presented at the conference.
Speakers detailed many of the cover-ups used to smear McCarthy. Veteran journalist and teacher Stan Evans, director of National Journalism Center, told of the Tydings Committee, which had investigated McCarthy’s charges of communists in government. Its report had exonerated everybody. Among the accused it stated categorically that there was no evidence against Owen Lattimore, a man McCarthy said was a major figure in the communist conspiracy. Lattimore had been Roosevelt’s key advisor on China policy. Yet Evans showed evidence from 5,000 pages of FBI files on him — files released only a few years ago to the public, although the White House had access to them.
However, evidence before the committee showed that Lattimore had supported Soviet policy at every turn, even declaring that the Stalin purge trials in Russia, “sound like democracy to me.” With then-Vice President Henry Wallace in Russia, Lattimore compared concentration camps to the Tennessee Valley Authority, and later urged Washington to abandon China to communism and to withdraw from Japan and Korea. FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, who had fed information to McCarthy, broke with him afterwards, fearing McCarthy would prejudice FBI sources of information for its criminal prosecutions.
Although most of McCarthy’s cases involved actual spies and “security risks,” the really important issue was that of communist influence over American foreign policy, argued Evans. Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s closest advisor who lived in the White House, had regular contacts with Soviet intelligence. He helped bring about the disastrous Yalta and Pottsdam agreements. The Morganthau Plan, to prevent German reconstruction and starve the Germans to make them desperate enough to go communist, was the product of Laughlin Currie and Harry Dexter White at the Treasury Department. The abandonment of Chiang Kai-shek by denying military support was the product of “China Hands” led by John Stewart Service, John Patton Davies, and Lattimore. Evans described other major spy networks — in England, the Burgess Maclean group which infiltrated Washington as well as London.
Reed Irvine, chairman of Accuracy in Media, told how he himself had been a leftist in his early career. He had been against McCarthy, but McCarthy’s speeches had made him think and start to read “evidence that I had avoided.” He described how all during his military career as a Marine officer and later in Japan with the U.S. occupation he had never hidden his leftist views and later had even been offered a job at the CIA. Irvine argued that real communists were only in the hundreds, but that thousands of leftists, such as he, all feared McCarthy and had wanted him discredited.
Pulling all the latest evidence together was luncheon speaker Professor Arthur Herman. His new book, “Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator,” and featured in the Sunday New York Times Magazine, shows the vindication of most of McCarthy’s charges. Herman, who is also coordinator of the Smithsonian’s Western Heritage Program, said that the accuracy of McCarthy’s charges “was no longer a matter of debate,” that they are “now accepted as fact.” However, the term “McCarthyism” still remains in the language.
Asked whether McCarthy had understood all the forces arrayed against him, Herman said no, that McCarthy hadn’t realized he’d be fighting against much of the Washington establishment. President Truman was fearful that exposures would reflect on key Democrat officials, he said, and big media and the academic world were very leftist, a heritage of the Depression and World War II. High government officials also feared investigations of their past appointments and associations with people who turned out to be communists or sympathizers.
That was the reason McCarthy was so demonized, he said.
Joe McCarthy had been a Marine air gunner, an amateur boxer, a county judge and towards his end, under constant attack, he began to drink heavily. Herman said he certainly was over his head and his fall came about after sweeping attacks on General Marshall and the Army. Senator Taft and other key supporters began to draw away from him.
If Robert Kennedy, his competent and well-connected co-counsel, had stayed on, McCarthy might have behaved more carefully, said Herman. An argument with other co-counsel Roy Cohn left Cohn in charge, but Cohn and staffer David Schine were disastrous for McCarthy. Still, McCarthy’s original charges helped bring about Eisenhower’s electoral victory and the defeat of the Democrats and key leftist Democratic senators such as Tydings of Maryland. Four years after his original charges, Joe McCarthy was censured by the Senate and died shortly thereafter.
There is more evidence to come. Herb Romerstein, another speaker, who started out with the old House Un-American Activities Committee, is writing a book about the Venona FBI intercepts and their links to other evidence from his comprehensive study in Russia of Soviet archives, made available to Westerners since the fall of communism. His book, The Venona Secrets, will be released by Regnery Gateway this fall.
Jon Utley, a former foreign correspondent in Latin America and a longtime commentator for the Voice of America, is the Robert A. Taft Fellow for Constitutional and International Studies at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.