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, West Virginia 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
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
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
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.