Setting the Record on Joe McCarthy Straight

mccarthy1Harvey Klehr’s note: The talk printed below was delivered at the Raleigh Spy Conference in 2005 and new archival materials uncovered in the past eight years would lead me to make a number of small changes to various parts.  

Rather than make alterations, however, I would simply note that several of the people whom I say are unidentified have been identified – including the two atomic spies, Quantum and Fogel.  

I would refer interested readers to Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, that I co-authored with John Haynes and Alexander Vassiliev for the details.  It turns out that Senator McCarthy did identify a few additional Soviet spies – but only a few – and I feel no need to change the assessment of him that I offered then.


Was Joe McCarthy Right?

I am tempted to start my talk by saying: “I have here in my hands a list of names.” That, of course, was the phrase made famous by Senator Joseph McCarthy, who built his political career in the early 1950s, the history books tell us, on exaggerating the extent of Communist subversion of American life. He also gave his name to a phenomenon that has become a term of opprobrium in American political life. To accuse someone of McCarthyism or to label a person a McCarthyite is not to issue a compliment. The implication is that a person so named has made scurrilous and unwarranted accusations and is engaged in unethical and sleazy maneuvers. The late Senator from Wisconsin even gave his name to the period. The McCarthy era is commonly depicted as one where America, consumed by a paranoid and irrational fear of domestic communism, went on a witch-hunt. In fact, the one work of literature that virtually every very high school student in American will read is Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, an account of the Salem witch trials, in which the main character is pushed and pressed to name his fellow citizens as witches. John Proctor’s refusal to falsely implicate innocent people leads to his own condemnation and execution. Miller wrote his play during the heyday of McCarthyism and consistently maintained that it should be read as a parable of what happens when a community begins searching for and persecuting heretics.

Since, like witches, Communist spies were largely regarded as figments of the imagination, it is little wonder that the first version of the National History Standards for High School, released several years ago, devoted an inordinate amount of time to McCarthyism as the most frightening and detestable era in modern American history. For much of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990, there was a steady outpouring of books and articles arguing that the Communist Party of the United States was a small, inoffensive group of idealists committed to democracy, civil rights and labor organizing that was demonized and persecuted by an American inquisition, headed not only by McCarthy, but also by J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, and Richard Nixon, persecutor of Alger Hiss. During the 1970s revelations of FBI excesses and breaches of the law led to denunciations of Hoover, who was also smeared in an expose as someone blackmailed by organized crime because they had pictures of him dressed as a woman. (That, incidentally, is a charge we now know to have been fabricated by the Soviet KGB and disseminated by a gullible press.) And, of course, Watergate led to Nixon’s disgrace and resignation from the presidency.

Among historians, there was widespread support for the idea that that American government had vastly overestimated the threat of Soviet espionage. The convictions of Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs were widely regarded as miscarriages of justice. The charges by Elizabeth Bentley that dozens of government employees had given her secret data to turn over tot he Russians were derided as the unsupported ravings of a deluded alcoholic. President Truman’s imposition of a federal loyalty-security program was attacked as an unjustified intrusion on civil liberties. Fears of reds hiding under beds unleashed by liberals like Harry Truman, it was alleged, had contributed mightily to Senator McCarthy’s ability to demagogue the Communist issue.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, this simplistic version of an American history in which national security fears were merely the pretext for an attack on civil rights and liberties began to lose ground. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, previously closed Russian archives began to open to scholars. I was the first American to gain access to the previously closed files of the Communist International and the CPUSA itself, located in Moscow, in the summer of 1992. Although I was originally far more interested in issues of the CP’s political activities in America, I unexpectedly began to come across documents marked top secret being sent by a man named Pavel Fitin that contained the names of employees of the United States government who had been accused of being Soviet spies by Elizabeth Bentley, a defector from Soviet intelligence back in the late 1940s. It was interesting enough that these documents were labeled top secret; what was even more fascinating was that Fitin was head of the KGB’s foreign intelligence branch and that his memos were dated from 1943 and 1944 — long before Bentley went to the FBI. That meant they were not reports on her testimony. Because the archivists had not realized that this material was in the files or its significance, I was able to take the microfilm copies out of the country. In The Secret World of American Communism, John Haynes and I reprinted nearly one hundred Russian KGB documents establishing that Soviet intelligence had recruited American communists to spy on its behalf. We also showed that from its inception in 1919, the CPUSA had been generously funded by the Soviet Union, with subsidies that reached $3,000,000 a year by the mid-1980s, and that the Party leadership had worked closely with Soviet intelligence to ferret out American secrets. And we found snippets of information about a very hush-hush American project, code-named Venona, that had worked to decipher coded Soviet messages.

After our book appeared in 1995 we were asked to testify before a commission chaired by former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan on government secrecy. We pointed out the oddity of finding information about Venona in an open Russian archive while all information about it in America remained closed. Moynihan then pressed the director of the CIA, John Deutsch, a committee member, to consider declassifying the Venona material. Later that year it was released — some 2900 messages between KGB and GRU (Soviet military intelligence) headquarters and their stations in New York, Washington, San Francisco and points outside the United States. The KGB communicated by sending cables via Western Union. They were both encoded and enciphered and were believed to be unbreakable because the Soviets used what was known as a one-time pad.

A KGB officer in the New York consulate, after receiving a report and a document from one of the spies he supervised would send the document to Moscow by diplomatic pouch. But, particularly during World War II, that pouch could take a week or so to make its way to Russia. So, he would write a report to be cabled to headquarters, summarizing the information or including material that was time-sensitive, in plain Russian text. He would then go to a codebook where there were four-digit numerical codes for thousands of words and encode his report. A cipher clerk would then take a one-time pad, a sheet of papers with sixty, four digit random number groups. The first number on the page would serve as the first number of his message — thus alerting the code clerk in Moscow as to what page of the one-time pad was used for the enciphering. Then he would take the second group of random numbers and add them to the first word of his coded message. If the sum of the two numbers was more than 9, he would not carry the tens — thus 6 plus 6 would be written down as 2. The resulting string of numbers would then be changed from four digit groups to five digit groups, transformed into letters (1=A, 2=B, etc) and transmitted to Moscow. ( Western Union charged less to send letters). If the one-time pads were used only once, this system was, theoretically, unbreakable since each message was in a unique code, accessible only to the person who sent it and the person who possessed a duplicate of the one-time pad.

During WWII, however, the Soviet Union could not produce enough one-time pads with their random numbers to keep up with the enormous demand (there were no computers and the random numbers had to be produced by human beings rolling dice or otherwise manually generating random four-digit numbers.) So, they used a number of the one-time pads twice, thinking it would not compromise their system. American counter-intelligence during WWII collected all incoming and outgoing international cables. Beginning in 1946, it began an intensive effort to break into the Soviet messages with the cooperation of the British and by dint of incredible perseverance, brilliant insights and the Soviet error of using some one- time pads as two-time pads, was able, over the next 25 years, to break some 2900 messages, containing 5000 pages of the hundreds of thousands of messages that been sent between 1941 and 1946 (when the Soviets switched to a different system). So, we were not reading these messages in real time, but years after they had been sent. And we were only able to read a small fraction of what was sent.

As a result of the material that has emerged from Russian archives and the release of the Venona files, we now know a great deal about the extent of Soviet espionage from the 1930s through the 1940s. There is no longer any question about the fact that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were Soviet spies (although Ethel played a very minor role). Julius is identifiable in Venona under the code-name Liberal. By the way, the use of code names shows that the KGB had a macabre sense of humor. The code name for their bitter enemies, the Trotskyists, was Polecats, Zionists were Rats, San Francisco was Babylon and Washington DC was Carthage.

There is no doubt that Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy and continued to provide information through the Yalta Conference which he attended as an advisor to FDR. The Soviets thoroughly infiltrated the Manhattan Project and were able to build an atomic bomb several years before they otherwise would have because of such spies as Klaus Fuchs, a German-born British scientist, convicted of espionage in the late 1940s and Theodore Hall, a young American physicist who died in Britain in 1999, who had never been publicly named as a spy until the Venona material was released. Hall had graduated from Harvard at 19 and was immediately recruited and sent to Los Alamos. A dedicated communist, he got in contact with the KGB after learning what he was working on. Although the FBI questioned him after Venona decryptions revealed his treachery, there was no legally admissible evidence against him (the government had made a decision not to use Venona material n court; in fact, it was doubtful that it would be legally admissible). Since he denied everything and there were no cooperating witnesses, it was not possible to prosecute him. At least two other important atomic spies turned over top secret information to the KGB but American counter-intelligence was never able to link the cover names in the messages — Quantum and Fogel — to real people.

All told, some 350 Americans turn out to have worked for Soviet intelligence during World War II — a time when we were allies. American counter-intelligence eventually identified more than 125 of these agents — but were never able to nail down who the other 200 plus were. Virtually every one of the people accused of being a Soviet agent by Elizabeth Bentley and Whittaker Chambers — both reviled and denounced for making false charges not only by political partisans in the 1940s but by historians ever since — turns out to have been a Soviet spy.

No Federal agency was immune to Soviet penetration. There were at least 16 Soviet agents in the OSS, predecessor to the CIA, including Duncan Lee, chief counsel to General William Donovan. The Office of war Information, the Board of Economic Warfare, United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, War Production Board, War Department, Signal Corps, Censorship office, the Justice Department were all penetrated. In the State Department Alger Hiss was not the only Soviet spy. Larry Duggan, in charge of Latin American affairs, was an agent. Lauchlin Currie, one of six presidential assistants, provided information. The most highly placed spy was Harry Dexter White, the number two man the Treasury Department and one of the architects of the post-war international financial order — he designed the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Bretton Woods agreement. The KGB so valued White’s information — including meetings at the founding UN conference where he revealed the American negotiating strategy — that when he hinted at leaving government service because of financial pressures, the KGB offered to pay his daughter’s college tuition.

There were even Soviet sources with access to the Venona project. One of the Russian-language specialists working on the project was William Weisband, who was exposed by a decrypted message as a long-time KGB asset. In 1950 the new liaison from British intelligence to Venona was Kim Philby, one of the most prominent Soviet moles within the British intelligence service. The Soviets thus learned about Venona very early, tracked its progress and were able to warn vulnerable agents. By the time American counter- intelligence began to follow and surveil those who had served as Soviet spies, they had ceased their activities and disposed of incriminating evidence. About all the FBI was able to do was, through interrogation, let these former spies know they were under suspicion, force them out of government service, and by leaking their names to congressional committees, ensure that they were called to testify before such bodies as the House Committee on Un-American Activities, where most took the Fifth Amendment, refusing to answer questions based n the possibility of self-incrimination. That tactic provided legal protection but also branded them in the public eye as security risks.

And that brings us back to Senator McCarthy. Does Venona and everything that has come out of Russian archives in the past decade demonstrate that he was correct in arguing that communist conspirators had infiltrated the American government and that Democratic administrations had not only turned a blind eye to treasonous activity but actively aided and abetted it? Does he deserve credit for exposing Communist spies who had betrayed their nation to serve a foreign power?

There are several things about which Senator McCarthy was right — although he was by no means the first or only person to note them. There was a very significant issue of national security presented by communist spying and subversion. No government can turn a blind eye to spying as extensive as that directed against the United States by the Soviet Union. Secondly, the American Communist Party was serving as an agent of a foreign power. Venona makes crystal clear that the leadership of the CPUSA was not only aware of Soviet intelligence networks in the government, but also actively assisted the KGB in recruiting American communists to spy. The CPUSA even had several liaisons who worked with KGB spymasters. The KGB code word for members of the CPUSA was “Fellow Countrymen.” Nearly every American who worked for the KGB or GRU was a member of the CPUSA. That does not mean, of course, that all communists were Soviet spies, but most assuredly, most spies were communists.

Thirdly, McCarthy was partially correct that the Roosevelt and Truman administrations had been slow to respond to the issue of Soviet espionage. Whittaker Chambers had first gone to Adolph Berle with information about Alger Hiss, Harry White, Lauchlin Currie and others right after the Nazi-Soviet Pact and nothing had been done. It was not just that many liberals refused to believe that people like Hiss could not be spies. Even J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI did not make Soviet espionage a major priority until 1943 and their early investigations, while filled with promising leads, did not go very far. To a large degree this was a consequence of the war — German and Japanese espionage was a much larger priority. Once the FBI began to make progress in unearthing Soviet espionage, the initial reaction of the Truman Administration was to worry that it could be embarrassed by the revelations of so many spies in so many important jobs. Not until 1948 did the administration launch an assault on Soviet espionage — convicting communist leaders under the Smith Act, prosecuting Hiss and the Rosenbergs and instituting a loyalty-security program to weed communists out of the government. But espionage prosecutions were extremely hard to mount. For all her revelations, Elizabeth Bentley provided no usable documentation to take to court. If the government had tried those she accurately accused, it would have come down to her word against theirs because the Venona cables were off limits to prosecutors.

Fourthly, despite the decision of Soviet intelligence to close down most of its operations in the United States by the time McCarthy first made his charges, American intelligence had no knowledge of that fact. And, irrespective of whether Soviet intelligence networks were or were not functioning when he made his charges, the fact remained that some 200+ people who had served as Soviet spies were still unidentified. Was “Donald,” identified in Venona as a captain in the Navy in 1944, still there in the 1950s? Had he been promoted to Admiral? Had Muse, an employee of the OSS, transferred into the CIA? Was Dodger, a State Department official with some expertise in Soviet affairs, helping to make policy on the USSR? And was Quantum, the unidentified scientist who had turned over atomic data to the KGB, now working on the hydrogen bomb?

But if McCarthy was right about some of the large issues, he was wildly wrong on virtually all of the details. There is no indication that he had even a hint of the Venona decryptions, so he did not base his accusations on the information in them. Indeed, virtually none of the people that McCarthy claimed or alleged were Soviet agents turn up in Venona. He did identify a few small fry who we now know were spies but only a few. And there is little evidence that those he fingered were among the unidentified spies of Venona. Many of his claims were wildly inaccurate; his charges filled with errors of fact, misjudgments of organizations and innuendoes disguised as evidence. He failed to recognize or understand the differences among genuine liberals, fellow-traveling liberals, Communist dupes, Communists and spies — distinctions that were important to make. The new information from Russian and American archives does not vindicate McCarthy. He remains a demagogue, whose wild charges actually made the fight against Communist subversion more difficult. Like Gresham’s Law, McCarthy’s allegations marginalized the accurate claims. Because his facts were so often wrong, real spies were able to hide behind the cover of being one of his victims and even persuade well-meaning but naïve people that the whole anti-communist cause was based on inaccuracies and hysteria.

But if McCarthy was wrong on the details — and what is history but details — many historians today are both wrong on the details about McCarthyism and morally obtuse about the nature of communism. Far too many American historians believe that anti-communism or the search for Soviet spies was baseless paranoia. They recoil so strongly from McCarthy that they are unable to recognize that just because an objectionable politician cynically employed anti-communism does not mean that anti-communism was objectionable. The CPUSA was a haven for spies and Soviet subversion presented a genuine security threat to the United States. But, for Ellen Schrecker, former editor of Academe, journal of the American Association of University Professors, all varieties of anti-communism are species of McCarthyism. Opposition to communism, she has written,” tapped into something dark and nasty ion the human soul.” Blanche Wiesen Cook of CUNY lamented that “everything fine and creative in American thought has been splattered and smeared” by hostility to communism.

One of the oddest phenomena in the academic world is the nostalgia so many professor display for communism. The human costs of that ideology, we now know, run upwards of 100 million dead in the former Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, eastern Europe and North Korea. In light of archival evidence that during the Great Purges of the 1930s, the USSR was executing almost 1000 political prisoners a day,

Robert Thurston of Miami University recently denied that there was “extensive fear” in the USSR. The collapse of the Soviet Union dismayed a number of historians who have lamented the sense of “triumphalism” among those who applaud its end. One diplomatic historian, Scott Lucas of Birmingham University in England, complained that revelations of Soviet spying were “part of the continued effort to win the history of the Cold War,” as if there is any doubt how that contest ended.

Most disturbing has been the willingness of many historians to blind themselves to historical evidence. As the new material has emerged from Russian archives and the declassified Venona documents, far too many historians have allowed their political and ideological biases to distort their historical judgment. Some have refused to accept the evidence, insisting, with not a shred of proof, that the Venona documents are all forgeries or simply ignoring them. One professor at Rutgers University wrote the entry on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for the prestigious American National Biography, a standard reference source. He painted them as victims of an American political framework and did not mention the overwhelming evidence of their guilt — including the admission by their own Soviet KGB controller. It is probably not coincidental that this professor, Norman Markowitz, is an open member of the CPUSA.

Confronted by explicit evidence that such people as Lauchlin Currie or Harry Dexter White were spies, their defenders have invented scenarios so implausible that I am tempted to say that only an academic could credit them. For example, one Venona document records White telling a KGB officer — who sent the memo about the meeting to Moscow — that he had no suitable office or house to meet him; White “proposes infrequent conversations lasting up to half an hour while driving his automobile.” To James Boughton, the official historian of the IMF, this discussion was nothing more than “a means of keeping an ally informed of pertinent developments,” as if it was normal practice for high government officials to discuss confidential business with a KGB agent while driving around Washington, DC.

And then there are those historians who have, sometimes reluctantly, looked this new material in the face, admitted its validity, and provided retroactive support for one of McCarthy’s charges — that one segment of American opinion supported communism and the Soviet Union against their own country. These historians have concluded that the weight of the evidence of Soviet espionage is so overwhelming that it can no longer be denied. Instead, they have decided to justify it. Athan Theoharis of Marquette University argued that most of the information turned over by Soviet spies was frivolous and besides, by giving the USSR information that emphasized America’s industrial and military might, the spies were actually serving America’s interest, since their material might have deterred the USSR from acting rashly. Victor Navasky of the Nation magazine has insisted that most of what people are calling spying was actually simply “exchanges of information among people of good will.” And Ellen Schrecker, after admitting the extent of Soviet espionage, asked, “Were these activities so awful?” and reminded her readers that “as Communists these people did not subscribe to traditional forms of patriotism; they were internationalists whose political allegiances transcended national boundaries. They though they were building a better world for the masses, not betraying their country.”

If espionage on behalf of Joseph Stalin’s Russia is simply an untraditional form of patriotism, then words like loyalty and patriotism have lost any meaning. It is only a short step to proclaiming that Joseph McCarthy’s disregard for due process and reckless smearing of innocent people is a non-traditional way of affirming basic American values. Which is exactly the argument that Ann Coulter makes in her unfortunate recent book, Treason, which seeks to rehabilitate Senator McCarthy as a great truth-teller. Her only excuse is that she is not a historian but a pundit and therefore can claim indifference to factual evidence.

Facts do matter. And it should be a matter of concern to all of us when historians distort facts. Just as the views of Holocaust deniers cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged because falsehoods about the past distort not only our sense of history but our view of the present and future, so too the falsehoods of Senator McCarthy and the falsehoods about the widespread Soviet espionage directed against the United States must be answered. The debates about the McCarthy era force us to reflect about why a substantial number of American public servants gave their allegiance to a totalitarian regime that murdered millions of people and the difficulties and dilemmas of how a democratic society responded to that threat.

Concluding our most recent book, In Denial, John Haynes and I were reminded about the Lost Cause myth of the south that held sway among many southerners in the first part of the 20 th century. The myth of a genteel, magnolia-scented Southern paradise was used to buttress legal segregation and racism. The Lost Cause, however, was not primarily about states’ rights or agrarian populism or resistance to Northern capitalism, although these may have been elements, but about slavery. In the same way, American communism was based, not on fighting for civil rights or civil liberties, but on support for the political regime created and ruled by Joseph Stalin. The United States vanquished two totalitarian foes in the 20 th century. Any academic who defended Nazism would rightly be regarded with loathing. Those who defend communism and those who served it deserve no better — and no less. That so many American historians, including past presidents of the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association, remain willing in the 21 st century to apologize for or ignore the evils of communism and that pointing this out is controversial is, alas, another one of the legacies of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

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  • objectivefactsmatter

    “Ellen Schrecker, after admitting the extent of Soviet espionage, asked, “Were these activities so awful?” and reminded her readers that “as Communists these people did not subscribe to traditional forms of patriotism; they were internationalists whose political allegiances transcended national boundaries. They though they were building a better world for the masses, not betraying their country.””

    I didn’t feel like a traitor. How could it have been wrong?

    • Nixys

      I loathe internationalists. They care not one whit for the little people on any continent.

    • tagalog

      If the new revelations were about Nazi espionage of a similar degree and amount, would Ms. Schrecker be saying the same things she says about Soviet espionage?

  • Brett woods

    The pledge 1935 CPUSA

    I now take my place in ranks of the communist party, the party of the working class
    I take this solemn oath to give the best that is in me to the service of my class
    I pledge myself to rally the masses, to defend the Soviet Union, the land of victorious socialism
    I pledge myself to remain at all times a vigilant and firm defender of the leninist line of the party.
    The only line that ensures the TRIUMPH of Soviet Power in the United States.

    Things a Communist Must Believe:
    We do not Question the theory of the neccesity of the forceful overthrow of capitalism.
    We do not Question the correctness of the revolutionary theory of the class struggle.
    We do not Question the counter-revolutionary nature of trotskyism.
    We do not Question the POLITICAL CORRECTNESS of the decisions and resolutions of the executive commitee of communist international.

    • The March Hare

      Thank you. A very timely post as I am now in the process of reading two of his books, “The Venona Secrets” and “Stalin’s Secret Agents”.

  • AlexanderGofen

    In setting the record on Joe McCarthy straight, it is not at issue whether McCarthy was flawless or accurate in everything. His prominent emergence was too little and too late anyway. The real shame and tragedy of America is that there was only one such senator, instead of thousands!..

    America failed to recognize the real danger of socialist infection since the early 20th century. America failed to realize the seriousness of John Adams warning, that this nation (and by extension, the entire West) is made only for moral and religious people (of Judeo-Christian tradition). This unique beacon of freedom and tolerance therefore is very vulnerable. It cannot work if penetrated by social piranhas such as Commies (or later Moslems).

    Instead of rooting out every last Commie since the day one here, and exposing them non-stop there, America started helping the USSR already in 1920s, and established the diplomatic relation with that cannibal in 1933, suppressing all the horrifying information about the atrocities there. Since that moment America has lost its soul, turning into a boot licker of Stalin so much so, that it even betrayed and abandoned to GULAG thousands of our own POWs in the Eastern Europe – a horrible and despicable crime. All Ameerican parties share the same guilt for this. All parties share the guilt that the entire media, university and school system of America are taken by neo-Bolsheviks, and the nation slides to its demise:

    • truebearing

      It is a mistake to judge McCarthy on his merits as an historian. He wasn’t pretending to be an historian, he was trying to raise the hue and cry over the insidious clandestine insurgency of communism. It’s like criticizing Paul Revere for shouting “the British are coming” when they were already there.
      If all who would act in the moment to prevent a catastrophe from happening employed the methods of historians, there would be no chance of averting a single disaster. Hindsight occurs in the comfort of one’s study. It hardly benefits a general, or senator, in the heat of battle. McCarthy’s excesses are justifiably explained by the “fog of war.” Historians can’t use that excuse, yet many still can’t get the facts straight.

      To the argument that McCarthy discredited the anti-communist movement: no, the communists discredited the anti-communist movement, and would have found a way to smear anyone who opposed them.

      • AlexanderGofen

        I couldn’t agree with you more! (It was the author of the article who tried to paint McCarthy as an “imperfect historian”).

        You are absolutely correct that the insidious incursion of Marxism was akin to a war and ought to be dealt as such, but never was!.. Every politician, every policeman, and every patriot ought to do their best to uproot every Commie sympathizer on their way by legal and even by not quite legal means: Just like in a situation of an existential disaster. America ought to be absolutely inhospitable and dangerous place for every Marxist fellow traveler. Ought to be… Instead, America opened itself to an all-out Marxist assault, and now is taken by them near completely. Those who would never accept this reality must be prepared to fight life-or-death.

  • Paul Marks

    In 2007 (two years after this talk was first given) “Blacklisted by History” by M. Stanton Evans was published. It just will not do now (after the publication of “Blacklisted by History”) to talk vaguely of McCarthy being “wrong on all the details”. Actually Senator McCarthy was usually correct – most (although not all) of his errors were actually made up by his enemies (as Mr Evans carefully describes), There is a general feel in this article of “I am an anti Communist – but OF COURSE I am not like that Joe McCarthy guy” and that will not do – indeed it was the betrayal of Senator McCarthy by the “moderates” (i.e. the people who wanted a quiet life – and did not like the fact, and it was a fact, that the investigation of Communists was uncovering many people from “good families” – i.e. wealthy and connected ones) that led to the collapse of the 1960s (still carrying on today). If all the left have to do (in order to end an investigation) is scream “you are a McCarthyite” then things are hopeless. Till the time comes when anti Communists have the courage to say “yes I am – and Joe McCarthy was correct”.

    • Hank Rearden

      Absolutely, although I think you are too mild in McCarthy’s defense. As he himself said at the Army/McCarthy hearings on the day of the Joseph Welsh episode “if I have said anything that is not the truth I’d like to know about it.”

      Then and now…crickets.

  • Paul Marks

    Let us take the example of Arthur Miller (cited without critical comment at the start of the article) – someone never investigated by Senator McCarthy who (contrary to the myth) was mainly interested in Communists in government not leftists in the culture. Mr Miller believed that the government should provide all basic goods and services to anyone who needed them (“to each according to their needs” – the Communist Social Justice concept) a collectivist philosophy he passed on to his wife (M.M.) and to anyone else he could. But it was more than philosophical collectivism – Mr Miller had actually been to Communist meetings. So what do we have in Mr Miller? I submit it was as if someone flew in to your house on a broomstick, turned your family into toads and then said “you are paranoid to believe in witches”. This is the great moral guide that is cited in the literature classes of the Western World? “But we can not attack the memory of Arthur Miller – he is a cultural icon”. Then give up and go fishing – because if you allow the culture to be taken by people who hold Arthur Miller (and the rest of the Legion of collectivists) in high regard, you need not worry about “Atom Spies” and so on – because you will end up with a (de facto) Communist education system, media, and (yes) President of the United States. Which is exactly the present position. The Communists (the “Critical Theory” crowd and so on) did not have to fight for this – they were handed it on a plate. Handed it by people who said to themselves “I am anti Communist – but I do not want to be like that Joe McCarthy….”.

    • Wolfthatknowsall

      Paul, you keep making all of my points, in this thread. I see no need to add anything to what you say!

    • Mark LaRochelle

      Miller was a communist. Even the Nazi-Soviet pact didn’t deter him. Miller admitted that in 1939 or ’40 he “signed some form or other” — although he just couldn’t recall, he testified, whether it was an application to join the Communist Party. It was. His application number was 23345.

      Apparently unaware that Miller had already applied for membership, “Sue Warren” (Mildred Heiligman, alias Susan Frank), secretary to “millionaire Communist” Frederick Vanderbilt Field, also proposed him for membership in 1943.

      As a “cultural worker,” Miller was assigned to the CPUSA “cultural section,” a covert unit whose members were ordered to keep their party affiliation secret, even from other Communists. Under the pseudonym “Matt Wayne,” Miller served as drama editor of the communist periodical ”New Masses” in 1945-46.

      Miller exploited his pose as an “independent” to defend Soviet spies (from veteran Comintern agent Gerhard Eisler to GRU agent Alger Hiss) and to attack anyone who investigated them – from Martin Dies to Joseph McCarthy.

  • Clare Spark

    Had the moderates gone after McCarthy after WW2, it would not have been left to the far Right to throw a fit about communist infiltration. The moderates were progressives in both parties defending statism (and I mean the neutral state), including the New Deal. Here is my rundown on competing visions of the state: “The neutered state.”

  • Deagin

    I think that all anti-communists should thank Senator McCarthy for having the courage to take a stand against the traitors in the US government and all the liars and enablers like Millard Tydings and Joe Welch and many other democrats who were dupes or fellow travelers of the soviets. Whatever his faults may have been, Senator McCarthy was one of us. He was a good American. Our inability as a nation to come to terms with the evils of communism has led to the situation we are in today. As David Horowitz has said, we’ve got to stop calling democrats and so called moderate republicans progressives and liberals and call them for what they are: communists.

  • David

    I doubt the outcome of the Cold War. I reckon it depends on what your definition of the Cold War is. Was it a heads up battle for supremacy between the Soviet Union and the United States, little more than a pissing contest based on nothing? Or was it a battle of ideologies, free market capitalism vs totalitarian socialism? It should have been the latter. If it wasn’t then what a waste of money, effort and most importantly lives!

    After the Berlin Wall came down conservatives patted themselves on the back and claimed victory. Liberals realized that it had in fact not really ended. In their view nothing is wrong with the theory of socialism, Marxism, Communism or whatever totalitarian ism you want to call it. They simply think the only thing wrong in all the attempts at establishing their Utopian ideal was that the previous attempts were led by stupid people. They wouldn’t make the same mistake. They simply doubled their efforts and continued the fight. The result is the election and reelection of an America hating leftist bent on the fundamental transformation of America and also a Democrat party that with each passing day gets more and more extreme.

    • MarilynA

      You are so right. All of today’s national dissident organizations, environmental, children and animal rights, , immigrant rights, Farm
      Aid, etc. were organized and are run by radical militant activists from the 60s Peace and Civil Rights movements” (according to the FBI) After the Collapse of Communism in the former USSR their claim was, “It failed there because they were not practicing it right. When practiced in it’s true form it will work.” Today we have a perfect example of how it works as our Nanny state, welfare for everyone, system has created more “eaters” ( as Hitler called them) than working people who are having to support them. Also confirming Poor Richard’s ( AKA Benjamin Franklin) ‘s admonition that “Idle Hands are the Devils workshop, ” we now have idle, drugged up youths who amuse them self by inventing such pastimes as the Knock out game, and forming waves to loot stores and take what they want.

  • Red Baker

    Dr Klehr is wrong about McCarthy being reckless and ruining good people without reason or evidence. McCarthy was using names from federal investigations of communist agents within government, and the associates of those people. The FBI had tons of information on those communists, as did several other major investigation bodies.

    McCarthy was rightly incensed that the government knew quite a lot about these hundreds of communist agent/spies, yet the government did virtually nothing to kick them out of government or prosecute them. There had been previous investigations of communist Soviet agents in government, and they too had been quashed by Democrats, the “news media” and academics.

    Democrats and their butt kissers in the press and academia were absolutely terrified that the Democrat party would be annihilated if the extent of communist infiltration of the government were know, much less admitted by the Democrats.

    McCarthy was extremely popular. His work was essential in banning communists in government, and that effect remains in force today. Except in the Democrat party, the “news media” and academia. They remain useful idiots of communism and socialism. God Bless Joe McCarthy.

  • Red Baker

    I would like to know if the Venona files continue to be decrypted. New computer technology, it would seem, ought to make possible continuing to break the Soviet codes.

  • ontheleftcoast

    In Isaac Don Levine’s1973 memoir, Eyewitness to History he wrote something to the effect that had McCarthy not existed, it would have been in Communism’s interests to invent him.

    On balance, it looks as though Levine was right. The McCarthy of McCarthyism largely WAS a Communist invention and it was, and is, of great benefit to “Progressives.”

    • Hank Rearden

      Well, maybe. But the communists in the State Department and the Treasury HAD conspired against Chiang and in favor of Mao and HAD been instrumental in Mao winning the civil war in China. They thought they had put that in the past when McCarthy came on the scene and called them on it. That certainly WAS disruptive, which seems to be the gripe against McCarthy but that was because the Establishment, particularly the Dem admins of FDR and Truman had gotten comfortable with communists in high bureaucratic office. I can’t see why McCarthy was a bad guy for calling them on it.

      The trope against McCarthy when he was alive was that he was a liar. Well…give us some of his lies. They have all turned out to be true. As McCarthy said, it was a “conspiracy so immense” that people could simply not believe it.

  • Thomas Lipscomb

    Right or Left, the elephant no one wants to see is the historic sentimental affection for the range of socialist nostrums from Socialism to Communism among the Jews arriving in the US after the Civil War and their descendants… the ones Stephen Birmingham in OUR CROWD says the German Jews already here were against admitting though immigration and referred to them contemptuously as “kikes” given the “ki’s” with which many of the middle Europeans ended their name.

    And with their high representation in the press, academia, and the nonprofits why be surprised that the Nazis get a consistently and richly deserved bad press while the Communists are continually viewed as “social reformers,” particularly given the background they shared with many of the Communist agents (as NY Times obits constantly remind us by interring lifelong members of the CPU as “social reformers)?”

  • Erudite Mavin

    It would be someone like Arthur Miller who would use early mid 17 century history to manufacture an equation between that history and McCarthy.

    To note Arthur Miller’s background from a link on this site

    Arthur Miller’s Other Legacy: Stalin’s Little Helper

    By Allan H. Ryskind
    Human Events
    Posted Mar 22, 2005

    Yes, Miller was a tool for Communism.
    Miller cannot equate the mindset of the 17c vs 20th c.
    I also say this as the father of John Proctor was a 9th great grandfather of mine.
    Miller and vast numbers like him were the pre generation of the 1960s & 70s Marxist Radicals

  • Clare Spark

    Based on Klehr’s fine piece, I wrote a new blog: McCarthyism, then and now. I cannot say enough about the discretion and wisdom and completeness of Professor Klehr’s work.

  • marineh2ominer

    I am seventy years plus in age , I am a Christian Conservative American , Senator McCarthy is and always has been a true American hero to me , though he was defiled and ridiculed by a MSM that was deceitful and traitorus even back then . I still fail to understand the MSM’s strong desire to see the destruction of our constitutional republic even as it ( the constitution ) protects their very lively hood .

    • Hank Rearden

      I am with you. I don’t understand this hatred of America. As Thomas Sowell has so eloquently said “as compared to what?”


    McCarthy was way before my time, so I don’t know what to conclude.

  • Hank Rearden

    I went to college in the ’60’s, so I just missed the McCarthy era growing up. So he was a prominent recent historical figure, but I had had no indoctrination on him one way or the other. I remember studying post-war American history in one of my courses and in reading some important work, suddenly realizing on my own McCarthy was RIGHT! That all the complaining was not from people who had been mistakenly attacked by McCarthy, but by people who were upset at their activities being exposed!! It was as if the history of the Elliot Ness era in Chicago were written by Al Capone and Frank Nitti. Then Ness would become an evil extremist sent in from Washington and “obsessed” with bootlegging and outrageous in his exposure and prosecution of the Mob.

    And I have to say, Mr. Klehr, it ain’t enough to say that McCarthy falsely accused people and made mistakes WITHOUT GIVING A SINGLE EXAMPLE!!! The fact is McCarthy was right. What are the “falsehoods of McCarthy” to which you allude? I am not asking for an exhaustive list in an article like this, but HOW ABOUT JUST ONE?

    I get it that McCarthy was not entirely housebroken, but name ONE PERSON whose rights McCarthy abridged, That shouldn’t be too difficult if, as you imply, there were legions of such abused people.

    • Dan Jackson

      “And I have to say, Mr. Klehr, it ain’t enough to say that McCarthy falsely accused people and made mistakes WITHOUT GIVING A SINGLE EXAMPLE!!! The fact is McCarthy was right. What are the “falsehoods of McCarthy” to which you allude? I am not asking for an exhaustive list in an article like this, but HOW ABOUT JUST ONE?”

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. Look no further than his name, “Klehr.”

    • nightspore

      Here’s an example, taken from Steward Alsop’s The Center. Alsop was in the visitors’ gallery listening to McCarthy’s maiden communists-in-the-govt speech. During the speech he read some names. At one point, an old senator heard a name he knew and who he knew was not a Communist. So he walked up to the lectern and asked McCarthy for the evidence. More or less in Alsop’s words: “McCarthy paused for a moment, gave his nervous giggle, and then said, “Sit down, old man.”” That was Joseph McCarthy, a grandstander and a bully. In addition, the movie Point of Order shows examples of McCarthy and his aides fiddling with data (forged letter, cropped photograph), so Joseph Welch had some reason to ask, “Have you no shame?”

      In a ‘funny’ way, people who are hagiographers of McCarthy are the Tweedledees opposing the left-wing Tweedledums who want to pretend there was not Communist menace. The psychology is very similar, and equally depressing.

      • Hank Rearden

        OK. But here’s a problem. McCarthy didn’t name any names in his first speeches on communists in the government. He called for an investigation and said that it would not be proper to name any names in public until they had a chance to defend themselves. He would give names in a closed committee hearing, but not in public. The Dems pressed him for names in public hoping to embarrass him. And he did finally mention a few at the beginning of the Tydings’ Hearings. So that story does not ring true to me. I get it that the source – Stewart Alsop – is good, but it does not fit with McCarthy’s timeline.

        McCarthy was approaching the problem from a security point of view – was such and such a security risk? I cannot imagine McCarthy giving a response like “sit down, old man” unless that particular senator had sorely pressed and insulted McCarthy prior to that. It does not ring at all true.

        And, you still haven’t given a name.

        You have to remember that the MSM was totally – totally – in the tank for the progressives/liberals/Democrats. You will find that CBS will not show the Murrow piece on McCarthy now as it has lost all credibility. It was a hit piece.

        And ask yourself this. The Great Depression was thought at the time to mark the failure and thus the end of capitalism. The Great Depression resulted in a lot of suffering for a lot of people. There were a lot of people, particularly in the Academy and the helping professions, who thought that communism was the wave of the future. Remember this is before it got out that Stalin was slaughtering the kulaks. Roosevelt drew New Dealers from the Left – from the Academy, from social workers (Harry Hopkins), from leftists in general. And then in World War II we became allies with the Soviet Union.

        Given that background, is it so incredible, so unthinkable, so outrageous to think that some communists ended up in the bureaucracy after 20 continuous years of leftist rule?

        McCarthy was making the claim that there were such communists. The Dems, the MSM, the Academy all said PREPOSTEROUS, IMPOSSIBLE, only a charlatan would think such a thing.

        Who was likely to be right, leave aside all the nasty characterizations of McCarthy? Just deal with the situation. Was it simply beyond the realm of possibility that there were communists in the government? THAT after all, is what McCarthy’s critics are saying. Yes they pile on that McCarthy was a bully, but they are saying he WAS a bully because what he was saying couldn’t possibly be true.

        That just doesn’t hold up.

        You are misinformed about Joseph Welch. He had NO reason to say “have you no shame?” You can find that hearing on YouTube. For two hours – TWO HOURS – Welch had been hectoring Roy Cohn in his mock-pleading voice, “Please, Mr. Cohn, when you find a communist in government will you promise me, as I put in my small word, that you will run, RUN, Mr. Cohn, to the authorities and tell them “there is a communist in the government.” Will you promise to do that BEFORE SUNDOWN on that day?”

        This line of browbeating over and over again. Cohn was the soul of politeness. The point of that line of “questioning” by Welch was to suggest without saying so that there WERE no communists in government and that Cohn and therefore McCarthy were frauds.

        So, AFTER that badgering had gone on for two hours, McCarthy finally said, “Well, Mr. Welch, if it is that important to you to be notified immediately about communists, you have one in your own firm.” A totally justified riposte by McCarthy. And you will note that in all that tearful headshaking by Welch after McCarthy says that, all Welch actually says is that he will not discuss it, not that McCarthy is wrong.

        And, if you watch that hearing to the end, you will see McCarthy say to no one in particular “if I have said anything that is not true, I would like to know about it.”


        • Newspaniard

          I watched with great interest the film, “Good Night & Good Luck” in which Murrow destroyed McCarthy and thought it a great piece and was convinced by it that McCarthy had a screw loose. Recently, I have been reading “American Betrayal” by Diana West which tells a completely different, and more credible story about the Senator. Which raises the question for me, was Murrow a communist sympathiser or did he work for a heavily infiltrated organization? Reading the book brought me to this point which is turning out to be quite fascinating, especially the poor way Mrs West was treated by the FPM.

          • Hank Rearden

            Good question on Murrow. I think he was more a keeper of the conventional wisdom than anything else. He was friends with Laurence Duggan who committed suicide in 1948, i.e., PRE-McCarthy. But Duggan was under investigation for being a spy. Very likely, Murrow thought that charge to be preposterous and saw McCarthy as continuing in the same vein – I am guessing here. The Venona transcripts released in the 1990’s showed that Duggan WAS a spy.

            It’s a little hard from our perspective to understand WHY McCarthy’s enemies, which included almost everybody in power, thought that it was IMPOSSIBLE that he could be right about communists in the government when the world had just gone through 20 years of idolizing communism since the Great Depression was taken by many to be the end of capitalism. It probably relates to the fact that it was the DEMOCRATS that were being charged with being in bed with communists and we can’t have THAT. I.e., the Dems put party before country and not only got away with it, they were PRAISED for it.

            If you are interested in the subject, “Blacklisted by History” is the go-to book on McCarthy.

        • Rick Stevens

          “After reviewing evidence from Venona and other sources, historian John Earl Haynes concluded that, of 159 people identified on lists used or referenced by McCarthy, evidence was substantial that nine had aided Soviet espionage efforts.”

          Nine people, names delivered to him by the FBI (so already known) at the expense of ruining the lives of 150 people.

          There are books on this history.

          • Hank Rearden

            I wrote you a reply which didn’t seem to get uploaded.
            Haynes is talking around the subject. He is talking about people “identified on lists” USED BY McCarthy rather than talking about people identified by McCarthy. McCarthy avoided naming people in public unless he was required to do so by Senate procedure. His record on the people he DID identify is excellent – Solomon Adler, Adler’s roommate in Chungking John Stewart Service, Lauchlin Currie, Harry Dexter White, Gregory Slivermaster. And that is just a few. McCarthy was rooting out people who were influencing or making policy. Espionage was a factor, but not the main factor in his investigations.

            It is simply a fact that McCarthy’s record is excellent. And Haynes does no refute that. There were several lists in Washington at that time from various officials and investigations. Haynes’ point is a nothingburger.

  • Nabuquduriuzhur

    It’s striking that everyone that the House Unamamerican Activities committee fingered turned out to be a Socialist later on. Communists, Nazis, International Socialists, and so on.

    For Hollywood, where every person blacklisted later came out of the closet as a Socialist of one kind or another, to complain, is like saying “He caught me with my hand in the till! Punish him!”

    • TheSunDidIt

      Have to agree. I’ve never heard of a single case where Joe was wrong about someone.

  • Nabuquduriuzhur

    The case of Oppenheimer was striking. Schmucks always blame Teller for not defending Oppenheimer, but Teller was honest in his testimony. Kind of hard to argue about Oppenheimer when Oppenheimer was not only became a member of a communist organization after the war, but he didn’t even particularly try to hide it.

    • Hank Rearden

      I don’t think you are right about Oppenheimer becoming a member of a communist organization after the war. Maybe before the war.

      Oppenheimer was a leftie and probably a communist but that was well-known to Leslie Groves when he picked Oppenheimer to run the Manhattan Project, a most unlikely, but what turned out to be an outstanding choice.

      Oppenheimer was not in favor of researching the H-bomb because by its nature there is no limit to its power whereas a fission bomb blows itself apart and thus limits its yield. His view was that the H-bomb was too powerful a weapon to be in ANYBODY’s hand and in any case the U.S., being far more urbanized than the Soviet Union, had many more targets for an H-bomb than did the Soviet Union. He backed off his opposition after the Teller-Ulam design was shown to him and he realized that it was “so sweet” in his words that it was inevitable that it would be built.

      The whole security thing was egged on by Lewis Strauss whom Oppenheimer had embarrassed at some point. Oppenheimer was inclined to be arrogant and didn’t suffer fools gladly.

      You will note that with all the revelations from the Soviet files, Oppenheimer’s name has not come up. Groves has a very cool way of dealing with Oppenheimer’s security problems. Things about Oppenheimer would be dug up – his mistress was a communist for instance, as was his brother – they would be brought into Groves and he would put them in his safe. He just dead-ended them, but he was perfectly aware that Oppenheimer had a dicey past.

  • mkat68

    The best definition of the McCarthy era I ever heard was “Intellectuals shouting from the rooftops that they’re afraid to speak above a whisper.”

    • Ammianus

      You are so right and now their followers in our age tout their supposed victimization as if it bestows on them a badge of honor.

  • Independent Voter

    We see clearly today, that McCarty was, indeed, correct.

    • Cuppa

      He wasn’t. He was a drunken grand-stander. Nothing more.

      • Independent Voter

        We are suffering from what he warned of. And by the same people who killed John Birch.

  • Tanks-a-lot

    “Just as the views of Holocaust deniers cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged”

    Jews have people jailed for thought crime. It’s noticed and resentment builds against them for ruling over non-jews in that fashion.

    • Hank Rearden

      Put a cork in it.

      • Tanks-a-lot

        these issues are rooted in the Jewish marxist’s visions of ruining all good things.

        Did you not even get the irony of telling someone to shut up rather than address the fundamental injustice of jailing people that are not sufficiently reverent of Jews?

        • Hank Rearden

          Well, that doesn’t happen in this country.

          Europe, and particularly Germany, have a problem. The Nazis came to power through legal means. Since Germany doesn’t want to repeat that experience, it has to put some limits on free speech, at least as they see it. I think that Holocaust denial is not so related to the Jews as to the breakdown of law in the Nazi state. A lot of non-Jews were also killed in the camps.

  • Spencer Warren

    For many years the host of Turner Classic movies, Robert Osborne, has peddled the Communist/liberal lies in his film introductions. Turner has played about half a dozen series glorifying justifiably blacklisted Communist writers like Dalton Trumbo and one-sidedly condemning the “witch hunt.” Osborne is so dishonest it is reasonable to conclude he is a Communist.
    This is a superb essay, reasoned, factual, fair-minded

  • TheSunDidIt

    Slam Joe McCarthy all you want but, he was more right than anyone could imagine including himself. Obama is the chief communist.

  • FrontPgSubscr

    It’s interesting that Edmund A. Walsh S.J. (founder of Georgetown U. School
    of Foreign Service in 1919) was Joseph McCarthy’s primary mentor before his emergence into (so-called) politics.

    • FrontPgSubscr

      On the same note, the author’s comment at the end of this article
      where he analogizes the “Lost Cause myth” of the south (his ‘take’)
      to the general domestic approach to ‘American communism in the
      50s’, these two analogs coming through seemingly disparate agencies,
      clarifies like a laser beam!! The former formulated from ‘the right’ while
      the latter formulated from ‘the left’ (leftists). Underneath, there seems
      to be, if ‘hazy’, a common thread.

  • ernie1241

    A free society cannot survive or thrive if we adopt the standards employed by McCarthy.

    As former FBI Special Agent Robert Lamphere who worked as a Supervisor in the Espionage Section of the Bureau’s Security Division observed in one interview:

    “The problem was that McCarthy lied about his information and figures. He made charges against people that weren’t true. McCarthyism harmed the counterintelligence effort against the Soviet threat because of the revulsion it caused.” [The Real Joe McCarthy, Wall Street Journal, 4/22/08, pA25]

  • Jean Fraser McCarthy

    His purpose was not individual Communists, but the bigger picture. Was there Communist spies in the State Department and did the government do anything? Also, who were some innocents who McCarthy formally falsely accused of espionage? C’mon, Harvey, stop worrying about P.C whiny liberals and be honest with yourself.

  • Will Morris

    The authors focus, on how few Soviet spies, were uncovered by Senator McCarthy; totally misses the point…