The Magazine

McCarthy=Bad

But the truth is more complicated.

Nov 26, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 11 • By ROBERT D. NOVAK
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McCarthy's oft-stated goal, says Evans, "was to get his suspects out of the federal government and its policy-making system." So the book begins by listing 10 senior government officials (the most prominent of whom was the Soviet agent Lauchlin Currie, an executive assistant to President Franklin D. Roosevelt) who, because they were "targets" of McCarthy, "must have been mere innocent victims of his mid-century reign of terror." But, Evans continues, "all these McCarthy cases were right there in the Soviet cables." Venona, plus supporting data from Kremlin archives, shows that "rather than being blameless martyrs, all were indeed Communists, Soviet agents or assets of the KGB, just as McCarthy had suggested."

McCarthy correctly saw a State Department infested with Soviet agents and sympathizers, influencing U.S. foreign policy--in particular, abandonment of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist regime in China. John Stewart Service, a State Department "China hand," is widely viewed as a top-level martyr driven out of the department by McCarthy's accusations. Evans depicts Service living in the provisional Chinese capital of Chungking during World War II with two Soviet agents. Purportedly an adviser to Chiang, Service was sending reports back to Washington degrading Chiang and extolling Mao Zedong's Communists. Evans has obtained 1,200 pages of Services's dispatches, including one asserting that "the Communist political program is simple democracy . . . much more American than Russian."

The most familiar case of supposed mistaken identity by McCarthy--really the only such case--involves an elderly black woman from Washington named Annie Lee Moss, employed by the Army as a code clerk. When McCarthy brought her before his investigative committee, then in its last days, she was identified by the FBI as a Communist party member dealing with classified material to demonstrate faulty security procedures.

Democrats claimed McCarthy had the wrong Annie Lee Moss. But there was no other Annie Lee Moss, Evans makes clear. The woman testifying was a Communist, the Army belatedly admitted, with "party membership book number 37269." But that did not demolish what Evans calls "The Legend of Annie Moss." Her "mistaken identity" has been central in assaults against McCarthy dating from Edward R. Murrow's famous See It Now program in 1954 to George Clooney's 2005 panegyric of Murrow, Good Night and Good Luck.

The clearest evidence of McCarthy's accusing political rivals of treason is his June 14, 1951, speech in which he said that Gen. George C. Marshall was supporting "a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man"--that is, a Communist conspiracy. (A recent book critical of McCarthy by David M. Oshinsky is sarcastically titled A Conspiracy So Immense.) More than John Stewart Service and the China hands, or Annie Lee Moss and her "mistaken identity," that single speech on Marshall is the core of the case for McCarthyism.

Evans lists a few instances of McCarthy at his worst, headed by the Marshall speech--which was actually a journalist's book manuscript handed to McCarthy and impulsively read into the record. Yet even on this issue, Evans says McCarthy had a point. He never accused General Marshall of pro-Communist sentiments, only that he was influenced by Soviet agents and Soviet sympathizers: "Marshall everywhere and always made wrong decisions or urged mistaken courses."

Readers of Blacklisted by History may be surprised by how fastidious and detailed McCarthy was (with the exception of the Marshall speech) in assembling information about security risks in government. Readers are likely to be even more startled by the ferocity of the assault on him by the Truman administration and the unified Democratic majority in the Senate once he emerged from obscurity--in Wheeling, West Virginia, on the night of February 9, 1950--by declaring the existence of Communist security risks in the State Department.

The early stage of the Democratic attempt to destroy McCarthy was led by Sen. Millard E. Tydings of Maryland, a haughty grandee of the then-dominant southern Democratic bloc. Ruthless in hand-to-hand political combat, Tydings is shown by Evans refusing to let McCarthy testify, and omitting Republican material from the printed transcript. Tydings brought onto the Senate floor a purported phonograph record of the Wheeling speech, noting that McCarthy allegedly claimed 205 Communists were in the State Department (a number perpetuated in history despite McCarthy's denials and lack of substantiation). Tydings admitted, in a subsequent court proceeding, that the unplayed record was from a McCarthy interview in Denver, not his speech in Wheeling.