More than McCarthyism by Ellen Choi
A review of Ellen Schrecker’s Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America
McCarthyism is widely known as the movement in which Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy accused many Americans of being communist or communist sympathizers and charged them with acts of treason, subversion, or disloyalty. However, McCarthyism incorporates more than just the communist cases. In her book Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America, Ellen Schrecker goes beyond the McCarthy period, from when the anticommunist movement first began to the impacts of the anticommunist movement today. Schrecker’s book explains the relationship between the American communists, ordinary citizens, and the politicians, and how each group’s actions effected the anticommunist movement as a whole. McCarthyism was able to function as effectively as it did because of “the willingness of the men who ran the nation’s main public and private institutions to…eradicate what they believed was the far more serious danger of Communism.”1 Although some historians view Schrecker’s book as too sympathetic to the Communist Party, Schrecker’s book clearly reveals the events of the anticommunist movement without demonizing McCarthyism.
As suggested by the title of Part One of the book- “Antecedents”- Schrecker discusses the development of the anticommunist movement.According to Schrecker, the Communist Party’s secrecy and its flawed policies caused the party to become weak and vulnerable to attack. It was particularly unpopular because of its “appeals for class solidarity had little impact on an ethnically diverse, racially divided working class.”2 Other flaws of the Communist Party include its lack of a democratic decision-making procedure, the leaders’ inabilities to communicate with ordinary Americans, and the fact that it was“too isolated and sectarian to appeal to many of the workers.”3Not only that, but the party’s opposition to racial segregation and the members’ participation in unions made it vulnerable to repression, since their policies brushed sensitive subjects. Next, Schrecker covers the development of the anticommunist movement, starting with the creation of a network of “red-baiters” in the mid-1930s.“Red-baiting” started to develop because it allowed “anti-union employers a way to legitimize opposition to organized labor” without having to think of a plausible economic excuse.4 Another important cause for the development of anti-communism was the opposition from the left-wing which occurred especially because the Communist Party had been intensely hostile to several groups of the left. Later, former Communist Party members would join the left-wingers and focus attention on the Communist Party’s authoritative and manipulative aspects. Part One ends with the role of the government during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration in the development of the anticommunist movement. Roosevelt did not publicly investigate communism as McCarthy did but heallowed for the FBI’s director J. Edgar Hoover to secretly investigate the activities of the Communist Party. Finally, Roosevelt was convinced that the Communist Party may be a threat to America’s security because the Communist Party was opposed to Roosevelt’s policy of aid to Britain and the Allies during World War I.
Part Two, “Representations,” focuses on the creation of the "a new, more demonized image of Communists," as Schrecker argues that the Cold War itself did not start the repression against communists.5 First, Schrecker explains that Communist Party members were portrayed as part of a worldwide conspiracy and the image of communists was believable because “the stereotypes that emerged during the early Cold War ... reflected, albeit in an often highly distorted manner, real party practices and policies.”6 Not only that, but the Communist Party also had the image of being the tool of the communists in Moscow, immediately branding them as the enemy. Next, Schrecker closes up on the formation of the stereotypical communist image by using several real cases of alleged treason, espionage, and subversion. Incarceration, handcuffs, fingerprints, and mug shots of the communists all emphasized the supposed criminal nature of the communists. As the communist cases were slowly publicized, the Americans’ fear of communists intensified, allowing the anti-communists to label anyone who disobeyed the government as communist. Slowly, America was turning towards McCarthyism as more plausible communist successes were being exposed to the public.
The next part, “Instruments,” describes instruments that were used to help eliminate communists from America. The FBI became more autonomous and gained the ability to arrest anyone suspected of betraying the country. In order to increase the power of the FBI as well as make the hunt for communists even more believable, Hoover exaggerated the threat of Communism for national security. With that much power, trust, and independence, the FBI became “the bureaucratic heart of the McCarthy era.”7 Furthermore, a famous instrument in the repression of Communists was McCarthy himself. Although McCarthy is infamous for charging many Americans with treason, espionage, or subversion, Schrecker claims that McCarthy was more of a participant in the anti-communist movement, rather than the creator. Finally, the last instruments of anticommunists were the economic sanctions and the political dismissals. Many federal, state, university, and other programs were aimed at denying employment to alleged communists. After reviewing the many methods to eliminate communists, Schrecker concludes that politics, rather than national security, was what drove the anticommunist crusade.
Finally, the last part “Interconnections”describes the state of the nation during the 1950s and lists the impacts of the anticommunist movement. The most well-known effect was that the crusade destroyed careers and as a consequence, resulted in severe economic disasters, especially since most people who lost their jobs had difficulty finding another job. Alleged communists faced harassment from the suspicion that shadowed them. People identified as communists were physically attacked by extreme patriots and received hate mail and crank calls. Children of alleged communists also faced the same harassment that their parents faced. Fear was a significant psychological component that accompanied McCarthyism and even today, fear can be witnessed by the reluctance of victims to allow their story to go into historical records. The media and the arts were careful of what they presented to the public. Both movies and television shows of the 1950s all supported the status quo and reinforced conservatism. For example, Schrecker mentions that “Hollywood’s reluctance to make films about social problems… reflected the financially battered industry’s fear of offending any segment of its… audience.”8Artists abandoned realism, depoliticized their works, and returned to the “art for art’s sake” ideology. In terms of politics, McCarthyism not only repressed the American communists, but also had one major impact: “McCarthyism destroyed the left.”9 This occurred because political activists feared that active involvement in any liberal causes would lead to more harassment and would injure the movements they supported. As a result, organized labor lost its dynamism: it became more centralized, corrupt, and distant from its members while the members themselves lost interest in their unions. To conclude, Schrecker states that a new legacy was created in which“every public and private institution that fought Communism resorted to lies and dirty tricks,” which dramatically deformed American politics and showed the effectiveness of political repression.10
Schrecker’s thesis is that there were “many McCarthyisms[sic], each with its own agenda and modus operandi,” yet each version of McCarthyism all “sought…to protect the nation against the threat of domestic Communism.”11 On the other hand, Schrecker claims that McCarthyism is not to be entirely blamed for the repression of communists: “many of [the Communist Party’s] policies and procedures… rendered it peculiarly vulnerable to that repression and helped shape the measures that were adopted to destroy it.”12 Although each version of McCarthyism adopted different tactics and targets, all shared the consensus about the nature of communism. Therefore, the different branches of the anticommunist movement cooperated to create the stereotypical image of communists. Stereotypes about communists not only made it easier for “red-baiters” to easily justify their actions, but were plausible to most Americans because they “were grounded in what real Communists said and did.”13 For example, a central policy of the Communist Party was secrecy: the members of the Party used pseudonyms and the leaders of the Party often concealed their meetings, leading to distrust among the workers and inspiring suspicions about the true nature of the party in the eyes of ordinary Americans. Not only that, but the nature of the actions of the party, such as its opposition to racial segregation, its commitment to defending the Soviet Union, and its central position in the left-wing culture of America, made Communists a vulnerable target to repression. Schrecker’s thesis demonstrates her attempt to “investigate, not judge” the actions of “Communists, anti-Communists, and ordinary Americans involved with the events of the McCarthy period.”14 Rather than only focusing on the harms from McCarthyism, Schrecker includes in her thesis that the Communist Party’s policies affected the mechanisms of the repression it faced. Thus, Schrecker aims to present the McCarthy period in a perspective that is rarely presented by other historical documents.
Ellen Schrecker takes a sympathetic viewpoint towards the American communists, yet does not completely blame the anti-communists for the downfall of the American communists. As a widely recognized leading expert of McCarthyism, Schrecker does not take the position of a victim of anti-communism nor the perspective of an anticommunist of the 1950s but rather, she observes the anticommunist movement in a broader range.
Schrecker notes that the accused victims of McCarthyism were not always innocent victims; most of the alleged communists “had once been in or near the American Communist Party.”15 However, Schrecker does point out that the Communist Party had set themselves up for repression by trying to solve problems that America was still sensitive to, such as racial discrimination and formation of labor unions: “The party, through both its own failings and its successes, facilitated the process.”16 Still, throughout the work, Schrecker has a sympathetic tone towards the Communist Party. For example, the author reveals that“Roosevelt and his advisers took action against [the Communist Party]…because right-wing politicians threatened the administration.”17Here, Schrecker blames the federal government for attacking the American Communist Party to serve their interests to eliminate government enemies. Not only that, but it is mentioned that Roosevelt had supported J. Edgar Hoover’s campaign against communists because “boosting the FBI would help the New Deal as well as the Bureau.”18Again, the federal government is blamed for their selfish desires to maintain power at the expense of victims of anti-communism. Schrecker’s point of view may come from her experience of McCarthyism when her sixth-grade teacher was forced to resign. Moreover, Schrecker points out that the McCarthy period is “like a scab that will not heal”: the topic is too sensitive for surviving victims to talk about their actions and the federal government refuses to release all of its records.19 Since the topic of McCarthyism is Schrecker’s forte, she may have sympathy for the Communists because she had a broader and more in-depth knowledge of the policies of the federal government at the time and the efforts of the Communists to bring reforms to the country.
A New Left historian, Ellen Schrecker decided to write this book to reveal the events that allowed the anti-communist movement, especially McCarthyism, to be as effective as it was. Again, Schrecker wrote this book during the time when Americans, victims and observers of McCarthyism alike, were unwilling to reveals the truths of the anti-communist movement. Furthermore, even if some people discussed their experience of McCarthyism, most would tell their story from the point of view of a victim, which would not allow future generations to understand the full story of the anti-communist movement. Lastly, the term “McCarthyism” was widely used to describe the period of time where Wisconsin Senator McCarthy accused people of treason, disloyalty, and subversion. However, Schrecker wanted to convey to readers that the term “McCarthyism” “encompassed much more than the career of a Wisconsin senator who gave it a name.”20 Thus, this book was intended for not only Schrecker’s students, but also for the general public to discover the truths and the causes of the anti-communist movement.
James Nuechterlein and Michael Warner hold two vastly different opinions regarding Ellen Schrecker’s book. Nuechterlein criticizes Schrecker for her continuous judgments that she claimed she would not do. Generally, Nuechterlein claims that Schrecker does not view the “sins of the Communists” to be as bad as the sins of the federal government.21 According to Nuechterlein, Schrecker makes an effort to pick out facts that help her reveal the “’positive elements’ in the Communist agenda”and “allows herself to tar any and all opposition to the CP [sic] as ‘McCarthyism,’”which makes her book lack important details to explain the effectiveness of the anti-communist movement.22 23Schrecker failed to mention that the Korean War and the “sensibilities of the Cold War” are two major events that allowed McCarthyism to be the plausible movement that it was.24Also, Nuechterlein states that the idealists who joined the Communist Party hold the “moral culpability for joining and remaining with an organization” with a corrupt nature- even if some of those idealists left the Communist Party.25On the other hand, Michael Warner compliments Ellen Schrecker for her work. Unlike other historians who cover the topic of McCarthyism, Warner points out that Schrecker “[acknowledges] the justice of argument on both sides of some of the bitterest argument in American history.”26However, Warner also mentions that Schrecker’s conclusion- the last chapter explaining the impacts of the anti-communist movement on America today- is the weakest section of Schrecker’s book. Warner believes that McCarthyism did harm the Left as Schrecker claimed, but that damage “may have strengthened American liberals” by allowing them to prove their patriotism and therefore “immunizing themselves and their programs against… insults and doubts.”27In the end, Warner compliments Schrecker’s book for its clear presentation of information: “Many are the Crimes is well written, and it raises new questions and helps to define old issues more clearly.”28
The book provided much information not just about McCarthyism but also the anti-communist movement and how the federal government, the communists, and ordinary Americans influenced the effectiveness of the movement. The book was written in a style that was not too difficult to understand yet it presented complex ideas, which allows young readers to easily understand Schrecker’s perspective. However, the only weakness of the book was that at times, it seemed too sympathetic to the communists and too critical of the federal government. If Schrecker had maintained a neutralviewpoint then her narration may have built more connections between the three groups. On the other hand, as Schrecker mentioned, it would be difficult- if not impossible- to cover everything that occurred during McCarthyism because of “the multistranded[sic] nature of McCarthyism” and “the thousands of institutions and actors involved.”29 Overall, the book is useful for anyone who would like to learn more about McCarthyism without the bias that “McCarthyism was evil.”
The 1950s were a time of conservatism and stasis because McCarthyism destroyed the left, and also brought “a good deal of trauma” to American citizens. Many Americans lost their jobs and the trauma of the anticommunist movement caused people to retreat from politics. Ellen Schrecker also claims that the fear caused by McCarthyism were responsible for an increasing blandness of American culture, for the banality of television and movies in the 1950s, and even for contributing to art galleries' rejection of realism. Not only that, but the anticommunist movement destroyed many organizations and unions reduced the militancy of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The efforts of Franklin D. Roosevelt to bring America out of the Great Depression were undone by McCarthyism, causing America to return to a state similar to that of pre-World War I. Schrecker shares a possible outcome that could have occurred if the left had not been destroyed by the anticommunist movement: a post-World War II “left-labor coalition ... might have offered an alternative to the rigid pursuit of the Cold War and provided the basis for an expanded welfare state.”30 In a time where America could have made social, economic, and political progress, America took a step back, due to the politicians’ desire to remove government opposition, according to Schrecker.
McCarthyism was not only the movement caused by McCarthy, but it also included all of the branches of the anticommunist movement. McCarthy was not the only man to try to eliminate communists; McCarthyism was an“anticommunist crusade”that used “all the power of the state to turn dissent into disloyalty and, in the process, drastically narrowed the spectrum of acceptable political debate.”31
Schrecker, Ellen. Many are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. Canada: Little, Brown and Company (Canada) Limited, 1998. xi.
Schrecker, Ellen. 7.
Schrecker, Ellen. 12.
Schrecker, Ellen. 49.
Schrecker, Ellen. 120.
Schrecker, Ellen. 121.
Schrecker, Ellen. 123.
Schrecker, Ellen. 369.
Schrecker, Ellen. 369.
Schrecker, Ellen. 413.
Schrecker, Ellen. xii.
Schrecker, Ellen. xii.
Schrecker, Ellen. xii.
Schrecker, Ellen. xii.
Schrecker, Ellen. xii.
Schrecker, Ellen. 41.
Schrecker, Ellen. 89.
Schrecker, Ellen. 88.
Schrecker, Ellen. x.
Schrecker, Ellen. x.
Nuechterlein, James. "Kremlin Calling." Rev. of Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in
America. Commentary June 1998: 66-68. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 1 June
Nuechterlein, James. 67.
Nuechterlein, James. 68.
Nuechterlein, James. 68.
Nuechterlein, James. 68.
Warner, Michael. Rev. of Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. Journal of
Cold War Studies3 3.2 (2001): 101-03. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 June
Warner, Michael. 102.
Warner, Michael. 102.
Schrecker, Ellen. Many are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. Canada: Little, Brown and Company (Canada) Limited, 1998. xv.
Schrecker, Ellen. 369.
Schrecker, Ellen. x.
More than a Red Nightmare by Michael Theis
A review of Richard Fried’s Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective
Living in the early 1950s, many innocent Americans found themselves being asked, “Are you now, or have you ever been part of the Communist Party?” The Cincinnati Reds baseball team changed its name to Red Legs, just so there was no confusion with the “Reds” of communism. The older generations suspected their government was being “soft” on communism. Being called a communist was a perpetual fear lingering in the back of the public’s mind. Beneath these anxieties the Cold War gelled, and the prospects of nuclear war grew worrisome. Newspapers published city maps showing the levels of destruction expected from a nuclear blast, while school children practiced emergency drills by crawling under their desks. Many were uneasy; popular magazines strived to put the new weapons in a less threatening context. “Look burbled that the H-Bomb - about the size of a living room - was ‘one of the cheapest forms of destruction known to man.”1Nightmare in Red by Richard M. Fried provides an overview of a period known as the Second Red Scare. It was an era of hysteria, paranoia, and demonization. Senator Joseph McCarthy presided over the era by hunting Reds as his ticket to fame. This was his moment.
“For many, the McCarthy era was the grimmest time in recent memory.”2 Americans developed a phobia for domestic communism that overrode the actual threat and gnawed at civil liberties. For many politicians, seeking out Reds was the key to fame and power. This was the main focus of Senator Joseph McCarthy; of Richard Nixon during his tenure as Congressman, Senator, and Vice President; of several politicians in the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Common people responded to all the anti-communist fervor by limiting their political activities, curbing their complaints, and keeping rebellious thoughts out of earshot. Reputations during this time were either made or ruined, careers were blasted or reinforced, and opportunities were erased or created. McCarthy questioned the loyalty of over 81 unnamed State Department employees in a speech of February 20, 1950. Most of Senator McCarthy’s charges were flimsy and unsubstantial. A famous example of the false accusations is the Alger Hiss Case. Former State Department Alger Hiss was accused of being a communist by Whittaker Chambers, an admitted communist 1948. Hiss appeared before the HUAC and vehemently denied these accusations. Defenders of Hiss declared that President Truman’s opponents were using Hiss as a “sacrificial lamb.” Even Truman himself said that the HUAC was using this scandal to defame Hiss. Eventually Hiss was brought to trial, but not for treason. He was instead charge with two accounts of perjury: one for lying to the government, and the other for saying he had not seen Chambers since 1937. In 1949, the first trial ended in a deadlocked jury, but the second trial end with a guilty verdict on both accounts. In the end, Hiss served nearly four years in prison, but still protested his innocence during and after his incarceration. Cases like this prove that there existed a broad anti-communist consensus and seldom questions were asked.
The onset of the Cold War brought a heightened anxiety about the communist threat in the U.S. The historian comments, “Some revisionist historians have argued that the Truman administration paved the way for the Second Red Scare.”3 Anti-communism still continued unabated during the Truman administration. The domestic spying persisted, justified by the government. The country’s growing unrest led Truman to establish a federal loyalty program, the 1946 Executive Order 9835.Fried discusses how Truman came across to some as an instigator of red-baiting, but to others as a great protector of civil liberties. Truman was willing to accept sentiments of anti-communism as a political necessity, but he became disillusioned with the oncoming course of events. Confrontational foreign policy rhetoric converged with increasingly bad treatment of domestic communists, further kindling resentment for communism until every niche of American culture reflected this detestation. Anti-communism was also planted in the nation’s political consciousness. Politicians hunted Reds and trials stamped disapproval on communism. Advocates of peace and other causes had the burden of proving that they weren’t acting as “fronts” for communist organizations. To be leftist during this time was to be the suspect. The country was in the talons of the Red Scare. To make matters worse, in 1949, the Russians created and tested a nuclear device; Americans interpreted that the Russians stole leaked information, as they could not build the device on their own. At this point, even Hollywood was assailed as being pro-Soviet. The Korean War broke out, creating a military creating a military stalemate steady at the America’s temper. The anxieties of the Cold War, the Korean crises, and pressures at all levels of politics would guarantee that this period - with or without McCarthy - would be a grim one.
On February 6, 1950, Republican leaders issued a campaign tract that scorned the Democrats for tolerating disloyalty through the theft of vital secrets in the government. Senator McCarthy stepped forth to put the anti-Red crusade into high gear. He made his first speculation in anti-communism at a Lincoln Day celebration. After that, he went from being a no-name Senator to the most well-known politician other than the president within a couple years. Fried states, “McCarthy was a “media demagogue” who loved to grab headlines.”4 However, the election of Eisenhower meant that McCarthy’s days were numbered. He began to overextend his power, a mistake that proved to be fatal. His physical decline was also accelerated by emotional degredation. He felt betrayed by former friends like Richard Nixon, but the easing of Cold War tensions was more reactionary to his cause. The fall of Senator McCarthy did not mark the end of the Second Red Scare. Trials continued, and civil rights activists were being labeled as pro-communist. Witnesses who had taken the 5th Amendment Right on the stand were nonetheless subject to ridicule from the public. Fried notes that the goal of many of the hearings was to embarrass rather than to guilt. The Korean War stalemate generated debates about containment and soured national politics. The 1950 congressional campaign revealed McCarthyism’s sway over voters by how it encouraged the GOP’s right wing, and how it signaled that anti-communism was the core of American political culture. In the House, HUAC did whatever it pleased. People were constrained by both external affairs and internal checks within which they reactively restricted their own affairs.
Several developments in 1954 checked the momentum of anti-communist extremism. Within the next few years, the atmosphere of the McCarthy era dissipated. About a year after Eisenhower’s first term, a loyalty-security apparatus was put in into place and began to attract rising criticism. Publicity had nourished Red-hunters like McCarthy, but now it was used to highlight the system’s harshness and to discredit the methods by which it was enforced. Potent social forces of the 1950s as consumerism and suburbanization helped cool the fever of McCarthyism. Eventually it would take the appointment of Chief Justice Earl Warren to put an end to the hysteria. Through a series of rulings, the Warren Court began to take a steady stance on civil liberties. By the 1956 election campaign, preoccupation with the Red Scare had declined within party politics. The historian notes that, “In 1960, both Kennedy and Nixon tried their best to edge away from McCarthyism.”5 During this period, a “do your own thing” ethic was formed and encouraged a greater tolerance of political and cultural diversity, leading to the rise of Black Power movement. The legacy of McCarthyism reverberated throughout the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, but no longer held the same bite it used to.
Through the Nightmare in Red, Fried shows that McCarthyism encompassed more than McCarthy and grew out of out of the long-established antiradical tradition. Fried notes that “much of the machinery and discourse of ‘McCarthyism’ was in place before the Cold War or McCarthy advent.”6 Fried also asserts that the origins of McCarthyism lay largely amongst the grievances and ambitions of conservative politicians. A related factor included the nation’s underdeveloped appreciation for the importance of civil liberties. Fried also traces seeds back to the New Deal and World War II era. He clearly identified how McCarthyism was a direct reaction to the New Deal Reforms, also pointing out that Franklin D. Roosevelt himself was not above spying on political enemies. Richard Fried shows how the Second Red Scare was built up over time since the 1930s, and how anti-communism that derived its persistence from deeply rooted values shared by the American society led to a profound cultural aversion of communism underlying McCarthyism.
Richard Fried’s experience as a professor of history at a distinguished university shaped his perspective of the time period. Because his teachings primarily focus on political history with an interest in political culture, he emphasizes these aspects in his works. Although all of his books are about McCarthyism, there is no evidence of a personal interest in this topic. Being a historian, his opinion is moderate as he describes the events of the Red Scare. However, Fried offers his conclusion in an “on the one hand, on the other” type format, giving an evenhanded view of the time by considering both sides. Though many of the conclusions he has made are unobjectionable, others use straw men or rely on minimal research. For example, Fried’s indicates that, “Owen Lattimore’s political and editorial ‘maneuvers’ and ‘foolish utterances’ had somehow contributed to his ordeal.”7
Nightmare in Red was published in 1990, which means that Fried had written the book during the 1980s. The 1980s had brought forth many changes in the social, political, and economical landscape of America. Therefore, people were more lenient and open new reforms and social changes. He states how ordinary people responded by keeping things to themselves, “yet paradoxically these bleak years are also remembered as happy times.”8 Also for some reason, Fried had seemed to have been caught in a time warp, unable to extricate himself from the problematic of the McCarthy period itself. He does not explore any new questions about the era, and thus his works do not advance the modern understanding of this complicated anti-communist consensus. His ideas and perspective were most likely influenced by the period of which he wrote his book, the 1980s.
Patrick Quinn, from Northwestern University wrote a book review on Nightmare in Red. Quinn felt that Fried had missed the essential point. He thought, “What fueled McCarthyism was an effort on the part of wealth and of the right in the U.S. in the decade following the close of World War II to roll back the economic, social, and political grains that had been won during the 1930’s by working people and the American left.”9He claims that Fried’s study has several other conspicuous faults, indicating that throughout the book he assumes the autonomy and spontaneity of public opinion. Fried’s most egregious error, however, is how he assumes that actual members of the Communist Party got what they deserved, including well-intentioned liberals and an occasional conservative who got caught up by mistake. Quinn is trying to say that despite all of the useful information that Fried assembled, the historiography of McCarthyism will make minor progress until practitioners began to admit that McCarthyism was so pernicious because it attacked the rights of all victims.
Ellen Schrecker from Yeshiva University also wrote a review on the book Nightmare in Red. She mentions that with the controversy of McCarthyism, as well the conceptual complexity of the topic, “Fried had no easy task.”10 She states how Fried tried to be both comprehensive and balanced, covering famous cases from Alger Hiss to Robert Oppenheimer. However, the search for balance is debatable. Ellen refers to Fried writing in the 1950s when people shrank from taking sides on controversial issues. Fried also depends on the scholarship of others, but not necessarily with good results. Schrecker concludes that the book is useful largely considering the little reliable information that Fried could depend on.
Nightmare in Red was a thorough work, giving insight to the steps that built up to the Red Scare. The most memorable quote from the book is, “The H-bomb - about the size of a living room - was ‘one of the cheapest forms of destruction known to man,”11 which emphasizes its complete and utter nonsense. Fried does an efficient job of covering a variety different aspects of the Red Scare. He spends about a quarter of the book discussing how the Red Scare impacted artists and actors. There are also segments discussing how McCarthyism affected the civil rights and feminist movements. The book is useful for knowledge and recommended to anyone interested in the subjects of McCarthyism or the Red Scare.
The 1950s was a time of progress and liberalism. During the Red Scare, McCarthyism affected every social tier. People adapted differently, whether they leaned towards communism or anti-communism. McCarthy had forced people into silence, while the press became obsessed with its new fear of communism in the U.S. As Richard Fried mentions in his book, “Even at the peak of his influence in 1953-54, McCarthy did not lack critics.”12 Going through this period, Americans learned to be more tolerant of political changes and alternate viewpoints. The author’s thesis indicates that there was progress and liberalism.
In conclusion, the book Nightmare in Red by Richard Fried shows how there were many more components involved other than Senator McCarthy that caused the Red Scare. As Fried states, “much of the machinery and discourse of ‘McCarthyism’ was in place before the Cold War or McCarthy’s advent.”13 In the end, all admirable causes yet viewed as anathema by the most ardent proponents of the anti-communist crusade that spawned the red nightmare of mid-century America.
Fried, Richard. Nightmare in Red. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. 6.
Fried, Richard. 3.
Fried, Richard. 59.
Fried, Richard. 124.
Fried, Richard. 194.
Fried, Richard. 58.
Fried, Richard. 127.
Fried, Richard. 4.
Patrick Quinn, review of Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective, by Richard Fried, Vol.74, No. 3, pp. 215-217.
Ellen Schrecker, review of Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective, by Richard Fried, 1321-1322.
Fried, Richard. 6.
Fried, Richard. 132.
Fried, Richard. 58.
Blacklisted by History: Joe McCarthy by Schuyler Neary
A review of Medford Stanton Evans’s Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy
M. Stanton Evans begins his book, Blacklisted by History: the Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy, by saying, “McCarthy lives on in American legend with remarkable staying power, unmatched by other notable figures of his day.”1 This is a reference to McCarthy’s life and the turbulent times that he lived in. In his book, Evans shows the reader not only McCarthy’s life and actions, but also shows the effects these events had on his life and his legacy.
The first part of the book talks about McCarthy’s rise to power in the Senate and how he became so influential in the politics of the mid-1900s. Evans also writes about how McCarthy “was ultimately more important as a symbol or product of the age than for what he did as an individual.”2 Evans takes this section of the book to explain what the book will be about, and explains that this book is a defense of McCarthy rather than a book that will condemn him and his actions. The introduction establishes McCarthy as a human, rather than an enemy of the American people, as many history books tend to lean towards. Also, this section of the book sets the stage for McCarthy’s later career, which is discussed in the next chapters of the book. It talks of the important anticommunists of the era before McCarthy when Martin Dies was the head of the anticommunist movement in America. It primarily mentions McCarthy’s early campaigning in Wisconsin, and when he first introduced his anticommunist ideals. He was not a significant member of his community, and gained less support from the Republicans than he had expected. This transitions into McCarthy’s life and events that happened to him in the next section of the book. The senator is placed in a more noble light, as the historian portrays him as being a nationalist who is deeply involved with politics. There is a prelude to the foreign policy discussion with this section, which lightly scrapes the context of the world McCarthy lived in. Stanton uses this first quarter to introduce McCarthy and begin telling the reader his thesis.
The second portion of the book discusses the actions that McCarthy took in order to try to keep the communists out of the government. This part of the book gives a description of the events of McCarthy’s life, including the end of his life. It discusses the infamous army hearings that eventually led to McCarthy’s downfall, and it shows the failures of McCarthy to keep the favor of the people. He radiated sleaziness and Stanton does touch upon his social tactics to win support, such as commencing fundraisers and mingling events. It also discusses the part that the media had to play in making the American people feel that McCarthy was an evil political figure. The new invention of the television was instrumental in propagating his ideas—it was the art of “Red-baiting.” It was used to first introduce his ideas, and McCarthy eventually became very good at dramatizing topics on screen. There is more information on the politics of the time outside of McCarthy’s reach as well. Stanton exposes the fact that there were communists infiltrating the Roosevelt and Truman administration, and indicates that this was a national security issue. The historian further emphasizes how McCarthy did recognize the signs of suspicious behavior, and was involved in sparking the mass attention to the problem. However, he went about the wrong way to do it, by accusing innocents and finding faulty evidence. This part of the book also shows the fall of McCarthy from one of the most popular figures in America to the most hated by the American people. McCarthy had been investigating high members of the military, and the backlash of the executive threatened to bring down his name. This part mainly focuses on the causes, such as the media and the unpopular actions that McCarthy took that led to his downfall. It also discusses his alcoholism, which he died of shortly afterwards. Stanton explores the more personal aspects of McCarthy’s life to reveal the humanity behind him, and possibly consider some explanations for his behavior. This quarter shows his life, and merely the events that happened.
The third area of the book investigates into what actually happened in the time period in regards to communism and the communist spies trying to infiltrate the American government. The reader sees several documents that imply that contrary to popular belief, there were many attempts by communists to plant moles and spies in our government. There were several different instances with evidence that showed the soviets trying to infiltrate the American government. Some of McCarthy’s accusations were not necessarily completely wrong, and instead defends some of his actions no matter how paranoid they were. This is due to evidence found by Evans that shows that the communist threat in America was very real and that McCarthy had a right to be afraid of it. This serves as Evans’ evidence, which he uses to make his case in the fourth and final part of the book.
The fourth and last part of the book tells about the legacy that McCarthy left and the things that may be wrong about his legacy. All in all, this area of the book uses the evidence mentioned earlier in the book to try to defend McCarthy. For example, it discusses the evidence that was shown in the previous chapters, and shows how our opinions and public outlook on McCarthy may be incorrect. Several pictures of documents are shown that disprove the common thought that McCarthy was completely wrong in that communists were trying to infiltrate the American government. Evans then uses this quarter to close out his thesis and show his readers that McCarthy may have taken the hunt for communism to far, but it was not an unrealistic fear. This is how Evans makes his point seen, that he believes that in some areas, McCarthy was unfairly judged for his actions, and he should not be view with the infamy that he is today.
In his book, Evans has a very complex thesis and view on McCarthy and his reputation today. Evans gives several examples in his book that show how McCarthy was not really as bad as everyone today believes him to be. Evans says that, “McCarthy is misjudged today because of the lack of evidence in his era.”3 Due to a lack of evidence for communist spies in the American government, McCarthy’s claim of danger to the people was thought to be completely wrong, even though we now have discovered evidence that he was correct that the soviets were trying to infiltrate our government in the early stages of the cold war. Evans felt that the American public had a right to know that McCarthy had some legitimate claims to communist spies in the government, shown by the new evidence that he has discovered on the subject. This is why he wrote Blacklisted by History, which is a defense of the senator from Wisconsin, and tells us of his life and the circumstances of his downfall.
M. Stanton Evans was born in 1934 to two parents who both worked in politics and were heavily involved in writing and teaching about politics. This is probably what pushed Evans to write and teach about history and politics. Also, Stanton was also a young man during the time period of McCarthyism and he was able to live through many of the turbulent times of McCarthy’s life, which is probably what led him to be interested in investigating McCarthy and the times of his life. He graduated from Yale University in 1955 and finished his schooling at New York University. He was for several years the editor of the Indianapolis News, is the author of seven books, and was founder and for twenty-five years the director of the National Journalism Center. He still writes about history today.
The book was written in 2007, which puts it in very modern times. In modern times, even the author states that “Scarcely a week goes by, it seems, without some press reference to McCarthy and his anti-communist crusading.”4 This probably influenced Evans to write this book because he was curious to see why McCarthy was so infamous, and this led to Evans investigating into the matters regarding McCarthy, and this led to his discoveries. He found out that there was much more communist activity going on in the 1950s, and many Americans had a right to be scared that communists were trying infiltrate the government. Because of these discoveries, Evans felt that the world should know, so he wrote his book.
In the book review for Blacklisted by History by the New York Crown Forum, it is stated, “the book is well written and readable.”6 The author, Dwight Murphy, states that the book addresses more of the mistakes in public opinion in regards to McCarthy rather than the average American’s feelings about McCarthy. He says that the book is unique in that it is one of the only books about McCarthy that actually defends his actions rather than condemns them. Murphy states that Evans and his publisher are relying on the fact that there will be an audience for the book and the new types of ideas that it states. These hopes of Evans and his publishers are met with extreme skepticism by Murphy, who feels that the book is will not be very popular. Murphy’s thesis with his critical review of Blacklisted by History is that the book is very well researched and well written, but it may not meet any mainstream demands of the readers of today.
Another book review by the New York Times gives a similar perspective on Blacklisted by History. They also state that the book provides a new perspective on the life and times of senator Joe McCarthy. The New York Times describes the book as a “full-throated defense of the senator.”5David Oshinsky, the author of the review, feels that Evans’ work was very well done, but it did not cater to the wants of the American public, an outlook very similar to the review by the New York Crown Forum, written by Dwight Murphy. However, Oshinsky also expressed surprise at there being a book such as Blacklisted by History, because he says that most writers would not risk their reputations on a book defending the most infamous political figure in our history. Also, Oshinsky states that the evidence that Evans’ claims to have discovered had been discovered by historians years ago, and they had been dismissed for being either false or insufficient.
Each of these critical review stated that Evans’ book was very well written, but it lacked the audience with the general public to become a commercially successful book. However, Evans argued against this by saying that he only wanted to write something defending McCarthy, who he feels has been wronged by the mistreatment of the masses over the years. Evans says that this book was never meant to be a mainstream success, and it was only a project he felt like pursuing. The only criticism of the book that was in either of the review was that the evidence that Evans’ discovered had already been analyzed and dismissed by established historians. All in all, both critical reviews agree that Blacklisted by History was very well written, but does not cater to the mainstream wants of the public.
The book Blacklisted by History did what any good history book would do, it gave not only the history of Senator Joe McCarthy, it also gave the reader a new perspective on the events of the time period and the circumstances of the time. Most readers went into the book with feelings of animosity towards Senator McCarthy, and Evans uses his research to give a new perspective on McCarthy to the reader. Evans comes right out and states that McCarthy is not respected at all in the modern world, and is perhaps the most hated political figure that has been in office in the past 50 years. After this, he writes that the circumstances that McCarthy lived in were much different than we all assume. He feels that McCarthy was simply being a patriot in trying to find the communists in the American Government in the 1950’s. He then uses his vast research to support this claim. The information in the book was very clear, and Evans did a great job of displaying his thesis clearly and really making the reader think about the life of McCarthy and if he really deserves to be treated the way he is now.
Blacklisted by History certainly illustrates the ways in which the 1950’s were a much more conservative era than the world we know today. This is because the book deals with the life and actions of Senator Joe McCarthy, one of the biggest conservative figures in history. This book shows the darker side of America in the 1950s, which involved a massive witch hunt and a failure of the government to contain it. In fact, the government did the exact opposite and encouraged the witch hunt, which is why McCarthy is so hated today as a political figure. He is associated with conservatism because of the witch-hunt that he started and the paranoia that was caused by his accusations that communist spies infested the US government. This book tells us of that conservatism and just how conservative McCarthy and the 1950’s were. The author, however, does not agree that the 1950’s were as conservative as people today believe. Evans defends McCarthy, and states that his actions were justified, and he was not being paranoid at all.
All in all, Blacklisted by History is a very clever book that is not only well written, it gives a new outlook on the very controversial figure of Joe McCarthy. Instead of condemning him, like most authors and critics of modern times, Evans prefers to defend the late senator. This provides a very unique view on the senator and the things he did in his life. However, not all people may be excited to read this book, because instead of encouraging the current image of McCarthy, it defends him and his actions. In conclusion, Blacklisted by History is a book for those who want a new perspective on the infamous Joe McCarthy that they have heard so much about.
1 M. Stanton Evans, Blacklisted by History 15.
2 M. Stanton Evans, Blacklisted by History 27.
3M. Stanton Evans, Blacklisted by History 231.
4M. Stanton Evans, Blacklisted by History 15.
5 David Oshinsky, New York Times book review
6 Dwight Murphy, New York Crown Forum book review
Miscarriage of Justice by Vy Ngo
A review of Joseph Sharlitt’s Fatal Error: The Miscarriage of Justice That Sealed the Rosenbergs’ Fate
The Rosenberg case, dealing with the life and death of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, was one of the most controversial cases of the 1950s. In his book, Fatal Error: The Miscarriage of Justice that Sealed the Rosenbergs’ Fate, Joseph H. Sharlitt proves that not only were the Rosenbergs unjustly tried under the wrong law, but also the sentencing judge, Irving Kaufman, wrongly claimed that the defendants put the atomic bomb into Russia’s hands. In Fatal Error, the narrative clearly states, “…the wrong law [resulted] in two executions that the correct law forbade.”1 Sharlitt also shows that the prosecutor U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell and Chief Justice Fred Vinson plotted against Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who agreed to delay the execution of the Rosenbergs by himself. Brownell and Vinson clearly violated lawyers’ standards of judicial conduct. Overall, the author demonstrates how disarrayed the Supreme Court and the nation’s judiciary branch became at the height of McCarthyism.
The Rosenbergs were charged, tried, and convicted under the claim that they had delivered atomic bomb plans to the Russians, and indirectly caused the death of thousands of Americans in the Korean War. In chapters one to four, Sharlitt describes the order of events at the beginning of the trial. First, the Rosenbergs were tried under the Espionage Act of 1917, which “permitted a judge to sentence certain violators of the act to death on the judge’s own determination, without requiring any recommendation from the jury.”2 The absence of a jury recommendation made it easier for the courts to accuse and to execute the Rosenbergs. The Rosenbergs were not tried for passing the information to the Russians, but for their overall plan to spy for and transfer secrets to the Soviet Union. After an already failed attempt by Manny Bloch, the Rosenbergs’ lawyer, Fyke Farmer from Tennessee, attempted to delay the execution by writing a theory that convinced the Supreme Court to reconvene and consider postponing the execution. Farmer’s theory sparked a debate about whether the Atomic Energy Act of 1946applied to the case. The Atomic Energy Act required that spies who passed atomic secrets would only be executed by a recommendation of the jury sitting in the case. Moreover, only Judge Kaufman had the power to change the defendants’ sentence under the Espionage Act, but he remained adamant on subjecting the Rosenbergs to the death penalty.
Sharlitt continues to walk the reader though the events of the case, through chapters five to seven, where he discusses a pivotal argument in favor of the Rosenbergs. Fyke Farmer and Daniel Marshall, advocates of the defendants, presented a petition to the Supreme Court Justice Douglas. Their petition, known as the Marshall-Farmer papers, argued that the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 should apply to the case. The men were questioned whether or not they represented the Rosenbergs; the Rosenbergs, on the other hand, “[didn’t] care who [got] them out of the electric chair.”3 Douglas was appalled by the argument the lawyers provided, for Douglas knew that if the Marshall-Farmer papers were right, the government would have to go back to the beginning of the trial and call a grand jury. Douglas delayed the execution, presenting the Rosenbergs with more time to change their sentence. U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell and Chief Justice Fred Vinson met and discussed whether the actions of Douglas were in violation of the regulations and rules of judicial conduct. Douglas’ approval of Farmer and Marshall’s delay had been granted for one reason: the application of the 1946 Atomic Energy Act to the Rosenbergs’ conduct. Acting Solicitor General Robert L. Stern prepared to argue in favor of the government while Manny Bloch, Farmer, and Marshall planned to argue for the Rosenbergs. The second trial revolved around whether “aiding a foreign country [was] one thing, and injuring your own country [could] be quite another.”4 Leo Szilard, a witness, first articulated the scientists’ position on the question of control over nuclear power. The scientific leaders felt that the atomic race was a moral abomination that was their responsibility to prevent. The government had to put its effort in this trial because “if the Farmer-Marshall argument was accepted, the Rosenbergs would claim total immunity for their crimes.”5 Despite the efforts of Farmer, the court decided to deny the delay in execution and reinstate the death sentence.
Chapters eight and nine focus on the lawyers’ final fight to delay the execution. It was clear that Douglas knew that his demands did not have the support of the chief justice and the majority of the court. In a last attempt to save the Rosenbergs, Bloch asked the court to stay the execution so that he could make another attempt to secure mercy from Eisenhower, who had no sympathy for the Rosenbergs. The rule of clemency, or mercy, was not viewed as a “repeal” rule, but a rule of fairness. Marshall also made an appeal for a delay until he could brief and debate the legality of the court’s power to override a stay imposed by one of its justices. Both Bloch’s and Marshall’s notions were denied by the Supreme Court. In a last attempt to postpone the execution, Ethel Rosenberg wrote to Eisenhower in vain, pleading for mercy, but Eisenhower ignored the plea. Enraged, Bloch said, “What kind of animals am I dealing with? This is barbaric. Eisenhower rejects our position without even hearing us. He acts like a military dictator. They are all without feeling, like Nazis. I want the whole world to know what animals they are. I am ashamed to be an American.”6 New York’s Union Square was struck with grief by the news of the execution and it erupted in one of fifty protests that denounced Eisenhower, the Supreme Court, Kaufman, the Department of Justice, and the American justice system itself. To many Americans, it seemed the Supreme Court permitted itself to act on nothing but its own ignorance.
In the last two chapters, Sharlitt discusses other spies who were not sentenced the death penalty like the Rosenbergs. For example, Klaus Fuchs was an expert in the process of developing a U-235 bomb by gaseous diffusion, with the help of an American courier by the name of Henry Gold. Fuchs supplied communist countries with information about the atomic bomb, but was never accused or sentenced. Bruno Pontecorvo and Allan Nunn May formed an alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom at the expense of the USSR. Pontecorvo’s major contribution to the Soviet development of the bomb lay in the development of techniques to synthesize plutonium. May wrote reports that covered everything he knew about complex atomic energy. Pontecorvo was never caught and May received only ten years in prison. Sharlitt states, “The Rosenberg case, as controversial as it was, was also a major miscarriage of justice.” 7 The Rosenbergs received an unjust sentence while other spies either evaded justice or received better treatment. Kaufman was wrong in accusing the defendants of two historic betrayals: the theft of the atomic bomb and the resulting communist aggression in Korea. The betrayals of Klaus Fuchs, Bruno Pontecorvo, and Allan Nunn May demonstrated that Kaufman was in erred in assigning the death sentence to the Rosenbergs.
Sharlitt outlines in dramatic and stunning detail how numerous judges ignored evidence pointing to a defective indictment and aided the speedy execution of the Rosenbergs. Sharlitt states, “By far the biggest reason for the death sentence was the government’s desire for it.”8 He addresses the legal issues of the case and concludes that the convicted spies were executed illegally by a corrupt court of justices referring to the trial judge Irving Kaufman and the six Supreme Court justices who voted against staying the execution. Sharlitt's theory rests on the single fact that the Rosenbergs were tried inappropriately under the 1917 Espionage Act rather than the 1946 Atomic Energy Act. The author is convincingly demonstrates the unfairness of the court’s treatment of the Rosenbergs by disclosing that of 11 such atomic spies, they were the only ones executed. He firmly asserts the absurdity of Judge Kaufman's conclusion that the Rosenbergs' actions helped initiate the Korean War by considering the fact that other spies such as Klaus Fuchs had contributed more to the Soviet Union. Another major purpose of this book is to place the Rosenberg Case in Sharlitt’s perspective. One way Sharlitt introduces perspective is by examining the degree of punishment given to various spies involved in atomic espionage. Many other spies were given a few years in prison and others were never prosecuted. Sharlitt argues that the justice system unfairly condemned the Rosenbergs. Overall, Sharlitt focuses not on the crime and betrayal of the Rosenbergs, but the faults of the American justice system and its actions during the trial.
Joseph H. Sharlitt’s background as a Harvard law school graduate may have shaped his perspective while he was writing. He practiced law in Washington D.C. where he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court— his experience made him sympathetic for the defense attorneys. He is considered a single author because Fatal Error was the only book he wrote, but because he practiced law, Sharlitt had a solid understanding of how trials should be administered. He wrote the book in 1989, a turning point in history. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the Soviet Union marked the beginning of the post-Cold War period where the United States dominated world affairs. At the time of the Rosenberg Case, Berlin had been invaded by the Russians and the threat the USSR posed caused panic and strong opposition to communism. The case took place “in the third week of June of 1953, which may very well have been the high fever mark of an indigenous disease, McCarthyism.”9 Moreover, Sharlitt wrote his book in 1989 because it marked a new era without the strong anti-Communist influence of the Cold War. Although the trial took place about 40 years earlier, Sharlitt wanted to address the Rosenbergs once McCarthyism no longer had influence on American opinions in legal issues.
Sharlitt’s book, Fatal Error, has been professionally reviewed by historians and other authors. A review by Michael E. Parish from The Journal of American History said Sharlitt’s account of the case “will not please everyone in the heated, ongoing debate about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg…” 10 Parish believed that even though Sharlitt’s book covered many points in the case, it does not solve all of its mysteries. Like other writers on this topic, he is at loss to explain the behavior of Justice Douglas and why the Eisenhower administration was so eager to kill the Rosenbergs. Another reviewer, Joyce Milton, writes, “The day the Rosenbergs died was not a proud one for the federal judiciary, but Sharlitt tells only half the story: Julius and Ethel’s fatal error was their dogged and pathetic loyalty to a Party that considered them expendable.” 11The Communist Party had countless spies in America, and the loss of two spies was insignificant. Milton notes that Sharlitt’s narrative mainly revolves around the Rosenbergs’ attorney, Manny Bloch, instead of the Communist Party. Overall both reviews agree that Sharlitt covered much if the evidence that point towards the injustice of the Rosenberg case, even though his work is still missing some explanations and ideas.
Sharlitt provides additional insight on the controversial case of 1953 by offering new evidence and arguments that support the idea that it was “a miscarriage of justice.” He argues that the unparalleled fear of communism, which was heightened by Joseph McCarthy's witch-hunts, the Russian invasion of Berlin, and the Korean War, created a mindset that caused otherwise sensible and deliberate men to violate basic moral and ethical principles. The reader can only judge the extent to which the justice system became politicized in relation to the mass anti-Red feeling that had taken hold of the country in June of 1953. Sharlitt narrates the Supreme Court’s activities in the last week of the case and his disclosures are extraordinary and disturbing. But the author takes the reader past the obvious, past the known facts by asking a simple question--not whether the Rosenbergs were guilty or innocent, but whether or not they received justice. In Sharlitt’s critical analysis of the case, he states, “If this was a prosecution game, it was played with consummate skill and ruthlessness…the cynicism that pervaded the drive for the death penalty is another part of the tragedy of this case.” 12 If America were to show the world the superiority of its judicial system, the Rosenberg case was the perfect opportunity to dispense justice to those most hated--traitors and spies. Fatal Error lays a shocking trail of legal and judicial errors leading the reader to conclude that the interior of the U.S. Supreme Court unjustly abused its power.
According to Sharlitt’s account of the Rosenberg trial, he supports the idea that the 1950s were a period of conservatism and stasis due to the carelessness of American courts. The Rosenbergs were not given a public and speedy trial as guaranteed by the sixth amendment in the Constitution. Though Sharlitt admits that they were guilty of espionage, he shows how evidence that could have benefitted or exonerated the Rosenbergs was neither mentioned nor considered by the Supreme Court. The case also took place during the height of McCarthyism, where the people’s fear of communism allowed the government to assume powers that beyond its actual right. Fear gave the Supreme Court the de facto power to manipulate the Rosenberg trial for what justices believed was the interest of the people. Not only did the Supreme Court use fear, another abuse of judicial power exercised by the court was the secret meeting between Justice Vinson and Attorney General Brownell. Not only was it in violation of the canons of lawyers and justices, but also the meeting was influenced by personal feelings against Justice Douglas, eliminating any chance of an objective trial. The Brownell-Vinson discussion “remained secret until twenty-three years later, when the federal government was forced by a Court order to disclose the meeting.” 13 Their discussion was arranged under Brownell’s zeal to bury the Rosenbergs and was in clear violation of the Canons of Judicial Conduct of the American Bar Association. Another example of conservatism is the fact that the Rosenbergs were given the death penalty not for their actions but for the government’s interests. Sharlitt believes the government and prosecution adamantly pushed for the death penalty for two reasons. First, the government did not want to kill Julius Rosenberg, but simply wanted to scare him to death. “Faced with the terrible realization that the American effort to produce the atomic bomb had been successfully penetrated by the Soviet spies,” the government needed scapegoats because it could not prosecute criminal like Klaus Fuchs, a more prominent spy to the Communist Party.14 Sharlitt’s account of the Rosenberg trial supports the idea that the 1950s was a period of conservatism and stasis, and the abuse of the court’s increasing powers showed that Americans were entrenched in the values of McCarthyism.
Not until 1972 did the Supreme Court rule the right of trial judges to sentence the death penalty unconstitutional, but by then it was nineteen years too late to save them. Sharlitt claims, “no one can be proud of what American justice did in the Rosenberg case. It deserves a special place in the conscience of our society.” 15 It is difficult to believe today that the officials of the Department of Justice and members of the prosecution team did not understand the true significance of their crimes against the Rosenbergs. Sharlitt provides a remarkable critique of the inconsistencies of the justice system in his defense of the Rosenbergs, a harsh reminder of America’s flawed system.
Sharlitt, Joseph H. Fatal Error: The Miscarriage of Justice that Sealed the Rosenbergs’ Fate. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1989. x.
Sharlitt, Joseph H. 2.
Sharlitt, Joseph H. 63.
Sharlitt, Joseph H. 97.
Sharlitt, Joseph H. 112.
Sharlitt, Joseph H. 138.
Sharlitt, Joseph H. 256.
Sharlitt, Joseph H. 252.
Sharlitt, Joseph H. x.
Parrish, Michael E. "Fatal Error: The Miscarriage of Justice That Sealed the Rosenbergs' Fate by Joseph H. Sharlitt." The Journal of American History. Vol. 77. Indiana: Organization of American Historians, 1990. 732.
Milton, Joyce. "Fatal Error: The Miscarriage of Justice That Sealed the Rosenbergs' Fate, by Joseph H. Sharlitt." National Review. Vol. 41. New York: National Review, 1989. 58.
Sharlitt, Joseph H. 256.
Sharlitt, Joseph H. 68.
Sharlitt, Joseph H. 254.
Sharlitt, Joseph H. 256.
Commies and Controversy by Justin Liu
A review of Greg Mitchell’s Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady: Richard Nixon v. Helen Gahagan Douglas -
Sexual Politics and the Red Scare, 1950
While many remember Nixon as the 37th president of the United States or for his involvement in the Watergate Scandal, fewer remember his time before his rise to fame –or infamy as others may perceive it. Before becoming president, Nixon was a Californian senator who ran for election in one of the dirtiest dogfights the state of California and the United States had ever seen. The campaigns of both nominees, Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas, created an “atmosphere of vigilance and fear” as both sides employed smear tactics to discredit and humiliate the other.1 In a time dominated by the fear of the “spread of communism” and “Domino Theory”–the belief of the uncontrollable fall of countries to communism— tensions among Americans ran high and politicians often exploited this weakness in the mistrust of others. Greg Mitchell’s work, Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady: Richard Nixon vs. Helen Gahagan Douglas –Sexual Politics and the Red Scare, 1950, attempts to capture these tumultuous times through the eyes of Nixon and Douglas and analyze how this era characterized by the ongoing struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States influenced their campaigns and eventually, their futures.
Mitchell is able to capture the significance of the trials and tribulations of both candidates in his work. From the beginning, it is already apparent that there is a negative light being shone on Douglas. Having been indirectly accused of being a communist spy by Nixon and the Republicans, she suffered from several unanticipated setbacks. However, she remained confident that she would win the election. Richard Nixon, a “savvy young congressman,” “denounced the administration’s ‘socialistic program’ and often tried to link President Truman, indirectly, to American Communists” through staged confessions of the wrongdoings of Truman and his administrations or by using fabricated evidence to link Truman with communists and communist sympathizers.2 From the beginning, the author demonstrates Nixon’s strong anti-Communist sentiments. Douglas, however, took a much more liberal approach; she constantly defended herself against Nixon’s attacks and attempted to reform and repair the problems the socialist scare had created. During the campaign for Californian Senator, the state became divided by economic and geographic concerns. Slowly, Nixon’s attacks on Truman began gaining traction and as a result, he gained popularity. Douglas knew she had to be innovative and resourceful in order to win the election. Although she failed to get Truman’s support, she still had hopes for the election.
As a debater, Nixon was merciless. Nixon was a dirty man willing to do what it took to win and even stated that “The most important thing is to win”; he would lie in order to turn public opinion and to gain more supporters.3 In an attempt to discredit Douglas, Nixon accused her of resisting efforts to expose communist activities within the United States Government. Pro-Nixon newspapers began calling Douglas “a red radical” and Democrats began expressing concern about their chances for the election. During this period, there was a double standard for politics in politics.4 Despite all of Nixon’s attacks, Douglas was able to resist and hold up, staying strong personally despite constant bombardment. Douglas predicted that she would be victorious with the current support; that was until the Korean War broke out. The Korean War opened up Americans’ eyes, instilled fears of a worldwide communist takeover and exposed the magnitude of communist takeover in Asia. Politicians running hard-line anticommunist campaigns chalked up massive victories. Even with this strong shift towards more conservative measure, Douglas remained optimistic about victory and believed that she would win in the upcoming election as long as “everyone does his part” to strive for success.5
While various sponsors flocked to support Nixon and his campaign, many Democrats were more reluctant to support Douglas. It was claimed in Democratic newspapers and by pro-Douglas supporters that “Nixon [had] demonstrated no concern for the welfare of the people of America” in order to discredit his hunt for communism and emphasize his fanaticism in communism instead of the needs of the people.6 Douglas charged the Republicans of instigating the Korean War and committing “high crime” or treason.7 Douglas did everything to make Nixon appear unfavorable. However, presidential support from Truman and public support of Douglas’ campaign was already waning. Joseph McCarthy also begin to campaign in secret for Nixon. As a longtime supporter and fellow Communist hunter, McCarthy helped to bolster Nixon’s position in the race for a Senate seat. More “Red Lists” of supposed “communist spies” began showing up, with their attacks primarily directed at the workers in the movies and film industry. These alleged communists were quickly condemned in a “court of justice,” which was rather a loose interrogation by the Senate. In a poll, it showed Richard Nixon ahead by a ratio of 2:1. Due to his advantage, Nixon began pushing Douglas harder, criticizing her of being a “pink”—one associated with communism and a “two left winger”—an extreme liberal or left wing politician often criticized of being a communist.8 The attacks grew more persistent and damaging.
Dirty tricks proliferated in Nixon’s campaign and attempts to expose Douglas as a “communist” intensified. During the last week of the campaign, Douglas was exhausted and drained from this dirty back and forth brawl between herself and Nixon. She lost the battle in the last stretch after Nixon sent out flyer connecting Douglas’ voting patterns with communist sympathizing senators and calling her “pink right down to her underwear.” On November 3, Douglas’ last chances of victory disappeared. Nixon won the election of 1950 by a respectable amount and Douglas’ political career faded into irrelevance after the 1950s.
Throughout the work, the author stresses the use of political manipulation in controlling public opinion and as a tool of campaigning. Mitchell questions its place in the election of 1950 and noted its effect on the popularity of both candidates and how it changed throughout the election and in correlation to the amount of damage their reputation took from lies and deceit from politicians. As a central part of the work, Mitchell believes that the Senate election of 1950 was a dirty, vicious election in which both candidates placed the importance of victory over the wellbeing and prosperity of the nation and its citizens. One of the most memorable aspects of the election was the constant attacks from both sides associating one another with communism. Richard Nixon stated that “women have no business in Congress.”9 While this has no basis, Nixon attempts to discredit Douglas’s reputation and ability through baseless, sexist comments. However in his attempt to “win no matter [what] the price,” Nixon throws out all semblance of dignity and justice to attack Douglas with baseless accusations meant only to damage her reputation.10 Additionally, he goes on the state that, with incredible irony, “I’ve learned enough in politics to know that the average woman in politics reasons with her emotion rather than her head.”11 When he makes this statement, what has he been doing? Had he not done that very thing? Nixon’s ironic statement furthers Mitchell’s assertions that the elections were a corrupt struggle for power rather than a rational debate on political issues in order to select the better candidate. Nixon attacked Douglas with completely unsupported evidence and faulty logic, thus contradicting and creating a hypocrite out of himself. While communism was a major issue in the election of 1950 and the Red Scare, the mania driven by the alleged infiltration of communism into American government and society, frightened Americans, Mitchell attempts to expose the absurdity and shame of having elections centered solely around slander and unfounded accusations of being a “red” or “pink.” One Republican supporter described the situation as a choice between an “American progressive and a siren in a ‘beautiful’ red dress.”12 Mitchell use this to expose the fallacies and obscenity of having an American political system built on attempts to injure others rather than gain through self-promotion; he brings into concern the insignificance of most of the arguments throughout this decade. By exposing the incompetency of the Senate election of 1950 and the baselessness of political argument, Mitchell is able to touch upon the inner workings of politics and its irrationality.
While Mitchell is seemingly acceptable in his beliefs and thesis, he is also a slave to public opinion of the time. Being born in the late 1940s, Mitchell was able to experience the tension of the Cold War first-hand. Fear gripped the land as tensions between Soviet Russia and the United States ran high, escalating during the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which nuclear annihilation was just a finger press away. Due to personal experience, Mitchell has formed a perception that the Cold War was a very horrifying time in which to live. This cultured outlook of the time period may have influenced his writing by making his outlook more cynical and distrustful, which is at times apparent in the text. In addition, his experiences as an author may have made this work more inclined to over exaggeration and unjust subjection. While credited for being one of the most objective journalists of the time, there may have been a slight tendency towards exaggeration and a manipulation of the truth when a paycheck is mentioned. This overdramatizing of events may have affected the writing of Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady. Mitchell shows a strong distaste for the antics of Nixon and highly favors the more reserved Douglas. Because of this, it is important to carefully weigh the possibility of the plausibility of such events in the reading and to tone down exaggerations. Most importantly, Mitchell favors the “victim,” Douglas, and antagonizes Nixon as a “man lacking morals and a clear sense of justice.”13Throughout the work, Nixon is portrayed as an evil, sinister character who attempts to hinder the protagonist of the work, Douglas. Mitchell’s diction and tone when speaking of Nixon are one of disdain, showing his distrust and anger at Nixon’s actions and lack of morals.
By the time Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady was published in 1998, the Cold War had come to a close and the days of fearing imminent nuclear annihilation were over. Because of this, Americans—and the rest of the world for that matter—were able to take a more positive and optimistic outlook on the world. No longer were the threat of the Soviet Union and the spread of communism a problem. Because of this positive outlook, revisionist historians have begun to favor a lighter criticism of presidents during the Cold War, often characterizing them as heroes facing the evil of communism. In the work, even though the views on communism were very conservative, the work does not outright condemn it, but rather criticizes its exploitation in American politics; he makes no judgment on communist ideology itself. In addition, Nixon receives a slightly more objective criticism even with his tarnished reputation from the Watergate Scandal. One historian stated that “had this been published before 1968, Nixon would have not been elected president.”14
According to a review by New York Times, Nixon was “radiant after the Hiss prosecution, bringing him great acclaim and fame.” He had his sights set on presidency and the election was just a small and easy victory for him. The review commends Douglas for her attempts, however states that she had no chance against the outspoken Nixon. It was described as “Douglas [being] Nixon’s victim, in truth she simply was no his political equal.”15 Even on an equal playing field Douglas would have been outmatched by Nixon’s superiority. However, despite mentioning his smears and tactics, the context of the election of 1950 “offers more nuances than are found in this book.”16
While Mitchell did an exceptional job describing the facts of the election and the events, his clear bias shows through like a bright star. He does not hide his disdain for Nixon and whenever given the chance, attempts to put Nixon in a negative light and to bash him as a man who relied on smear tactics to achieve political success. Mitchell constantly condemns Nixon’s practices as corrupt and immoral, a mark against the integrity of American society. However, he does point out and acknowledge Nixon’s political prowess and his intelligence. While he disapproves of Nixon’s methods, Mitchell does admit that the methods and execution of his plans were very organized and skillfully implemented. In addition, he commends Nixon’s ability to debate, stating that “he was brilliant, perhaps one of the best at distortion of thoughts and ideas, and [was] even better at getting his way.”17 While Mitchell does not have a particular fondness of Nixon, he is drastically more favorable towards Douglas. Mitchell portrays her as being the victim of unwarranted, unending attacks that eventually destroyed her career by severely damaging Douglas’s reputation and confidence. This portrayal of Nixon as evil and Douglas as victim is prominent throughout the entire work.
According to Mitchell’s interpretation of the 1950s, it was a time of stasis and conservatism. The election of a Republican, Nixon, shows the conservative nature of American politics at the time period. In addition, the response to the Red Scare and McCarthyism as an intense nationalistic pride and attempt to root out all communist or liberal beliefs further the notion that the 1950s is a time of conservatism. Also the desire to keep the United States a land of only democratic thinking men and women shows that it is a time of stasis and not change. The attempt to get rid of all communists in the United States shows the belief that during the time period change was bad and would result in communism in the United States. The fear of communism and the Domino Theory also support the idea of the 1950s being a time of stasis and conservatism. Due to the fear of the spread of communism in Korea and the Pacific, the United States sent aid to Asian and European countries fighting against communism in order to preserve the integrity of the nation and the democratic or monarchal rule in the countries in question. In Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady it states that there was “very serious new… North Korea has invaded South Korea.”18 Dean Rusk warned that an “all-Communist Korea would be ‘a dagger pointed at the heart of Japan.’”19 The fear and concern shown in this comment by the State Department representative shows the fear and anxiety created by the spread of communism. Because of this, a strong conservative nature sprung from the once liberal and progressive United States.
In conclusion, the work Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady: Richard Nixon vs. Helen Gahagan Douglas—Sexual Politics and the Red Scare, 1950, depicted the dirty, shady battle between two well-known House of Representative members, Richard Nixon and Helen Douglas. Through this work, Greg Mitchell was able to present a new view and opinion on Nixon, one of contempt and hatred at the smearing that he did and the despicable ways in which he took down his opponent. Even at his death, “the Nixon revival continued, with the arrival of a US postage stamp, Hollywood, and television.”20 Since Watergate, Nixon had never been more “potent”; it was truly “springtime for Nixon.”21
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