Conservative author tries to rehabilitate reputation of Joe McCarthy

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M. Stanton Evans, a stalwart of the conservative movement for half a century, has written a new book about Joe McCarthy, the long-reviled senator from Wisconsin whose name became a term of opprobrium.

In a review in the conservative magazine, the Weekly Standard, Robert Novak asserts that Evans make a convincing case that McCarthy was innocent of the three main charges leveled against him:

The demonization of McCarthy was essentially a three-part indictment. First, he labeled as security risks and drove from public life officials (especially skilled Foreign Service professionals) whose only sin was liberalism. Second, he accused innocents of being Communists, sometimes in cases of mistaken identity. And third, he degraded the political process by accusing major rivals of treason.

Evans makes a convincing case that McCarthy is innocent on all three counts, and he does so with a painstaking case-by-case approach. The jacket blurb says it took over six years to write Blacklisted by History, but in fact, the 73-year-old Evans, born and bred in the conservative movement, has spent his whole career thinking about Joe. A relentless researcher, Evans was frustrated by the mysterious disappearance of government files and even newspaper clippings. But he tracked down much of the missing data, helped immeasurably by the Venona files of decrypted secret Soviet communications and by the new accessibility of both FBI reports and Soviet archives.

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.

In an odd twist of irony, Novak recounts that he abandoned McCarthy in 1953 as a 22 year old Army second lieutenant after McCarthy revealed the secret work of Maj. Gen. Perry Reichelderfer, the head of the Army Security Agency:

My fellow officers and I were so shocked that we instantly changed our outlook on McCarthy. We were assigned to the ASA Training Center at Fort Devens in a building protected by barbed wire and security guards. We had been instructed never to tell anybody of our ASA connection. We thought listing General Reichelderfer's ASA command was a security breach, and that demeaning a distinguished officer truly constituted McCarthyism.

In 2003 Novak outed Valerie Plame Wilson, a covert CIA agent.

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Michael Glen Wade - 11/27/2007

Amen to that. Novak is living proof that cream is not the only thing that rises to the top.

Craig Michael Loftin - 11/25/2007

Though I have not seen this new book yet, I expect that it has very little to say about the way McCarthy forcefully advocated that all gay people should be permanently blacklisted from serving in the government. Of course he was not the only one saying this at the time, but in 1950, after his Wheeling speech, his repeated conflations of "queers and communists" had the direct effect of dramatically escalating purges of gay people from government jobs. This part of the McCarthy scare is only beginning to be told--see David Johnston's The Lavender Scare for a good primer on the issue. Recently released government documents reveal McCarthy (and lackey Cohn, himself gay) as a reckless gay baiter. Of course, I wouldn't expect people who defend McCarthy to care very much about the rights of gay people anyway.

Lisa Kazmier - 11/23/2007

Is traitor Novak trying to rehab McCarthy. Pretty much says it all.