Authors Take Another Look at McCarthy's Role in History

By McCain, Robert Stacy | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 9, 2000 | Go to article overview

Authors Take Another Look at McCarthy's Role in History


McCain, Robert Stacy, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


On Feb. 9, 1950, a first-term senator from Wisconsin addressed a Republican women's group in Wheeling, W.Va.

The senator told his audience about "all the men in the State Department who have been named as active members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring."

And then Sen. Joseph McCarthy said: "I have here in my hand a list. . . ."

With those words, McCarthy made himself part of history. By the time he died in 1957, his name was almost synonymous with the anti-communist crusade he waged in the Senate, so that "McCarthyism" came to symbolize an entire era.

He failed to prove his charges of a vast communist conspiracy in government. Repudiated by his own party after the disastrous Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, McCarthy has usually been seen as a blundering bully who led a cruel witch hunt against his innocent opponents.

Even some conservatives have condemned him as "a discredit to serious anti-communism," as one writer said.

Now, 50 years after McCarthy's Wheeling speech and almost 10 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, his career and his charges of Soviet-backed communist subversion are getting renewed attention. William F. Buckley last year published "The Redhunter," a novel based on McCarthy's career, and veteran journalist M. Stanton Evans is also at work on a book about McCarthy.

"I think that most of what is out there about him amounts to disinformation - the opposite of truth," said Mr. Evans. "It's all based on people recycling statements from long ago that were false then and have never been corrected."

New attention to McCarthy has been spurred by the release of the "Venona Papers" - secret Soviet cables intercepted and decoded by U.S. intelligence - as well as by documents retrieved from KGB archives in Moscow.

"As we learn more about what actually was going on in government in the 1940s and 1950s, the more we see how accurate McCarthy was," Mr. Evans said.

Virginia historian Arthur Herman has stirred controversy with his new book, "Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator."

Mr. Herman has been assailed by critics. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel accused Mr. Herman of "strident partisanship," The Washington Post decried his "slipshod thinking," and the Los Angeles Times accused Mr. Herman of an "attempt to exonerate McCarthy" that it condemned as "breathtakingly ludicrous."

"I've been accused of being un-American," says Mr. Herman, laughing at the irony. Much of the criticism, he says, is "based on the mistaken assumption that because I take McCarthy seriously . . . that I must be an admirer."

But while his book acknowledges all of McCarthy's flaws and errors - his fiery temper, his alcoholism, his claim that Gen. George C. Marshall was "serving the world policy of the Kremlin" - Mr. Herman contends that evidence now shows that the man known as "Tail-Gunner Joe" was essentially right about Soviet spying.

"The declassification and release of the Venona Papers . . . have really offered to the general public what was known to the FBI and security officials for decades: that the stories about Soviet spies in the federal government and Soviet espionage networks, secretly supported by the American Communist Party, weren't paranoid delusions but were true," Mr. Herman says.

"In that sense, McCarthy's hunt for communists in government was not a `witch hunt' - there really were witches out there. Not as many as McCarthy claimed, but they were there," he says. …

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