A History of Anti-Communist Paranoia

By Humphries, Stephen | The Christian Science Monitor, October 1, 1998 | Go to article overview

A History of Anti-Communist Paranoia


Humphries, Stephen, The Christian Science Monitor


MANY ARE THE CRIMES

By Ellen Shrecker

Little Brown 353 pp., $29.95 Sen. Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin relished the air time and publicity that fueled his self-promotion. Were he alive today, he might have been disappointed to discover that his deeds only merit a small portion of "Many Are the Crimes," a definitive study of the "ism" named after him. Then again, perhaps he would have been grateful, considering Ellen Shrecker's scorching account of his deceit and guile before concluding that "McCarthyism outlasted McCarthy just as it predated him." The author toys with the idea that McCarthyism might have been more accurately named "Hooverism." The director of the FBI personally oversaw a zealous campaign of oppression, ordering unlawful entries, unauthorized wire-taps, perjurious witnesses, and the falsification of records. Hoover and his G-men disingenuously hid behind a public veneer of clean-cut patriotism, even while they sought to maneuver the White House and Department of Justice into following their own agenda. But what the author so effectively demonstrates is that anti- Communist suppression in America was composed not merely of a few outspoken public figures who came to symbolize the movement, but of a multiplicity of individuals and institutions who made up a loosely structured, over-arching network. McCarthyism existed a good 30 years prior to the infamous congressional hearings. Shrecker reveals a shocking secret history of the "red-baiting" and red purges by these constituent elements since the 1920s. When the cold war began, the network was already in place, and "by embedding their charges in a broader partisan political agenda, they drew widespread support from other conservatives and made it hard for moderates and liberals to defuse those charges without themselves being accused of a coverup." The phenomenon was, Shrecker notes, a "top-down" one. But this sort of power can never be sustained without the implicit and tacit consent of the governed. McCarthyism was prefaced by a public fear of the Communist Party's secretive practices, their Kremlin-fed mantras, and intricate links with the trade unions that might weaken the country's defenses with crippling production strikes. A report by the Department of Defense summarizes the consensus well: "No American welcomes the necessity for the non-disclosure of sources of information. …

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