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Blacklisted By History-A Review

I recently finished reading Blacklisted By History, M. Stanton Evan's retelling of the story of Joseph McCarthy. The subtitle is "The Untold Story Of Senator Joe McCarthy And His Fight Against America's Enemies". As the subtitle suggests, this book does not follow the conventional wisdom about McCarthy. Indeed, it debunks much of it. Even though it's not the first such book (Arthur Herman wrote one in 2000), it is probably the most comprehensive book of it's kind.

At 600+ pages, it's a pretty hefty tome. It's very detailed, providing lots of facts (with 23 pages of endnotes) to refute many of the standard criticisms of McCarthy. He reminds the reader that McCarthy had nothing to do with the House Un-American Activities Committee. Citing the use of the phrase "Joseph R. McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee" in both The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post , Evans laments "It seems inconceivable, but is obviously so, that there are people writing for major papers who don't know we have a bicameral legislative system, so that a senator wouldn't have a House Committee."

Evans also makes clear , contrary to common belief, that McCarthy didn't go after people merely for being communist. He points out that McCarthy's "suspects weren't merely ideological Communists...they were also, in pretty obvious fashion, Moscow agents, pledging Allegiance to the Soviet Union." He stresses that the problem "wasn't their political beliefs, but the fact that they were working for a hostile foreign power." It's surprising that Evans doesn't mention that McCarthy once voted against a bill making it illegal to be a Communist...a bill that Hubert Humphrey voted for! (I picked up this tidbit from Herman's book).

The broadest charge against McCarthy is that he  simply pulled his accusations out of thin air. Evans lists many of those accused, along with evidence from recently available intelligence (such as the Venona transcripts) to establish that they were in fact true. He does an excellent job of organizing the material, given how voluminous it is. There is a chapter of security risks in the Truman administration called "The Trouble With Harry", another chapter on some of the suspects named on an anonymous cases called "A Book Of Martyrs", and another chapter about "Some Public Cases". He also reveals that Harry Truman was very concerned that McCarthy was getting inside information from the State Department, to the point of asking for an FBI to investigate. Evans points out that Trumans "scalded cat reaction" indicates that Truman knew McCarthy was on to something.

The distinction between named and unnamed suspects is interesting in its own right. McCarthy has widely been accused of "smearing" people. In fact, McCarthy was generally reluctant to name names, but was often goaded by his Democratic opponents to do so. I knew this was the case with Joseph Welch's famous "have you no decency" tirade before I read this book, but I didn't know how pervasive this practice was. Evans points out that Senators Scott Lucas and Garrett Withers "were trying to bait McCarthy into committing 'McCarthyism" in discussion of cases, and were indefatigable in their attempts to do so"..

The book gives a vivid picture of the relentlessness of McCarthy's enemies. There is a lot in here about a foaming at the mouth politically driven senator out to savage someone's reputation, but McCarthy is not the senator. He is the someone. Many pages are given to Maryland senator Millard Tydings, head of a commission formed to investigate the original charges McCarthy made in his famous Wheeling, West Virginia speech. It was in fact an investigation of McCarthy. Near the end of the hearings, Tydings convened a meeting in his department whose purpose was , according to Newsweek magazine, "the total and eternal destruction" of Joseph McCarthy.

One of the main topics of the Tydings investigation was the number of communists McCarthy claimed to know about in his Wheeling speech. There was some controversy over whether he said there were 57 security risks or 205. Tydings claimed McCarthy initially claimed there were 205 and later backtracked to say there were 57. This seems like a small point, but was a huge part of the case he  was making against McCarthy.

The dispute over the Wheelings numbers gave rise to one of the most amusing, but also revealing anecdotes in the book. Tydings appeared on the floor of the Senate with a portable record player, claiming to have a recording of McCarthy's Wheeling speech. He offered to play it if the Senate unanimously asked him to. Of course he didn't get unanimity. And he later admitted he didn't have such a recording.
(McCarthy himself had tried to find one but failed.)

There is a wealth of information in this book, much of which I have not even touched on in this review. (The Amerasia case, one of McCarthy's most famous and successful prosecutions, is covered in depth.) It is a good book to own, because there is enough material here to justify at least two readings. For those interested, Evans wrote a long (but much shorter than his book) article containing some of the same information in Human Events, which can be found at findarticles.com