Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Red Scare" by Griffin Fariello (1995)

This is a very important book to read; especially in this volatile election year. It covers the McCarthy Era, from its beginnings in 1950, until its ultimate demise in the early 1960’s, under the Kennedy Administration. It also explores, in depth, the role played by President Truman, who; for political reasons; instituted the Truman Doctrine in 1946. His Executive Order Number 9865, allowed the administration of loyalty tests and oaths to all federal employees. This was the stepping stone that would provide Senator McCarthy to embark upon his witch-hunts throughout the early 1950’s. It is a perfect example of what happens to a country when the people allow themselves to become so divided by the powers which govern them. And it is happening again; now; here in America.
As World War Two drew to a close there was a deep mistrust between the Soviet Union and the Allied Powers. While we in the U.S. had suffered 400,000 deaths as a result of the war, our economy was booming. Contrasted with that, the Soviet Union had lost 25 million people, both civilian and military, to the war. In addition, their production levels were about 40% of what they had been before the war. With rampant hunger abounding, and thousands of devastated cities and villages in disrepair, the Soviets were deathly afraid of any expansion on the part of Europe into her territories. In the minds of their leaders, they had to expand, or at least hold the line against the Western Powers.
To that end, there were two spots open to the Soviet Union for expansion of Communism in Eastern Europe. The first was in Greece; the second was in Turkey. We (the U.S.) were tasked with keeping Turkey from sliding into Communism, and the British were tasked with the same in Greece, where the local militias; who were mostly Communists; were attempting to block the reinstatement of the King and his autocratic government. The King had the support of Winston Churchill and tacitly, that of the United States.
By 1947 the weight of debt in a war weary England had forced her to hand Greece off to the United States, while Britain attempted to recover from the extensive damage caused by the German air raids, as well as the economic fallout from the expense of 7 years of war. They had been fighting since the 1939 invasion of Poland, while we had stayed out of the fray until the events at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941.
The reasoning behind Truman’s Executive Order was to keep the United States from battling Communism from within. There were some people working in government who had empathy for the Communist causes, but nowhere near enough to justify such Draconian measures as Truman’s “purge” of public servants who may not have agreed with his world views. This pains me deeply, as I have always considered Truman to have been one of our finer Presidents. But the Democrats had taken such a beating in the midterm elections of 1946 that Truman had to appear strong against Communism. Unknowingly, he had opened a Pandora’s Box, which would have grave consequences for our country in the decade to come.
Also, in 1947 the House of Un-American Activities was already subpoenaing the Hollywood crowd; consisting mostly of writers and directors; among them such greats as Ring Lardner and Dalton Trumbo and even Edward Dymytryk; who was the only director named on the infamous list of the Hollywood Ten. The resultant hearings, and trials, would cast a pall over Hollywood which would last until the early 1960’s.
By 1950, when most of the alleged Communists had been “purged” from government offices, Senator McCarthy of Wisconsin was ready to re-invigorate the game of “Red baiting” for his own political ambitions. This was the beginning of the “witch hunt” trials we have all heard about.
The Smith Act of 1940; which carried penalties for belonging to any institution dedicated to the overthrow of the government; contained a clause that carried a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, with up to a $5,000 fine for even being a member of the Communist Party. When the McCarran Act of 1950 was introduced, it instructed anyone who was a Communist to register with the government. This meant that the people involved were essentially abrogating their 5th Amendment Right against Self-Incrimination, which made both laws highly suspect. The only person in the United States to ever serve time for merely being a member of the Party was Junius Scales, who had joined a club in 1939 while a student at UNC Chapel Hill.
The American Communist Party, in reaction to these laws, went deeper and deeper underground, which only made it harder for the government to keep track of them. In the days before satellites and digitized phone calls, the only way to be sure of where a suspect was involved constant surveillance of the suspect’s residence, as well as following their entire families.
Passports were denied if you had signed any kind of petition against the government, no matter how long ago, or why. Reading material was highly suspect, resulting in some trials, as well as almost comical events such as one trial where the accused was faced with the fact that they had read “Darkness at Noon”, which was about Stalin’s brutality; and also the 1950 novel “The God That Failed”, which was about 6 intellectuals who go to Moscow to see Communism in action, only to return home disillusioned.  As far as the House Committee was concerned, if it said Communist, then it was subversive. Thought, by default, was on trial.
Membership in trade unions, or attendance of a labor school run by unions, was on the list. Author Howard Fast was imprisoned for refusing to answer questions about who he had known, and what he had done, 3 decades earlier in college. In Birmingham a man named Sam Hill was tried for vagrancy, even though he was employed as a writer for the Daily Worker. His job was considered to be “disreputable.” After his conviction, the City Council passed an ordinance for all Communists to leave Birmingham within 48 hours, or face imprisonment.
It was always a double bind when you were accused. You were guilty simply because you had been accused, and you were expected to name names of others whom you knew to be Communists. Taking the Fifth Amendment was like pleading guilty, and the accused was now treated as “hostile” by the Congressional Committees investigating them, as well as the courts in which some were tried.
This is a very important book for all Americans to read. It shows what can happen; told in the words of the people it happened to; when fear is allowed to divide us as a people. When all is said and done, our greatest strength is in the things which unite us. Unless we stop the constant politics of division, we will be headed back down the road of the American Inquisition before too long.
With excellent annotation; and edited in such a way which makes the whole topic come together in an understandable way; this is a book for serious students of the time period which lead up to the McCarthy Era, as well as the scars it left upon our country.

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