Myths about McCarthyism

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Bonnie, Feb 12, 2005.

  1. Bonnie
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    Bonnie Senior Member

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    We Now Know

    Some myths die hard. One of the most recalcitrant in recent times has been the myth of McCarthyism—the myth that America in the late 1940s and early 1950s was in the grip of a fearsome, paranoid “witch-hunt” against supposed Communists and other alleged traitors. According to this myth, the assault was fearsome because it blighted thousands of careers and lives, and it was paranoid because it was essentially groundless. Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee ranted on about Communist spies, but really, the myth of McCarthyism maintains, there were no spies to speak of, only liberals like … well, like Alger Hiss.

    You might think that by now liberals would have given up on this one. After all, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the subsequent opening of many Soviet archives, there is indisputable evidence—a mountain of it—for what had long been alleged by cold warriors. The liberal line had always been that the American Communist Party was basically an expression of home-grown radical sentiment; in fact, it had from the beginning been a tool of Moscow; moreover, many of the radical “martyrs” of the period were hard-core Stalinists and KGB operatives. This is not speculation: it is hard and fast historical fact. As the historian John Gaddis put it in the title of his 1997 history of the Cold War: We Now Know.

    Or so we would have thought. But what is evidence in the face of self-righteous political animus? Not much, if Arthur Miller’s breathtaking expostulation about the origins of his play The Crucible is any guide. Entitled “Are You Now or Were You Ever … ?,” Mr. Miller’s latest exercise in self-congratulation appeared in—it is almost too good to be true, but is is true—The Guardian, the most predictable left-wing “quality” paper in London. There had, of course, long been speculation that the activities of Sen. McCarthy and HUAC had been the chief inspiration for The Crucible; no one, we think, will accuse Mr. Miller of having been overly subtle in his deployment of symbolism. But he has now for the first time cleared up any remaining doubts: “It would probably never have occurred to me to write a play about the Salem witch trials of 1692 had I not seen some astonishing correspondences with that calamity in the America of the late 40s and early 50s. … I refer to the anti-communist rage that threatened to reach hysterical proportions and sometimes did.”

    Mr. Miller has always been a reliable source of radical-chic clichés and he does not disappoint in this new recollection. We can well believe him when he remarks that “Practically everyone I knew stood within the conventions of the political left of centre; one or two were Communist party members, some were fellow-travellers, and most had had a brush with Marxist ideas or organisations.” But is it naïveté or something else when he goes on to declare that “I have never been able to believe in the reality of these people being actual or putative traitors any more than I could be, yet others like them were being fired from teaching or jobs in government or large corporations.” Mr. Miller is especially incredulous that any of his fellow artists could have engaged in traitorous activities: “The unwelcome truth denied by the right was that the Hollywood writers accused of subversion were not a menace to the country, or even bearers of meaningful change. They wrote not propaganda but entertainment, some of it of a mildly liberal cast, but most of it mindless, or when it was political, as with Preston Sturges or Frank Capra, entirely and exuberantly un-Marxist.”

    Really? Mr. Miller concludes his piece by speaking of the black singer Paul Robeson, whose “declaration of faith in socialism as a cure for racism,” he says, “was a rocket that lit up the sky.” Robeson is widely considered a martyr of HUAC. In fact, he was a doctrinaire Stalinist who believed that only in the Soviet Union were blacks really free. At the World Peace Congress in 1949, Robeson publicly declared that American blacks would not fight for the American flag, least of all against Moscow: “It is unthinkable,” he said, that his race “would go to war on behalf of those who oppressed us for generations.” Russia he described as “a country which in one generation has raised our people to the full dignity of mankind.” In the same year, like many other artists under Stalinist “discipline,” he voluntarily gave up acting and singing, explaining that “I have no time in the political struggle of today to entertain people.” Robeson received the Stalin Prize in 1953, the year of the dictator’s death, and he signed a eulogy that contained the benediction “Glory to Stalin. Forever will his name be honored and beloved in all lands.”

    The most devastating anatomy that we have seen of Mr. Miller’s latest paean to “ideals of socialism” is Ronald Radosh’s on-line column in Frontpage Magazine ( www.frontpagemag.com). Mr. Radosh begins by noting that, contrary to Mr. Miller’s assertions,

    scores of anti-Communist liberals and defenders of civil liberties rallied around the right of Communists and Socialists to be heard, although they despised their propaganda. Without “McCarthyism,” the left-wing would actually have had less of a shield to hide behind: the attacks on their links to the Soviet Union allowed them to claim that anyone accused—such as Alger Hiss—was completely innocent, even when in fact they were guilty.
    Quoting from an article by the espionage expert Thomas Powers that appeared in The New York Review of Books last May, Mr. Radosh proceeds to shred Mr. Miller’s entire account of the relation between the Soviet-controlled Communist threat and the anti-Communist crusade. Soviet spies, Powers wrote in his article,
    were of the left generally, they supported liberal causes, they defended the Soviet Union in all circumstances, they were often secret members of the Communist Party, they were uniformly suspicious of American initiatives throughout the world, they could be contemptuous of American democracy, society and culture, and above all, their offenses were often minimized or explained away by apologists who felt that no man should be called traitor who did what he did for the cause of humanity.
    If even The New York Review has faced up to the historical evidence about the threat of Communist propaganda and espionage in the late 1940s and 1950s, where does that leave Mr. Miller? As Mr. Radosh observes, “The importance of Powers’ essay is that it reveals the truths which generations of liberals have refused to acknowledge; that the crisis which propelled Miller to write The Crucible was caused ‘not only by the discovery of spies but by the denial of spies.’ The Soviet Union was in fact running major spy networks, infiltrating the United States government, and the implications of this operation were not faced squarely by the United States until late in the game.” To deal with the era as a “witch-hunt,” as Mr. Miller does, is to ignore a crucial fact. “One cannot,” Mr. Radosh concludes, “write about McCarthyism without first admitting that there were spies; the spies claimed idealism as a defense.”
    Mr. Miller refers to “Harry Bridges, the idol of west coast longshoremen” as an “unadmitted communist” who he claims was unfairly persecuted. But recent research has shown that Bridges was in fact not only a member of the Communist Party but also “secretly a member of its Central Committee.” Mr. Miller writes that “it is impossible to convey properly the fears that marked that period. Nobody was shot, to be sure, although some were going to jail, where at least one, William Remington, was murdered by an inmate hoping to shorten his sentence by having killed a communist.” It is true that Remington was murderd in jail. But, Mr. Radosh points out, Remington was a spy who met secretly with Communist operatives and “willingly handed over classified War Production Board material pertaining to aircraft production.”

    Mr. Miller writes that “The heart of the darkness was the belief that a massive, profoundly organised conspiracy was in place and carried forward mainly by a concealed phalanx of intellectuals, including labour activists, teachers, professionals, sworn to undermine the American government.” But what he describes as a paranoid fantasy we now know to be the historical truth.


    The real witch hunt

    Speaking of witch-hunts, we cannot forebear to share with our readers a document sent to us by a friend from Naperville, Illinois, a suburb west of Chicago. Entitled “Ten Quick Ways to Analyze Childrens Books for Racism and Sexism,” this preposterous little guide, originally devised by the Illinois School Library Media Conference in 1997, was distributed for the guidance of teachers in Naperville as part of their new “Diversity Plan.” Among other things, “Ten Quick Ways” advises readers to “Check the Illustrations” of children’s books for stereotypes and tokenism, to “Check the Story Line”: “Is ‘making it’ in the dominant white society projected as the only ideal? The standard for success?” (As opposed to what, becoming a welfare mother or crack addict?) “Are the achievements of girls and women based on their own initiative and intelligence? Could the story be told if the sex roles were reversed?” Hmm, could it? What if Briseis were pouting in her tent because Andromache took Achilles for herself? Readers are further admonished to “Watch for Loaded Words”—for example, “savage,” “primitive,” “lazy,” and “backward.” Finally, we are told to “Look for the copyright date” because “Nonsexist books, with rare exceptions, were not published before 1973.”
    So, farewell to Aesop’s fables (how unfair to suggest that the grasshopper might have been lazy!), farewell to Huckleberry Finn, to Othello (talk about “tokenism”!), to Robinson Crusoe (my man Friday, indeed), farewell to Grimm’s fairy tales, to Peter Pan, to Pride and Prejudice, to the stories of Rudyard Kipling. Farewell, in short, to imaginative literature from the world over and hello to the PC police who speak everywhere about “diversity” but whose actions assure the promulgation of a stultifying intellectual conformity. Here is a real witch-hunt in progress. A pity, isn’t it, that left-wing crusaders like Arthur Miller will not be picking up their pens to expose it?


    www.newcriterion.com/archive/19/sept00/notes.htm
     
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  2. Avatar4321
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    Avatar4321 Diamond Member Gold Supporting Member

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    McCarthyism wasnt a witch hunt at all. There actually were communists.
     
  3. Bonnie
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    Bonnie Senior Member

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    Many of them still inhabit Hollywood! Only now it's chic to be communist then it was still considered treasonis.
     
  4. manu1959
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    manu1959 Left Coast Isolationist

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    bonnie,

    great article,

    thank you
     
  5. Annie
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    Annie Diamond Member

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    I am the last person to defend 'liberals' nowadays, partially it is the time, partially my own maturity.

    With that said, from the 20's-60's examing the theory of communism and 'buying into it' for a period of time, was not unusual for intellectually honest people. It's very easy today, given 20-20 vision to tear apart people's writings and thinking of an earlier era.

    At the time of the McCarthy hearings, the US was fully engaged in a battle with the 'Reds' yet Marxism was all of 60 years old; the revolt from the Russian Revolution less than 30 years old; with 2 World Wars + Korea facing the beginnings of the space race. It was a bit hard keeping up, I would imagine. (Human nature is apt to think that the times we are living in are 'faster' than any before, that's not necessarily true.)

    McCarthy was a total blowhard, a drunk, and nasty to boot. History is replete with his type, in the US we've been blessed with a system that usually gets rid of or at least keeps the type down as far as our political system goes, but not that time. Miller and others were right to expose these dangers, in the mediums they were familiar with.

    I would argue that the 'Red Scare' reaction had more to do with the rise of communist influenced professors on campuses during the 60's and later due to the nature of the hearings. In a real way that the hypocrisy of the left in the 80's and 90's has produced the 'majority' found in 2004 and perhaps the future.

    I am not defending communism, it failed all on its own.
     
  6. onedomino
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    onedomino SCE to AUX

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    I do not agree with all of Miller's politics. He was, for example, against the invasion of Iraq. He was, however, unfairly blacklisted during the McCarthy era. In America it is the right of all persons to express whatever non-violent political belief they want. Miller wrote great works of art, he needs no defense from me.

    ARTHUR MILLER: 1915-2005
    Playwright defined a nation's conscience
    Author of 'Death of a Salesman,' 'The Crucible' won every major prize in his field


    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/02/12/MNG8ABA7RG1.DTL

    Robert Hurwitt, Chronicle Theater Critic
    Saturday, February 12, 2005

    "If Arthur Miller had written nothing more than 'Death of a Salesman, ' '' critic Martin Gottfried wrote in his 2003 biography of the playwright, "it would have been enough to establish him among the giants of dramatic literature.'' He did much more than that.

    Arthur Miller died Thursday night at his home in Roxbury, Conn., of congestive heart failure at the age of 89. For decades the nation's pre- eminent playwright, Miller not only defined the destructive side of the American dream in "Salesman'' and other works, he embodied the dream's promise as the son of an immigrant who achieved enormous success. He also, in the person of his second wife -- international sex icon Marilyn Monroe -- could be said to have married that dream.

    In a career that spanned more than half a century, Arthur Miller wrote 25 plays -- many almost as highly regarded as "Salesman'' -- as well as screenplays, essays, stories, novels and an autobiography, "Timebends." He received every major award in his field, including three Tony Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, an Emmy Award and a John F. Kennedy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1984. By the end of his life, he had achieved the iconic stature of one whose name lends dignity to the award given.

    He also devoted himself tirelessly to human rights causes, becoming, in the eyes of many, the moral conscience of the nation for standing up against McCarthyism and the House Un-American Activities Committee. He confounded many who had applauded his stand by continuing to work with actors and others, notably the director Elia Kazan, who had famously cooperated with the committee by naming names. He was, he explained, opposed to blacklisting of all kinds.

    As the first international president of the professional writers association PEN, he championed the freedom of dissident writers in Soviet-bloc countries and throughout the world. He campaigned for progressive causes and against all forms of censorship throughout his life and was outspoken in his criticisms of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and of what he considered the Bush administration's abridgements of civil liberties.

    In his life and writings, Miller was representative of his times -- the bulk of the 20th century. Born Oct. 17, 1915, in Manhattan, Arthur Asher Miller was the second son of an illiterate but very successful clothing manufacturer, Isidore Miller, an Eastern European Jewish immigrant, and his wife, Augusta (called Gussie), the New York-born daughter of German Jewish immigrants.

    A prosperous childhood, during which he showed more of an inclination for sports than school, came to a dramatic close with the stock market crash of 1929. As Isidore Miller struggled to save his company, the family moved from its spacious uptown Manhattan apartment to a cramped, flimsy house in the outlying Gravesend section of Brooklyn -- a home not unlike that of the Loman family in "Salesman'' (the character of Willy Loman was partly based on one of Arthur Miller's uncles).

    "The presumption of a permanent prosperity exploded in a matter of weeks, '' Miller wrote in "Timebends.'' "A month ago you were riding around in a limousine, now you were scraping to pay the rent.''

    The stock market crash and its aftermath had a major impact on Miller's life and work, not only in fixing his attention on social and economic justice and the hollow promise of the American dream as major themes. His much-admired older brother, Kermit, who had shown more promise as an athlete and a student, quit college to help their father try to save the family business. Arthur, through hard work at a variety of jobs and creative writing on his application letter, managed to go to the University of Michigan.

    Financial need influenced his turn toward theater. Miller entered a playwriting contest administered by the university, winning a $250 prize that enabled him to attend for a second year. He won the Avery Hopwood Award again the next year as well as a $1,200 award from New York's Theater Guild. Though most of his next six plays were rejected, and his first Broadway production --

    "The Man Who Had All the Luck" in 1944 -- was an instant failure (closing after four performances), he decided to make one last attempt at a life in the theater. "All My Sons," produced in '47, enjoyed a substantial run and started his career.

    At the time, Miller was working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard to support his family. In 1940, he had married Mary Grace Slattery, with whom he had two children. The marriage ended in divorce in 1955, in large part because of Miller's affair with Monroe, whom he married the next year. By then, he was the famous author of "Salesman" ('49) and "The Crucible" ('53). She, recently divorced from baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, was Hollywood's leading sex symbol.

    The marriage has been widely interpreted -- at the time and increasingly ever since -- as a union between American icons representing everything from high and popular culture to the mind and the body, tragedy and comedy and intellect and sex. It also coincided with Miller's opposition to the anti-communist witch hunts of the '50s, his refusal to name names before HUAC and his citation for contempt of Congress.

    The marriage with Monroe ended in 1961, the year the movie "The Misfits," which he had written for her, premiered. The following year, Miller married Austrian photographer Inge Morath, with whom he had a daughter, filmmaker Rebecca Miller. Morath, with whom he also wrote several books, died in 2002.

    Both marriages were reflected in "After the Fall," Miller's most nakedly autobiographical drama. The play also chronicles his stand against McCarthyism and his split with Kazan, who had staged Miller's initial successes "All My Sons" and "Salesman" -- and would also direct the controversial premiere of "Fall" in '64. Miller, who professed to be puzzled by criticisms that he had exploited Monroe's memory, staunchly denied that the play chronicled their marriage. He returned to the subject in his final play, "Finishing the Picture, " which opened last fall in Chicago -- about the making of a movie under circumstances very similar to those that plagued "Misfits."

    Though Miller never considered himself an autobiographical playwright, the major themes of his plays clearly derive from his life. The Depression, which he compared to the Civil War as a turning point in American history, haunts his work from "Salesman" on through his epic "The American Clock" in 1980.

    His sibling rivalry with his brother Kermit and his conflicted feelings about pursuing his own career while Kermit sacrificed his prospects to help the family are expressed in the relationship between brothers in "Salesman," "Sons" and "Price," among others. His guilt about his affair with Monroe crops up in "The Crucible," and that play -- and his adaptation of Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People" -- are defiant reactions against McCarthyism.

    With "Fall," Miller began exploring his Jewishness more explicitly, a theme that recurs in many of his later works, including "The Price," "Incident at Vichy" ('65), "The Creation of the World and Other Business" ('72) and the Emmy Award-winning "Playing for Time" ('80). Themes of personal responsibility, political repression and individual integrity continued to hold center stage through the seemingly indefatigable Miller's later plays -- "The Ride Down Mt. Morgan" ('91), "Broken Glass" ('94), "Mr. Peter's Connections" ('98) and the satirical "Resurrection Blues" ('02).

    Few of his later plays met with critical or popular favor. After his success with "Sons" and "Salesman," Miller was attacked by conservative writers for his politics in the '50s and abandoned by most of the critical establishment after "Fall." As with most major American writers, high regard gave way to a period of critical neglect and hostility, which -- in Miller's case -- roughly coincided with the same arc in the career of his contemporary, Tennessee Williams.

    Unlike Williams, who died during his critical eclipse, Miller lived long enough to reap the rewards of rediscovery. Even during the '70s and '80s, when he was almost invisible on Broadway, "Salesman," "Crucible" and "Sons" in particular continued to hold their own on regional stages throughout America and abroad. Even as American producers turned their backs on his new plays, they received major productions and attention in London. Starting in the '90s, Broadway began rediscovering Miller with highly regarded revivals of "Salesman, " "A View From the Bridge," "Price" and "Crucible."

    Throughout their lives, Miller and Williams often were set up as rivals for the title of greatest American playwright. Williams was characterized as the more poetic, dreamy and, in his latter years, daringly experimental artist; Miller as the rigid moralist and social realist. The contrast isn't fair to either writer, each in his way a legitimate artistic heir to Eugene O'Neill, the giant of American drama in the first half of the 20th century.

    A gritty realism pervades the poetry of much of Williams' best work, as does a social conscience and a moral sense as fierce as Miller's. Both men approached mainstream culture with the consciousness of outsiders, and Miller's Jewish identity is almost as cloaked in his early works as Williams' homosexuality is in his.

    Miller also experimented with form throughout his career. The structure of "Salesman'' -- with dream and memory sequences intruding on the present - - confounded and excited audiences in 1949. If the play no longer seems experimental, that's only a measure of the pervasive influence "Salesman" and its author have had on the American theater.

    From 'Death of a Salesman'

    "I don't say he's a great man.

    Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog.

    Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person."

    -
     
  7. Annie
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    Annie Diamond Member

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    :blowup: Don't have rep to give you! Great job!
     
  8. Bonnie
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    Bonnie Senior Member

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    I do agree that McCarthy's methods and his madness should be questioned, however today that argument of "witchhunt" is used to stifle any attempt to bring subversive or communistic ideology out in the open. I agree with you about that. I would liken it to saying all religion is bad because a few priests were sinful, therfore all tenants of faith are false. Liberals today are very deft in beating Conservatives onto submission with that kind of rederic.
     
  9. KarlMarx
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    KarlMarx Senior Member

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    Didn't have time to read all the posts on this thread.... but I recommend Ann Coulter's "Treason" for all who are interested. She talks about McCarthy, the Venona Project, Alger Hiss, Whitaker Chambers at length......

    It's an eye opener for sure!
     

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