The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

November 15, 2018

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Unamerican Activities
Daniel J. Flynn - 04/24/08

When McCarthy questioned Army employees at the base at Monmouth, New Jersey regarding whether they had committed espionage, several took the Fifth Amendment. Irving Peress, an army dentist proved to be a Communist Party member, actually gained promotion—prompting the conservative rally cry “Who Promoted Peress?”—after his affiliation with the totalitarian cult came to light. Evans informs readers that one “Monmouth employee had signed out at one time or another for more than 2,700 documents,” the vast majority of which remained missing. McCarthy’s sources on such matters were often soldiers themselves, frustrated by bureaucratic officiousness preventing them from ejecting subversives.

Rather than punish the security and loyalty risks, the Eisenhower administration, like the Truman administration before it, punished the whistleblowers. The secretary of the army, questioning whether Monmouth Commanding General Kirke Lawton was fit for command, refused to meet with him, passed him over for promotion, and placed him on disability despite no signs of ill health. The underlings of the secretary of the army got the message. Henceforth, they generally refused to fully cooperate with McCarthy’s investigation.

What Army-McCarthy ultimately boiled down to was a showdown between branches of government. Transcripts of the Pentagon bureaucracy’s machinations involving the obstruction of a congressional investigation were sent to the White House, from where President Eisenhower claimed executive privilege. Noting the subsequent reversal of principle regarding executive privilege, Evans, specifically citing the Washington Post’s about-face, explained: “It turned out that what had been a sacred constitutional precept when invoked by Ike against Joe McCarthy wasn’t so sacred when invoked by Nixon against Sam Ervin.”

The earlier ill-advised broadside against General Marshall, media attacks such as Edward R. Murrow’s creative editing of the senator over the airwaves, the arrogance of Roy Cohn, and the Army-McCarthy hearings led to McCarthy’s downfall. The McCarthy phenomena, which began in Wheeling on February 9, 1950 ended nearly five years later, when the Senate, with the support of half of the Republican caucus, condemned him in December of 1954. Two and a half years later, the Capitol Rotunda played host to a public viewing of the junior senator from Wisconsin’s casket.

McCarthy died, but the controversy lived on. Some blamed his ghost, haunting Democrats to atone for past weaknesses on Communism, for Vietnam. Others saw Richard Nixon, who gained fame as Alger Hiss’s interrogator, as McCarthy reincarnate, and punished accordingly. The dead senator’s name mutated into an insult, and anyone accused by him was judged innocent by association.

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