We lived in a small Texas town, and were a family of limited means. I recall we obtained our first TV set in 1953, and there was at the time a running drama in the news.
From Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations, Volume 1, Eighty-Third Congress, First Session, 1953:
Elected as a Wisconsin Republican in 1946, Senator McCarthy had burst into national headlines in February 1950, when he delivered a Lincoln Day address in Wheeling, West Virginia, that blamed failures in American foreign policy on Communist infiltration of the United States government. He held in his hand, the senator asserted, a list of known Communists still working in the Department of State. When a special subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee investigated these charges and rejected them as ‘‘a fraud and a hoax,’’ the issue might have died, but the outbreak of the Korean War, along with the conviction of Alger Hiss and arrest of Julius Rosenberg in 1950, lent new credibility to McCarthy’s charges. He continued to make accusations that such prominent officials as General George C. Marshall had been part of an immense Communist conspiracy. In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s election as president carried Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, and seniority elevated McCarthy to chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS
83RD CONGRESS, FIRST SESSION
JOSEPH R. MCCARTHY, Wisconsin, Chairman
KARL E. MUNDT, South Dakota
MARGARET CHASE SMITH, Maine
HENRY C. DWORSHAK, Idaho
EVERETT MCKINLEY DIRKSEN, Illinois
JOHN MARSHALL BUTLER, Maryland
CHARLES E. POTTER, Michigan
JOHN L. MCCLELLAN, Arkansas
HUBERT H. HUMPHREY, Minnesota
HENRY M. JACKSON, Washington
JOHN F. KENNEDY, Massachusetts
STUART SYMINGTON, Missouri
ALTON A. LENNON, North Carolina
FRANCIS D. FLANAGAN, Chief Counsel
WALTER L. REYNOLDS, Chief Clerk
PERMANENT SUBCOMMITTEE ON INVESTIGATIONS
JOSEPH R. MCCARTHY, Wisconsin, Chairman
KARL E. MUNDT, South Dakota
EVERETT MCKINLEY DIRKSEN, Illinois
CHARLES E. POTTER, Michigan
JOHN L. MCCLELLAN, Arkansas 1
HENRY M. JACKSON, Washington 1
STUART SYMINGTON, Missouri 1
A recurring dialogue (page 234):
The CHAIRMAN. I think Mr. Cohn had something in mind. But first let me ask you this. It has been suggested that certain questions be asked each witness who appears here, those who work in government. May I say that I know nothing whatsoever about you, to this question is no reflection on you at all. It is just a usual custom. I did not even know your name before yesterday, and all I know about you is just from examining you today, so therefore do
not misunderstand these questions as reflecting upon you.
Question Number one is: Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?
Mrs. KERR. No, sir.
The CHAIRMAN. Number two, have you ever belonged to any organization that has been named by the attorney general as subversive?
Mrs. KERR. No, sir.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Toumanoff, there is one other question that it has been suggested that I ask all the witnesses who appear in government. And you understand this is no reflection upon you.
The mere fact that we ask this question is no reflection on you. I do not know you, never met you before today so that I know very little about you. For that reason, I emphasize that the mere asking of this question does not indicate that we feel the answer should be ‘‘yes’’ or anything of the kind. But the question is: Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?
Mr. TOUMANOFF. No, sir.
The CHAIRMAN. Question number two. Are you now a member or have you ever belonged to any organization which the attorney general has put on the subversive list?
Mr. TOUMANOFF. I haven’t seen the very latest list, sir, but to my knowledge I have not.
The CHAIRMAN. Could you give us the names of the organizations to which you have belonged? First, the ones to which you belong at this time. That you should have no trouble in remembering.
Mr. TOUMANOFF. I don’t belong to any at this time, as far as I know. And the organizations that I have belonged to were—there was a psychology club at Harvard University. There was an honorary psychology club called, I think, Psi Chi, at the University of Chicago.
The CHAIRMAN. Just one question, and we ask this of all witnesses who have appeared before us, and I hope you understand the mere asking of the question does not indicate that we have any opinion on the matter at all; it does not indicate that we know anything of any adverse nature about you or otherwise. I want to ask you now, are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?
Mr. HUNT. I never have been a member of the Communist party, and I am not now a member.
The CHAIRMAN. And, number two: Do you now or have you ever belonged to any organization that is listed by the attorney general as subversive?
Mr. HUNT. To my knowledge, I have never been.
The CHAIRMAN. I think we will adjourn now. Just before you leave, Mr. Vedeler. We will want you to check your files back there, and we will want you to check your records, and be prepared, when one of the members of the staff will call you. We want you to be prepared to give us a complete history of any connection you had with either the Jeri Stary case or the Hitchmenova case.
One other question: Have you ever been a member of the Communist party?
Mr. VEDELER. No, sir.
The CHAIRMAN. Have you ever been a member of any organization that has been listed as subversive or Communist-front by the attorney general?
Mr. VEDELER. Not so far as I know, sir.
The movie script was written by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, and the film was directed by George Clooney. Production took place ten years ago for release in 2005 by Warner Brothers. The title is the signature closing line by Edward R. Murrow for his program, See It Now: Good Night and Good Luck.
This movie has top notch production credentials. Late in the game this production was, it still used film. The credits show Technicolor, but the sets were color neutral, and post production rendered everything in monochrome. Photographic rendition is high key, meaning saturated blacks and complete detail in the highlights.
As war came to Europe in 1939-1940 American journalists brought the story to their audiences across the Atlantic. William Shirer stayed with the story on the continent for eight years until the Nazis expelled him, and Edward R. Murrow conveyed the word to America by radio under the heading “This is London.” Subsequently Murrow returned to America and by the early 1950s was doing news and commentary on television. The movie opens with a speech Murrow gave “to the Radio and Television News Directors Association in 1958.” Old friends in the news broadcasting business were there, and Murrow reminded them of their responsibility to bring out unpleasant facts.
The main plot line begins in 1953.
Clooney has reproduced life in the 1950s with stunning fidelity. The sixty years past have not entirely erased my memories of those times, and I can readily buy Clooney’s rendition. People arrive at the CBS building and take an elevator up to the news section. The women are wearing hats, and as I watch this I try to recall the last time I saw women wear hats to work. Men are wearing hats, as well. I do recall when men quit wearing hats. That was in 1961 when President John Kennedy started appearing in public hatless, sending hat makers into bankruptcy across the country, except in certain regions of Texas. And everybody smoked. After sixty years it’s startling to watch people light up in the office, at the dining table and even in the television studio control room. Murrow’s signature was his cigarette, which he held aloft while speaking into the camera.
The opening news item involves Milo Radulovich, an Air Force reservist in Michigan who has been forced to resign because his father subscribed to a Serbian newspaper and because Lieutenant Radulovich refuses to denounce his father. Radulovich, himself, appears in the movie from news footage regarding the story. Radulovich died in 2007, but was involved as a consultant on the movie. The movie shows news producers watching Radulovich’s interview on film in a projection room.
For readers out there who have not read any of the history of the 1950s, Joseph McCarthy was at the time making a name for himself by conducting what amounted to a witch hunt. He chaired the Senate committee investigating (among other things) communist infiltration of government affairs. As the temperature increased he exhibited a decreasing regard for the truth and for the rights of people being questioned by his committee, many being accused of complicity in communist subversion.
Murrow and the CBS producers challenged McCarthy, indirectly at first, but then openly after McCarthy accused Murrow of being a communist. The film grippingly captures the chill that settled withing the CBS news center. This was a time when careers were being destroyed by the merest hint of Communist association. One staffer under the remotest of suspicion committed suicide. Scenes in the movie could have just as well come out of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible or Shakespeare’s Richard III.
The task for Murrow and his CBS producers devolved into merely showing the facts on television for all to see. Much of what was shown involved the antics of the Senator. Particularly galling was the case of Annie Lee Moss.
Mrs. Moss had worked in a government cafeteria and ultimately secured a position as a communications clerk in the Pentagon. A routine Army security screening resulted in the recommendation she be discharged. She appealed the decision and was reinstated in 1951. The film features news footage of her grilling before the committee:
Senator McCarthy: Now, is that testimony true?
Mrs. Moss: No sir, it is not. Not at any time have I been a member of a Communist Party, and I have never seen a Communist card.
Senator McCarthy: You have never seen a Communist card?
Mrs. Moss: No sir, I haven’t…
Senator McCarthy: Have you ever attended any Communist meetings?
Mrs. Moss: No sir, I’ve never attended any Communist meetings.
Senator McCarthy: Have you ever subscribed to the Daily Worker?
Mrs. Moss: No sir, I didn’t subscribe to the Daily Worker, and I wouldn’t pay for it.
Senator McCarthy: Uh… Now, Mrs. Markward, who was working for the FBI who joined the Communist Party under orders from the FBI has testified that while she never met you personally at a Communist meeting that your name was on the list of Communists who were paying dues.
Uh… Can you shed any light upon that?
Mrs. Moss: No, sir. I don’t even know what the dues are or where they were paid.
Senator McCarthy: So you have never paid any money to the Communist Party. Is that correct?
Mrs. Moss: That’s right.
Senator McCarthy: You’ve never paid any dues, payment…
From Volume 5, pages xiv – xv:
The subcommittee had gotten the name of Annie Lee Moss from an FBI informant, Mary Stalcup Markward, who told them that she had seen ‘‘a woman by the name of Annie Lee Moss on the list of card-carrying, dues-paying members.’’ However, Markward could not recall having met Moss personally. Moss, an African American, had worked in a government cafeteria before getting a job as an Army Signal Corps communications clerk at the Pentagon in 1950. She had been cleared by loyalty boards of the General Accounting Office in October 1949 and by the army in January 1951. In September 1951, the FBI raised questions about Moss, and offered Markward’s testimony as evidence, but the army did not reopen the case. Senator McCarthy described Moss herself as ‘‘not of any great importance,’’ but he demanded to know: ‘‘Who in the military, knowing that this lady was a Communist, promoted her from a waitress to a code clerk?’’ Due to ill health, Moss did not attend an executive session and made her first appearance before the subcommittee at a televised public hearing on March 11, 1954.8
The army described Annie Lee Moss’ position as a relay machine operator who received and transmitted ‘‘unintelligible code messages.’’ When the charges against her became public, the army first transferred her to a supply room and then suspended her entirely. At the public hearing, Moss denied having been a member of the Communist party, having paid any dues, or having attended any party meetings. She testified that her late husband had received copies of the Daily Worker, although she was uncertain whether they had been addressed to him or to her. Moss had paid dues to a cafeteria-workers’ union in 1943, but could not say whether the union had any Communist party connections. Appearing frail and perplexed at the hearing, she seemed an unlikely espionage agent even to Senator McCarthy, who left midway through her testimony. The hearing was replayed on Edward R. Murrow’s popular See It
Now television program and proved a public relations blow to the chairman. The army eventually reinstated Annie Lee Moss, placing her in its finance and accounts office. In 1958 the Subversive Activities Control Board confirmed Markward’s assertion that Moss’ name had appeared on the Communist party rolls in the mid-1940s. But the board conducted no further investigation of Moss, and the following year it concluded that ‘‘Markward’s testimony should be assayed with caution.’’ 9
This is from another part of the transcript. The movie may have played some of the clips out of sequence. It is obvious that multiple cameras were in action during the proceedings, and the view jumps from one speaker to another with some loss of continuity. In reconstructing the transcript I often had to rely on recognizing the voices of various speakers, and mistakes are bound to exist.
Most telling are those actions of Senator McCarthy. He appears to realize his cow has dried up, and he excuses himself. In his absence Counselor Roy Cohn continues in his place, and Cohn’s actions incite the outrage of Senator John McClellan. McClellan was a conservative politician from Arkansas, and nobody could accuse him of being “soft on Communism.” His cutting response eviscerated the corpse of McCarthy’s witch hunt and laid bare the rot that had set in.
Senator McCarthy: Mrs. Moss, let me say for the record, for your information … for the information of your counsel that you are not here because you are considered important in the Communist apparatus. We have the testimony that you are, and have been, a Communist. We are rather curious, however, to know how you suddenly were shifted from a worker in a cafeteria to the code room. I am today much more interested in the handling of your case by your superiors than in your own personal activities. However, counsel will question you about your own activities also.
Counsel for Mrs. Moss: Mr. Chairman!
Senator McCarthy: We will not hear from counsel. You have been told what the rule is. If you have anything to say, say it through your client.
Roy Cohn: Chairman.
Senator McCarthy: Did you begin work at the General Accounting Office in… ?
Mrs. Moss: Yes, sir.
Senator McCarthy: And, prior to that time, had you been a cafeteria worker?
Mrs. Moss: Yes, I had.
Senator McCarthy: I see. While in the Pentagon, since have you had any connections with coded messages? Have you ever handled coded messages?
Mrs. Moss: No more than to transmit ’em.
Senator McCarthy: Pardon me?
Mrs. Moss: No more than to transmit the message.
Senator McCarthy: Than to transmit them? Did you transmit codes?
Mrs. Moss: To receive or transmit messages was all I had to do. And I’ve never been into a courtroom in my life. [The voice in video says “code room,” not “courtroom.”]
Senator McCarthy: Do you know the type of classification… Do you know if they were secret, top secret, confidential?
Mrs. Moss: No, sir.
Senator McCarthy: You wouldn’t know the degree of classification?
Mrs. Moss: No, sir.
Senator McCarthy: I see. I’m afraid I’m going to have to excuse myself, I’ve got a rather important appointment to work on right now, and I wonder if, Senator Mundt, you would takeover as Chairman?
Roy Cohn: Chairman. Uh…
(likely) Senator Mundt: Cohn.
Roy Cohn: I have no further questions of this witness at this time. We have the testimony of Mrs. Markward, the undercover agent for the FBI stating that Annie Lee Moss was a member, a dues-paying member of the Communist Party the Northeast Club of the Communist Party. We have corroboration of that testimony by another witness who was called before the Committee and gave a sworn statement to the effect that she also knew Mrs. Moss as a member of the Northeast Club of the Communist Party.
Senator John McClellan: She’s already lost her job. She’s been suspended because of this action. I’m not defending her. If she’s a Communist, I want her exposed. But to make these statements as we’ve got corroborating evidence that she is a Communist, under these circumstances. I think she’s entitled to have it produced here in her presence and let the public know about it and let her know about it. I don’t like to try people by hearsay evidence. I’d like to get the witnesses here and try them by testimony under oath.
Senator Mundt: The Chair will rule that the comment of Mr. Cohn be stricken from the record.
Senator John McClellan: I didn’t ask that, Mr. Chairman!
Senator Mundt: …whether we should try to produce a witness in public because the FBI may have her undercover and we don’t want to…
Senator McClellan: You can’t strike these statements made by counsel here as to evidence that we’re having and withholding. You cannot strike that from the press nor from the public mind once it’s planted there. That’s the evil of it!
Senator Mundt: Well, I’d look at it…
Senator McClellan: I don’t think it’s fair to a witness to a citizen of this country to bring them up here and cross-examine them then when they get through, say “The FBI has got something on you that condemns you.”
Senator Mundt: The Chair agrees…
Senator McClellan: It is not sworn testimony it’s convicting people by rumor and hearsay and innuendo.
The scenes from the hearings are archival footage and feature people who were or who were about to be making history. Please note sitting at the table the future Attorney General Robert Kennedy.
Following the debacle of these Senate hearings the United States Senate censured Joseph McCarthy. He was sidelined and spent the remainder of his tenure with no power and no useful duties. He died three years after his interview with Mrs. Moss.
Mrs. Moss retired as a clerk in the employment of the Army in 1975 and died in 1996 at the age of 90.
Edward R. Murrow eventually parted with CBS in 1961 following the acrimony that developed with CBS chief executive William Paley. He died in 1965 from lung cancer, not unexpectedly.
Modern readers may be surprised at the lingering popularity of the late Senator McCarthy. A less likable public figure would be hard to find.
McCarthy served a total tour of duty in the Marines lasting thirty months, or 2½ years, from August of 1942 to February of 1945, and he held the rank of captain by the time he was discharged in April of 1945. He flew twelve combat missions as a gunner-observer, earning the nickname of “Tail-Gunner Joe” in the course of one of these missions.
He later claimed 32 missions in order to qualify for a Distinguished Flying Cross, which he received in 1952. McCarthy publicized a letter of commendation which he claimed had been signed by his commanding officer and countersigned by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, then Chief of Naval Operations. However, it was revealed that McCarthy had written this letter himself, in his capacity as intelligence officer. A “war wound” that McCarthy made the subject of varying stories involving airplane crashes or anti-aircraft fire was in fact received aboard ship during a ceremony for sailors crossing the equator for the first time.
[Some links deleted]
Real hero of World War 2 and American President Dwight D. Eisenhower had no taste for McCarthy’s methods and aimed to keep some distance:
Nothing would probably please him more than to get the publicity that would be generated by a public repudiation by the President.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, on declining to publicly confront McCarthy’s strategies, as quoted in The Party of Fear (1988), by David Harry Bennett, p. 304
A bit of historical reality may be due. There was an active Communist Party in the United States at the time, but at no time did it ever threaten the national security. Remember, that to impose Communism on the population the Party would first have to get some people elected, and at this they were notably unsuccessful. This is not to say Communists in this country were harmless.
Communism had appeal to segments of society since its formulation in 1848 by philosopher Karl Marx. When Communists took power following the overthrow of the Russian Empire, the new Soviet Union represented the goal of Communist sympathizers the world over and quite regularly attracted the loyalty of Communists in other countries. This was the case in the United States.
Prior to the entry of the United States into World War 2, Communists in the U.S. opposed American involvement, because the Soviet Union was initially allied with Nazi Germany. During the war American Communists aided the Soviet Union in ways that violated U.S. law.
David Greenglass was a Communist sympathizer who joined the Army and worked on the project to develop the atomic bomb. As a machinist he obtained a copy of the design of the mold for the explosive lens that was employed by the plutonium bomb. He made one or more drawings of this design and passed them on to Soviet agents.
At his trial for espionage Greenglass implicated his sister, Ethel Rosenberg and her husband Julius as his contacts, and the two Rosenbergs were tried for espionage and in 1953 were executed. This was during the time of the McCarthy hearings.
Klaus Fuchs, not an American citizen, also worked on the atomic bomb program and delivered classified bomb information to the Soviets. He escaped to the Soviet Union to avoid prosecution.
Morton Sobell served 17 years and 9 months of a 30 year sentence in a case related to the Rosenbergs’ spying. After decades of denial, he subsequently implicated the Rosenbergs.
Alger Hiss worked in sensitive positions in the United States government, including the State Department. He was implicated in espionage by acknowledged Communist Whittaker Chambers, but was not prosecuted, since the statute of limitations had expired for his charges.
More recent espionage on behalf of the former Soviet Union involved greed and other motivations and not Communist allegiance.
During the McCarthy hearings people were advised that Communist Party membership was not crime, and they were then ordered to state their political sympathies and any membership in the Party. Many refused to answer these questions, since Communist association had become tantamount to social and economic ostracism. Careers were destroyed, particularly in the entertainment industries, when Communist association was revealed or when individuals refused to answer the critical questions. In particular, prior to World War 2 there was virtually no stigma associated with Communist Party membership, but people who subsequently renounced their Communist ties suffered eventual retribution.
Government abuse of civil liberties so marked those times that they are sometimes called the “McCarthy Era.” Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee wrote Inherit the Wind, a play highlighting government over reach. The plot parallels, but does not reproduce, the 1925 trial of John Scopes for teaching evolution in public schools. A follow-on movie starred Spencer Tracy and Fredric March.