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Joseph Raymond "Tailgunner Joe" McCarthy (November 14, 1908 – May 2, 1957) was a member of the U.S. Senate who temporarily cashed in on the Second Red Scare by screeching hysterically about "Reds under the bed," thus placing all criticism of communism under a pall of disgrace.
McCarthy would always say his allegations "fit a pattern," so it's fair to ask what sort of pattern his biography fit.
McCarthy was a circuit (trial) court judge in Wisconsin when World War II broke out. He joined the Marines because he thought this branch of the service would be most helpful to him in a future political career. After the war he returned to sit as a judge and took to wearing his uniform on the bench. He also had developed a strong professional relationship with Joseph Kennedy, and actually visited the Hyanisport family home, the (in)famous Kennedy Compound, several times throughout his career, leading to son Bobby being appointed to the House Un-American Activities Committee.
When he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1946, he adopted the slogan "Congress Needs a Tailgunner," falsely claiming to have served in such capacity (McCarthy had been an intelligence officer who had flown along on some less dangerous missions as an observer and had fired the tail guns of the planes he was in several times). McCarthy defeated Robert M. LaFollette, Jr., the three-term Senator and son of the progressive icon in the Republican primary and then went on to defeat his Democratic opponent.
McCarthy's career as America's self-appointed ultra patriot got off to a strange start by defending German soldiers on trial for the Malmedy Massacre. During the Battle of the Bulge, a German SS unit massacred 84 American prisoners of war; in 1946, 73 German officers and enlisted men involved were convicted of war crimes. McCarthy claimed that the soldiers didn't receive a fair trial and spent several months attacking the prosecutors as biased, the witnesses as liars and the investigators, probably Jewish. This performance only embarrassed McCarthy, who decided to find a trendier issue than defending Nazis.
McCarthy first came to wider public attention after he gave a speech to the Republican Women's Club of Wheeling, West Virginia, on February 9, 1950. The topic of his speech was Communism. He was opposed to it.
McCarthy started off his speech by contrasting the Soviet Union with the "Christian West." Most importantly, fourteen days prior, Alger Hiss had been convicted of perjury for lying about spying for the USSR and passing documents to a borderline-lunatic named Whittaker Chambers, who had been an editor at Time before apparently having some sort of breakdown because of his closeted homosexuality and going all Jesus. The country had been watching for months as it was proved that Alger Hiss was a spy, but also that a Congressman known as Richard Nixon was willing to make American democracy itself seem like it was under attack from something so insanely terrible in breadth and scope that everyone was ready to make like the Boston Tea Party. It was the kind of speech that the Junior Senator from Wisconsin was expected to give to a Republican Women's Club, and the audience was foaming-at-the-lips.
First, there was bad news. America was "losing":
“”Six years ago, ... there was within the Soviet orbit, 180,000,000 people. Lined up on the anti-totalitarian side there were in the world at that time, roughly 1,625,000,000 people. Today, only six years later, there are 800,000,000 people under the absolute domination of Soviet Russia—an increase of over 400 percent. On our side, the figure has shrunk to around 500,000,000. In other words, in less than six years, the odds have changed from nine to one in our favor to eight to five against us.
How could this happen? McCarthy had the answer:
“”As one of our outstanding historical figures once said, “When a great democracy is destroyed, it will not be from enemies from without, but rather because of enemies from within.”
Who were these "enemies from within?"
“”The reason why we find ourselves in a position of impotency is not because our only powerful potential enemy has sent men to invade our shores ... but rather because of the traitorous actions of those who have been treated so well by this Nation. It has not been the less fortunate, or members of minority groups who have been traitorous to this Nation, but rather those who have had all the benefits that the wealthiest Nation on earth has had to offer ... the finest homes, the finest college education and the finest jobs in government we can give.
Then McCarthy got specific:
“”This is glaringly true in the State Department. There the bright young men who are born with silver spoons in their mouths are the ones who have been most traitorous...I have here in my hand a list of 205...a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department...
McCarthy repeated his accusations several times, garnering considerable public attention, but the number of names on the list kept changing. He claimed at various times that there were 87, 51, or 10 Communists in the State Department, but never actually proved a single case thereof.
His excesses later caught up with him in 1954 and he was given a smack on the head (censure by the Senate); the John Birch Society refused to admit that he had been wrong about any of it and subsequently began claiming that President Dwight Eisenhower was a communist agent who had been elected for the sole purpose of discrediting McCarthy. This was one of the factors that prompted saner conservatives, such as William F. Buckley (who had earlier written a defense of McCarthy, McCarthy and His Enemies: The Record and Its Meaning) and Russell Kirk, to distance themselves from the society.
McCarthy died in 1957 from hepatitis, probably exacerbated by his alcohol addiction. He was 48 years old.
Venona project and attempted rehabilitation of reputation
In 1943, the governments of the US and UK collaborated on a project decrypting Soviet diplomatic cables known as Venona. In 1995, the documents were made publicly available. The decrypted cables provided a smoking gun for instances of Soviet espionage, such as in the case of the "atomic spies" Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. They also provided further evidence for the guilt of Alger Hiss. However, McCarthy had nothing to do with either of these cases. Alger Hiss was called before, and perjured himself in front of, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, where his chief tormentor was Richard Nixon. The Rosenbergs were brought before a grand jury by the U.S. Justice Department, a part of the Truman Administration, which McCarthy was accusing of being soft on Communism. The extent of Soviet espionage and infiltration is still a matter of debate.
While the cases of figures such as the Rosenbergs and Hiss were once causes célèbres on the left and right (for differing reasons, of course), they are now largely used by those of a more wingnut bent in service of attempting to rehabilitate McCarthy's reputation. Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter, for example, have defended McCarthy as an all-American hero. Conservative writer M. Stanton Evans published a book-length apologia for McCarthy in 2007, entitled Blacklisted by History, which was predictably praised by Coulter and other right-wingers.
While the Venona papers have demonstrated that Soviet espionage did indeed occur, the more obvious conclusion to be drawn from this is that, by crying wolf so many times, McCarthy's demagoguery was a hindrance to rooting out Soviet spies. Other than Mary Jane Keeney, none of McCarthy's unhinged accusations were substantiated.
McCarthy's epitaph was perhaps pronounced at the infamous Army-McCarthy hearings by Special Counsel for the Army Joseph N. Welch who asked of him, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?"
- Tailgunner Joe's Twitter page
- http://www.conservapedia.com/Joseph_McCarthy According to Conservapedia, McCarthy is a hero who fought the evil commies and slandered by the evil leftist liberal Democrats
- Emile de Antonio, Point of Order (documentary film).
- Reeves, Thomas C., Tail Gunner Joe: Joseph R. McCarthy and the Marine Corps, Wisconsin Magazine Of History. Volume: 62 /Issue: 4 (1978-1979), pp. 307-8.
- David Oshinsky, A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy, pp. 76-77
- This Day in History: McCarthy Says Communists Are in State Department, history.com, retrieved 2012-04-18.
- Cold War-McCarthyism, globalsecurity.org, retrieved 2012-04-18.
- Buckley, William F. Goldwater, the John Birch Society, and Me. Commentary: March 2008.
- VENONA project homepage, National Security Agency
- Secrets, Lies, and Atomic Spies, PBS Nova
- The VENONA Files and the Alger Hiss Case, Douglas O. Linder, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law
- Chapter One: The Soviet Espionage Threat, excerpt from Athan Theoharis' Chasing Spies.
- Glenn Beck Misses Joe McCarthy, Salon
- Does Ann Coulter Know What She's Talking About? History News Network
- The Librarian Spies: Philip and Mary Jane Keeney and Cold War Espionage, Rosalee McReynolds, Louise S. Robbins, Greenwood Publishing Group, March 2009.
- “Have You No Sense of Decency”: The Army-McCarthy Hearings, History Matters, George Mason University