In my post about Clancy Sigal, I referred to Senator Joseph McCarthy and 'his allegedly anti-Communist witch hunt in the US of the 1940s and 1950s.' In response, Archer wrote in and asked whether this was 'the sort of subtle British irony that fools us Yanks.'
Well, no. Actually I meant what I said. But I clearly didn't express myself very well. I tried to cram far more meaning into that phrase 'allegedly anti-Communist' than it will comfortably accommodate. My apologies for that, and I will do my best to explain.
First a bit of background. Those who know absolutely nothing about Senator McCarthy might like to take a look at the Wikipedia entry. Better still, read an excerpt from Richard Rovere's classic study of the man. Actually, this latter is not particularly easy to read online, because it appears to have been reproduced without paragraphs, but it won't take long to get the gist.
McCarthy was an undistinguished US Senator who discovered, in 1950, that by making speeches attacking 'Communists' he could attract huge amounts of public attention. So from 1950 until his death in 1957, McCarthy proceeded to ruin the lives of a substantial number of people who just happened, at one time or another, to have been members of, or supporters of, the Communist Party in America.
McCarthy, says, Rovere, 'walked with a heavy tread over large parts of the Constitution of the United States, and he cloaked his own gross figure in the sovereignty it asserts and the powers it distributes. He usurped executive and judicial authority whenever the fancy struck him. It struck him often. He held two Presidents captive -- or as nearly captive as any Presidents of the United States have ever been held.'
McCarthy, in short, was one of the nastiest lumps of dogshit ever to rise to the top in a western democracy -- which is saying a great deal. He was a self-serving demagogue, with self-serving being the key part of that description. Furthermore, it is doubtful whether he ever knew the first thing about Communism. The idea that Joe had the intellectual capacity to understand the finer points of dialectical materialism, for example, is too silly to contemplate for more than half a second.
In respect of this man, I have two points to make, and, as stated above, I was trying to build them into my earlier comment.
First, even at the time when McCarthy was riding high, it must surely have been obvious that the main purpose of his activities was not to eliminate 'Communist spies', but to enhance the name, power, and glory of Senator McCarthy himself. He was looking for a bandwagon which would take him to a position of power, and he found it. But it might have been something else entirely. I suspect that the anti-Communist aspect of McCarthy's activities came about more or less by accident. If he had discovered that he could gain power over people by attacking the price of budgerigar seed, he would have made a career out of that instead.
The second point I want to make is that McCarthy did enormous damage to America, both internally and externally. For a start, it is utterly absurd that any American should be held to be 'un-American' for exercising the right to hold a particular set of political views (always provided, of course, that they stay within the law). This did not go unnoticed in Europe and elsewhere.
Furthermore, I would draw your attention to the comment which led to Richard Condon's famous novel The Manchurian Candidate. Condon said that the novel grew out of a remark he once heard a newsman make, to the effect that the loud-mouthed Senator Joseph McCarthy couldnÂt have done more harm to the country if he had he been a dedicated Communist agent himself.
Condon built a book around that. He described a moronic Senator who rose to power on vague claims about 'Communists in the State Department', and whose wife actually was a Soviet agent. And, in so doing, Condon turned McCarthy into a buffoon. Which is too kind by half.
Now I won't go so far as to say that I actually believe that McCarthy was a Soviet agent (though stranger things certainly happened in that era). But I endorse the view that the damage he did was far more extensive than that of any Soviet agent known to me.
However, as I said at the beginning, Archer has a point. And on reflection it is probably impossible to build into one sentence the burden of what I had in mind when I used the phrase 'allegedly anti-Communist'.
But, were I to try, I might, perhaps, refer to McCarthy's 'nominally anti-Communist activities, which were primarily intended to increase the power and influence of McCarthy himself, and which in fact did more damage to America's interests, and to America's good name, than any Communist agent ever did.'
I wonder if m'learned friend Archer would accept that. Archer, you see, has a blog of his own, called LawyerWorldLand. How could I have missed it?