The Corner

McCarthy Then and Now

I’ve got some great email in response to yesterday’s What’s Your Problem? on McCarthyism. I found this one particularly interesting:



Not mentioned in your spirited debate today was the Army McCarthy hearings that led to the senator’s downfall and ultimate censure.  The Army charged that McCarthy had exerted pressure to obtain special treatment for a former McCarthy aide, G. David Schine who was then serving in the Army.  McCarthy said the charges were in retaliation for his committee’s investigation of security risks within the Army.


As a college student at the time, I watched these hearings with fascination, and cheered when counsel for the Army Joseph Welch skewered McCarthy with his “At long last, have you no decency, sir?” response to McCarthy’s accusation of a young member of Welch’s law firm. 


Shortly thereafter, I entered the Army and became an agent in the Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps.  To my surprise, I found that the Army — just as McCarthy had charged — had been seriously penetrated not only by more or less passive Communists but by active Soviet agents.  During my short three-year career in the CIC, I participated in investigations of Army officers and enlisted men who were actually working for the Soviet Union and performing espionage, sabotage, undermining troop morale and even kidnapping and murder.


McCarthy did paint with far too broad a brush and he was obnoxious to boot. But he was, in large part, absolutely correct in his concern about Communist penetration at high levels of government and in the military.  The greatest damage done by his excesses, however, was not to the few who might have been unfairly accused of being Communists, but to the whole idea of “anti-Communism” itself.  “Witch hunt” and “McCarthyism” became the favorite pejoratives of the left in discrediting anyone who pursued the Red Menace.  In this way, McCarthy played into the  hands of those he was trying to destroy.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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