Wednesday, May 26, 2010

De-mythologizing McCarthy

Well, can't say I'm surprised, but it's still sad. Turns out as part of bailout plan, Greece will have to cut back on some gods and godesses. Also, Mt. Olympus is now up for a 'naming rights' sponsorship. At this writing, both Adidas and Gatorade have expressed interest.

And in other news, Texas schoolbook controversy is semi-settled for now, although I suspect some court challenge options are being explored. History is always in the news... because folks keep rewriting it.

Biggest US 20th century flashpoint of contention will always be the 'McCarthy' era. There are of course others, but Senator McCarthy gets blood up quick. So here's what really happened...

Very early 1950's most of middle America was looking around wondering what the heck just happened. They'd won a contest for survival, capping it off with the biggest tech breakthrough in recorded history, and now 7 years later, and NOW????

Moscow has the A-bomb too, and China just went Communist! Berlin airlift, Korean War, Rosenbergs... oh excuse me. Was starting to sound like that Billy Joel song for a minute. Middle America wanted answers. Senator McCarthy, that's your cue...

Joe drove some audience in West Virginia nuts, with a speech about Communist spies in the Truman admin. Next thing, Senator Joe had more fame than he was mentally enabled to handle.

He held some hearings, ruined the careers of at least a dozen low level government employees. He grilled a few prominent Left-leaners who'd served the FDR admin, but none had careers ended, and none of them were spies.

Get right down to it, Joe McCarthy couldn't catch a cold at the North Pole. He was a stupid, alcoholic gloryhound. As an aside, should I ever sign up for a stupid alcoholic gloryhound Scavenger Hunt, I'm heading to Washington first!

That's the total direct effect of Senator McCarthy's crusade. He ruined a dozen innocent people, and briefly pestered some prominent Left-leaners.

Joe's big tactical error was taking on the US Army. Middle America still remembered and revered its military. Bad ju-ju Joe.

McCarthy's legacy has grown to include Hollywood blacklists and guilt by association tactics.

Well first? Joe didn't have one thing to do with the Hollywood biz; that wasn't even a Senate committee. And any blacklisting wasn't ordered by Congress. It was done by overly sensitive Studio heads. This was near end of the Hollywood Golden Era. Those Studio guys, whoa! Did they LOVE cinema! They didn't much understand most of the audience though. These are the same cats who wouldn't allow an Asian to play Charlie Chan. They over-reacted in their perceived best interest.

Guilt by association, hmmm... those are the skirmish lines of history, where everything becomes subjective. The popular narrative is that Joe McCarthy whipped into a frenzy the latent insecurities of Americans during an insecure time, so it's all his fault really. Well, it's certainly true that McCarthy played dirty, BUT?

I think many Americans feel more comfy thinning the ranks of a mob. When the history hinge swings, some very minor players get jammed up wrongly. 1943 the Soviets were our brave allies, according to newsreels, while any but the most naive knew the Kremlin was a nest of murderous vipers. 1938, OK to be a Leftist. 1953, it's the kiss of death. Events mostly in that case, but the hinge swung. Inaccurate and simplistic to believe Senator Joe swung that hinge alone. He was agent of popular opinion.

It was wrong when the Cherokees were marched from their homeland, but Andrew Jackson isn't the lone suspect in the case. He mostly obeyed the American will.
It was wrong when Japanese-Americans were rounded up, sent to internment camps, but FDR didn't act against popular opinion in that order.
Much wrong happened in the so-called 'McCarthy era' but it wasn't Joe that swung the hinge alone.

And that's what really happened...

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